Big Ideas for Small Businesses by John Lamerton is not your typical business book, because rather than focusing on pure business topics, it deals with five principles which can help us to succeed not just in business but other endeavours that we are invested in. But the author mostly uses the subject of business to illustrate the five principles.
The book starts out promoting lifestyle businesses and making it clear that the definition of a lifestyle business from the author’s perspective is a business that helps you to live the kind of lifestyle you want. Thus he is talking about a proper business albeit one that helps you achieve your own personal lifestyle goals. No wonder we are asked an important question at the start of the book – what are you in business for?
In the beginning of the book, Lamerton challenges the notion of the hustle, which in this case is breaking your back to succeed. This refers to people who put their business success in front, at the expense of everything else, so while they may win in business, other aspects of their life may be a mess. He also discusses people who like to put lifestyle businesses down as not being real businesses. Lamerton refers to the negative reaction of Dragons Den type business programmes to lifestyle businesses and expresses a negative view about those whose goal in business is to raise venture capital funding even when the business is not really selling anything. Lamerton also takes a dig at multi-level marketing. These are just some of his sentiments but the real focus of the book are what he refers to as the ‘Five Magic Ingredient’. The book is divided along these five ingredients which are:
Each part of the book, based on an ingredient has a number of chapters. Following is a brief review of the various sections in the book.
MAGIC INGREDIENT #1 – GOALS (A.K.A CHANGE YOUR WAYS IN 90 DAYS)
This section has three chapters. The first chapter focuses on describing what goals are and why they are important. Since Lamerton likes to take a dig at popular practices, he criticizes the goal setting framework SMART as not being useful. He proposes that good goals should have two qualities which are:
- know exactly what you want to achieve
- know exactly when you want to achieve it
The aspect of this chapter that I found most useful is how the author describes his own goal setting process in a sub-section called, ‘the power of 90-day plans‘. Lamerton writes that he sets about three goals every 90 days. He also describes how he further breaks down those 90-day goals so he can work on them daily.
He describes some things we can do to make it more likely for us to work towards achieving those goals such as:
- putting a proper plan together
- linking the goals to a strong desire that will push us forward
- putting our goals somewhere where we can visualise them daily
The next chapter is titled, ‘I’d like to own a real business one day’. The premise of this chapter is to challenge us regarding our own business goals not to think small. He uses his own story to illustrate his small thinking when he started out and how he believes he should have thought about his business goals in a much bigger way.
The final chapter has a strange name – ‘I blame Richard Branson.’ When you read the chapter you will understand why. Richard Branson is one of the few entrepreneurs we know who has opened multiple businesses in different markets which in a way is multi-tasking, very few of us can do that. Lamerton is encouraging us not to multi-task and focus on one or two things, work hard at it and succeed. He uses examples from his own experience about how he was trying to run multiple businesses without really succeeding much at anyone of them.
A concept he explained in this chapter which any aspiring or existing business person will find useful is that of finding the ONE main thing that will make a major difference to your business and investing time in it instead of trying to do multiple things which have little or no impact.
MAGIC INGREDIENT #2 – DESIRE (A.K.A DESIRE GETS SHIT DONE)
The premise of this section is straightforward, we need a strong DESIRE to get things done. Lamerton makes it clear, that while we can all set goals, plan and dream of the prospects of getting things done, you need a strong desire to bring your plans to life. He uses personal and sometimes touching stories to explain events that stoked his own desire such as working in a job he hated and the death of his sister. There is a lot of information to challenge everyone of us as to why we should not be putting our lives on hold, so the advice is, get up and go for those dreams. You don’t want to look back one day in regret.
MAGIC INGREDIENT #3 – KNOWLEDGE (A.K.A WHAT YOU LEARN AFTER YOU KNOW IT ALL..)
This section can be summarised in a few sentences. No matter how much we know now, to keep succeeding we need to keep learning. Lamerton writes about his wake up call after his business got affected negatively by a change in the business environment he was operating in. Then he realised he needed to keep learning if he was to keep succeeding.
In my own view, the following quote expresses best what Lamerton is trying to get across in this part of the book:
To always be learning. Every day’s a school day. Becoming the best you can be is a journey, not a destination.
And when it comes to learning, Lamerton discusses some key areas of learning that we need to succeed in business. These include:
- financial literacy
- knowing your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
- knowing the difference between assets and liabilities
Three other areas of knowledge that Lamerton discusses which are also very important are:
- Marketing – he takes the time to explain why marketing is very important and uses an example of a successful marketing campaign he implemented to describe the components of a good marketing campaign.
- Compounding – which he describes in a chapter aptly titled – ‘do you want to build a snowman?’ I’m sure you get the picture. Lamerton states Warren Buffett as being his hero and Buffett of course is a big believer in compounding which is about investing for the long term and in Lamerton’s case also includes re-investing your profits.
- Multiple streams of income – this is about not putting all your eggs in one basket and ensuring that you have alternative income streams if one stream dries up. Here he describes some strategies such as selling memberships for developing multiple streams of income from the same business.
MAGIC INGREDIENT #4 – ENVIRONMENT (A.K.A BE CAREFUL WHO YOU LISTEN TO…)
ENVIRONMENT in this sense refers to, who and what you surround yourself with. Lamerton summarises the section this way:
“Your network equals your net worth. Who you hang around with matters. What you read, watch, and listen to matter – more than you can ever know.”
The emphasis here starts with the importance of how people influence us, whether it’s in person or what we listen to. We are challenged to be careful about who we take advice from and believe. For instance listening to a person who does a programme about investment and business ideas that she has no experience of is not good practice. Be careful about the kind of friends you have, are they likely to take you up or drag you down. Lamerton writes about some of his friends when he was much younger that he wasted time around with doing nothing sensible with their lives. Unfortunately even now, he says some of them are still living that same life that they lived over 15 years ago.
One useful aspect of this section which I can’t quite connect to the whole ENVIRONMENT ingredient is dealing with our fears. While it feels really random appearing here, there is some really good advice about us dealing with our fears and choosing to do things which normally would scare us. To be honest in every section of the book, Lamerton does drop in a lot of random information which on the face of it has no connection to the featured ingredient, but nonetheless is very useful.
MAGIC INGREDIENT #5 – ACTION
I like Lamerton’s quote at the start of this part of the book:
Imperfect ACTION trumps perfect INACTION every time.
In other words, no matter how brilliant your plans and ideas are, if you don’t take action on them, you’ve achieved nothing. As Lamerton puts it:
“The most magical of all the magic ingredients. Nothing happens – absolutely nothing happens until you take ACTION! “
So what you will learn from this part of the book is that no matter what, take ACTION. Even if you feel your plans are not perfect still act. One aspect of this section that I like is titled, how do you ensure that you regularly take the right action? Under this title Lamerton describes the steps he takes to always take action which are:
- create my “could do” list
- draw up a 90-day plan from the “could do” list
- break down the 90-day plan into monthly stepping stones
- convert the monthly stepping stones into weekly ONE thing tasks
- work with an accountability partner to be held accountable to do what he planned
- focus on doing the actions and not the expected results
There is a lot more random information discussed in this section but the core message is that at the end of the day, if you set great GOALS, tie them into strong DESIRE, get the necessary KNOWLEDGE to help you and build the right ENVIRONMENT around you, it will all amount to nothing if don’t take ACTION.