Always be learning, always be growing. For the small business owner, it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day grind of your niche and forget to look up and out. If you’re wanting to grow a successful business, don’t underestimate the value of learning through reading.
To help you cut through the clutter, below is a list of recommended business books based on what I’ve read, learned from, and enjoyed.
By the way, if you’re not keen on reading, I highly recommend listening to audiobooks instead. It’s a great way to pass the time when you’re working out, driving, or doing chores around the house.
If you have any interest in the non-business books I’m reading, join me on Goodreads!
Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. You can read my full disclosure here.
My Recommended Business Books
Sales & Marketing
To Sell is Human by Daniel Pink
I heard Daniel Pink speak at the Rainmaker Authority conference in 2015. He was the best speaker at the conference (IMHO) and I immediately dashed out and picked up his most popular title. Pink argues that everyone is in sales, regardless of our title (for example, any time we try to get someone on board with an idea, that’s selling). The book teaches techniques for persuasiveness and gets into the psychology of selling.
Influence by Robert Cialdini
This book was a recommendation from Pink’s To Sell is Human. It’s considered a definitive staple in the “sales psychology” category and is the result of a TON of study into the reasons why people comply with requests. I “listened” to this book and the performance was a little dry despite the content being quite fascinating. I’d recommend it as a physical or digital read.
Content Inc by Joe Pulizzi
Joe Pulizzi is a leading authority (or maybe THE leading authority) on content marketing and, after reading this book, it’s not hard to see why. This read is CHOCK FULL of ideas to boost your content marketing efforts and to work smarter, not harder.
Content Rules by Ann Handley
I’d like to consider myself somewhat savvy already when it comes to content marketing and social media (at least in theory, if not in practice), so this book wasn’t full of a ton of AHA! moments. That said, it was a great reminder of solid strategies for creating great content. If your new to the idea “content marketing,” most definitely pick this up.
Book Yourself Solid by Michael Port
Another definitive work in its category, Book Yourself Solid is a perfect (and practical!) read for those looking to hone in on their target market: exactly who they serve and what they’re offering. This book isn’t a quick read – there are lots of “exercises” to complete, but you’ll be glad you did.
Start with Why by Simon Sinek
Of all my recommended business books, this one may be my favorite. It’s a study of great companies and leaders and how they’ve managed tremendous success even when others had the same idea. Sinek credits this to their ability to articulate WHY they do what they do. That distinguishes them from others who can on speak to what their company does or how they do it. People who buy from these successful companies (or follow strong leaders) do so because the WHY resonates with them.
Duct Tape Marketing by John Jantsch
This book is full of down-to-earth marketing tips for small businesses. It’s geared more toward brick-and-mortar businesses, but there are plenty of takeaways for online businesses as well. For more info, read my review.
Leadership & Entrepreneurship
Entreleadership by Dave Ramsey
I think this book is targeted toward people who have employees, but as solo owner-operator, I still had some great takeaways. Ramsey is no-nonsense and highly practical – there’s some great tips on money management, decision-making, and coaching/leveling up others.
The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber
This is an updated edition of the original E-Myth book. The “E” stands for entrepreneurial and he highlights so well why most small businesses don’t work. Most of us wear many hats in our business (it’s the nature of entrepreneurship), but Gerber offers up some ways we can get out from under the weight of those tasks where we don’t excel. Play to your strengths and grow your business.
Awakening the Entrepreneur Within by Michael Gerber
This book could fit into the “motivational” category as well. If you’ve ever thought “I’d like to have my own business,” but have no idea of how to transform that thought into reality, this book will inspire you and give you direction.
The 12 Week Year by Brian Moran
I can’t say enough about this book – it’s changed the way I plan for my business. In short, it’s about ditching the “annual” mindset and in order to plan/execute on a quarterly basis. Shorter term, realistic goals, planned as if every week was an entire month. This could go under the Productivity heading below, but I put it here because I think it’s a critical concept for any business owner/leader in terms of direction setting. Here’s my review of 12 Week Year.
Networking is Not Working by Derek Coburn
Hat tip to Chris Handy for this recommendation. Have you ever gone to a networking event where people just handed out business cards like candy, didn’t really listen to anything you said, and then you went home with a stack of cards you dumped in the trash? Yeah, that’s miserable. This book is a whole new look at networking and how to do it in a way that makes you a hero and gets results for your business.
Motivational / Generally Thought-Provoking
How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams
Scott Adams is the creator of the Dilbert cartoon, so you know of the bat there’s some great humor in this book. I highly recommend the audio version as it’s read by Adams. This book is a familiar tale of how “overnight successes” are actually the result of a ton of failed efforts. Great read. It inspired me to write this post on finding value in your failures.
Rework by Jason Fried
This book is so fun to read I’ve read it twice. It’s a quick read (you could read it in the aisle of a Barnes and Noble). If you’re feeling burnt out or stuck, this is a great bookto give you some fresh perspective. I’d definitely recommend this as a read over an audio book (and a physical book vs a digital book due to the use of artwork).
Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt
I didn’t walk away from this book with any action items, which is why I put it in the “thought-provoking” category. It’s a great challenge to look deeply at causal relationships – you may think that your sales increased due to that amazing Facebook ad you ran, but it may turn out there’s a different cause altogether.
The Tipping Point by Malcom Gladwell
Like Freakonomics, this isn’t necessarily a business book, but it’s an interesting look at that special moment in time when something ordinary goes viral. He outlays the three rules of the tipping point: the law of the few, the stickiness factor, and the power of context. It’s a high-energy read that’ll get you mental juices flowing.
What’s Best Next by Matthew Perman
What good is to check a bunch of things off your to-d0 list if you didn’t have the right things on your to-do list? This is a great book that delves into the difference between activity and true productivity. It’s written from a Christian perspective, but if you’re not, I still think there’s some great practical takeaways.
Getting Things Done by David Allen
The premise of this book is simple: Productivity is proportionate to our ability to relax. The most practical takeaway for me is the discipline of writing things down – don’t try to juggle a million ideas in your head. Write it down, clear your mind, and focus on the task at hand. This is the quintessential book on productivity in business.
Manage Your Day-to-Day by Jocelyn K. Glei
While this book can apply to anyone in an office environment, I think it’s particularly great for those just starting to either work remotely or work for themselves. It’s high on building routine, time-blocking, and mental focus. I listened to this as an audiobook, but due to the number of quotes and voices, I think it’d be a better physical or digital read.
Profit First by Mike Michalowicz
This is another book that inspired a blog post. This book gives absolutely solid (and practical) advice when it comes to managing your business finances, eliminating debt, and, best of all, making a profit (regardless of how much or little you make).
Millionaire Messenger by Brendon Bruchard
This is a classic tale of how to build a personal brand that makes money while helping others succeed (win-win!). Bruchard teaches the best way to do that is to package your knowledge and advice into a variety of products (ebooks, consulting, workshops, etc). While I’m leary of some of the hype and don’t see myself ever even wanting to become a personal power brand, I did appreciate the encouragement to take my knowledge and find ways to package that in different ways.
These next two aren’t business books, but I couldn’t do a recommended reading list and not include them. If you’re an aspiring writer, these are wonderful books:
- On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
- Bird by Bird by Anne Lammot