Have you ever considered taking one of your old nonfiction books and rewriting it? It can take months to come up with the first draft, edit it, and turn it into something you're happy to send to an editor. Then when you get feedback, you'll probably spend more time fixing it. That's to say nothing of sending a book to beta readers who may have additional queries and clarifications for you.
So, by the time you've finished the process, you're likely ready to move on.
But what if the time comes when the ideas in the book have changed, and there are new concepts, more information, or perhaps better stories that could help your readers?
Several years ago, I invited Mike Michalowicz on the Become a Writer Today Podcast. His nonfiction business books are fantastic. I particularly got a lot of help from Clockwork and his other book, Profit First.
Clockwork is all about how to accomplish more without necessarily burning yourself out. Profit First is all about how to organize finances in a small business.
Mike spent a lot of time working with the ideas inside of Clockwork, teaching them to students, and delivering them through public speaking. He realized there were ideas that he wanted to retell and share differently. So, he set out to rewrite Clockwork and recently published a new edition.
Mike came back to the show to explain how the rewriting process went.
In this episode, we discuss:
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Mike: Removed from your business for four consecutive weeks, and see how the business does. Now, people are terrified to do this because they haven't prepared the business. What I argue in the book is, it's not a question if you're going to take a four-week vacation. It's simply a question of when you're going to take your four-week vacation. Maybe thrust upon you through illness or some kind of unexpected situation that you have to address. But it is going to happen. You're not going to be there forever for every day.
Welcome to the Become a Writer Today Podcast with Bryan Collins. Here, you’ll find practical advice and interviews for all kinds of writers.
Bryan: Have you ever considered taking one of your old books and rewriting it? Hi there. My name is Bryan Collins. Welcome to the Become a Writer Today Podcast. Writing a book is a big endeavor. It can take months to come up with the first draft, to edit it, and then to turn it into something that you're happy, to send to an editor for feedback. Then when you get feedback, you're probably going to spend a bit more time fixing your book. That's to say nothing of sending a book to beta readers who may have additional queries and clarifications for you. So, all in all, by the time you've written your book, if you're anything like me, chances are you are happy that it's done, and you're ready to move on. But what if the time comes when you're a year or two into having published a book and the ideas in the book have changed, there are new concepts that you've discovered, and you just simply have more information and research that you'd like to include, or perhaps simply better stories which could help your readers, particularly if it's nonfiction?
Several years ago, I invited Mike Michalowicz onto the Become a Writer Today Podcast. His nonfiction business books are fantastic. I particularly got a lot of help out of Clockwork, and his other book Profit First. Profit First is all about how to organize finances in a small business, and Clockwork is all about how to accomplish more without necessarily burning yourself out. It also covers other topics like identifying your core competencies, a concept that Mike describes as the 'Queen Bee Role,' and how to protect this role in your business through the help of other team members.
Well, Mike spent a lot of time working with the ideas inside of this book and teaching them to students and also delivering them through public speaking. Over the years, he realized that there were some ideas that he wanted to retell and reshare in a different way. So, he set out to rewrite Clockwork, and he's recently published a new edition. So, Mike has come back on the show to explain how the rewriting process went. He has a good number of practical tips which can help you if you're considering rewriting one of your older nonfiction books. He also talks about how his thinking about outsourcing and about identifying your core competencies has changed. He talks about what his core competency is as a nonfiction business author. I hope you enjoy this week's interview with Mike. It was great to catch up with Mike again. One of my key takeaways from talking to him is how he's clarified what his core strength is, and how he's worked on that over the years to build up a business that enables him to write even more and get paid well for doing it, and also to help his readers and students and his clients.
So, if you found this week's interview with Mike Michalowicz helpful or enjoyable, please leave a short review in the iTunes Store, or hit the star button. Because your reviews and ratings help more listeners find the Become a Writer Today Podcast, which will in turn help it grow. So, it really does mean a lot. You can also share the show with another writer or another friend by using Spotify, by using Overcast, Stitcher, or whatever you're listening to this week's podcast episode. Of course, if you do have feedback, I'm also on Twitter @bryanjcolllins. Please reach out to me if you have guest suggestions or if you have feedback about my interview with Mike.
Bryan: Welcome back, Mike.
Mike: Bryan, it's a pleasure to be back with you.
Bryan: I interviewed you pretty soon after I launched the Become a Writer Today Podcast about your first, one of your earlier books, Profit First, which was a fantastic read. At the time, you had just written Clockwork which was published, I think, 2018. Is that right?
Mike: Yeah, that is right. It's about four years. Yeah.
Bryan: What have you been up to over the past four years?
Mike: Well, writing books. Since that version of Clockwork, I've released a couple more books — Fix This Next, and Get Different, and then a children's book. But I also spent a lot of time reinvestigating Clockwork. It's my second most popular book next to Profit First. We started a division, a company, that supports it. We'd have our 1000th student take the class. We learned through that person and the 999 before them a lot of things that could be improved in the book, a lot of points of confusion, or complexity. I endeavored to fix it in this new release.
Bryan: Had you also learned from speaking about them in public about what to change or what?
Mike: Yeah, speaking in public is so powerful. Because you can just see by the audience's energy or by a raise of hands where they're confused or where they're engaged, where they feel empowered and not. So, yeah, I've been actively speaking on Clockwork regularly. I did that before I write even the first book. I'm actively speaking on it to really hone it in. So, the process I follow is, I first figure out what the problem is. Then once I understand the problem, I generate hypotheses on how to fix it, and then test it.
I am fortunate to be a shareholder in multiple small businesses. So, we deploy it in our own companies, and then try it with other businesses, then set up courses for people to do it, then write the book and continue speaking. It's during that continuous speaking that there's still some tweaks I discover. I recently released a book now. I realized it's never perfect. Some of them could be improved so significantly by simplifying things, that the impact would be much greater. Profit First is a second release, the version that's popular now. Clockwork now has gone through that same revision. Yeah, public speaking is a big part of it.
Bryan: How do you find the rewriting process? Because I would imagine, when you feel like a book is done, it can be a little bit difficult to go back and find out that it's not done, that there are some new things that have to be said.
Mike: I remember one author saying once I write a book, I'm never going to read a single review of that book because I'm never going to write it again. My philosophy is my books, I think, are adequate as they are. But I think there's other ones that just — there's certain parts that only time will reveal how it can be improved. Because the work environment is changing, or the principles didn't play out on the mass scale as it did on the microscale. So, the rewrite for me is re-evaluating every element of the book, of Clockwork, and saying, does this work? If so, to what degree? Some work.
There's one big concept called the QBR, the Queen Bee Role. It worked. The thing was, people were struggling to figure out their own QBR. QBR stands for the most critical. It's the Queen Bee Role. It's the most critical function of business, that you stake your company's reputation on. Meaning, what you're known for. What's the activity that delivers on that promise?
I remember one person saying, "Oh, the most critical activity in my business is invoicing. Because if we don't invoice, we're never going to get money. So, invoicing is everything to my company. That should never be compromised." My response to that person was, well, if you’re the clients to say what's the most important thing we do? It was the invoicing. What are they going to say? He's like, "No, they care about our service, and the fact that we're so timely." My argument back then was, "Well, it's the timeliness of your service that you're staking your reputation on." What's the activities that support that? That's the heart of your organization. So, I had to restructure that. And so, I went through the whole book. It's 60% brand new content, new case studies, original framework, concepts reinvented, and 40% of the original content has been reordered. So, it's 100% restructured with 60% new. We'll see. I think this time I nailed it. But we'll only know when people start deploying the system again.
Bryan: In the first edition, you had an exercise whereby a reader or a student would get six positive notes or six notes and document their key activities. Did you change that exercise?
Mike: I did. So, there was a process of deduction, where all things that could be this key activity do now we want it. So, the idea is I flipped it to start off with, what is your promised statement? What is your commitment to your customers? What do you intend to be known for? So, instead of trying to reverse it and saying, "This is what we want to be known for," start off by saying, "What are you staking your reputation on?" So, the hopefully simplified approach is, we want to be known for the fastest response.
One example I use in the book is FedEx. FedEx wants to be known for delivering packages on time. That's what they stake their reputation on. Then we simply ask, "Of all the things we do, what most ensures that promise? What's the one thing that most ensures that promise?" There's many things that contribute to what's the most important. So, FedEx has customer service. FedEx has a logistics department. FedEx has print shops. They bought Kinko's. Of all those things, what most delivers on their promise of delivering packages on time is logistics, the management of moving packages. Therefore, it has this QBR.
One way to look at this is, imagine FedEx or any other company makes a shift. FedEx says, "You know what? We're going to ditch logistics. We're going to go all in on customer service. Everyone in that department, logistics is moving to customer service. Well, the headlines will come out prior a week or two from now saying Packages Lost, FedEx Not Delivering a Single Package. But they're super friendly about it. Fine, but they're going to go out of business. They're known for delivering packages on time. They're failing to do that core competency. Now if I flip it, if FedEx says, "You know what? Screw customer service. We're canceling the department. We're going to go double down on logistics," what would be the impact? The headline two weeks from now says, FedEx Not Answering the Phones, But Every Package Delivered on Time. They may be hurt or injured, but they're not compromised. That company is going to continue to move forward. It is a multi, multibillion-dollar corporation. If one thing that matters the most, that's the definition most. There can only be one. To our business, start off with what you want to be known for. Then figure out of all the activities, what one activity most delivers on that, the one thing that can never be compromised? That's your QBR.
Bryan: That makes sense, Mike. So, a lot of nonfiction authors who are succeeding have done what you've done, which is build a business around their book. I'm curious. What would you see as your QBR role?
Mike: Oh, great. I actually talked about it in my own book. It is writing books. So, let me go through the process. The promise I make to my community is to simplify entrepreneurship. I have a purpose, which is different than a promise. My purpose, the reason I do what I do, the greater why — as Simon Sinek would say — is to eradicate entrepreneurial poverty. That's what I feel called to do, and why I'm building this organization. But the promise of how I eradicate entrepreneurial poverty, the thing that really matters to my customers is, I'm going to take a complex subject — entrepreneurship — simplify it. So, I simplify entrepreneurship. That's my promise. That's why I want to be known for. This guy made entrepreneurship easier for me or simpler for me. Then I ask, of all the things I do, which one delivers my promise? Well, I do speaking engagements. We talked about, I write books, I do podcast interviews like we're doing now. I do all this stuff to promote the concepts.
Of all those activities, which one do I stake my reputation most on? It's not speaking. It's not podcast. I could screw this podcast horribly. That may hurt me in the community that you're serving, but I think I'd continue on if my books serve at a high level. But conversely, if I said, "You know what? Screw my books. I'm just going to double down on podcast. I'm really going to nail my presentation skills." Now, I may be able to present well. Maybe I can nail a podcast, but I won't have anything to back it. If my books are crap, who would want to follow this author guy? So, writing books is everything. In fact, even including today, my team knows the most important activity is we produce, I produce extraordinary books, which means we have to devote an extraordinary time for it. So, I have a team here blocking and tackling. We're saying, "Let's make sure we're writing extraordinary books." That's my QBR.
Bryan: Do you spend long every day working on your books, or do you pick it?
Mike: Yeah, I have a team working on the QBR, so I'm not alone. I have a co-writer. Her name is AJ. I have what's called in season, off-season. Off-season, I spend at least an hour every day writing, usually from six to seven in the morning. Sometimes even earlier, 5:30. That's for competency. I'm just writing, honestly, mostly for the garbage can — just writing stories, ideas, collecting, and accumulating around other books and working. When I'm in season — I'm in contract with my publisher and have a deadline like I do right now. End of September is my next deadline — I write at least four hours a day, sometimes five. Beyond that, actually, too grueling, if you will.
Bryan: Four or five is a lot.
Mike: Yeah, it's hard to get beyond that. I can do maybe 3,000 to 4000 words in four to five hours. Not good words. They are kind of chunky. I'm not a speed writer, but I'm vomiting out ideas and thoughts. Then there's a live rewriting, too. As the book moves along, I'll use those blocks of four hours to look what I've written and really start to boil it down to the essence of my ideas.
Bryan: So, you’re editing within the same four-hour session, or do you edit the previous day's work on the next day?
Mike: Oh, no, previous day's work. Yeah, you see, there are full write day or full edit day. It's hard for me to oscillate between the two. Sometimes I do, but it's hard.
Bryan: You mentioned before, do you spend a lot of time working with your students and clients in helping to improve your books? How do you capture notes, research, and ideas from all of those interviews?
Mike: I used to use Evernote. I moved over to OneNote just because it's the Microsoft product. I think Microsoft Word is still, at least for me, the de facto writing platform. So, once again, it's a little more homogenous with that. OneNote is where I'm collecting stuff. I'll always have my phone on me. I had carried a notepad for a while, but I found the phone to be easier. So, I'm recording voice notes, video notes, articles I read. I just compiled them there.
How I sort this is I have every now about 30 to 35 topics, potentially book ideas I want to write on. I just start putting ideas in there. Whenever I see something like, oh, that's interesting, I looked. Does it fit into anything I'm accumulating? I put it in there. When I'm deep into a book — so, my next book is on recruiting employees and retaining employees. It's really the top performance. How do you recruit and retain top-performing people? Once I know that's the subject I'm going to start working on, then I go out and actively seek it. So, in the off-season, passively seeking it. In the on season, I'm actively seeking it. Usually, I'll have 100 to 200 notes or ideas in a subject. Then I'm like, okay, now it's time that I can write this.
Bryan: I remember you also said a couple years ago you wanted to write one book a year. Is that something that you're still trying to do?
Mike: Still trying to do. It's really one every 18 months. It's what I'm pacing at. So, I do have one coming out. Clockwork revised and expanded comes out in 2022. In 2023, I have a new book. The working title is All In, about these employees. In 2024, maybe a year I don't do something, but back by 2025.
Bryan: Wow. Good for you. You've mapped it out for the next two or three years.
Mike: Yeah, I have the ideas. Part of it is I have ideas where I want to do. I've been with my publisher for a long time now and may stay with them. Maybe I'll go on my own. I don't think so. But they have an agenda, too. They have things that they want. Sometimes I have an idea and like, oh, this is not good timing for us, or it's something we don't want. That's why it's hard to see really far down the road. But I can definitely see the next two to three years max.
Bryan: What do you find is the best format for your books? The reason I ask is, generally, audio books of nonfiction tend to sell quite well versus Kindle.
Mike: On volume of sales, my nonfiction book sells — I'm sorry, the audio book sells about 55% of my cumulative sales. Maybe even 60 now. Print — I don't have any softcover books out. I only print hardcover. Not that that's not my choice. It's my publisher. Generally, when a book sells strongly enough in hardcover, they don't cut to soft covers. There's a different perception, at least that's what I hear, from the consumer that softcover is the kind of economic choice. Even the printing and all that stuff sounds like it's basically the same. But nonetheless, my print books, the hardcover books, probably represent 25% to 30% sales. Then the remainder, Kindle, is maybe 15%. I don't know if those numbers are exactly right. But the majority is audio.
Here's the interesting thing now. My audience, I read my own audiobooks. I encourage every author, always read your own book. Maybe if you're in fiction, that's not necessarily true. But in nonfiction, read your own book. Because you'd know how to emphasize it. I will refine my book. I'll read my book, and then I'll take a break from reading and just tell a story. What I found is that it engages readers in a new way and makes some of those folks decide to buy a print book. Now they're looking in parallel. The audio readers because they get a bonus material because they're getting a riff or some other—
Bryan: You're going off script slightly?
Mike: Going off script, yeah. This is a bonus material, or it's different, or whatever. Then they're using the book almost as a workbook to highlight what they're hearing. That riffing has been a good tool to further engage people, and also seems to inspire some folks to get the print book.
Bryan: Gary Vee does that as well on his audiobooks.
Mike: Yeah, he's great. Yeah, he's the best.
Bryan: I now write in an audiobook early last year. It was quite a demanding and tiring experience. I found I could only narrate several chapters before my voice would start to break.
Mike: Yeah, it's so funny. I just finished reading Clockwork. Usually, I get to finish the audio book a month before it gets published. But they want the manuscript totally tight. So, there's a tight window. This one got delayed a little bit. But my assistant scheduled me for five-hour blocks for over three or four days. I'm like, my voice is going to fade. It's going to be choppy and ugly. I lose. It's hard to, at least, for me, to read. So, the second I arrived at the studio, he said we got to book three or four more days. Are you sure? I said I know my reading style. Sure enough, if I can get two and a half, three hours of reading in per day out loud, that's pretty strong for me.
Bryan: Yeah, that's quite a lot. You also wrote a children's book during the lockdown, during the pandemic. Is that right?
Mike: I did. It's called My Money Bunnies. What inspired that was twofold. I know another author who wrote a children's book. His name's Todd Herman. He wrote a book called The Alter Ego Effect. He wrote a children's book to serve kids with the same method. He was explaining how they engaged his audience in a new way and how he was able to serve a new community. That was the inspiration why I wrote the book. What I found with the book was, sure enough, you're engaging new audience, kids and stuff. I actually, just yesterday, got an email from a reader who set up the jars. I teach in the system with their daughter. It was a really cool story that I shared. But the other surreptitious technique that's happening here is, I realized if I could write a book for children, the parents — because it's very, very young children — would be reading the book to their kids, or at least with their kids. It also meant that they're the ones teaching it, but the ones that had to learn it. So, it was a backdoor way for me to teach parents Profit First.
Bryan: It's a good approach. I like that.
Mike: Yeah, it seems to be working.
Bryan: Did it take as long to write as your other books?
Mike: No, I've heard someone saying shorter books are harder to write. Yeah, but I don't know. I only have one experience with this. I had a perspective. I took the Profit First principles that I learned and condensed it. So, maybe that was a big leap off point or starting point. For me, it was much easier to write. Listen, a children's book has maybe 300 words total. It's just a short children's book. It's the pictorial components that were hard, working with the illustrator, ensuring that the graphics match the vision. That was actually the harder part. So, all said and done, it was still a six- to eight-month project. But the writing time was substantially less for me.
Bryan: Yeah, I interviewed a children's book author a few years ago. He said something similar, that it was the illustrations that took up the most time rather than the actual story itself.
Mike: Yeah, I was surprised. The division, it was a young girl. But also, I wanted her to be representative of what I was familiar with. A girl wasn't dressed in a Barbie-like costume like Barbie dolls. The girls I knew back in school were riding skateboards with the boys, like we're always hanging out together. So, I wanted that character. Because to me that represented at least a real girl for me. That is all different flavors, of course. But that was more a representative of it. This artist kept coming back with these prototypical Disney characters. I'm like, no, it's not what we want. Finally, we had a breakthrough there. The illustrator saw it. I saw it. Then we had our character.
Bryan: It makes sense. One section that struck with me in Clockwork was the idea of taking a sabbatical. I think it was four weeks, it's what you advocated for. Is it still something similar? Is that still the recommendation for small business owners?
Mike: Yeah. Actually, I opened the book with the importance of that. The opening story is about that. That has been, perhaps, the most significant impact. It's coming to this four-week vacations. So, I'll give you the philosophy behind it. I'll give you the new discovery we had to face. So, the philosophy is, I've studied now hundreds of businesses intimately on the subject, thousands subjectively from a distance. I've noticed this. Every business I studied goes through monthly cycles. We acquire new clients. We deliver our service or product. We may hire contractors or employees, maybe remove someone from the team, with the invoice and bill, we close out the month. Most businesses run on these monthly cycles. That's when I realized, wow, if everything's happening within a month's time period, the owner or the leader of the company wasn't available for that month. That means the business has to address all of these different elements without the owner. Therefore, if we can leave the business for four weeks, leave the business into perpetuity. So, that became the four-week trial — staying removed from your business for four consecutive weeks, and see how the business does.
Now, people are terrified to do this because they haven't prepared the business. What I argue in the book is, it's not a question if you're going to take a four-week vacation. It's simply a question of when you're going to take your four-week vacation. Maybe thrust upon you through illness or some kind of unexpected situation that you have to address. But it is going to happen. You're not going to be there forever, for every day. So, that was the impetus behind this, and causing an intentional disruption so the business can get stronger in your absence, building systems and the structures.
We added in this new book. It was the president of our company. I live by. One great thing about being an author of a concept is you got to live by the concept. So, I'm taking my four-week vacations. I get a call from the president of our company saying, "We all need the four-week vacation, every single employee here." Because what's happening is when the boss meet man, when I'm away, the burden gets spread to the rest of the team. But now we have dependency on the rest of the team. What if one of those people leave or quit?
I think it was two years ago. Every employee here gets a full four-week vacation. It must be consecutive, paid by the company. I feel like wow, this is a great recruiting tool. It has an amazing benefit. It is, but the biggest benefits to the company. Because now it forces redundancy. Other people have to be able to cover for that person in their absence. Will they get other mechanisms in place? It's built a very nimble, strong company. So, that's the new thing introduced in Clockwork. It's this concept of four-week vacation for everybody. Not at the same time. Just so you have constant intentional disruption. It's like building a muscle. You have to have that resistance to build muscle. You must have disruption in order to prepare for the inevitable disruptions that are going to happen.
Bryan: Yeah, I took 17 days off. But I think it got to day 6 before I had to check in and pay some invoices and response.
Mike: Well, there you go. I challenge you to schedule another four-week vacation. But day six is a very revealing day. Why did you do invoices? What systems can we put in place so it doesn't have to happen again? When we remove ourselves, it reveals the problems in the business, and we step forward. I don't expect people to have a perfect four-week vacation on their first departure. Even in the book, I tell people how to build up. Start with a two-week or like you were doing, and build your way there. But every time something doesn't work, that's not a call for us to reinsert ourselves. That's a call for us to build a system to resolve that.
Bryan: It makes sense. For your future books, do you have other concepts that you're tinkering on in the background, that you're trying to validate?
Mike: Yeah, so I'm working on one around partnerships. One thing is interesting in a lot of businesses. Day one on a startup company, I feel I want to have a partner. I find a partner. There is a brief courting period. We've got this. This is going to be amazing. The first six months or year is amazing, because everyone's all in. It's after that, that there becomes this conflict that can sit in or worse. Each partner feels they're shortchanged in some capacity by the other partner. Partnerships can fracture very quickly. It seems to happen more often than not.
So, how do you make a partnership that lasts the distance of the business, that's supportive, that's successful? So, I'm working on that. Selling a company is coming up regularly. How to do the exit the right way? A lot of entrepreneurs build a business and say, "One day, I'm going to sell this thing." They are not prepared to sell it. That one day comes, and no one wants it. Plus, the shame with a lot of money and opportunity left on the table. Think about that. A book on sale selling. What really is effective selling? How can someone that doesn't like to be a salesperson sell better than anyone else? So, those are all things I have hypothesis on, that we're playing within tinkering and testing out. Maybe one of those books will be the next book in line for 2024, 2025.
Bryan: Those are all triptych ideas. Do you still build a single business around each book or some of the book’s part of one business?
Mike: Each book has a licensee. So, instead of me running the company — which is not my competency. I'm not great at that — what I do is I find partners. We partner up, and they roll out a company that provides the service behind it. What's interesting is, when someone reads a book, a nonfiction book, a portion want to make sure they're doing it right and they hire the service behind it. So, I think it's important to have this service. I just don't want to build these businesses on my own. So, for this new book tentatively titled All In, we're going to have a partner who's already actively been testing and rolling our concepts. Then when the book launches, we're in full out mode of promoting the services.
Bryan: Mike, where should people go if they want to read any of your work? Where is the best place?
Mike: The best place to go, well, you could go to mikemichalowicz.com. It's so hard to spell or pronounce it. I got a website, mikemotorbike.com. I think it was before I got maybe four or five years ago. That was a nickname I had in grade school. It's the only G-rated nickname. The other ones are too profane. So, if you go to mikemotorbike.com, I still see all my books listed up there. You can get chapter downloads from them to start experiencing these books right away. I started for the Wall Street Journal, too. You'll see that there. That's mikemotorbike.com.
Bryan: I'm looking at it here. It has a fantastic animation, which I won't spoil.
Mike: Oh, yeah. I love doing those Easter eggs. When you land there, there's an animation. If you navigate the site, you'll find some crazy stuff that you won't find elsewhere. That's a fun thing I like to do.
Bryan: Great, Mike. I'll put the links in the show notes. Thanks again for coming back on the show.
Mike: This has been enjoyable. Thanks for having me, Bryan.
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