How To Start Your Very Own Business Book Club

Mitch JoelPosted by

Read anything good lately? If you have, why not share it while networking at the same time?

On April 15th, 2004, I started something called the Montreal Business Book Review. People were constantly asking me what I was reading, what they should be reading or what I thought about a particular book. I did some investigating and realized that there were not many business book clubs anywhere in the world, and it seemed like a great place to share ideas, brainstorm, discuss current events and have a light evening of heavy discussion.

It worked!

While I no longer run the business book club, it was an amazing learning experience. It was also a fairly simple and easy thing to pull together. Every so often, I get an email asking me for tips on how to set-up a business book club. In fact, I got one today from Danielle, so here is how I pulled mine together (and you can feel free to do the same).

How a business book club can work.

I wanted to keep it simple, so this is how it worked:

  • It was all done via email (if you want to get fancy, you can use a platform like MeetUp, a Facebook page or even a simple Blog platform).
  • Interested individuals emailed me their full name, title, company, email address and phone number.
  • There was no charge to take part in business book club.
  • We discussed one book every month. The next book would be announced at the event.
  • The discussions took place in person and they lasted about an hour, but people always hung around after to jam on ideas.
  • The discussions were held at Twist Image in our boardroom.
  • There were usually anywhere from four to fifteen people at a session.
  • Because it was one book per month, there were no strings attached, so people could come to the session/book discussion that interested them without missing anything from the previous sessions.
  • All book selections were made by me with tons of help and suggestions by the members, friends, Blogs, etc…

Here were the rules of the business book club (that I sent to people who wanted to attend)… 

  1. The first rule of The Montreal Business Book Club is that there is no Montreal Business Book Club – OK, that’s from Fight Club but I am always dying to use that line. It’s out of my system now.
  2. Please RSVP to me by email if you are going to be coming.
  3. Please let me know if you RSVP’d, but then can’t make it.
  4. Please read the book selection.
  5. Show up on time.
  6. Have an open mind, but bring many questions.
  7. Bring as many snacks and drinks as you like – we all share.
  8. You know what they say about opinions.
  9. Play nice.
  10. No pitching your business. This is a business book club, please respect that.

What I learned about doing it…

  • All communication through Email was simple and worked. There was no need for a "page" anywhere.
  • I made sure that people looking for work didn’t fill the room. I know that may not sound like the nicest thing to say, but there is a chasm between those looking for professional development and those looking for a job.
  • I always provided simple snacks (chips, fruits, drinks, etc…).
  • Having the monthly meetings forced me to stay on top of my own reading.
  • Meeting in person turned out to be an amazing way to network and grow my business… it also helped to build my reputation in the local business community.
  • The events were held right after work, so the people that came really wanted to be there (instead of being at home with their family). They cared.
  • You can easily do these in 30 minutes instead of 60 minutes – you have to get a feel for the group.
  • I would have a list of questions about the book (conversation starters), but I often defaulted to the group to initiate the conversation.
  • Choosing the book allowed me to choose something I was interested in (this kept me hunting for different and fresh titles).
  • People will always disappoint. They’ll say that they are coming and not show up. Don’t let that get you down.
  • People will come even though they didn’t read the book. Don’t let them overtake the conversation. I’d often shoot down people who would start a sentence with, "even though I didn’t read the book, I think…"
  • Encourage networking. Discourage pitching. We once had a financial advisor come, not say a word, then as we were breaking for the night, he sprung into action whipping out his business cards like they were ninja stars.
  • Invite the author to attend by webinar, Skype or phone call. You would be surprised how often the author was flattered to take part (and how excited the group was to connect with the author).

Ultimately, my vision for The Montreal Business Book Review was to create an environment where business professionals could grow and learn from the latest business books coupled with the insights of their professional and intellectual peers. I was also hoping to foster literacy in the business community in hopes that one person would read a few books and pay it forward to their employees and colleagues.

Don’t let it end.

My travel schedule and increasing demands from the agency made it hard to maintain a regular schedule, so I shut it down and turned the concept into an audio Podcast called, Foreword Thinking, where I would have conversations with business and motivational authors. In the end, I realized that the content was just as relevant for the Six Pixels of Separation Podcast, so I brought it all together under one roof. I miss the business book club, and it was an incredible experience with many layers of learning, friendship, business development and networking.

I have not heard of too many Marketing Business Book Clubs… why don’t you start one?

22 comments

  1. Great idea! I would love to start one up or join an existing. Anyone know of one or who would like to start one? Danielle? Would be a great way to kick off 2011! E-mail and respond away maybe we could get one going.
    Philippe

  2. Thanks for describing the steps, Mitch. Your process looks workable and fair. Talking to the author would be amazing.
    I haven’t been in a book club and wondered about the value. In the movies, they often look lame (as in Date Night with Steve Carell and Tina Fey).

  3. That is surely a good idea Mitch, and the way you describe its process I am sure will be valuable to many people wishing to engage in a similar activity.
    It’s not about books only, this principle can be safely applied to many other media, it’s a very good way to connect with people with similar interests after all.

  4. Another important lesson that I learned: the more people, the worse it is. People tend to be more inclined to really discuss and dig in smaller groups. The most value came out of the sessions that had 3-6 people in it. The sessions that had 15 people were usually more bland.

  5. It’s a book club, you’re not opening a trendy club, so it does attract a certain type of crowd. One suggestion I had in the early days was to change the name from “book club” to “book review” – which did seem to make it more “professional.”
    That being said, it’s about the people and their interest. We can all learn from one another.

  6. True, but the context of the book does add something extra as people think about it throughout the month and every time they pick up the book to read. Plus, if you know you’re going to be discussing a book, you tend to spend more time thinking about it, discussion points and questions.
    In the end, it seemed to create a deep branding effect – in terms of people thinking about the session and about coming to Twist Image to discuss it. People also enjoyed telling their friends about it (bragging rights!). I even saw instances where people mentioned that they were members of The Montreal Business Book Review on their CV/resume (if you can believe that).

  7. I love this idea. I have done this with a client and we both exchange business books we’re reading. Sometimes they’re underlined which is great. It’s the best way to get smarter and learn from those who want to be in high gear. I also love the simplicity of this. Nice!

  8. Phillipe, count me in. I am in Mtl as well. I will send you an email. Great initiative Mitch. Thanks for letting us continue it.

  9. First, thanks for being guest author at our online book club next week. We are all thrilled and very much looking forward to it.
    I’ve only belonged to 2 business books clubs and in both we spent an hour a week for 6-8 weeks on each book. It’s rare these days for people to go deep into conversation so we treasure these groups. After this experience, I think I’d feel a little let down trying to discuss a book in one session.
    Thanks for this post. I’ve been toying with the idea of holding a salon in my office once a month. I can incorporate some of your points here to that idea, too. Still developing the idea, will be interesting to see what comes of it.

  10. This is just a question:
    Where, when, how do you have deep conversations?
    When was the last time you (by you I don’t just mean Mitch) talked with someone(s) and explored an idea from several angles and had your mind changed by the discussion?
    Priceless!

  11. Mitch: Thanks for the inspiration on starting a book club and the tips on how to go about it. I am going to partner with another arts related colleague in Vancouver and do our first one in late January.
    I’ll report back as to how it goes. I’m hoping for five people. It’s kind of fun when true success is a small group, not a big one. 🙂

  12. Would really be interested in joining a Business Book Club in Montreal. Phil, great of you to take the initiative. I will e-mail you. Thank you Mitch for putting people together.

  13. I love this concept! I live in Texas, in the US, and have not heard of anything like it. I am an avid reader, mainly in business and health books, and find myself feeling like sharing it, the concepts with others.
    Thanks for sharing your tips and experiences with us.

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