In the Arena by Diane Foreman

Shortly after Natasha Oliver and her husband tied the knot in 2014, they decided to take the steps to become business owners for the first time.

Their businesses – and –  organise date nights, surprise marriage proposals, dreamy getaways and other romantic offerings.

Oliver’s recommendation for a business-related read this summer is In the Arena by Diane Foreman, who’s been named New Zealand Entrepreneur of the Year and is a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

What’s this book about?

“Diane shares her story around the businesses she’s owned over the years, including the now infamous NZ Natural Ice Cream,” says Oliver.

Foreman’s book tells the tale of her experience working towards being the owner of a multi-million dollar company as a single mother who “has made some mistakes along the way” and takes an honest look at what it takes to build a global company from the ground up.

What’s the key takeaway?

“That she believes in ‘letting the ladder down to help other women up’, which is something that doesn’t come naturally for some.

“Some business owners prefer to keep what they’ve learnt to themselves instead of sharing openly. They’re worried about their ‘secrets’ getting out and their business suffering.”

Oliver believes mentorship should be available to all – especially small business owners and women. Which is why she loved Foreman’s book.

How have you put these lessons into action?

“Since reading this book, [my husband and I] have both made a conscious effort to help any small businesses that need it.”

When businesses are first getting set up, Oliver says, it’s not often they’ll have set aside funds to cover marketing or mentorship, for example. Reading Foreman’s book inspired her to help out in this area.

“My husband started another small business to help small businesses navigate the rabbit hole that is the world of small business. Our focus is ‘people over profit’. This way, we ensure that small business owners get the help that wasn’t available to us when we first started back in 2014.”

This book is suited to anyone with a desire to change the way they think about doing business, Oliver concludes.

Freakonomics by Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt

Mike Wiehahn is the owner of Nimbl, a digital agency based in Auckland. They create everything from apps for plumbers to a pizza-themed online clothing store (yes, really).

“We build websites and apps, run marketing campaigns and offer solutions to all the challenges the internet age throws at our clients,” says Wiehahn.

Wiehahn’s favourite business book is Freakonomics by Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt.

What’s this book about?

Freakonomics exposes the invisible bonds and threads that dictate [financial] markets and tie human behaviour to the economy,” says Wiehahn.

“The book talks about incentives and information imbalance between buyers and sellers, while relating it to real-world scenarios and data.”

It’s an easy-to-digest, jargon-free read that centres on innovation, adds Wiehahn. The authors question the status quo and challenge the reader to think of better approaches to business and economics.

“I really appreciate how grounded the book is by showing actual data for the concepts it talks about,” adds Wiehahn.

What’s the key takeaway?

Wiehahn points to an example in the book that depicts the power imbalance between a real estate agent and their client.

“It talks about how there is very little incentive for the agent to push for $10k above the seller’s asking price as it equates to $100 [in commission] for them, for many hours of work. This lack of an incentive… means that, in this scenario, most houses sell for less than they would if the agent had worked for the maximum possible sale.”

Reading this made Wiehahn question how he might have structured that arrangement differently. Outside of the real estate example, he says, it’s about identifying the right incentives to push yourself (and your employees) to work towards the common goal of growing your business, while also benefiting the individuals involved.

How have you put these lessons into action?

Wiehahn read this book before starting Nimbl and says it helped him to shape the way he wanted his business to run.

“Being aware of your assumptions helps you identify better ways of solving problems. Along with helping to identify opportunities and understanding incentives, this book also opened up the way I negotiate. Sometimes money is the default, but not the deciding factor in a deal. So being able to use the right alternative incentives to craft an agreement helps everyone come out better off.”

This book will be an eye-opener for all readers, he says, no matter what life stage you’re at.

“Challenging and expanding the way you look at the things you assumed of the world is beneficial to everyone. Whether that leads to discovering a gap in the market or just finding new ways to tackle an existing issue, it can only be positive.

“This is not a book for those looking for answers; this is a book for those who want to find new ways to look at, and question, everything around them. It should be on every innovator’s list!”

Getting Things Done – The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen

Sarah McMurray is a money coach and owner of Auckland-based Relating to Money.

“I help people fix their finances. I got started because I was frustrated with my own stupidity around money – turns out, being good with money is simple, but not always easy.”

After seven years owning a small business, McMurray is keen to pass on some of the wisdom she gained from reading David Allen’s Getting Things Done – The Art of Stress-Free Productivity.

What’s this book about?

This book is about using relaxation methods to increase your own output. As the blurb says, “only when our minds are clear and our thoughts are organised can we achieve effective productivity and release our creativity”.

Allen’s book is packed with helpful resources and tried and tested tips to introduce more productivity into your work life – just the thing you need as you jump into 2021.

What’s the key takeaway?

McMurray lists her favourite lessons from Allen’s book:

  • “If a task will take you less than two minutes, complete it straight away. This stops a mountain of tiny things from piling up. If a task will take more than two minutes, put it on your ‘to-do’ list and schedule time to do it according to its priority compared to your other tasks.”
  • “Break down big projects into their smallest step – the overall heading may be ‘marketing’, but the next smallest step may be ’email contact to ask for the name of the social media guru they use’.”
  • “Always carry a notebook (or a digital way of recording) for ideas and information.”
  • “Keep a ‘tickler file’ – a place to keep ideas and flashes of inspiration that have occurred to you and may be great at some point, but not right now.
How have you put these lessons into action?

This book helped McMurray stop feeling overwhelmed by her many ideas.

“As a small business owner, there are thousands of resources, ideas and suppliers vying for your attention. They’re all potentially great ideas for certain businesses at certain times, but I need to know what’s right for me right now. David Allen’s system helped me to evaluate all the ideas and options that bombard me, and either discard, keep in the ‘tickler file’ or use as part of a new project.”

This book is good for those looking for a “simple but effective” way to improve their productivity, she adds.