Summer Reads for Sunless Pros: Three Books that Changed My Sunless Business

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I come from a family of readers. I have vivid memories of growing up surrounded by women who loved to read - my mom, my aunt, my grandma - they all read each and every down moment they had. I tried to be a reader, too, but no matter what book I picked up, even well into my adult years, all I could think was “This is so boring!”

Then I became an entrepreneur.

Suddenly, I was knee-deep in the self-help, entrepreneurship and personal growth sections on Amazon. I couldn’t get enough. 

Turns out that I’m a reader, too...but novels and fiction don’t do it for me. I love to learn and books have become my preferred method of doing so.

The three books that follow are three of my tried and true faves that have helped me grow my business. They all give actionable steps and if you follow through, you are almost guaranteed to change your business forever. But remember, having all of the information in the world does you no good if you don’t then take conscious action.

My suggested summer reads for sunless entrepreneurs? (Or any entrepreneur, for that matter!) Here we go...

Profit First: A Simple System to Transform Any Business from a Cash Eating Monster to a Money Making Machine by Mike Michalowicz

No book has changed my business and my own personal future more than this one. 

I suck with money. I’m really good at spending it, though. 

As a matter of fact, my misunderstanding of my finances and my business forced me back into a part-time gig for extra cash to help pay the bills about a year after I set out on my self-employment journey. Talk about a slap in the face! (More on that in a future blog.)

But I decided to use that year with a strong side income to up my game when it comes to my business balance sheet. I can’t say I know it all or that I’m perfect these days, but I can say that this book has helped me become more confident in myself and my business finances than I have ever been.

The premise is simple. We spend what we have. Most entrepreneurs are scraping the bottom of the barrel to pay themselves because after all of the expenses of running their business each month, they pay themselves last. This book flips that all on its head and shows you the importance of paying yourself FIRST. 

Imagine knowing that you could pay yourself a set salary every week without the fear of “slow season” hanging over your head. How about paying yourself a quarterly bonus, too? Profit First lays out a strategy for making your business run on a small percentage of your revenue so that each and every week, month and year, you know you can pay your bills AND yourself. 

Because, revenue is great, but profitability is what REALLY matters!

How it helped me, personally: After reading the book, I implemented the strategies on Jan. 1, 2016. It took me awhile to find my groove and to adapt the strategies in a way that worked for me and my business, but three years later, those strategies have helped me go from a one-woman show to having five employees. I have gone from an in-home studio to a retail storefront location that I never dreamed I could afford. And most importantly, I put myself on payroll and I get a direct deposit into my checking account every week...just like I did in the corporate world. 

I never scramble to pay my bills, my employees or myself, because the cushion I build through this system during the busy months sustains us through the slow months. It has given me the peace of mind to make moves I didn’t think I was capable of making and the ability to see money in a different way.

I even gave myself a 50% raise this week...and I’m projecting for another 33% by the end of June 2020. I don’t know about you, but my old employer never gave me a 50% raise. ;) 

If you struggle with money and you read one book from this list...make it Profit First.

The Automatic Customer: Creating a Subscription Business in Any Industry by John Warrillow

My business coach recommended this book to me when I was making plans to launch ASTP. After all, an association’s viability is based on memberships.

The problem was, the entire time I was reading the book, the only thing I could think about was how I was going to implement these strategies into my spray tanning business.

As they say in the book, “The lifeblood of your business is repeat customers. But customers can be fickle, markets shift, and competitors are ruthless. So how do you ensure a steady flow of repeat business? The secret—no matter what industry you’re in—is finding and keeping automatic customers.”

Back in 2015 when I first read this book, I had watched many sunless owners attempt to implement membership programs with little to no success. I had even tried it briefly in my own business with no success, as well. This book made me examine what it was I was doing wrong and how exactly I was going to fix my membership conundrum.

How it helped me, personally: I spoke about my membership program at the first Sunless Summit in 2017 and back then I considered it a success. But today, our membership program is responsible for about 30% of our monthly revenues and that number is continuing to climb. Our total revenue is up 140% in the last two years, as well, and our membership is a major contributing factor. 

Knowing I had that money coming in each and every month was what gave me the final push of confidence to sign a five year lease on my dream brick and mortar location that opened in April 2017. Our membership fees more than cover the monthly rent which has led to far less stress and worry for me.

Recurring revenue is where it’s at. If you want to bring in money month after month through a membership program, I couldn’t recommend The Automatic Customer any more.

The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan

I first heard of this book at Sunless Summit in 2017. I had been feeling quite overwhelmed with ALL of the things going on in my life - spray tanning business, trying to grow ASTP, planning and executing Sunless Summit...oh, and being a wife and a mom - I never have a shortage of things to do. 

Then, at Summit, the topic came up of expanding services beyond just spray tanning and that’s when Alicia Wente of Spray Studio in Atlanta recommended this book.

We are all so distracted and have a million things going on. Ask someone how they are on any given day and you will likely hear about how busy they are. It’s an epidemic and we keep expanding our focus and “multi-tasking” (which is really a myth) therefore digging ourselves into a deeper and deeper hole of mediocrity.

This book is all about focusing on one thing long enough to become really good at it, make it a habit and moving onto the next thing. Whether it’s business, personal development, getting in shape or strengthening relationships - everything you learn in this book can be applied.

How it helped me, personally: This book made me realize that there is great value in being known for one single thing...and mastering that thing. You see, when I was looking at my steep rent payment for my new storefront, all I could think about was how we were going to have to add other services to make a go of this. We surely couldn’t survive on spray tanning alone?

But spray tanning is our gig. It’s what we are known for and it’s what we are good at. 

The One Thing made me see that we don’t have to expand our services to be successful and to continue to grow. It has made me think outside the box about a service menu that revolves around spray tanning, where every other service is simply a supplement to our “one thing”.

And the concept of time blocking explained in the book has helped me be a little more successful at the other things that are important to me...ASTP and my personal life. I’m still working on implementing everything and finding my perfect balance, but if you sometimes feel like you’re drowning in a pool of “busy” and “mediocrity”...check out The One Thing and see if you can find a concept or two to help you stay afloat.


So, now I want to hear from you! What are YOUR favorite business or personal development books? What have you learned that has changed your business or your life? 

Comment below so everyone can see the contributions and let’s spend what’s left of summer growing our businesses, our industry and ourselves. Happy reading!

Blog post by: Shonna Dexter, ASTP

Shonna DexterComment