ps-book-coverAs a business owner, I want my clients to think of my business as a nice company. What business owner wouldn’t? So when PR and customer service guru Peter Shankman comes out with his third book entitled Nice Companies Finish First: Why Cutthroat Management is Over – and Collaboration is In, how could I NOT snap it up to read it?

Before I dive into the book, I should probably first confess that I was already a Peter Shankman fan. I have been following him online for some time. It all started when he launched this little resource called Help A Reporter Out (HARO) that connected reporters who needed story sources with experts in various fields. It was a big boon to my business to be quoted in The New York Times and The Atlanta Constitution Journal, spotlights that were the direct result of HARO, and incredible marketing tools for my business. So one might say that I probably worship at the Peter Shankman alter a tiny bit.

So let’s get the necessities out of the way first. The book was published in 2013 by Palgrave McMillan, a division of St. Martin’s Press. It won’t be a fast read as it comes in at almost 240 pages, but it’s a pretty easy read. It’s pretty readily available from any major bookstore and a snap to order from Amazon. There. That’s done. Now on to the good stuff.

How can you argue with a book that begins with a quote from Gandhi? Every small business owner knows, or should know, that they are their business, so when Gandhi says we need to be the change we want to see, nearly every business owner can attest that she probably started her business either because she wasn’t getting what she needed from an existing business, or she thought she could do it better. Shankman lays the foundation of his book about nice companies and nice leaders by profiling the exact opposite, citing actual examples and statistics. In highlighting all of this negativity, he creates a list of positive “nice” traits and uses his book to define these traits and underpin them with plenty of “nice company” examples.

Trait number 1, for example, is Enlightened Self-Interest. On the surface, this actually sounds pretty selfish, and if I never got past the first line of this description, I might think Shankman was promoting the very qualities that make companies and their leadership not-so-nice and ripe for social backlash and 2008-style retribution. The key word here, though, is enlightened. Specifically, companies need to do not only what is good for them (a strategic business decision), but also what is good for their constituents. It’s a bit like doing unto others and no good deed goes unnoticed all in one. Businesses can’t survive without making money, so why not figure out away to be nice AND make money? It can be done and Shankman’s examples of Miraval Arizona Resort and Spa, finance firm PrimeRevenue, and UniWorld Group highlight this.

There are a total of nine traits discussed in the book. In addition to enlightened self-interest, other traits include accessibility, strategic listening, good stewardship, 360 Loyalty, glass half-full POV, customer service-centric, merit-based focus, and giving a damn. Throughout each example, Shankman profiles companies that embody each of these traits and gives examples that I circled and underlined, my mind working overtime on how I could translate them into my own HR consulting business.

The biggest nugget from the book might actually have been the simple phrase, “…it’s still possible to compete on your merits and win” (p. 184, p. 4) As a small business owner constantly working on how to differentiate myself from my actual and perceived competition, the simple reminder that it’s all about me (and the permission to be okay with the fact that my business really is all about me, or at least the values I instill in it) made me feel a lot less worried about competing against everybody else and focus on just competing against myself.

Shankman closes his book with his own seven rules rules that he runs his life and businesses (Yep. Plural) by and this chapter alone is worth the $25 price (or less through Amazon) you’ll pay. In case I haven’t mentioned this, for small business, the owners ARE their business and these rules, and the traits of nice companies presented in the book will help any of us create a competitive culture of nice.

Sharon DeLay, SPHR, CPCC, is the founder and president of BoldlyGO Career and HR Management, LLC, a full-cycle HR services firm that works with professional services companies with 2-35 employees. She is also the executive director of the Women’s Small Business Accelerator, Inc., a non-profit business accelerator focused on helping women launch and grow their businesses.