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These 3 books helped me grow 2 successful agencies

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I believe if you change what’s on the inside, in your heart, in your mind, you automatically act and think differently. You create a different life.

You tweak a few things under the hood of your car, and suddenly it goes from 0 to 60 a whole lot quicker.

Reading is one of the most powerful ways to change what’s “under the hood.”

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In fact, to this day, there are 3 books that I think back to pretty much every day, and they still help me do better in business and in life.

Here they are. Then, after you’re done, I’d love to hear your top 3!

1. Dale Carnegie, “How to Win Friends and Influence People”

I’m pretty socially anxious and really suck at traditional networking, but I know how to talk to the right people who I want to work with in the right way.

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I know how to make them feel valued and appreciated from the start of the conversation, which opens the door to the conversation going longer – or follow up convos at a later date.

I’ve landed life-changing partnerships because of this ability, and kept great relationships going for years.

I have to attribute a lot of that to this book.

It cuts past the B.S. layers we all put on our personalities to make it through society and gets right to the heart of what people are looking for.

Namely, appreciation and acknowledgement.

He then gives you really practical ways to give people the recognition and appreciation they crave.

It’s not in some manipulative, con man way either (though I’m sure con men are masters of this book).

Dale makes it clear that whether or not you have something to “gain” from someone, it’s just a good thing to make them feel this way.

It’s how we should be making each other feel at all times, because it’s what we all really crave.

The world would be a much different place if we did 😉

Making the right connections has been ridiculously beneficial to every area of my life, including my bottom line.

Read this book. Then read it again. And again.

(I’m re-reading it right now, in fact!)

2. John Caples, “Tested Advertising Methods”

Before I ever wrote copy, I just wrote. Writing has pretty much always been a big part of my life.

In fact, I remember the first ad I ever wrote. I wanted to teach guitar lessons. So I wrote this whole long bio about myself and what the guitar meant to me and why I wanted to teach.

I posted it to Craigslist, and waited for the phone to ring. 

It never did.

Then I read John Caples’ book and when I re-read my ad, I nearly fell out of my chair.

Just like Dale Carnegie, Caples preaches thinking about the other person.

What do they want?

What are they trying to get?

What problems keep them up at night?

My ad was all about me. Me, me, me. When I realized this, I felt embarrassed. Why would anyone care about my story? Or rather – why did I feel I’d earned the right to bombard them with it?

I wasn’t thinking about my potential students. I was thinking about me.

I re-wrote my ad focused on the other person, and started getting new students like crazy.

To this day, that’s what I stick to, and to this day, it works.

Caples was one of the most successful copywriters of all time because every word he wrote was with the reader in mind. Every word tapped into their desires and problems and offered them a way out.

I think every designer needs to read this book, because the biggest critique I have of designers’ marketing is it tends to be very self-centered. It doesn’t tap into the visitors’ problems – the anxiety that drove them to look you up in the first place.

You might think the language in Caples’ advertising is out-dated… but the principles stand.

3. Robert Collier, “The Robert Collier Letter Book”

In the hay day of direct mail advertising and letters, when millions upon millions of dollars were made from hard-selling letters, there was Robert Collier.

In this sea of “buy now before it’s too late and the world ends!” style letters was a calm, gentle voice of reason.

Filled with compassion and phrases like, “If you should find the time,” somehow, despite what was “supposed” to work, Robert Collier was a massive success.

He still used the time-tested principles of good advertising – having a product that solves the market’s problems, stating that and demonstrating it clearly, enticing action through urgency.

But what he didn’t have was all the “yelling.” 

This really resonated with me because my earliest marketing lessons came from someone I was close with whose personality was “yelling.” He was just a loud, in-your-face, outgoing guy.

I’m a lot quieter and more introverted. It felt forced to advertise in the way my mentor did.

Robert Collier showed me a different way. He showed me that you can be compassionate and gentle, and still sell stuff like crazy.

You can give people room to breathe and they’ll still take action.

In fact, in a sea of too many people shouting for your attention… sometimes being “quieter” is being “louder.”

This book showcases tons of examples of his most successful letters and analyses of why they worked so well.

Looking back, I see that these 3 books have something in common:


They’re all about communicating more effectively with others to help them get what they want, to help you get what you want, and to be a lot happier in the process.

I’ve read a lot of books on copy, design, and advertising that helped me with the “technical” side, but these books transcended that and made me think differently about the whole process — and people — altogether. I think that’s why, though I read some of them as long as 13 years ago, they still influence me and help me grow to this day.

If you’ve read any of them – I’d love to hear your thoughts. Or…

Leave me a comment and give me your own top 3 books. I’m always looking for a good read 😉

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About David Tendrich

David Tendrich is the co-head of creative agency Unexpected Ways, as well as the co-founder of Reliable PSD: the first-ever PSD to HTML & PSD to Wordpress service run by designers, for designers. He co-runs his companies from Portland, Oregon with his lovely wife and biz partner, Lou Levit.


More about David’s business: David is co-founder of Reliable PSD – what happened when a group of designers got fed up with PSD to Code companies… and created their own. Check them out, and see why freelancers & agencies are head over heels for this amazing new service.

Leave a Comment



  1. Hi David, Thank you for sharing your favourite books and how they’ve influenced you. I’m going to look for a copy of Robert Collier’s Letter book in the library.

    My 3 favourite books are: Be a Kickass Assistant by Heather Beckel, The EMyth Revisited by Michael E. Gerber and The Creative Professional’s Guide to Money, by Ilise Benun.

    And I always read Millo.co. Have a good weekend. 🙂

  2. 2 chapters in to ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ at the moment. Considering how long ago it was written, it was way ahead of it time.

  3. Looked at the how to win friends and influence people book vlbefore but found a tonne of reviews saying that the techniques were out dated. I guess il have to check it out

  4. Jeremy Mura says:

    How to Win Friends and Influence People is a great book! Great suggestions man

  5. Thanks for this! I loved the phrase about getting things out there without the yelling – will definitely read that book.


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