The 9 Best Small Business Books
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When author and media personality Dave Ramsey was once asked about five common habits shared by most millionaires, the first thing he said was, “They’re avid readers.” But what do you read when you want to get your small business off the ground or launch an existing business from just making a little money into earning you a fortune?
That can depend on the nature of your small business, as well as any bumps in the road you’re encountering. Even if your path forward is smooth as silk, a little inspiration from others can’t hurt. Some of these business books have been around for a while, while others are recent releases. Some address specific concerns and others give a broader view. Keep reading to see what if takes to help your small business succeed.
Best for Beginning Entrepreneurs: The E-Myth Revisited by Michael E. Gerber
You might have heard of or read Gerber’s first book, The E-Myth, what Amazon has called an “underground bestseller.” The E-Myth was a step-by-step chronology of the business-building process. Gerber then followed up with a revised edition, The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It.
Consider it a prep course before rolling up your shirtsleeves to get to work beginning your first small business. “E-myth” is shorthand for “entrepreneurial myth,” which basically says all you need to succeed is some skill and a lot of hard work. Not so, says Gerber, and he outlines three roles that each new business owner should plan on assuming if he’s going to be successful. Gerber also traces a business’s typical lifespan, from inception to full-fledged establishment and success.
The book is short and an easy read, so snag a copy before you start out. It’s available in paperback, as a Kindle edition or on audio CD.
Best When You’re Feeling Overwhelmed: Traction by Gino Wickman
Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business is the small business owner’s go-to book for problem-solving — not necessarily the little day-to-day hiccups you’ll experience, but the big things that can totally derail your progress, such as frustration, losing control of the business and becoming burned out. Wickman essentially asks, “Do you control your business or does your business control you?”
The book suggests the “Entrepreneurial Operating System” to deal with frustration, burnout and associated problems. Wickman offers three ways to implement the EOS. It’s chock full of tools and techniques that will bring you and your business back on track, but it’s more about strategy than step-by-step instruction.
Traction is also an easy read, proposing solutions in plain English. You won’t need an MBA to understand and master Wickman’s suggestions. Traction is available in hardcover, paperback, Kindle and an MP3 audio edition.
Best for Dealing With Everyday Problems: Conquer the Chaos
There are obstacles, and then there are obstacles. Traction deals with the big, mind-bending hurdles. Conquer the Chaos: How to Grow a Successful Small Business Without Going Crazy by Clate Mask and Scott Martineau takes more of a new-day-different-problem approach.
As the owner of your business, the buck stops with you. Do you find yourself running around day after day putting out fires? Conquer the Chaos offers some resolutions you might want to adopt. Like The E-Myth Revisited, it’s particularly appropriate for entrepreneurs who are just starting out, but where that book offers techniques, this one is more about mindset. But it does offer some procedural advice as well.
Mask and Martineau have earmarked the book for beginners mostly because they feel that when small business owners get too far down the road, a lot of unnecessary damage has already been done and it becomes more difficult to turn things around. Conquer the Chaos is available in hardcover, as a Kindle edition and as an audiobook.
Best About Time Management: Deep Work by Cal Newport
From the author of So Good They Can’t Ignore You, this book also visits the idea of chaos, and it can help you pack 90 minutes’ worth of productivity into every hour. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World tells you how to get more done and how to do it more efficiently. It gives examples of what some well-known individuals have done to achieve this success.
“Distracted” might be the keyword in the title. Newport offers some tried-and-true techniques for dodging the distractions that are inherent in running a small business so you can focus on the things—typically highly challenging tasks—that will ensure that your business succeeds. The advice is nicely structured in four rules and includes a “training program.”
First released in 2016, Deep Work is available in hardcover, paperback, a Kindle edition, as an audiobook, and on CD.
Best Leadership Advice: Start With Why by Simon Sinek
The full title of this book says it all: Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. Sinek takes the position that you can do one of two things to get others — including employees — to get on board with you and help your business thrive. He says you can either manipulate them or you can inspire them.
Sinek recommends the inspirational approach and he suggests that the key is in identifying the reasons you began your business in the first place. Remembering and focusing on them should energize you to new, more creative and more innovative thought processes, and it will likewise inspire others. Forget what you want to do and zero in on why you want to do it. Sinek offers three ways of achieving this.
Start With Why is available in hardcover, paperback, a Kindle edition, as an audiobook and on CD.
Best Book About Marketing and Sales: Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
Sales are all about persuasion, about convincing customers and clients that they don’t just want what you have to offer, they need it. Dr. Robert Cialdini doesn’t necessarily provide tips and tricks for increasing your business’ sales. This book is all about understanding what makes people tick, why they say "yes" instead of "no," and how to use that knowledge to your advantage.
But Influence goes even deeper than that. Cialdini doesn’t just discuss influencing others into taking certain courses of action. He also gives some grounded advice on how not to be manipulated yourself, something that can be crucial to making wise business decisions. He didn’t pull all this information out of textbooks, either. The book is based on 35 years of his own research.
It’s available in paperback, a Kindle edition, as an audiobook and on an MP3 CD.
Best Autobiography: Shoe Dog by Phil Knight
Who doesn’t want to know how the other guy did it, particularly when the other guy has achieved near-legendary success? Knight is more well-known as the co-founder and one-time CEO of Nike, Inc. than as an author, and he shares some of the keys to his success in Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike.
This book isn’t just a portrait of Knight’s success and the chronological progress of Nike’s growth from Point A — when Knight started out with 50 borrowed dollars — to Point Z. It also discusses Knight’s personal journey through the process and shares some moving and remarkable insights. It provides an inside scoop on the development of the company and has been described as “riveting.”
When Shoe Dog came out in 2016, it marked the first time Knight talked about any of this. The man has always been something of an enigma. Not anymore. Shoe Dog is available in hardcover, paperback, a Kindle edition, as an audiobook and on CD.
Best Research: Built to Last by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras
Collins and Porras have encapsulated the findings of a six-year study conducted by the Stanford University Graduate School of Business into one page-turner of a book. If an autobiography like Shoe Dog can be enlightening and inspiring, this overview of 18 well-known and exceptionally successful companies should have you reaching for the stars.
Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies answers the big question: Why? What did these companies do differently to become so successful? Collins and Porras don’t give glib and obvious answers. They detail the growth of these companies from the time they opened their doors to the present. If you want to mimic the practices of these industry giants to achieve your own success, look no further.
Built to Last is available in hardcover, paperback, a Kindle edition and as an audio CD.
Best Book About Work/Life Balance: 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
This one has been around since 1990, but it bears mention again because its advice is timeless and a 25th-anniversary edition is now available.
So many small business owners have a difficult time straddling the demands of their enterprises and personal life, particularly when their businesses are in the startup phase.
Stephen R. Covey tells readers how to beat that demon and achieve balance, so they can thrive in both areas. The focus is on beginning a business and on navigating those early days when there are often more questions than answers and the questions can be scary. He suggests beginning “with the end in mind.”
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change is available hardcover, paperback, a Kindle edition, as an audiobook and as an MP3 CD.