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Starting a business isn’t for the faint of heart. When you consider that more than 1 in 5 new businesses fail within the first year (as per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics), you want to make sure that you’ve done all you can to set yourself up for success. That includes lots of market research, of course, but also spending time understanding small business survival strategies from the “been there, done that” crowd.
Talk to entrepreneurs you know, hit up some blogs, but also, spend some time with a few good old-fashioned business reads. School yourself on some key lessons in entrepreneurship with this list of the best books for starting a business.
Best Overall: Will It Fly?
Pat Flynn has made a name for himself as an online passive income guru and he's considered a thought leader when it comes to the entrepreneurial lifestyle. In "Will It Fly?", he offers practical, real-world advice on how to test out business ideas before you get started to make sure they're feasible, realistic and have profit potential.
The book walks readers through five different steps: making sure your business idea aligns with your goals; analyzing details about your idea you may not have thought of; assessing the market for your business idea; testing your idea; and finally, determining whether to move ahead with your idea or send it back to the drawing board.
It's a good choice for anyone who thinks they may have a great concept for a business but wants a little more validation before they sink their time, money and effort into developing it.
Best for Branding: Crushing It!
Creating a recognizable brand can make the difference between having a good business and a great one. Brand-building is something to start working on before you even launch so that once your business is up and running, you can start connecting with your target audience and making sales.
Gary Vaynerchuk understands the importance of strong branding and he's established himself as an influencer in entrepreneurial circles. In "Crushing It!", he walks you through why having a clearly defined brand matters and explains the foundational principles of good branding.
The book is a how-to guide for establishing your business brand in a way that resonates with the people you're trying to attract while remaining authentic to who you are. If you're planning to use social media to market your business, you'll want to check out Vaynerchuk's tips for leveraging it to its full potential.
Related: The Best Entrepreneur Books
Best for Managing Finances: Profit First
Figuring out the financial side of starting and running a business can be one of the biggest challenges for new entrepreneurs. You want your business to make money but you also have to understand the mechanics of how to invest for growth and what to do with the money you're earning once it starts rolling in.
Those are some of the things Mike Michalowicz covers in "Profit First". His book is designed to help you increase profitability in your business, regardless of where you are in its life cycle, and maintain positive cash flow so you can avoid the money struggles that are often common to new businesses.
He breaks it all down with a simple formula for managing the financial side of running a business in a way that's easy to understand even if you're not an accountant. It's one to read if you want to put a solid foundation for handling cash flow in place from day one.
Best for Female Entrepreneurs: Women Who Launch
Women often face unique obstacles and challenges when starting their own businesses, particularly when it comes to things like getting funding. It can be downright discouraging but "Women Who Launch" offers motivation and inspiration to continue chasing after entrepreneurial success.
Wagman-Geller profiles a number of women who have successfully overcome the hurdles and established their own business brands. The stories included are diverse – Spanx founder Sara Blakely is featured as is Girl Scouts founder Juliette Gordon Low – but the underlying theme is universal. The book is a celebration of women who took charge of their careers to create lasting business legacies.
Best for Startups: Zero to One
Launching a startup is a different animal compared to launching a small business solo. You may have employees or investors to manage, for instance, or your initial costs to open up your doors may be much higher.
It's a lot to juggle and the startups that can't pull it off successfully are often the ones who inevitably close up shop. "Zero to One" offers advice on how to avoid that scenario.
PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel drills down to the qualities that are required to run a thriving startup in today's business environment. One of the points he underscores is how to use creative innovation to establish a footing in the market, without triggering disruption that could threaten your business's staying power.
Related: The Best E-Commerce Books
Runner-Up, Best for Startups: The $100 Startup
Before you can start any business you first have to figure out how much you'll need for startup costs to get it off the ground. If you don't have a huge budget to work with, don't panic. Becoming an entrepreneur can still be within reach.
In "The $100 Startup", author Chris Guillebeau examines 50 case studies of entrepreneurs who successfully started a business with very little money. He dissects each one to identify the most important factors that allowed them to be successful (hint: it wasn't having a ton of money to invest in their businesses.)
This book is all about leveraging your expertise and what you're passionate about to create a profitable business. It's a great read if you've been wanting to start a business but you've let lack of funding stand in the way.
Best for Productivity: Atomic Habits
Time can be one of the most valuable resources you have as an entrepreneur and when you're starting a business, you want to make every second count. If you're struggling to get things done and move forward in your business, "Atomic Habits" can help.
Author James Clear explains how we form habits and why understanding the process matters for changing old ones or creating new ones. His central thesis is focusing on making small changes incrementally to see big results over time.
"Atomic Habits" is ultimately more of a self-improvement book than a business book but it's still useful because it can help you rethink your daily routine and behavior patterns. By strategically changing your habits, you can become more productive and take the necessary action steps to encourage business growth.
Related: The Best Small Business Books
Best on Leadership: Leaders Eat Last
Sometimes, starting a business can be a one-person show. If you're planning to strike out on your own as a freelancer, for example, hiring employees may not be on your radar. But if you're starting your business with a team or you think you'll need to build one at some point, it's helpful to understand the qualities that make for a great leader.
That's what Simon Sinek focuses on in "Leaders Eat Last." Specifically, he discusses how leaders can instill trust among team members and why that's important for driving motivation and improving performance.
The book features a casual, conversational style that's a refreshing take on what it means to lead effectively. Overall, it's a highly relatable read on why being able to work together matters and you'll take away some actionable insights on how to fine-tune and strengthen your leadership skills.
Before you launch your business, “Will it Fly?” (view on Amazon) acts as a litmus test to make sure your idea is a viable one. If you’ve only got time for one book on starting a business, make it this one. Ideally, you can squeeze some additional research in, and if you can, it should be on the financial and marketing aspects of your business—after all, those are the key elements for growth. “Profit First” (view on Amazon) by Mike Michalowicz is the perfect choice for this.