Cake Book Reviews: Make Your Mark – The Creative’s Guide to Building a Business With Impact

Book Reviews

Welcome, comrades! It’s Kim, here with the first of many book reviews we’ll be publishing for your reading pleasure. Like most obsessive compulsives avid readers, Jenn and I both have a ton of books on our wish list, and our library cards are never buried too far in our wallets. Now and then, we’ll give you the scoop on what we’re reading, and you can keep us up-to-date on what we ought to be reading next in the comments.

First up: 99U’s Make Your Mark: The Creatives Guide to Building a Business With Impact.

A brief introduction seems like the right thing to start with. Make Your Mark is a collection of short pieces submitted by 21 creative and tech industry thought leaders. They discuss startups, launching, transparency, leadership, customer service and a number of other thought-provoking topics that anyone in the business of running their business can use to think, do, make, market and lead better.

A little background: Even when I was the owner of a busy, brick and mortar business with a staff of twenty-something, I constantly found myself left out of the definition of “small business”—I was too small, by a lot. My revenue was too small, and my staff was too small. At Cake, we’re focused on businesses that are even smaller; perhaps someone who runs an online business from their dining room table. Or a single person with a laptop. Or a couple of people in a co-working space. This book may strike you similarly, since the typical contributor is in command of a much larger business than most of us will ever be. I say it’s worth a read anyway. Much more below.

OK, review time! We’ll start with Jenn. Go!

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So, I sat down to read (and by read I mean listened to on my commute) Make Your Mark: The Creatives Guide to Building a Business With Impact. I was excited to read this book—99U is a cool resource, the folks in the book are successful, and the message seemed to be on point.

First, the positives.

The writing is really clear and to the point, and it’s a quick read—about 3-ish hours. I really liked the short chapters, and the format: Two essays, a Q&A, two more essays, and then a visual presentation of the chapter’s key takeaways. This makes for a pleasant rhythm while reading.

I like simplicity in my reading. Bullet points, Q&A, and pictures are how my brain absorbs information. That’s how I see things, think through things, and am able to make the most sense of things. 99U hit this nail on the head for me.

Another plus is that the book’s availability in multiple formats—paperback, Kindle, and audio—made it super accessible and, since I could switch formats based on my location and situation, this maintained that rhythm I mentioned above. I opted for the Kindle with audio version because I like to feel productive while in the car commuting to work, so I was able to listen in the car and then pick up where I left off with the text once I got home. These kinds of things matter to me; maybe not a biggie for other folks. But I do love an audiobook.

This leads me to the flaws I found in the book.

The flaw (for me) that stuck out the most is the sausage party that populates chapter after chapter. I’m not saying that the people profiled in the book aren’t awesome, I just wish they’d included essays from more women. 21 business people profiled and only 3 are women? There are tons of kickass women out there with creative businesses. Women like you, or your mom, sister, wife, daughter, cousin, aunt, or friends.

The second flaw? More than a couple of the successful entrepreneurs included are from HUGE CORPORATIONS—I’m talking Adobe, Udacity, and Facebook. Bigger than I ever want to be. This doesn’t make their vision any less awesome, just off-putting, in a way, for me.

Lastly, it kinda felt like I was reading the intro level college book for a course that might be titled Intro Business for Creatives 101. While I liked the succinct and clear writing I wish there had been a bit more depth. The folks included in the book are a WEALTH OF INFORMATION and I wished they were able to share a bit more.

In conclusion (that was a flashback to writing my thesis, sheesh), the book is short, succinct, to the point, an easy read, and delivers a positive message. I just wish it included few more folks that are in my stratosphere, and that they’d gone a little deeper.

So, my takeaway list.

Pros:

  • Succinct
  • Clear writing
  • Quick read
  • Positive message

Cons:

  • Sausage party
  • Too many big wigs
  • Not a lot of new information

If this book was a CAKE I’d happily offer a piece to a friend for them to enjoy.

Kim, let’s hear it.

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Pros:

  1. I’m always interested in hearing people’s stories, especially when they’re dishing me on things they’re passionate about. Nearly everyone in this collection conveys their excitement about their projects to the reader, which is great.
  2. Each contributor has produced a stand-alone piece, so you can scroll through the table of contents and decide which people or topics interest you and skip the rest, if that’s your thing. If you’re more of a completist, the individual essays are divided into chapters that pull them all into a cohesive whole, with takeaway points at the end of each chapter to wrap things up.
  3. There’s a lot of overlap when it comes to books about business. And that’s what this book is, truly, much more than it’s a book about creatives. (And I would argue that there are many ways to define “creatives”, and my definition differs somewhat from the editor’s.) This probably sounds like a “con” so far, but thankfully, some of these well-worn ideas, though sometimes presented by people I’m not sure I have much in common with, benefit from some good examples and some fresh insight. Note: you’re not going to find much Elizabeth Gilbert or Gretchen Rubin influence here, comrades. These ideas are presented from a business 1st, creativity 2nd position.
  4. As a longtime Navy spouse, I wasn’t aware that the Navy had any surprises left for me. But, here’s one: David Marquet. The linked video is awesome, and Marquet’s leadership philosophy is applicable in many contexts, including parenting (I assume). He’s the last contributor; don’t miss him.

Cons:

  1. Most of the contributors don’t go into much detail; it’s a bit like reading a collection of introductions. This may have been their goal, but for me, it means the book often lacks a satisfying, chunky sort of heft. That said, the contributors aren’t necessarily writers, and they’re busy running successful businesses, so a taste may be all they have time to give us. Happily, the links at the end of each chapter take you to much more.
  2. I don’t think Facebook needs a seat at every table. Ditto Adobe. I’d like to hear from people who are less ubiquitous, and whose voices are underrepresented. Which brings me to…
  3. The most irksome shortfall of this book: a male to female contributor ratio of 18:3. That’s some bullshit. And no, I didn’t comb through the book, scoping out the gender of contributors before I read it, like some sexism scorekeeper. But it’s hard not to notice the male names at the top of nearly every contribution. Unfortunate choice? Did a bunch of women decline to participate? An enormous oversight? The editor is a woman, so I’d like to believe an effort was made, but I can only guess.

My takeaway: This book is a collection of short, snack-size essays from an interesting selection of contributors. It would be far more relatable with the inclusion of more female voices and fewer contributors from large, well-known organizations, but you’ll find yourself frequently nodding in agreement, and even breaking out the highlighter here and there. Turns out Facebook, and even the Navy, have something to pass along to the eager solopreneur.

Bonus: at $5.99 (Kindle version) you can’t go wrong. And really,  Jane ni Dhulchaointigh and David Marquet’s contributions alone are totally worth it.

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