Agency Owner Reading List

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    Building a better business starts with a good book, so check out some of our other book recommendations for agency owners and operators.

    -> Top 10 Productivity Books for Agencies

    -> Top 10 Leadership Books for Agencies

    These are our selection of must-read books for agency business owners, leaders of creative teams, advertising executives, or anyone in the marketing / brand / digital strategy consulting space. They have served as inspiration within our organization for the documents and templates that we offer. Our biggest regret is that we didn't read them sooner! 

    These are books focused mainly on leadership, effective management, strategic planning, hiring, business development, and positioning your firm the right way. We've purposely omitted books specifically about design, digital project management, and technology on this list–there are dozens of books in those categories that merit a different page altogether.

    The Boutique: How To Start, Scale, And Sell A Professional Services Firm by Greg Alexander

    The Boutique by Greg Alexander

    Targeting ambitious professional services business owners, this book provides easy-to-remember and digestible concepts to help agency owners grow, scale, and eventually exit their business. Each section, which covers topics such as targeting the right customers, developing the right set of services, how to fund growth, how to treat IP, etc., has a set of 10 questions that helps the reader assess whether or not their agency business "passes" certain criteria to be attractive to prospective buyers.

    The Effective Executive by Peter F. Drucker

    The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker

    Classic book on the behaviors and habits that help knowledge workers achieve high performance in their work. We've often given this book to promising employees who're hoping to take their contributions to the next level.

    Some key topics include how to have better meetings and how to better manage time.

    Managing the Professional Service Firm by David H. Maister

    Managing the Professional Services Firm by David H. Maister

    In this timeless book about what goes into running an excellent professional service firm, Maister offers a range of sage advice and instruction on how to attract new business, deepen client relationships, and manage the people who work for your firm. We've had hours of discussions amongst the leadership team on the various topics covered in this book.

    Traction by Gino Wickman

    Traction by Gino Wickman

    We're big fans of Wickman's Entrepreneurial Operating System and have followed it rigorously the past couple years with great results. The Traction approach helps our leadership team focus on what's important and reinforces good habits that keep the momentum of our organization going.

    Profit First by Mike Michalowicz

    Profit First by Mike Michalowicz

    Embracing Michalowicz's unorthodox method of financial discipline has helped us cut down on unnecessary costs and to better manage our cash flow.

    Turn the Ship Around! by L. David Marquet and Steven R. Covey

    Turn the Ship Around by L. David Marquet

    An inspiring story of a Navy officer who found a way to give control and agency to his crew members, leading to greater performance, engagement, and accountability. We've been greatly influenced by the view that everyone in an organization can be a leader.

    Positioning for Professionals by Tim Williams

    Positioning for Professionals by Tim Williams

    This is a useful book for thinking about ways to differentiate your agency in all manner of ways. Williams also makes the point that executing on the plan thoroughly and in detail is key to achieving differentiation. There are also some interesting topics on pricing and different ways to charge for your services.

    A Win Without Pitching Manifesto by Blair Enns

    A Win Without Pitching Manifesto by Blair Enns

    Through a list of proclamations, Enns makes the case for embracing the role of expert and not giving away services to clients for free. The book made us instant Enns fans and we've continued to follow his writings and training courses.

    The Business of Expertise by David C. Baker

    The Business of Expertise by David C. Baker

    We've been long-time followers of Baker and enjoyed this book on turning insights into unique positioning that can give agency owners a competitive edge. You might also want to check out Managing (Right) for the First Time and Financial Management of a Marketing Firm, two very handy books for running an agency.

    Who: The A Method for Hiring by Geoff Smart and Randy Street

    Who by Geoff Smart and Randy Street

    This book changed the way we interview and hire employees. We adopted the Topgrading format for our interviews and invested more time into our reference calls. The process has allowed us to better vet candidates and to identify stronger cultural fits for the team.

    High Output Management by Andrew S. Grove

    High Output Management by Andrew Grove

    A timeless classic by the former President and CEO of Intel, Andrew Grove, this book has many practical and insightful advice for being an effective manager including how to provide good feedback (and conduct good performance reviews), the importance of training employees, and the wisdom of treating the enterprise like a sports team.

    The 4 Disciplines of Execution by Chris McChesney, Sean Covey, and Jim Huling

    The 4 Disciplines of Execution

    This book helped us to really adopt the concept of lead measures vs. lag measures and to establish the habit of setting Wildly Important Goals (WIGs) that we then track against on a weekly basis with our Scorecard. The concepts in this book are compatible and work well with the Entrepreneurial Operating System we follow from Traction (mentioned above).

    Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity by Kim Scott

    Radical Candor by Kim Scott

    There were some great takeaways in this book, especially about being proactive about having quality conversations with employees, caring about them on a personal level, and being courageous and bold with feedback. We recommend reading the book together with your leadership team and having a lengthy discussion to see how everyone interpreted the book and what they'd like to see implemented at the company.

    Pricing Creativity: Pricing Creativity: A Guide to Profit Beyond the Billable Hour by Blair Enns

    Pricing Creativity by Blair Enns

    This is a must-read book for anyone in the agency business, especially those who're responsible for selling, pricing projects, and closing deals. The book provides some background on pricing theory but is most useful for its tactical, do-this-starting-today advice. We've implemented several of the tips from this book and are better for it. The book is priced fairly high relative to other books, but it's totally worth the investment.

    Changing on the Job: Developing Leaders for a Complex World by Jennifer Garvey Berger

    Changing on the Job

    This book was a game-changer for us as managers and helped to see coaching and people management in a whole new way. Berger walks through adult development theory and the different "forms of mind" that characterize how people make sense of the world. This framework helped us to see the value of active listening, holding multiple perspectives, and what it takes to "grow" from one form of mind into another.

    The Trusted Advisor by by David H. Maister, Charles H. Green, Robert M. Galford


    Much like Managing the Professional Services Firm (mentioned above), this book is chock-full of actionable tactics. The authors offer a couple of very useful frameworks for thinking about building trust with clients in a systematic way. We especially found the Trust Score, Trust Development: Engage/Listen/Frame/Envision, and "Service as Selling, Selling as Service" to be great thought starters in identifying areas where we could improve our client-facing behaviors to better earn their trust.

    Naked Sales: How Design Thinking Reveals Customer Motives and Drives Revenue by Ashley Welch and Justin Jones

    Naked Sales by Amy Welch and Justin Jones


    This skinny book provides a quick primer on how to embrace Design Thinking as part of the sales process. Instead of being over-eager to suggest solutions to prospective clients, the authors urge those doing the sales to take a step back, take the time to learn more about what problems the clients (or their customers) may be having, and surfacing insights with a firsthand perspective. This way, you can be in a position to "co-create" a solution with the prospective client, gaining automatic buy-in on your way to inking the deal.

    The Road Less Stupid by Keith J. Cunningham

    The Road Less Stupid by Keith J. Cunningham

    A very practical book filled with many actionable questions to help you think about running your business with more clarity while avoiding dumb mistakes. The book introduces the concept of "Thinking Time" where you devote a distraction-free session with a notepad and ponder some of the critical questions shared in the book (e.g. What is the structure we need to create the progress I want?). 

    This book, when read as a group among the leadership team, can serve as a useful thought-starter to tackle topics like building a better culture, attracting the right customers, and tracking the most useful metrics.