The 9 Best Small Business Books of 2021

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You don’t necessarily need an MBA to have a successful business, but it's important to educate yourself on key best practices and survival strategies. Fortunately, there are a plethora of great books that'll help you navigate the small business world.

From inspirational stories of business leaders to practical tips, these books offer the perfect mix of timeless business bibles and solution-oriented guides. Keep reading to see the best small business books to help you head off challenges and recognize opportunities.

Best Overall: The E-Myth Revisited

The E-Myth Revisited by Michael E. Gerber
 Courtesy of Amazon

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."

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.

Related: The Best Success Books

Best for Problem-Solving: Traction

"Traction" 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 Beginners: Conquer the Chaos

There are obstacles, and then there are obstacles. "Traction" deals with the big, mind-bending hurdles. "Conquer the Chaos" 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 on Time Management: Deep Work

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" 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

The full title of this book says it all: "Start With Why." 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.

Related: The Best Leadership Books

Best for Marketing: Influence

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.

Related: The Best Social Media Marketing Books

Best Autobiography: Shoe Dog

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."

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

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" 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 on 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" is available hardcover, paperback, a Kindle edition, as an audiobook, and as an MP3 CD. 

Final Verdict

If you want to have a successful business, you should seek guidance that pulls no punches. “The E-Myth Revisited” (view on Amazon) doesn’t sugarcoat the sometimes harsh realities of small business ownership, but it will prepare you well for your journey. Then, pair it with “Built to Last” (view on Amazon) for some feel-good inspiration, but to also identify the common attributes that successful businesses share.

Meet the Expert

This roundup was updated by Dawn Papandrea, a freelance writer and small business owner who specializes in personal finance and career content.