Portable magic: the books that helped us navigate 2020

Following one of the toughest years in recent memory, our creative director Sue shares the books that helped her on her agency journey over the last 12 months

It’s been said that there’s no better investment than a book. For a small amount of money, you gain the expertise of world-leading thinkers, whose ideas you can adapt and adopt in your own life or work.

This has certainly been true for me – books helped me to make sense of the world in 2020, when we were all forced to stop and rethink so many aspects of our everyday lives. Here are some of the books that provided me with much-needed clarity during the pandemic.

Deep Work

Deep Work by Cal Newport

Like many people, I struggled with time management and maintaining focus in 2020. Cal Newport’s advice to set aside chunks of uninterrupted, notification-free time for deep work really helped. Taking control of your own time, rather than allowing it to be constantly interrupted by others, is a game-changer for getting stuff done.

This book also taught me the importance of working with your own body clock – finding the times that best suit your own patterns of productivity. For me, that usually means starting work early, either to tackle a big client-focused task or to work on building the Touchpoint brand.

David C Baker

The Business of Expertise by David C Baker

To niche or not to niche? That is the question that David C Baker persuasively answers. The Business of Expertise provides a useful framework for independent consultants who care about providing a truly useful and valuable service to their clients.

Owning the expertise and insight you can provide as an entrepreneur makes for a better business. I’m looking forward to putting some of Baker’s lessons into practice in 2021 and beyond.

Blair Enns

The Win Without Pitching Manifesto by Blair Enns

If you sell your work or run a creative agency, this book is a must-read. Despite some uncomfortable truths that you may or may not agree with, I found Enns’ ideas insightful and motivating.

As well as offering up some original ideas, Enns is adept at reminding his readers of the seemingly obvious but essential principles that every business owner needs to be successful. His encouragement, insights and honesty are refreshing to read.

Value Proposition Design

Value Proposition Design by Alexander Osterwalder, Yves Pigneur, Gregory Bernarda and Alan Smith

What your audience values is the frequently missed piece in the too often introspective brand design puzzle. I adapted this practical toolkit to use in Touchpoint’s brand discovery sessions, resulting in clear, compelling value propositions for the clients I work with.

If you’ve ever been frustrated by product launches that were planned based on someone’s intuition rather than solid, practical evidence, Osterwalder et al will show you a better approach that puts the needs and wants of customers first.

Branding - Michael Johnson

Branding in Five and a Half Steps by Michael Johnson

You’ll often find this book open on my studio desk. It regularly serves as a helpful reminder that magic happens at the intersection between brand strategy and brand design.

Michael Johnson provides a definitive guide to the entire branding process. He explains the fundamentals behind some of the world’s most successful brands, demonstrating the importance of careful research and strategy as opposed to instant visual solutions.

Robert Craven

Bright Marketing for Small Businesses by Robert Craven

My copy of this book by Robert Craven has become dog-eared from repeated use over the years. It’s packed full of excellent marketing advice for agencies and their clients alike.

For those of us who run service businesses, it can be tempting to overlook the importance of marketing our own companies, ignoring the advice we so often give our clients. With a helpful list of key areas to focus on and simple steps that can be put into practice, Bright Marketing for Small Businesses serves as a useful reminder that every entrepreneur is capable of spreading the word about what they do.

Creative Process Design

Creative Process Design by Alejandro Masferrer

This publication by Spanish company Triggers provides a useful methodology for team ideation and co-creation. As I work with digital agencies and tech companies (often collaborating directly with their senior leadership, marketing teams and designers), the author’s methodology for facilitating collective creative workshops has been invaluable.

The section on managing scepticism and lack of motivation within teams has been particularly helpful – unsurprising, given how challenging 2020 was for everyone.


Agencynomics by Spencer Gallagher and Peter Hoole

This plain English, no fluff guide to finance, sales, marketing and culture is full of useful advice for creative agency owners. I dip in and out of it regularly for the useful tips, tricks and metrics it offers.

Gallagher and Hoole provide a comprehensive and easy-to-read guide on running an agency, with some helpful benchmarks for success. Many agency owners use it as blueprint for business; if you’re at all interested in how to run a successful creative service business, this book is a worthwhile read.

Self Compassion

Self Compassion by Kristin Neff

We all need to be kinder to ourselves. If ever there was a year to follow through with this advice, it was 2020.

Kristin Neff’s book helped me when I really needed it. Its three pillars of self compassion (to give yourself kindness, to realise that pain is part of the human experience and to hold your thoughts and emotions in mindful awareness) may sound airy to self-help sceptics, but anyone who practices mindfulness will be aware of how powerful these concepts can be. If you are your own worst critic, this book is for you.


Uncharted: How to Map the Future Together by Margaret Heffernan

I saw Margaret Heffernan launch her book the week before the UK lockdown started. It couldn’t have been more timely. We knew at the time that things were about to change, and Heffernan’s advice provided a priceless guide for the uncertainty we all faced.

Our society is obsessed with forecasting. Whether we’re relying on weather forecast apps or economists, predicting the future is something we’ve come to expect, yet it’s not always simple or even possible. Uncharted helped me to accept that the future is unknowable; that it isn’t possible to accurately forecast how life will look to any long degree. With my three-year plan out the window, I instead gave myself permission to focus on three-month cycles of planning.

Company of One

Company of One by Paul Jarvis

This book’s advice is to make your business better rather than bigger. It challenges you to question the pressure to grow for growth’s sake, and instead consider what you actually need from work. Getting swept up in the growth mindset is all too easy, and this book made me rethink what I actually need, financially and personally, for my agency.

Jarvis’ advice triggered me to move away from the traditional agency model and towards a leaner consultancy model. This is the journey I’m navigating now; I’m not there yet, but I have my mission and this book helped me to realise it more clearly.


Which books have you found helpful over the last 12 months. Let Sue know on LinkedIn – we’re always looking for new suggestions for our studio library!

Where available we have provided links to Bookshop.org — an online bookshop with a mission to financially support local, independent bookshops.


“Books are a uniquely portable magic.” — Stephen King

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