Avoid This Business Book Mistake (In Three Easy Steps!)

business book mistake

Beginning with a detailed outline is recommended, but not understanding your audience is a business book mistake you can’t afford to make.

You want your new business book to be the one everyone raves about: the one people recommend to colleagues, the tool that wins you new speaking opportunities, referrals, and clients. You’re an established coach, an expert in your field, and your book deserves all the fabulous five star Amazon reviews it can get.

You’re ready to start writing, and you’ve heard it’s a good idea to have a book outline, so you start the writing process by creating one. It isn’t a bad place to start – it’s certainly a lot better than launching into writing chapters without a plan (the worst business book mistake you could make) – but I’m going to ask you stop and answer the following question.

If you start your book by creating your content outline, how do you know what to include?

This isn’t a trick question. Consider this. Your insightful, persuasive, and helpful book isn’t just a vessel for all your knowledge and experience. If you were to write that book, you would be making the incorrect assumption that readers are willing to wade through erroneous information in their quest to pick out what’s relevant for them. In reality, you’ll find readers are too busy to bother.

“Then where do I start?” you ask. Good question. Read on.

This isn’t an essay

You probably first wrote long form content in high school, then in college, where you wrote essays. Whatever the subject, those essays all had two things in common:

  1. They were designed to show off your knowledge, not to help anyone actually do anything with it.
  2. Your teachers had to read them, so you didn’t have to entice anyone.

You’re no longer in school, but those old habits and assumptions can continue to linger. It is time to transition from business student to business writer!

This post isn’t about writing, it’s about planning your content, and that starts with knowing what the problem is that your readers are seeking the answer to, and realizing your readers have a choice as to whether or not to buy your book. These three steps can help you channel your knowledge and write a focused and engaging business book.

1. Know your audience (i.e. your reader)

Who is your reader? Where are they now – in their careers, emotionally? What do they think they need to know? You need to gain an in-depth understanding of who your target reader is – otherwise, how you can you write the book anyone will want to read?

You should know your readers inside and out. It helps if they’re similar to your existing client base, so you already have an understanding of their challenges and needs. Try and choose an individual you actually know as your target reader and consider what she is like as a person, how old he is, what kind of home life she has, what he does for a living.

If you don’t know these details, your book won’t make sense for them. It’ll be like them reading a copy of the Wall Street Journal when they’re a People magazine fan at heart: they won’t relate to your content or the way you’re delivering it.

2. Figure out what the problem is

Your readers have a problem – a big one.

Once you’ve pinned down who you’re writing for, ask yourself what their big question about life or business is: the one you can answer. What are they asking for? What story are they telling themselves about the world that is keeping them stuck? What myths can you debunk, truths you can present, that will make their lives easier?

This is what they’re looking for in your book. You may feel it makes you more knowledgeable and more of a resource if you throw everything you know out to a vague audience of people who might be interested in your field of expertise, but I can guarantee it won’t translate to a book that is well read or appreciated.

3. Be choosy with your content

Now that you know who you are writing for and what the big question is that they want answered, it’s time to be choosy with the content you provide in your book. This is how you really help people – not by telling them everything you know, but by picking out the bits they will find most useful and engaging. Once you’ve done that, you’re well on your way to creating a book that will be read and recommended time and again.

If this post has provoked a re-think for your plans to start writing your book, you may want my full guide, The Business Book Outline Builder. This eBook takes you through the outline process in five simple steps. I wrote it just for you!


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  1. Hi, Ginny. Thanks for your thoughts.

    I’m confused by “If you start your book by creating your content outline, how do you know what to include?” Isn’t that counterintuitive? Without an outline, where do you start your research? If you’re writing a book about alternative lawn covers, for example, wouldn’t you organize your thoughts before researching the topic?

    1. Why would anyone want something besides grass?
    2. What alternatives could they try?
    3. What are the advantages and disadvantages of each choice?

    … etc.

    Then you’d do your research, possibly adding/inserting new topics as you progress.

    Did I misunderstand–or miss something?

  2. I know exactly what Ginny is saying. When I was researching my book, I did the research first and then decided how it would best be laid out, chapter-wise (which is outlining the book). I couldn’t have outlined it ahead of time until I had done a lot of research.


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