Should consultants write a book?

Former Deloitte consulting partner Michael McLaughlin wrote an interesting post where he asked a question: Should business experts write a book? It’s such an important question that, with his permission, I decided to re-post key excerpts from it here in my blog: 

It doesn’t matter whether you self-publish or go with a big publisher. Few things open more doors for consultants than being a published author […] Research by Hinge Marketing tells us that being a speaker and a published author can put a consulting career on the fast track […] If there’s a book in your future, get started now. If you’re not sure that being an author is right for you, keep your options open by behaving like one. For the two books I wrote, the experience ranged from being the most exhilarating thing I’ve ever done to coughing up a fur ball. I thought I’d share
the key questions any aspiring author should answer before writing a book.

  1. Are you committed to putting yourself and your ideas
    out there so you can grow an audience that will listen to your ideas and
    buy your book?
  2. Do you have a book concept that inspires you to market
    your ideas when you’re busy with other things, write when you’d rather be
    relaxing, and push yourself to build the skills of a professional author?
  3. Are you willing to make the theme of your book a focus
    of your business for the next few years?
  4. Are you willing to forego short-term opportunities so
    you can focus on your book, which may not show a return for 1–2 years?
  5. Do you really want to be a writer?
All great questions, especially #1 and #3. Let’s dive a little deeper and look at a real world example. Over the past few months I’ve been collaborating with a NYC consultant to write a book (actually his second one) designed to help consultants overcome their fear of selling. From this collaboration (along with my experience ghosting quite a few business books over the past decade, here are some of the lessons I’ve learned:
Lesson 1, you do need some sort of platform if you want your book to be “heard” amidst the noise. “If a tree falls in the forest” definitely applies here. That said, not all business experts want to be heard—many simply want their book to open the right doors so they can gain access to a new group of highly profitable (but often highly elusive) client prospects. This comes from the personal and business credibility a book engenders, plus the bran clarity it attaches. In my client’s case, he already has a solid platform consisting of several thousand business executives and consultants but he wants to reach an even wider audience. And he has already written a book, although it was not aimed at a wide audience.

Lesson 2, you need to have realistic expectations about your book’s selling power. Most business books aren’t written by celebrities or “name” authors, and don’t fall into the “Big Idea” business book category, so they aren’t likely to sell in huge numbers. (Again, though, if you already have a large and receptive enough network, you should sell a healthy number.) But that shouldn’t matter IF you’re super focused on what you want your book to do for you, marketing-wise, and you stick to that strategy. Because ultimately your book can have a more durable kind of selling power (see Lesson 1 above).

Lesson 3, as McLaughlin says, you must be willing to take your book seriously. That is, you must make the theme of your book a core focus of your business for the next several years. Not all business authors do that. Instead, they quickly churn out a book that lacks cohesion or a structured argument—often it is no more than a collection of thoughts. If you want your book to resonate with your readers, it has to stand out from the crowd, and the best way to do that is to develop an angle that makes it fresher or stronger or different in some way from the other thousands of business books in its category. This applies whether you decide to self-publish or go the commercial publisher route (see one of my earlier posts for more info). Fortunately, if you work hard enough at it (or get a collaborator), just the writing of a book will focus you and your business in ways you’ve probably never expected. And that’s a good thing.

Lesson 4, don’t write the book for yourself; write it to help people. Never write about your accomplishments or your business because readers  only care about one thing: themselves, and their problems. Help them solve their problems and you’re three quarters of the way home.

If you absorb these four lessons, you’ll be well on your way to writing a quality book that will enhance your business’s prospects — and reputation — for many years to come.

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