Eight Books Every Small Business Owner Must Read
A business owner has no shortage of responsibilities in managing a business. While not directly tied to profitability, improving personal efficiency and business operations can have the biggest impact over the long haul. Learning from others can be a game-changer when it comes to improving how your business, and your life, operates. Books represent the distilled knowledge of the author. Even if you don’t agree with everything the author says, it’s usually beneficial to be exposed to their ideas.
Here are eight books that small business owners should read to improve their business and their lives. The list is meant to cover some of the multiple areas business owners need to understand to improve efficiency and create a thriving business. While some are geared for a big business environment or nimble startups, most of the ideas, methods and strategies explored in these books apply to both your personal and professional life.
The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement by Eliyahu M. Goldratt
A staple of any first-year MBA program, The Goal is a business classic. Despite being more than 30 years old, its still the gold standard when it comes to business operations. “The Goal” alluded to in its title refers to what the goal of any business is (spoiler alert, the goal of business is to make money). But Goldratt uses a narrative that makes complex ideas simple and accessible.
Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals by Heidi Grant Halvorson
Halvorson, a social psychologist at Columbia’s Motivation Science Center, has spent her life studying why and how people overcome challenges rather than give up. In Succeed she explores the secrets behind setting the right kinds of goals, how to build willpower, the different types of positive thinking, and more. It is not so much a self-motivational book as it is a “how-to” book to help you reach your goals. A similar option is Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck, who wrote the foreword to Succeed.
Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t by Jim Collins
Over five years, Collins and his team analyzed almost 1,500 companies of the past 40 years in an attempt to understand why 11 of them became great. As he writes, “In each of these dramatic, remarkable, good-to-great corporate transformations, we found the same thing: There was no miracle moment. Instead, a down-to-earth, pragmatic, committed-to-excellence process—a framework—kept each company, its leaders, and its people on track for the long haul.” Despite its focus on publicly traded companies, Good to Great contains a wealth of information and actionable advice any business owner can leverage to make their business great.
The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business by Josh Kaufman
Kaufman wrote this book as an alternative to expensive MBA programs. As explains on his website, the book is “A world-class business education in a single volume. Learn the universal principles behind every successful business, then use these ideas to make more money, get more done, and have more fun in your life and work.” The book is written in clear language and breaks down complex business concepts in digestible chunks. Even business owners who have had a formal business education will find many points of interest in this book.
Tested Advertising Methods by John Caples
Successful businesses depend on getting customers. Unless you are fortunate enough to have customers clamouring for your business, advertising, when done correctly, is one of the most effective ways to gain new business. The keyword there is “when done correctly.” In this book, Caples explains his method for creating and evaluating advertisements. Even though the book was written decades before the internet revolutionized marketing, the concepts and ideas explored, many dealing with psychology and emotion, are as relevant today as they were in 1932. If you are looking for a more modern take on advertising, Robert Cialdini’s Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion is an excellent choice.
Lean Analytics: Use Data to Build a Better Startup Faster by Alistair Croll and Benjamin Yoskovitz
Despite its name, this book is for much more than startups. It comes down to a method for thinking through your situation to identify what metrics are the most important to track and how to measure them. It provides simple and clear frameworks that allow you to understand what is most important to your business. Another option along the same lines is The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses by Eric Ries.
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change by Stephen R. Covey. Often cited as the gold standard in not just business but the “self-help” genre, it has been called the #1 Most Influential Business Book of the Twentieth Century.” As an introduction, the habits explored are:
- Be Proactive
- Begin with the End in Mind
- Put First Things First
- Think Win/Win
- Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood
- Sharpen the Saw
Another option among these lines is How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. The book’s name has at times been construed as a bit sinister, but it is about forming relationships to create win-win situations for both sides.
The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich by Tim Ferriss.
Ferriss is one of the most popular productivity gurus on the internet, and his podcast is one of the most popular. The name might make it seem like a get-rich-quick gimmick, but it’s much more than that. As he told GQ “The 4-Hour Work Week is—based on the title, understandably—often misunderstood. The objective was to provide a toolkit for maximizing per-hour output. It’s not necessarily about working four hours a week. You could choose two hours a week, one hour a week, or 80 hours a week… The reason that book found such a toehold in Silicon Valley is because it was focused on evaluating different currencies—money, time, mobility—and how you can pull levers to change these variables to maximize per-hour output. That toolkit was very much time- and income-focused.”
There are likely hundreds of business books out published, with new ones coming out all the time. This list represents some of the most important books relevant to small business owners on a range of business and productivity.