Win Without Pitching — Book Summary

Summary of Blair Enn's legendary book.

Win Without Pitching — Book Summary
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Win Without Pitching is the no-nonsense business mentor you’ve secretly hoped for. The author, Blair Enns, boldly challenges many of the most deeply held conceptions of what it means to run a business as a creative and offers refreshing alternatives. Learn how to take back control of your work, increase your value to the market, and make yourself irreplaceable to your customers.

1-sentence summary: To win you must act like a specialized expert, charge based on the value of your solutions, and say “no” early and often.

Table of contents

The core content of this book is structured around The 12 proclamations that make up the Win Without Pitching philosophy. Each main chapter focuses on one of these proclamations. The author breaks them down, illustrates how they work through real examples, and explains the challenges associated with each one.

Here’s a quick outline of the book’s contents:

  1. Dedication / Introduction
  2. We Will Specialize
  3. We Will Replace Presentations with Conversations
  4. We Will Diagnose Before We Prescribe
  5. We Will Rethink What it Means to Sell
  6. We Will Do with Words What We Used to Do with Paper
  7. We Will Be Selective
  8. We Will Build Expertise Rapidly
  9. We Will Not Solve Problems Before We Are Paid
  10. We Will Address Issues of Money Early
  11. We Will Refuse to Work at a Loss
  12. We Will Charge More
  13. We Will Hold Our Heads High
  14. Acknowledgments / About the Author

Big ideas

Specialize or die.

One of the most powerfully communicated ideas throughout Enns’ book is the call to specialize. The author calls it the difficult business decision: clearly answering the question, “What business are we in?” Specialization, or positioning, requires us to commit to a “narrow focus that drives deep expertise.” It’s difficult and our human nature, especially for creatives, rails against this need for focus. But the upsides are bountiful.

Specialization allows us to charge more. It causes others to give our work the trust and respect it deserves. Enns writes, "Our claim of expertise should be a lot narrower than the sum of our capabilities." He adds that when we specialize, people will assume we can do more and, as a result, they develop this overall positive lens through which they see us. But the opposite is also true. When we say we can do anything (a one-stop-shop), they infer that we are overestimating our abilities and begin to see us through a negative lens.

When we specialize, we develop pattern recognition for similar issues. This helps us better diagnose client problems and decide, earlier within the process, whether or not a client's issue should be one we solve. The narrower we are, the deeper we'll be able to go and the more creative solutions we'll arrive at.

Expertise is the only differentiation.

Blair Enns ran a design firm for two decades before he started to understand this idea intimately. If you are in a worthwhile market, your business is going to face competition. The question becomes, how will you stand out?

Most of the advice online tells you to stand out in one of 3 ways: show your unique personality, break down your unique process, or promote your unique price. For Enns, all three of these are potential landmines: personality is subjective and you'll stand to lose clients unnecessarily; less able practitioners can replicate process; competing on price forces you to quantify what you do into measurable units and always leads to making less than you should.

The only solution is to focus on your expertise. Enns threads an analogy of doctors throughout his book. Doctors don't audition. They don't diagnose for free. And they don't assign procedures or medications based on the patient's self-diagnosis. If you want to be considered an expert, and paid like one, you need to act like one.

That means choosing a specialization, enforcing boundaries (policies/procedures), and continually developing your skills and knowledge.

Follow the money rules.

Enns writes that the first rule of money is: "Those who cannot talk about it, do not make it." Money is not only a necessity for life but also "the most basic scorecard of success in business." This is why he dedicates no less than 4 complete chapters to the subject:

  • We Will Rethink What it Means to Sell
  • We Will Not Solve Problems Before We are Paid
  • We Will Address Issues of Money Early
  • We Will Charge More

The price we charge for our work will impact the type of work we are able to produce. Charging more supports our claim of expertise. It gives us room to grow, expand, learn, and experiment.

If you are not occasionally losing business because of high prices, you're charging too little. Part of this has to do with the psychology of buying, which is, as Enns says, "the psychology of changing."  There has to be a certain amount of pain involved with the purchase price so that the customer commits to the action/change we are helping them make. Otherwise, we make our advice optional.

Notable quotes

All quotes are by the author, Blair Enns, unless otherwise noted.

“How we sell shapes what we sell.”

“Experts write.”

“Stress is caused by the things we do not do.”

“Superior service does not improve profit; profit improves service.”

“Speak softly and people lean toward you; speak loudly and they lean away.” – Confucius

“Nothing reassures the client more than him drawing the powerful inference that little variability in process equals little variability in outcomes.”

“We will seek respect above money.”

Books mentioned

Although no books are directly mentioned in the chapters, the author does indirectly mention 2 works worth noting.

The first is by his friend and mentor David. Baker, who is an accomplished publisher and consultant.

The Business of Expertise: How Entrepreneurial Experts Convert Insight to Impact + Wealth by David C. Baker

The second is the follow-up book to Win Without Pitching Manifesto, which was also written by Blair Enns and is available exclusively through his website.

Pricing Creativity by Blair Enns

Buy your copy of The Win Without Pitching Manifesto on Amazon.