How “Built to Sell” Could Help You Become a Millionaire

Built to Sell by John WarrillowI first heard about John Warrillow’s Built to Sell from Anita Campbell.  She had gotten her hands on a super-early preview copy (still spiral bound) and had stayed up all night reading it.  She was so excited about this book, that I begged her to give it to me so I could take a peek too.

Well, I finally got my very own hard-back copy in the mail last week.  Now I can finally tell you all about this short, easy and entertaining book that will get you thinking more profitably about your business.

“Built to Sell” is actually an allegory-style business novel.  Personally, I like these kinds of books.  I have an interactive learning style and reading a book that gets me involved in the characters really helps me to integrate the lessons in the book.  It’s almost like taking a spoonful of sugar to get the medicine to go down.

“Built to Sell” Is More About Building Systems Than Selling Your Business

“Built to Sell” almost reminds me of Michael Gerber’s “The E Myth” series.  When I first picked it up I thought that it didn’t apply to me – because I don’t want to create a franchise, nor do I want to sell my business.  But those frameworks are just there to teach me the much bigger and more profitable lesson that a systematized, turnkey business is not only more valuable in the marketplace, but more fun, easier to manage and less stressful than the alternative.

The primary purpose of any business is to make money.  Another goal for  many is to support a balanced life for the owner – and for the employees of that business.  “Built to Sell” will guide you through the process of creating a business model and system that allows you to do exactly that – create a business and not just busy-work.

Is “Built to Sell” Autobiographical?

John Warrillow is an entrepreneur.  He’s started and sold four companies, so he knows a thing or two about what it takes to build and sell a business.  As soon as you start reading the book, you’ll see that it isn’t really autobiographical.  It’s an amalgam of John’s experiences and the lessons he’s learned over time.

In fact, don’t make the mistake that I did and focus on the “story” part of this book.   There are details in the book; such as the fact that Alex, the main character, was able to sell a logo package for $10,000.  That completely spun me out because I’ve never run into a small business that was eager to spend $1,000 for a logo, let alone $10,000!  But that ISN’T the point.

It’s Not About the Service – It’s About the System

“Built to Sell” succeeds in teaching a most valuable lesson: it’s not about the service, it’s about the system.  Running a business without a turnkey process and system is like taking a 300 pound dog for a walk.  Who’s walking whom?

In the story our hero, Alex Stapleton, owns an advertising and design firm.  He is a “victim” of his business.  He has clients that jerk him around and don’t pay on time.  He loses sleep wondering how he’s going to pay his staff.  He doesn’t always like the projects he gets.  And, just when he’s sure he’s going to make a change – life hands him the opportunity of a life time.  Will he take on a client that’s handing him lots of money for work not in his area of strength or will he stick to the lessons he’s learned and build a life and a business and not just his top line.

Tips For Building a System

Ted Gordon is Alex’s mentor.  Ted has bought and sold several companies and he holds the key to Alex getting everything he wants out of the business.

Here are just a few tips that I got from the character “Ted”:

  • “Being a generalist forces you to hire generalists and your offering will be average at best.”
  • “If you run a service business that’s highly dependent on a single client who depends on you personally to tend to their account and you compete with a lot of other players who provide similar services – your business is virtually worthless.  Make sure that no one client comprises more than 15% of your revenue.”
  • Define your service as if it were a product.  “Productize it.”  That means that you describe your unique service process as features that are unique to you.
  • If you’re selling a product, you can create a flat fee as a price and get paid up-front.
  • “Prove that you’re serious about specialization by turning down work that falls outside your standard service.”

I could go on and on because there are many wonderful, practical, easily implementable tips in this book.

Read “Built to Sell” For Sanity and Profits

It might seem counter-intuitive to you to actually focus on a tighter service offering when the economy is on a downward spiral.  But the message of focus, specialization and systems that Warrillow preaches is spot on.

If you’re currently running a service business that totally depends on your being there, then you have a lot to learn from reading this book.  Implement just a few basic principles and you will see immediate improvement in your profitability and your sanity as well.

Pick up “Built to Sell” and by this time next year – you will have your very own money machine!

11 Comments ▼
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Ivana Taylor - Book Editor


Ivana Taylor Ivana Taylor is Book Editor for Small Business Trends and publisher of DIYMarketers , where she shares daily do-it-yourself marketing tips, and is the President of Third Force, Inc., a marketing firm that specializes in getting your ideal customer to choose you. Ivana is the book editor for Small Business Trends and co-author of the book "Excel for Marketing Managers."

11 Reactions

  1. Hi Ivana,

    This is a great pick, and sounds like a good analytics books without the word “analytics” built in. That’s really important to develop the mindset for figuring out what’s important so that you are not chasing jobs. Driving the services around a specialization and being more selective about jobs are excellent takeaways. I am seeing the specialization theme play out by business owners, but having a narrative to explain the benefit sounds like a wise effort by Warrillow. You have piqued my interest to check this book out. Thanks for reviewing!

  2. @Pierre – I would recommend this book for small business owners at every level. Even if you think you have a turnkey process or system in your business (like I did) you will find valuable lessons and areas for improvement. And the cool thing is that improvement means more profit, more money and more enjoyment in your life.

    @Martin – I haven’t listened to that one yet. Thanks so much for the link.

  3. Ivana,

    My friends at the Service Roundtable recommended that I read this book. I did.

    As a minor league ball player watching Babe Ruth knockin’ over the fence, I am in awe of your review. Really. There is an art in gleaning just the right information and insight from a book and then writing to tell others about it in a way that is clear and succinct. You nailed it.

    The E Myth was on my mind too as I read through the book. And, I couldn’t help but think “autobiographical for sure.” I love Ted’s suggestion for the change in some business vocabulary terms such as client to customer. I think when some businesses use the term client, it is equivalent to wearing a suit that is five sizes too big, it just seems awkward.

    Sadly, the greatest obstacle for John’s system to work (which he does identify as well), will place this book in the same category as “shelving the seminar tape on Monday morning.” That would be accepting projects outside of the company’s newly found focal point. A juicy opportunity will come along and the owner will think about that seminar tape for a second, and then just dive head in as if he never attended the seminar in the first place. He will.

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