Illustrated Booknotes - Company of One


Every month I read a different book and produce a series of Illustrated Booknotes from it, along with more general notes.

This month it was the turn of ‘Company of One’ by Paul Jarvis.

I found the book to be highly informative and useful, so I thoroughly recommend picking up your own copy rather than relying on these booknotes alone.

People would rather get electric shocks than simply be alone with their thoughts - study at University of Virginia

By decluttering my thoughts (crating an “in-box zero” for my brain, if you will), I was able to look at my day-to-day business much more clearly because the distractions were now gone. I hadn’t been able to cleary express my reasons for the way I had been working until that moment.

Start small, define growth, and keep learning

Tom has been able to create a stable, long-term business that’s small enough to. handle any economic climate, resilient enough to not have to lean too heavily on a single project or client, and autonomous enough to let him build a life around his work (not the other way around).

As much as I enjoy growing my wealth, I also realise that there’s a point of diminishing returns if I don’t also take care of myself and my well-being.

  • The first trait that resilient people have is an acceptance of reality. They don’t need for things to be a certain way and don’t engage in wishful thinking.

  • The second purpose of resilient people is a sense of purpose - being motivated by a sense of meaning rather than by just money. Although purpose and money are not mutually exclusive, you’re more likely to be resilient when you know that even in awful or stressful situations, you’re working toward a greater and larger good.

  • The last trait of resilient people in a company of one is the ability to adapt when things change - because they invariably do.

What’s difficult to automate is exactly what makes a company of one great: the ability to creatively solve problems in new and unique ways without throwing “more” at the problem.

Autonomy and control

To achieve autonomy as a company of one, you have to be a master at your core skill set.

Google gives its engineers “20 percent time”: they can work on whatever project they want for w0 percent of their time. More than half of the products and projects Google releases were created during this 20 percent time.


Her work (Kaitlin Maud digital strategist), because she put in the time to become great at it, now revolves around her life.

Sol (Sol Orwell) would rather have ownership of his work and the freedom to not have to fill every minute of every day with his job. Success to him means making a great living, but not at the expense of being able to take long mid-day breaks to walk his dog or attend hourlong dance classes on a Wednesday afternoon.

Achieving control over a company of one requires more than just using the core skill you are hired for. It also requires proficiency at sales, marketing, project management, and client retention.


Companies of one work best under constraints - because that’s where creativity and ingenuity thrive. Companies like Basecamp have a four-day workweek during the summer because it helps them prioritise what’s important to work on and what they can let go of.

Companies of one question their systems, processes, and structure to become more efficient and to achieve more with the same number of employees and fewer hours of work.

Speed is not merely about frantically working faster. It’s about figuring out the best way to accomplish a task with new and efficient methods. This is the concept at work in the ROWE method (results only work environment): employees no longer have to work a set amount of time, but are rewarded when they finish their tasks faster. By being smarter at getting more work done faster when you work for yourself, you can create a more flexible schedule that fits work into your life in better ways.

Another aspect of speed in a company of one is the ability to pivot quickly when a customer base or market changes.

Facing the limitations of both time and money running out, Stewart’s team (Stewart Butterfield) managed to hyperfocus on a single solution and bring it to market.

Pinboard had kept things simple, played the long game, and ended up winning.

Growth for a company of one can mean simplifying rules and processes, which frees up time to take on either more work or more clients, because tasks can be finished faster. With this goal in mind, companies of one routinely question everything they do. Is this process efficient enough? What steps can be removed and the end result will be the same of better? Is this rule helping or hindering our business?


Simplicity has to be a mandate

Sean D’Souza feels that his job as a business owner is not to endlessly increase profits, or even to defeat the competition, but instead to create better and better products and services that his customers benefit from in their lives and work.

His work routine revolves mostly around answering questions for his customers in his private message board on his website.

Sean is easily able to meet his $500,000 per year profit goal, not through marketing and promotion, but by paying close attention to his existing customer base. His audience has grown slowly and sustainably because those listeners share his work with their own audiences and contacts - his current customers gladly become his (unpaid) sales force.

Too often businesses forget about their current audience - the people who are already listening, buying, and engaging. These should be the most important people to your business - far more than anyone you wish you were reaching. Whether your audience is ten people, a hundred people, or even a thousand people, if you’re not doing right by them, right now, nothing you do regarding growth or marketing will make a lick of difference. Make sure you’re listening to, communicating with, and helping the people who are already paying attention to you.

Once they won (sports players) they’d let their own ego get in the way of all the talks that had helped them win in the first place - like practice and focus - and instead become lured into more endorsements, more accolades, and more media attention. As a result, they ultimately lost to internal forces, not to competitors.



Envy: the ulcer of the soul and of business growth

Envy is based on false comparison

Meditate: to delight in the good fortunes and accomplishments of others.

Determining the right mind-set

To succeed as a company of one, you have to have a real underlying purpose. You why matters as an u seen but ever-present element that drives your business. Your purpose is ore than just a pretty-sounding mission statement on your website; it’s how your business acts and represents itself. And it’s what your business sometimes places above even profit.

As more and more consumers are making purchases related to shared value (even over price) companies are re pounding by aligning their true purpose with how they act at every step along the supply chain.

In a thriving economy people gladly buy products that align with their values, and in a downturn they spend less and do business with companies they respect and trust. So either way, having a purpose is a win.

If your business is fully alligned with your purpose, you’ll be more motivated to keep at it,e Ben during the tough moments.

They were skilled at what they did before they took a leap.

They tested their leap with a smaller jump before they clicked to the top of the highiest platform.

Just as autonomy is achieved through mastery of skills and ownership of an ability to solve problems, so too is passion. Passion doesn’t precede mastery, but follows it.


With a key trait of a company of one being the speed at which things can happen and be accomplished, productivity is required.

A Microsoft research study found that attempting to focus on more than one priority at a time reduces productivity by as much as 40 percent, which is the cognitive equivalent of pulling an all-nighter. Research done by Hewlett-PAckard found that the IQs of employees who were interrupted by email, calls or messaging were reduced by more than 10 points - which is twice the impact of smoking marijuana.

*Companies of one need to become adept at “single-tasking” - doing one thing for an extended period of time without distraction. This capacity helps you focus on the right tasks, do them after, and do them with less stress.

Fewer distractions means speedier work.

Jason Fried of Baseamp believes that the norm sho9uld be every employee having a full eight hours per day of uninterrupted work to themselves.

As a company of one, it’s easy to mentall eat yourself up for not accomplishing enough during a day. But how often do you take into account how rare it is, between doing your core work and managing you business, to have a full day, every day, to sit and work without interruptions? You may be failing to realise how much of your schedule is taken up with maintenance work or communication.

**If we reframe the question of how we spend our time, however, we can start to figure out how long each of our tasks actually takes. Perhaps we need only four hours a day to get our work done.


Personality matters

As a company of one, your brand should very much represent some distinct aspect of yourself, while taking into account whom you’re trying to re ach.

Brand personality needs to foster a two-sided relationship - one focused on not just how your business can benefit or gain something from others, but on how others can benefit from having a relationship with your business.

The idea is to showcase those aspects of who you are naturally are as they relate to building fascination with your intended audience.

attention is the most important currency anyone can give a business, and that attention is worth more than revenue or possessions.

Sally Hogshed, best selling business author, contents that the key is to unlearn being boring. That is, you need to learn how to elicit a strong emotional response to your business, and the personality of your brand, because while it’s easy to forget or lose interest in information, it’s much harder to forget strong emotion

Companies of one have to be the pistachio ice cream of their market. For better or worse, peopl either absolutely love pistachio or can’t stand its flavour and weird green colour For its loyal fans, pistachio ice cream stand out, demands attention, and charges a premium.

The best marketing is never just about sellling a product or service, but about taking a stand - showing an audience why they should believe in what you’re marketing enough to want it ay any cost, simply because they agree with what you’re doing.

There’s power in polarisation. If we try to appeal to everyone, we won’t appeal to anyone in particular.

Memorable stories are often driven by a protagonist fighting against an antagonist, giving the audience someone to root for and to root against. After all, there’s not Star Wards without Darth Vader. The same can occur in business: since our brains are wired for relating to and remembering good stories and epic struggles, a company that isn’t telling a compelling story can devolve into boring and forgettable vanilla ice cream


These days consumers buy and make choices often based on alignment with their own values.

The one customer

UT’s a great feeling when an employee or business owner goes out of their way to be helpful. There’s something quite memorable about a personal touch, or a business taking ownership of a problem and going out of its way to fix ut.

There’s overwhelming,ing evidence that treating customers well. As if they’re your one and only customer, drives value to your bottom line.

*Customer service is a huge differentiating factor in why people choose their places where they want to sp end their money. If you serve your customers well, they in turn become brand evangelists for your company: basically an unpaid ales force that reduces your need to hire more staff.

A study from McKinsey showed that 70 percent of buying experiences are based more on how customers feel that are treated and less on the tangibles of a product.

If you treat customers like they’re your one and only customer, they’ll reciprocate that love for your brand by not only continuing to do business with you, but telling their own networks to do so as well.

The best way to get customers talking about your business to people they know is to make sure they’re happy with what you’re doing for them and how you’re providing help if they need it.

Understanding customers requires not just providing exceptional handling of their support request but then gaining a bigger picture idea abut the types of questions and equestrian that are coming in.

In short, customer happiness is the new marketing. If your customers feel that you are taking care of them, then they’ll tell others.

To be most helpful to your customers, you sometimes have to look beyond the problems they’re presenting to you. The underlying reason customers are asking for help is often not obvious:sometime they’re looking for specific answers, but so,times they’re asking for a certain feature without even being aware that’s what they’re doing.

You have to own your mistakes - even those cause by someone else - by taking personal responsibility for them before someone else blames you for them.


Your word is a contract

Nicolas exley, a professor of behavioural science at the University of Chicago Business School, says that people tend to evaluate each other based on two general dimensions: how interpersonally warm we appear to be, and how competent we seem to be. His work suggest that the way to be positively assessed by others is by making promises and then keeping them.

The best approach is to treat every agreement with a customer as a legally biding contract because, on a societal level, that’s what it is.

Teach everything you know

Brian Clark of Copyblogger

Brian learned that his competitive edge was in his ability to outshare his competition, and that’s what he did with Copyblogger - he shared everything he know about content marketing with a quickly growing audience. Brian believes that building an audience by sharing content with a growing mailing list is a solid business model, in that you can find out exactly what your growing audience wants from you and then build it for them. He learned from Seth Godin that selling to people who truly want to hear from you, because you’ve been sharing with them, is far more effective than interrupting strangers online who don’t know you.

Each product was based on direct intel from interacting with and listening to the audience consuming the content that Brian was sharing. This “education through content” built the necessary trust to turn into sales.

To stand out and build an audience as a company of one, you have to out-teach and outshare the competition, not outscale them. This approach has several positive outcomes.

  1. Audience sees you as a teacher and perceives you to be the expert on the subject matter. They’ll begin to trust your insights, and you’ll become the first person they turn to.

  2. The chance to show your audience the benefits of what you’re selling. Give them the information they need, in a genuine, compelling, and educational way, and letting them come to their own decision about whether such a purchase is right for them.

  3. By educating new customers on how best to sue your product or service and showing them how to get the most out of it or how to be the most successful with it, you’ll also ensure that they’ll become long-term customers and tell others about their positive experience.

  4. Except for certain proprietary information - like your unexecuted ideas, business strategies, or patentable technologies - most ideas or processes don’t need to be kept under lock and key. Being transparent in almost all areas, while running your company aboveboard, can only help build trust with your customers.


Ideas along are worthless

*Ideas aren’t a valid currency. Execution is the only valid currency in business.

*An idea alone is worthless because it stands outside of execution.

The purpose of a copyright is not to protect the idea but to protect the execution - the months of research and writing.

*Sharing your ideas far and wide helps build not just a following for what you’re selling but a movement around that core values and thinking that your product stands for.

*At the core of many massive, profitable, global companies is an old idea executed exceptionally well. Facebook is a digital meeting place, Uber takes people from A to B. None of these are billion-dollar ideas; rather they’re billion-dollar executions of ideas.

That’s why companies of one shouldn’t worry about sharing their ideas, as long as they’re taking care of execution and their ideas are not proprietary.

*By focusing a lot of time and energy on protecting ideas instead of sharing them, you run the risk of not letting them get better through critical feedback from others. Even sharing your business idea with potential customers has its benefits, as thy weigh in early, before you’ve invested a lot of time or resources, and help you shape and position the idea into an even better execution.

The downside of sharing is...nothing

Jessica Abel - comic book artist, writer and teacher

She benefits as much as her students as she cou;don’t offer students a great class without teaching it he first time and then learning from heir feedback

Customer education - providing an audience with the knowledge, skills, and abilities to become an informed buyer - is one of the most important parts of a sales cycle. Too often we’re so close to what we’re selling that we assume others are also experts on it, or know what we know, but most of the time that’s not the case. Customers don’t always know what they don’t know, or don’t know enough about something to realise how useful or beneficial that information could be to them or their own business.

Sharing vital information on a product or a service provides a new customer with key insights into how to use it and get the most out of it; you may even show people ways to use what you sell that they hadn’t thought of. The lack of this kind of sharing can lead to customer frustration or distrust.

As a company of one, what you teach people about your product c an and will set you apart. So, for example, if you sell mailing list software, be sure to teach your clients about the importance of email marketing. If you sell luggage, teach travel hacks.


Teaching builds authority

By building authority, you can stand out in any industry because both your peers and customers turn to you for expertise, regardless of the size of your company. Word of mouth happens, Google links to you favorably, you’re invited to speaking gigs and so on - all because your expertise is valued.

If you think of leaders in your industry, you can see that those people have an image of authority - like Debbie Millman in the field of Graphic Design.

We look to these people for answers, we learn from them, and if we’re part of the audience they’re teaching, we probably buy from them as well.

It’s not enough to just tell people you’re an authority - you’ve got to demonstrate your actual expertise by sharing what you know and teaching others. You build authority not by propping yourself up, but by teaching your audience and customers - so that they truly learn, understand, and succeed. When you make that happen consistently, you’re building and establishing the right kind of authority.

Teaching your expertise positions you as an authority simply by virtue of the fact that you’re showing someone else how to do something. People can be guarded if they think they’re being sold to. But more often than not, customers will engage and open up if they feel like they’re learning something useful. The more you teach, the more your audience will see you as an expert. Then, when it comes time to buy something, they’ll find that they want to pay for more of that expertise.

A study done in 2009 by neuroscientist Greg Berns at Emory University found that the decision-making centers of our brain slow down or shit off when we are receiving wanted advice from experts. Customers consistently rate experts as the most trusted spokespeople, far above typical CEOs or celebrities.

Basecamp has no internal goals or quota around conversions or customer growth - its only mandate is to outshare and out-teach everyone else by writing books, speaking at conferences etc.

The reason these kinds of experts stand out, regardless of which industry they’re in, is because they teach what they know. They share and give away their ideas freely. They don’t worry about whether someone will steak their innovation for a produce, service, or book - they just work at executing and sharing ideas better and faster than anyone else, in their own unique style and with their own unique personality. And this approach leads to business success.


Teaching builds trust and expertise like nothing else.

When someone’s receptive to what you’re teaching, they inherently trust the information you’re sharing. If you can consistently give your audience useful, relevant and timely knowledge (through your mailing list, speaking events, website etc) they’ll begin to lean on you for more information.

Teaching doesn’t require its of time, resources or even money - it can be as simple as sharing what you know with the people who are listening.

Properly utilising trust and scale

Glen Urban has found that there are three aspects of trust:

  • Confidence - I believe what you say

  • Competence - I believe you have the skills. To do what you say

  • Benevolence - I believe you are acting on my behalf

Trust by proxy - if your good friend tells you that a product is worth buying, you’ll listen because you trust your friend; some of that trust is then. passed on to the product they’re recommending.


According to Nielsen, 92 percent of consumers trust recommendations from family or friends over any other form of advertising.

A study at Texas Tech found that while 83 percent of customers are willing to provide referrals, only 20 percent do so.

I doubled the amount of sharing for one of my products by automatically sending an email a week after purchase asking customers, if pleased with hat they purchased, to share their satisfaction with others - using links with rewritten content provided.

If you ask for a testimonial as soon as a project is finished, the client has rarely had enough time to collect any results-based data. By following up a few weeks or months later, you can garner far better stories from clients to use in your marketing efforts.

By creating a schedule for following up with contented clients, you can turn referrals into a real strategy instead of simply refreshing your inbox and hoping each day that one will come in.

**Marketing is simply building a sense of trust and empathy with a specific group of people by consistently communicating with them.

For someone to want to buy your product, they have to feel that you understand their needs and have a solution for them.

Trust is more easily established within a smaller customer base because it’s easier to stand out as an expert or to gather referrals that hold weight from other industry experts in that niche.


Out-share and out-teach everyone else.

The more specific you are with who your products or services are for, the more you can build trust with that particular audience. The paradox of focusing on a niche is that the more specific you are, the easier it is to sell to that group and the more likely it is that you can charge a premium for being that focused. With that kind of focus in. mind, you can get to know the specifics of your nice better, learn how to serve customers more effectively, and build a reputation for yourself in that smaller niche

Trust has to be totally baked into every aspect of not only what you sell, but how you sell and support it.

Launching and iterating in tiny steps

Aim to be profitable as quickly as possible

Getting your product or service released as soon as possible, even if it’s small, is both financially wise and educational, since a quick release can also serve as a perfect learning experience. The first version of a product doesn’t need to be huge - it simply needs to solve on problem well and leave your customers feeling better than before they purchased it.

Finding a simple solution to a big or complicated problem is your strongest asset as a company of one.

Unsplash (royalty-free stock photographs) steamed by buying a cheap theme and uploading ten high-resolution images taken by a local photographer. Within three hours, the first low-fi version was launched. They did the work manually until a callable system was absolutely required.

Offer service/course as a one-on-one service first. You make money straightway, can learn from it, and can scale up later.

Launch quickly - and launch often

The cofounder Of LinkedIn, Reid Hoffman, has said that if you aren’t embarrassed by the first version of your product, then you’ve launched too late.

Jim Collins, best-selling author of Good to Great, studies 1,435 companies over a forty-year span. He found that every great company that’s very profitable and successful started out as simply good enough to launch.


The hidden value of relationships

If your business is constantly selling and constantly pushing its wares, people instinctively start to avoid your business or stop responding to your emails. But if you use your platform to teac, empower, and make customer’s lives or businesses better, you are seen a a trusted adviser, not as a shady or slick salesperson. This is why Chris (Brogan) promotes friends and people he finds who are doing interesting works without being asked to. He creates relationships by constantly thinking: Who do I know who could benefit from connecting with this person?

If you have a mailing list of 1,000 people and most of them reply to your newsletters, you’ll be able to read and personally reply to each reader.

Chris Brown believes that real connections are built when companies share a simple message, repeatedly, through their actions. Long before they ask for a sale, these companies articulate their message by sharing who they serve, and why.

Think of social capital as like a bank balance. If you’re always asking people to buy your products or doing nothing but promoting your business and its products on social media, your balance will hit zero or you may even be quickly overdrawn.


Honestly consider two questions.

  1. In the beginning, can you reduce any of your expenses so that you can do less work to be profitable?

  2. How likely is it that you’ll get the nu,bear of customers you need each month to be profitable?

Another factor related to money is how you spend your time. Every day you spend developing a product is a day you aren’t really making any money from it.

How can you get an initial version of your product to market quickly to start building revenue?

About 90% of all businesses worldwide that are more than 100 years old are Japanese. They have fewer than 300 employers.

Becoming too small to fail.

With bigger scale come bigger dangers, bigger risks, and much work to become and remain profitable. Instead you can focus on building something that, in effect, is too small to fail. You can adapt a company of one to ride out recessions, adjust to changing customer motivations, and ignore competition by being smaller, more focused, and in need of much less to turn a profit


About Rob


Hi! I’ve been drawing cartoons for more years than I can think of.

You might be wondering why I choose octopuses th help illustrate this article.

I recently watch a documentary about a Canadian marine biologist who kept an octopus in a tank in his home so that he could study it more closely. It was absolutely fascinating, and one of the things I learnt about was that octopus are solitary creatures. Seeing as the title of the book was ‘A Company of One’, the idea of using the octopus as the main character sprang to mind.

I hopethese Illustrated Booknotes have been useful for you. I can create Illustrated Booknotes, or other personalized cartoons for you do. Drop me a mail and we’ll talk.