Small Business Advice

10 best books small business owners must read

In this post we list our top 10 book recommendations for small business owners.

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As an entrepreneur, regularly reading the best books for small business owners is an important part of organizational management. Business books promote self-education and improvement while also imparting useful skills for business management. Reading them can keep you inspired and help you create viable strategies for running and growing your company.

Whether you’ve been in business for decades or just opening shop, there’s a book out there that can inspire you to take the right steps. Guerilla Marketing, for example, is a must-read if you want to grow your business’s reach and sales. The Effective Executive, on the other hand, contains invaluable tips for proper business management. Alongside those two, we’ve compiled a list of 10 of the best books for small business owners. Let’s get right to it.


The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It

By Michael E. Gerber

The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It

The failure rate for small businesses was 90% in 2019. While some of this is down to cash flow issues, a good number of startups fail because entrepreneurs go into business filled with misconceptions and wrong advice. Combined, these things make it hard to turn an idea into a successful venture.

That’s precisely what Michael E. Gerber tackles in his book, The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It. First published in 1988, this timeless must-read was voted the #1 business book by Inc. 500 CEOs. It explains how you can leverage your skills when starting and growing a business.

Gerber breaks down the three personalities that you need to become successful in business. There’s the technician, who is an expert in the industry. The entrepreneur sees the bigger picture while the manager keeps a keen eye on the details of running a business. Balancing these three personalities is the key to growing an idea into a successful business. 

The key takeaways from the E-Myth Revisited

  • Not everyone who starts a small business is, in fact, an entrepreneur.
  • Just because someone understands the technical bits of a business doesn’t automatically guarantee that they can run a successful business in that field.
  • The secret to building a successful company lies in leveraging your technical, entrepreneurial and managerial abilities.
  • Commonplace assumptions and misconceptions can doom your business. Discover how to identify them and steer your mentality clear.
  • Your managerial style will greatly determine your business’s foundation. Learn how to pick good management skills even before you open your doors for customers.


The Effective Executive

By Peter Drucker

The Effective Executive

Peter Drucker’s The Effective Executive is one of three books that Jeff Bezos of Amazon made his senior managers read in an all-day book club. That pretty much makes the case for this book. Among other things, it’s packed with invaluable tips on how to adopt practical management skills and how to invest in the right things.

As a business owner, your management style will dictate the tone of your company. Your team will adapt your most prominent traits. This makes it important to integrate things like productivity, integrity, discipline and effective decision-making into your overall character. If you feel like you’re lacking in this regard, Drucker says that you can learn them. Add it to your list of must-read books and watch it shape your management style for the better.

The key takeaways from The Effective Executive

  • As a business leader, your most important task is ensuring that the right things are done, in the right way and at the right time.
  • Your role as an executive is to set clear priorities and determine how to leverage your team’s pool of talents to achieve these priorities.
  • Every executive must have a set of core skills that define their standard of leadership.
  • While not innate, things like time management, proper decision-making and clear communication determine your leadership standards. Learning these skills improves your management and business success.
  • Drucker outlines real-life historical examples that support every point to give you a clear picture of the skills needed by an effective executive.


Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action

By Simon Sinek

Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action

Why does your business exist? According to Simon Sinek, the world’s most successful companies are inspired by a sense of purpose – the why. Once you figure out why you’re venturing into business, you’ll find it easy to know the what and how. What products should you launch your company with? How do you brand it? This straightforward advice is what makes Start with Why one of the best books for entrepreneurs.

A frequent Ted Talker, Sinek teaches that creating a company for a specific purpose increases its chances of growth. And once you have a clear path for your company, you can inspire action into your team. For example, the employees at Apple are largely motivated by the opportunity to create innovative products that have the potential to change the lives of millions around the world. 

The key takeaways from Start with Why

  • Understand the brains behind the “Golden Circle”, a group of exceptional leaders whose unique way of thinking has brought them success.
  • Inspiration is the most effective way to influence people. Manipulation tactics may gain you an advantage, but it will be short-lived.
  • Once you know why you’re starting a business, you’ll easily figure out the rest – including the types of products to sell.
  • Focus on building trust among your team. People work best when the organizational culture fits their beliefs and values.
  • Good communication begins with effective listening.


How to Win Friends and Influence People

By Dale Carnegie

best business books

Over 30 million copies of Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People have been sold so far, making it a bestseller in books for small business. Originally published in 1936, this time-tested classic is a must-read if you’re looking to build your people skills.

Carnegie was a prominent salesman who left his job and took up a career in public speaking. This book compiles all the helpful advice he delivered in various seminars. The book primarily teaches business owners how to change people’s minds without criticizing them and without them hating you.

This is important because positive influence is critical to good business management. It helps you develop solid relationships that are built on trust. Through these relationships, you can build a reputable company based on your personal brand while at the same time steering your entire team towards a collective goal.

Key takeaways from How to Win Friends and Influence People

  • Do not criticize, complain or condemn – those are traits reserved for fools. Instead, use virtuous traits like self-control and forgiveness to build relationships.
  • Always be generous with praise. This is especially necessary when it comes to your subordinates because they’ll feel appreciated.
  • Remember people’s names, they’ll feel special and important to you.
  • Learn to be charming. A good business plan may get you in the room, but it takes charm to keep you in the room and convince people to open their wallets.
  • Acknowledge your mistakes. This will make people more agreeable and less defensive towards you.


Guerilla Marketing

By Jay Conrad Levinson

Guerilla Marketing

Having a hard time marketing your brand and products? Conrad Levinson’s Guerilla Marketing may be all you need to take your business from 0 to 100. It ranks highly among the best books for small business owners because it’s filled with practical, real-world marketing tips.

Levinson defies the old wives’ tale that effective marketing requires a ton of cash and resources. Instead, he explains how you can achieve the same results by being a bit crafty. For example, every interaction with someone outside of your company is a chance to market your brand and products. Rather than buying ads, use posters and banners to publicize your company.

Although Guerilla Marketing was first published in 1985, its lessons remain relevant in today’s world. You still don’t need to buy ads, whether on mainstream or social media, when you can build a solid following on social platforms.

Key takeaways from Guerilla Marketing

  • You don’t need a lot of cash and resources to conduct a successful marketing campaign. But you need enough time and a few tricks up your sleeve.
  • There are hundreds of free and practical ideas that you can use to attract your target audience and get clients.
  • The newest instalment of the book outlines tips for using modern technology and marketing on the internet.
  • With present-day technology, you can target prospects, turn them into repeat customers and encourage referrals without spending an arm and a leg.
  • Running a modern-day business includes managing telecommuting and freelance employees. Picking these skills is important now more than ever thanks to the coronavirus that has necessitated working from home.


Measure What Matters

By John Doerr

best business books

John Doerr is the legendary investor who backed Google and Amazon when they were mere startups. He is also responsible for bringing OKRs to Google, and he is using the same concept to help small business owners grow their companies.

So, what are OKRs and why should they matter? How do you measure them? These are all covered in this absolute must-read. Doerr explains that setting goals and defining results can motivate high performances while also aligning your organization.

As an entrepreneur, setting objectives is not even half the job. You also need to figure ways of achieving those objectives. This involves motivating and steering your team towards organization goals. Measure What Matters delivers plenty of tips on how to do all these. Also included are mini case studies from real companies that use OKRs.

Key takeaways from Measure What Matters

  • A good number of managers spend too much time at work without doing the important work. OKRs can refocus your attention to what really matters.
  • The best way to achieve operational excellence is through setting objectives and key results.
  • Beyond setting business goals, entrepreneurs need a strategy for attaining the said goals. A good strategy should be specific, measurable and actionable within a set time frame.
  • Thanks to OKRs, you can keep your team on track, link various organizational objectives, and focus efforts. All these are necessary for growing a business
  • Proper communication is absolutely critical to the success of a small business. Whether it’s communication with your employees, customers or any other stakeholders, doing it well will grow your business.


Tools of Titans

By Tim Ferriss

Tools of Titans

If you can only pick a handful of business books to read, make sure Tools of Titans is one of them. In this book, Tim Ferriss collects and breaks down over 100 interviews with some of the most successful people from all walks of life. In addition to offering insight into their careers, Ferriss’ interviewees also furnish readers with productivity advice based on their personal experiences.

The New York Times famously labeled Tim Ferriss “a cross between Jack Welch and a Buddhist monk”. There’s nowhere where these two sides of him are more evident than in Tools of Titans. On the one hand, he outlines the habits and tools needed to shrewdly start and run a business. On the other hand, Ferriss insists that you skip any sections and interviews that don’t excite you.

The 673-page book is divided into three sections: healthy, wealthy and wise. Each section packs interviews and summaries of key lessons from those interviews. 

Key takeaways from Tools of Titans

  • Get things done. Having information alone is not enough, how you use that information in an actionable way is more important. E.g., knowing that there’s a market gap won’t do much for your business unless you develop a product that can fulfil the needs of that market gap.
  • Passion trumps qualification. Ferriss narrates his interaction with Dan Carlin, whose passion led him to hosting a successful podcast despite slightly lacking in qualification. The same rule applies in business – if you care about something hard enough, you’ll find a way to do it effectively.
  • Create a tribe. As Kevin Kelly explains, you only need 1,000 true fans to create a club of people who love and support your products. Interact with them directly and they’ll give you brand loyalty and referrals.
  • You are the unique selling point (USP) of your company. As the business owner, you are the face of the company, the leader, the center point of marketing. People will perceive your products based on their perception of you. Therefore, brand yourself.
  • “New media” is the new thing, conventional marketing is outdated. “New media” refers to modern ways of marketing – particularly using social media and the internet. You’re more likely to record success when using it than if you opt for traditional marketing styles.


The Hard Thing About Hard Things

By Ben Horowitz

best business books

Running and growing a startup is a tough job, we all know that. But what most people don’t know is the extremity of the toughness. In The hard Thing About Hard Things, Ben Horowitz is candid about the less rosy side of entrepreneurship. While you may have a good idea, executing it is a whole different thing altogether. You’ll experience challenges that even the best business schools can’t prepare you for.

The good news is that these challenges have solutions. In fact, Horowitz pinpoints the issues that you’re most likely to face as a business owner and teaches you how to deal with them. This problem-solving approach makes it one of the best books for small business owners, particularly if you’re not entirely content with your ability to find solutions to business-related issues. 

Key takeaways from The Hard Thing About Hard Things

  • To be a successful business manager, you must be willing to make unpopular decisions provided they solve a problem. Beyond that, successful entrepreneurs are skilled in choosing the right team.
  • The best way to deal with the struggles of starting and growing a business is to embrace them. No one ever achieved success by quitting midway through the process.
  • As the business owner, your decision-making skills will determine whether or not your startup succeeds. Even when the odds are against you, you must believe that there’s an answer to whatever problem your business is facing.
  • The presence of failure doesn’t necessarily mean the lack of success. You can fail at one thing and succeed at another. Powerful leaders are those who rise above their failures and learn from them.
  • Being a business owner and CEO is a lonely job. Brace yourself for tough days.


Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

By Dr. Carol Dweck

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

Would you say that you have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset? Someone with a fixed mindset believes that intelligence is innate – we’re born with (or without) it. A growth mindset, on the other hand, says that intelligence can be nurtured. We can improve our intellect and ourselves every day.

In her book, Mindset, Dr. Carol Dweck explains how our mindsets determine our behaviors and habits. A fixed mindset decreases self-knowledge and provokes feelings of dissatisfaction. Most individuals with fixed mindsets are usually afraid to take risks, which can be detrimental to business growth.

The good news? Adopting a growth mindset is very much possible even for people who are already set in their ways. Grab this book to discover how. And if you’re already there, Dr. Dweck explains how you can use your mindset to maximize your potential in business and other fields.

Key takeaways from Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

  • The most successful people adopt a growth mindset and prioritize learning over achievement. This is how to embrace the challenges that come with a startup and open yourself up to realize your full potential.
  • You can change your mindset, even if you have a fixed mindset. By adopting a growth mindset, you change your overall personality and allow yourself to love what you do.
  • A growth mindset helps build dependable relationships, including with your employees. People with fixed mindsets have ideal images of others, which prevents them from accepting those other people for who they are. This can make you miss out on top talents who would otherwise have helped grow the business.
  • Ability and skills can be developed to a far greater extent than what you were born with. It’s all down to willingness to learn and grow, which comes down to adopting a growth mindset.
  • Nurture your interests into abilities. You’ll love what you do more if it comes from a point of passion.


The Peter Principle: Why Things Always Go Wrong

By Laurence Peter and Raymond Hull

best business books

A New York Times #1 bestseller, The Peter Principle: Why Things Always Go Wrong explores -you guessed it – why things go wrong in businesses, workplaces and societies. When building a startup, its not unusual to get to the point where you feel like you’ve hit a hurdle and can’t see a way past it. This may well be your “point of incompetence”.

But there’s a way around it. For one, you can bring in skilled employees who can lend a helping hand in growing your business. Laurence Peter proposes more ways that you can use to develop a plan for moving forward even when things are going wrong and you seem to have hit your “point of incompetence”.

With hilarious yet brilliantly true takes on business and life, this book reinforces the idea that the success of a business largely depends on the owner’s ability to find and hire the right people.

Key takeaways from The Peter Principle

  • Everyone, including business owners, will inevitably rise to their point of incompetence – a point where they can no longer perform well. This is where bringing in skilled employees becomes a priority.
  • Finding and hiring the right employees is essential to growing a business.
  • Promotions are often based on job performances. As a business owner, this book can help you understand who to promote and when to promote them.
  • It’s very important that you provide adequate training to employees before and after promotion. Training provides your team with adequate skills are pushes their point of incompetence that much further.
  • As a manager, you’ll often find that you need a higher level of competence compared to your employees.

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