#69: 9 Nonfiction Books that Improved My Freelance Business

On today’s show I am recommending nine nonfiction and business books that have helped me create and grow my freelance business:

1. “Atomic Habits” by James Clear

For the past two years I have read this book at the beginning of the new year, which might become an annual tradition because it sets me on a good habit course for the year.

One quote from the book I really like is “You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.” That means if you don’t put a system and habits in place for each of your goals, they’ll just be floating out there with no structure or plan to actually achieve them. You need to create a step-by-step plan for how to achieve each of these goals. And you need to start with baby steps.

Another quote I really like is “Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement.” That means you will not notice an improvement the first time you start a new habit; you may not even see improvements week after week. Transformation takes time.

One of the concrete things James provides in his book are the four simple steps to building better habits. These steps are:

  • Cue
  • Craving
  • Response
  • Reward

2. “Deep Work” by Cal Newport

“Deep work” is that cognitively demanding work, work that requires concentration and creativity and deep thinking—which means no distractions. For me, this is writing. What is it for you in your business?

I am not an effective writer if I’m trying to squeeze writing in in between meetings, checking email and posting on social media. Instead, Newport helps you figure out how to concentrate, minimize distractions and focus deeply on your work. He warns you about the different types of distractions that might pop up and how you can develop strategies to fight against them.

3. “Make Time” by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky

This book provides time, productivity and focus strategies that are tactical and helpful. This book is a lot breezier to read than the other two books I just recommended, but that doesn’t mean it’s fluff. It has silly illustrations and a fun, conversational tone. There are 87 tactics in this book that you can try to focus better and be more productive.

A couple of the tactics that have helped me:

Pick a highlight for your day—the one thing that you must get done—and then zero in on getting it done. The book calls that “laser focus.”

Pick a soundtrack for your highlight. Choose one song, the same song, to play whenever you start your highlight for that day. I do this now whenever I am going to start deep work like writing. I have one song I play every time, and I’ve become Pavlov’s dog. Any time I hear this song I know that it’s time to buckle down and do a project. It’s my cue to get to work. It really works.

Skip the morning check-in. At the end of each day, I go over my calendar and tasks and write out my to-do list for the next day. I choose my highlight for the next day. Then, when I wake up the next morning, I get straight to work on my highlight. I don’t check email or social media. Or, if I do check email, I check only for emergency emails from clients. I don’t respond to regular emails or even read them. Setting a timer for about 10 minutes can help you from getting sucked into email.

4. Off the Clock” by Laura Vanderkam

This book, by a productivity and time tracking expert, was so much more than I thought it would be. It’s not just a quick-read, “here are a few tips” productivity book. Vanderkam teaches us how to live life with more intention, to “linger” and “savor” and to invest in your happiness by being mindful of how you spend your time and how you WANT to spend your time.

Laura talks about “letting it go”—how not to obsess over certain goals and how not to be so hard on yourself when you don’t hit perfection. She talks about little ways to invest in your own happiness and to appreciate the small things in life. Incidentally, these are all concepts that might really help during the pandemic.

5. “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cain

As an introvert, I wasn’t sure what I could learn from this book. I know how I am and what I like. But I loved this book. It was way more in-depth and researched that I expected—not a fluffy, self-help book at all.

This book explains in detail how being introverted can manifest in the real world, which has really helped me explain to other people why I like the things I like and do the things I do. The book also dives into the history of introvertedness, explaining when the U.S. started treasuring extroverts more. The author explains the values treasured by Eastern versus Western cultures and gives a ton of tips for living with and working with introverts and for raising kids who are introverts.

6. “Better than Before” by Gretchen Rubin

Rubin is probably best known for her book “The Happiness Project,” which I also liked. But “Better than Before” is where Rubin first introduces us to her framework The Four Tendencies. She argues that everyone falls into one of four categories based on how we respond to expectations from ourselves and from others—internal and external expectations. She has written a book called “The Four Tendencies” and you can also take a quiz to find out which of the four you are.

Knowing your tendency helps you figure out how to use the right habit creation techniques that work for you. For example, I’m a questioner, and Gretchen helped me realize why “accountability” doesn’t work for me. You hear so often in business to form accountability groups or if you make yourself accountable to others, you’ll get things done. This could mean, if you sign up for a class, and especially if you pay for it, you’ll definitely go. But that doesn’t work for me.

“Better than Before” will help you get to know yourself better and teach you what techniques work for you best. And then, Rubin provides a ton of habit formation tips to help you get things done.

7. The Freelance Content Marketing Writer” by Jennifer Goforth Gregory

This book is gold for content marketing writers, whether you’re brand-new to this type of writing or have been doing it for 20 years. There is also a lot of tactical advice on how to get clients that can be helpful to non-writers as well. Gregory talks about how to use LinkedIn effectively and shares her template for a very short, to-the-point “letter of introduction,” which she compares to a pickup line. As she explains, you’re just trying to get a date with the person; you’re not trying to build an entire relationship with that first LOI.

She also talks about how to price your projects, why freelancers need to talk about money with each other and how to find anchor clients.

8. “Secrets of a Freelance Writer: How to Make $100,000 a Year or More” by Robert Bly

This was one of the first freelance books I purchased. It’s a little dated, but the bulk of the book contains really helpful information, especially for newer freelancers or those who need to set themselves up as a freelance business rather than just flying by the seat of their pants.

I gained a lot of confidence from reading this book. For example, Bly talks about how freelancers offer professional services and should not be shy or apologetic about their fees, but simply state them matter of factly. It’s that type of tone and tips that helped me believe I was a freelance business owner.

And while the book is for writers, there is some information in there that would help any freelancer, like how to set your fees, how to network and brand yourself, how to deal with client problems and how to generate sales leads.

9. The Money Book: for Freelancers, Part-Timers and the Self-Employed” by Joseph D’Agnese and Denise Kiernan

This book is also a bit old, but it’s a good staple, especially for those who need to get a better handle on your income and finances. The book provides a lot of advice about how to rethink how you use, earn and spend money. It can help you with debt and savings and getting your spending under control. It’s one of the few financial books I’ve seen that is written specifically for freelancers.

Biz Bite: Take care of your future self.

The Bookshelf: The Family Upstairs” by Lisa Jewell 


Episode #4 of Deliberate Freelancer: Work Only with Nice Clients, with Jennifer Goforth Gregory

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