Financial Fiction Review: ‘The First Billion’ by Christopher Reich

Love financial fiction? So do I. And I review them for you!

In this post I’m reviewing…

The First Billion by Christopher Reich


Financial fiction with international adventure, plenty of IPO and stock market action, big dollars, and a corrupt Russian businessman.

OVERVIEW: This story is about John “Jett” Gavallan, a former pilot who now owns Jet Black Securities and is in the midst of taking a Russian media company public on the New York Stock Exchange. His company is stretched thin to make this big win and they are pinning all their hopes on this media company… when a mysterious blogger starts sharing alarming information about the media company. Suddenly, everything starts to unravel as Jett globetrots from the US to Europe to Russia to learn the truth and save his struggling company.

REVIEW: This is Christopher Reich’s third book, published in 2002. I really enjoyed Reich’s other books (Numbered Account, The Runner, The Devil’s Banker — I will be reviewing all of them here) but I gotta be honest, I didn’t love this book. The characters seemed like they were stereotypes (the all-American jet-flying hero, the bureaucratic Swiss banker, the seductive Russian woman named Tatiana, the corrupt Russian businessman, the by-the-books FBI agent, etc., etc.) These characters then felt plunked down in a plot that seemed tired and stretched thin. I also find the inconsequential details, like on page 129-130, which lists the brands of empty drink containers he has in his garbage can. I think Reichs did this to give it a sense of realism and to root the story in the real world (maybe?) but I think it distracts from the pace of the story and pads the runtime. And most disappointing, in my opinion, was the the climax: the characters all converged at the New York Stock Exchange for one final showdown but nothing really happened. Yes justice was dealt but (spoiler alert) the villain got away and so did a turncoat on the inside of the main character’s business… therefore justice was done but not by the main character. The book just felt like a bloated story with cardboard cut-out caricatures.

FINANCIAL FICTION QUOTIENT: The financial fiction quotient comes and goes through the book. At times there is a good amount of financial content, especially as they introduce the concepts of the stock exchange, how an underwriter works, and all the money moving around the world. That part was great. But it came in bursts and then vanished, to be replaced by a bit more punching-and-shooting action. Nothing wrong with with either. This is probably better for newbies to financial fiction because it’s very approachable and not overly detailed. That said, you also need to remember that this book was published in 2002, which means it was probably written in 2000-2001 at the height of a tech bubble, so some of the info is dated.

SUMMARY: I hate being so critical of this book, especially since I normally love Christopher Reich… but I just didn’t love this book. It was hard to get through and I almost gave up a few times. This book will appeal to someone; just not me.

Find more financial fiction reviews here.

Do You WOW Your Customers? (Many Say They Do But Very Few Actually Do)

Aaron Hoos

(Okay, ignore that silly picture of me. I’m apparently reflecting the same WOWed face of a statue of a famous Greek philosopher.)

Instead, let’s talk about WOWing customers…

Do you serve your customers? Do you WOW them?

You might THINK you do but you probably don’t.

Nope. Even YOU.

Customer Service: The Misunderstood Deliverable

Customer service is such a weird thing: customers want to be served, businesses want to serve them, businesses know that good customer service helps to cement the relationship…

and yet, businesses fail to understand the depth to which customer service needs to occur.

The result is: businesses think they’re giving good customer service (when really they’re not), customers barely feel served so they go somewhere else.

Customer service is the misunderstood deliverable. Many businesses believe they give good customer service but very very very very few actually do.

What Is “Good” Customer Service?

Businesses often tout their “good” (or “great” or whatever) customer service as a point of pride or a core value. They plaster their good-customer-service claims everywhere.

But when the customer engages with the business, they experience something entirely different.

That’s because the business and the customer measure “good” very differently.

If you’re a business owner, think about what you consider to be “good” customer service. For a lot of businesses it includes things like:

  • We greet you as soon as you walk in the store
  • Our staff are friendly, polite, and helpful
  • We make sure you are served with what you want and need
  • We have fair prices and good value; we’re not ripping people off
  • We happily refund purchases if they don’t work

I suspect that some business owners are reading this list and nodding in agreement and thinking: “yes, that’s exactly the kind of good customer service that we give! And we’re proud of it!”

Well here’s where things fall apart: You might think that is good customer service…

… your customers view that as the absolutely minimum baseline for what they can expect in any and every store they do business with.

(Yes, even your competitors probably deliver this, even if you don’t think they do.)

So, what stores are measuring as “good”, customers are expecting as the absolute bare minimum.

Let’s use a different example to highlight the disparity: Imagine a romantic relationship between two people.

The one person in the relationship believes that they are good in the relationship because…

  • They call
  • They go out on dates with the other person
  • They don’t smell
  • They remember the other person’s birthday

Person one is proud that they are a good partner. Problem is, the other person in relationship knows that there are a million fish in the sea who also have those qualities. Those aren’t “good” qualities, they’re the minimum baseline upon which the first person needs to do better if they want the relationship to last.

So, What Really Is Good Customer Service?

Good customer service is service that rises above the baseline. It builds on the minimum standard but goes further.

  • It’s not just greeting the person when they walk in the store but connecting with them later as well with a thank you call that doesn’t try to sell them anything
  • It’s not just a staff that are friendly, polite, and helpful; it’s a staff who very clearly go out of their way to drop everything and make the customer the sole focus of their attention (hire someone else to answer the ringing phones), and who become so friendly with the customer that the customer asks for them by name when they come back
  • It’s not just serving customers with what they want and need; it’s finding ways to add value beyond that, recommending additional products and services, giving away free information to support the use of the product, and following-up about the purchase months later
  • It’s not just having fair prices and good value; it’s about surprising them with much, much, much, much more than they were ever expecting
  • It’s not just a refund policy, it’s a guarantee with teeth
  • It’s not just knowing the customer’s name but using it regularly, along with their family’s names

… and that’s just scratching the surface.

Stop thinking of your customer service as “good”. Customers are getting the same amount of service from your competitors, so there’s no loyalty created. Instead, aim to SHOCK your customers with customer service that leaves them speechless and near to tears with your generosity and value.

(Does that sound like “too much”? Good! Now we’re finally getting close to what “good customer service” really is.)

(Edit: you know what’s funny? I stumbled across an old blog post I wrote back in 2015, with almost an identical name—Too Many Businesses Say They WOW Their Customers But Few Actually Do. haha! I’ve been thinking about for a while!)

How To Grow Your Freelance Business (Even If You Have Too Many Clients Already)

Aaron Hoos

For several years now I have had a problem…

With business growth.

The problem is: I have too many clients.

Why is this a problem? Because it actually makes me stuck. My clients book me for big projects, long-term work, and send a ton of referrals. I end up overwhelmed with work and stuck to my desk because I overcommit and want to help my clients and their friends.

(Yikes! That was totally a #humblebrag. Sorry about that. It wasn’t meant to be at first and I promise that this post will reveal my many imperfections very shortly.)

I know I’m not alone in this problem. I’ve met other freelancers, copywriters, coaches, and consultants who have faced this same problem. Usually it’s business owners who have a strong brand and a half-decent sales funnel in a tightly-defined niche.

Business growth often starts with those very things: improve your branding and your sales funnel and your target market so that you get more clients, but for me and many other freelancers and professionals, we want to grow our businesses but don’t actually want or need to start at those fundamentals.

Is it possible to get business growth without getting more clients?

I’ve spent some time trying to unlock this puzzle and I’ve found that there are 7 ways to grow like this.

#1. Raise Your Prices. This might seem might like a no-brainer to most people reading this but I’m mentioning it anyway in the interest of being thorough. I was really good at raising my prices years ago and I’ve improved in the last year or two, but there was a couple of years, just recently, when I didn’t do a great job of raising my prices and I saw my income plateau for a while.

#2. Streamline For Efficiency. Whatever kind of work you do (whether copywriting, marketing, consulting, etc.), it is ultimately dependent on you to market your services, find clients, deliver your service, and perform administrative work to keep your business operational. Each of these can be improved and dramatically sped up by creating efficiencies. Maybe you track your time to measure when you work best, or maybe you cut back on some of the non-essential projects that you once did, or maybe you focus in even more on one type of work.

#3. Work Harder, Faster, And Longer. Okay, this probably sounds crazy to do since you might be reading this now because you are working too hard or too long. However, I’m listing it anyway to be thorough but also to encourage you to take a look at your work and decide when you work best and how you can work more effectively. As I write this, I just recently (nearly) doubled my income without any other changes than simply making sure that I’m focused for specific periods of time during the day and thinking about other things at other times in the day. Simply by tweaking my focus I grew my income. I also mention this because there may be times in your business when you need to burn the candle at both ends, so it’s a viable option as long as you’re not using this as a 24/7/365 approach to business.

#4. Build/Implement Templates, Systems, and Automation. This has been really big for me lately, too: instead of reinventing the wheel each time you do something, start with a template. Build it once and modify it whenever you need to do that work again. Use checklists and flowcharts as simple systems for everything you do. (For example, I write a couple of magazine articles every month so I have a checklist of things I need to do with those articles to make sure the project gets completed efficiently. The checklist keeps me on track and speeds things up.) Consider using software in your business to save time.

#5. Productize Your Services. Instead of providing a la carte services that clients can pick-and-choose, create productized services and offer those. It will save you a ton of time (especially if you used to spend a lot of time creating custom proposals and bids in the past) plus you get a ton of credibility AND can raise your prices even more with these.

#6. Create Products. I know you’re busy so this will be challenging to complete but a powerful way to grow your business is to create products, such as infoproducts. Start with a small book of collected blog posts or podcast transcripts, just to get something out there and get a bit of money for it. Once you see that passive income starting to come in, you’ll make time for other products.

#7. Hire A Team. I put this one last on purpose. A team is a powerful way to leverage yourself and build your business, however it’s often a stumbling block to freelancers because they either don’t see how they can hire a team, or they can’t find someone to hire, or they struggle with justifying the financial investment needed before they get a return. All those are perfectly understandable and I’ve had the same challenges too. (I have a team now but it took years to get it dialed in correctly.) A good starting point is to outsource some of your non-essential work. Do this slowly. I started by outsourcing my bookkeeping. Then I outsourced some of my really low-level marketing. Then I outsourced some of my research and editing. Today, I have a team that includes a couple of writers who write stuff in niches that I don’t want to write about and I use my marketing infrastructure to give them work and take a cut of the proceeds. But a few years ago I struggled to hire even one person! So, just start small with a virtual assistant working a couple hours a week and grow from there.

SUMMARY

For many businesses, the answer to “how do I grow my business” usually starts with better marketing, a better sales funnel, a more narrowly-defined niche, and a strong brand. But for businesses that already have those (especially freelancers), the question is: how do you grow your business when you don’t need more clients? These 7 ways can help you do just that. You can implement some right away and slowly add others incrementally when you can. Slow but sure, day-by-day, put these pieces in place and you will grow!