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Top Business Books Every Small Business Owner Should Read

Top Business Books Every Small Business Owner Should Read

In mid-2015, Tom Corley, president of Cerefice and Company and author of Rich Habits: The Daily Success Habits of Wealthy Individuals, shared on his website (Rich Habits: The Key to Success and a Happy Future) one of his key research findings after studying a number of self-made millionaires. After assessing this group of individuals more closely, he discovered that “85% read two or more books every month.” What types of books?

Corley says that the books on the bookshelves of millionaires are primarily “books that will help them grow and learn.” This includes books about history, self-help books, books focused on health, and books sharing insight on topics like psychology, leadership, and science.

As a result of his findings, Corley suggests that, if you want to reach that same level of status, plan to devote at least a half hour each and every day to the act of reading. By doing this one little thing, “it will set you apart from the competition” and “puts you in the top 5% of the crowd,” says Corley.

Now, if you’re convinced that you should be reading regularly, the next question is: What books should you read?

My Latest “Must-Read” Book

One of my most recent reads and one I enjoyed tremendously is a book written by Jim Koch, founder and brewer of Samuel Adams beer (in case you wondered, Koch is pronounced “cook,” something he shares early on in the book). It’s titled Quench Your Own Thirst: Business Lessons Learned Over a Beer or Two and it’s loaded with a number of stories and lessons learned by Koch and his team while becoming one of the biggest and best-known craft beer companies in the world.

Upon reading Koch’s insights on what worked and what didn’t for him and his company, I learned a number of valuable lessons that can help me grow both as a freelance writer and also as a business consultant (something I’ve begun doing on the side because I’ve found that I enjoy helping businesses discover their weak areas and make them stronger, improving profits and employee morale as a result).

Here are just a few of the tidbits of advice that Koch offers in his book that really made me think:

  • Every problem has a solution.”
  • “…most of the value in an industry is created precisely by people who venture outside of conventional wisdom.”
  • “…it’s okay to enter a field you know only a little about, because that little bit that you know can be key. Ignorance can actually be a huge asset, giving you the best vantage point.
  • “…marketing doesn’t sell products. Selling coupled with the delivery of real value sells products.

And perhaps my personal favorite:

  • “…sometimes the experts don’t know best. Sometimes conventional wisdom isn’t. Sometimes what has worked in the past won’t work for you and you need to develop an entirely new model. The only way to find out is to embark on a learning process, discovering what parts of conventional wisdom are wrong and eventually finding your own path.”

After reading Koch’s book, I gained this renewed sense of purpose, this renewed drive to find what works for me instead of focusing so much of my efforts on what other entrepreneurs in my industry were doing (or not doing, as the case may be). I also gained the self-confidence I needed to believe that I can succeed at whatever I do, as long as I put my mind to it, make a commitment to learn everything I can about it, and, most importantly, never give up.

I can honestly say that this book is one that will stick with me because it has changed the way I feel about myself and my ability to succeed. Yet, I’m not the only one who’s had this type of experience after reading a book.

Other Entrepreneurs’ Bookshelves

Here are a few other books to consider putting on your own bookshelf (or in your electronic reader, if you prefer that sort of thing), as other successful businesspeople have found these “pages of wisdom” to make quite an impact on them, both personally and professionally.

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, Authors: Chip Heath and Dan Heath

Ian Wight, Founder of Merchant Machine, a payment comparison website, says that this book is very memorable “because it focuses on why some ideas stick and then how these can be applied to any business,” says Wight. “It’s both well researched and has a large number of fascinating anecdotes and case studies any business can learn from.”

Wight adds that Made to Stick is “well written and informative” and “a must read for any business that wants to market itself better.” In fact, this book alone has “changed the way I do my business,” admits Wight, “by helping me to focus on my core value proposition, being the best resource for payment information. This has helped me reduce the number of distractions I have and focus on continually making my site better.”

The Four Virtues of a Leader: Navigating the Hero’s Journey Through Risk to ResultsAuthor: Eric Kaufmann

Mikel Bruce, CEO of Tiny Frog Technologies, Inc., a San Diego-based marketing and branding services company, says that reading The Four Virtues of a Leader “will give you a perspective on leadership that can’t be found anywhere else.”

What does Bruce like most about it? “I really appreciate the depth of knowledge and experience that Eric Kaufmann has and how he makes it so accessible in this book,” says Bruce. “As an owner of a small business with hopes of growth and expansion, I received some great insight into my leadership blind spots and things to avoid and to aspire to in this book.”

Grant Norwood, President and Founder of Introspeak LLC, liked The Four Virtues too. “As a small business owner, doubt is an ever present companion,” says Norwood. “And there is rarely someone around to provide the necessary encouragement or remind me why I am doing this. When those doubts emerge, Eric Kaufmann’s leadership principles often become that someone.”

Norwood adds that “What resonates the strongest are his thoughts on faith, and specifically letting go. Words like yielding and surrender are not often talked about in leadership discussions, but they act as a counter-balance to more expected characteristics like focus and courage, and serve as a reminder that it is ok to be vulnerable and, ultimately, human.”

Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose; A Round Table ComicAuthor: Tony Hsieh

Randy Hayashi, COO of Payment Depot, a wholesale payment processing club, says, “I read a lot of business books, but the one that I believe shapes the way I run this company the most is Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh.” Why this book?

“This is the story of Zappos and how they do customer service,” says Hayaski. “I have always been fascinated by Zappos because they are obviously a huge company, but they aren’t any cheaper than anyone else and I never see any advertisements from them, so I figured there had to be something more to their success.”

Hayashi even took what he’d read and went one step further. “After reading about how Zappos handles customer service, I went out to Las Vegas to tour their company and learn for myself,” says Hayashi. “We were already doing many of the things that Zappos does, but reading the book caused me to be much more deliberate in the way that we train our team to work with our customers.”

Delivering Happiness was a lighthearted, fast read and I am making my employees read it as well,” says Hayashi. “It is not a typical business ‘how-to’ book, but learning how to take care of customers in a world that is becoming more and more automated could help any company.”

Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make Competition IrrelevantAuthors: W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne

Ryan Kwiatkowski, Director of Marketing at Retirement Solutions, Inc., says that this book is a favorite because “it truly challenges you to think outside the box and to find ways to create a new market.” Kwiatkowski even says, “This gave me several ideas for our small business and, because of these changes, we are experiencing the fastest growth we have seen in our 17 year history.”

Camille Jamerson, CEO and Senior Consultant with CDJ & Associates agrees, adding that “it’s easy to feel lost in an over-saturated market of consultants and, now the offshoot of the industry, ‘coaches’.” Yet, Jamerson says that “Blue Ocean Strategy changed my focus from the competition and placed it back on what makes my firm unique, innovative, and cutting edge. This book consistently reminds me to build my firm to the place that the competition is of no consequence.”

How to Live on 24 Hours a DayAuthor: Arnold Bennett

Sudheer Yadlapati, Marketing Director at Insureon, a small business insurance provider, says, “How to Live on 24 Hours a Day is a classic and inspirational book about squeezing the most into one day.” What type of wisdom does this book offer?

“It’s equal parts time management tips, thought-provoking advice, and wit,” says Yadlapati. “It’s a great read and, for any business person, it’s a helpful way to rethink what you can get done in a day.”

The Only Rule Is It Has to Work: Our Wild Experiment Building a New Kind of Baseball TeamAuthors: Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller 

Max Schleicher, Digital Marketing Manager at Insureon, shares, “While about baseball, the book is really about getting people to think differently, changing the way an organization is run, and compromise. It’s a great story of leadership and ingenuity.”

The Second-Generation Boss: A Successor’s Guide to Becoming the Next Owner-Manager of a Successful Family BusinessAuthor: Donald J. Jonovic

Richard Hayman, CEO, Mentor, and Coach with Hayman Consulting Group, says he’s had about a dozen copies of The Second-Generation Boss and the people he gives them to never give it back. This drives him crazy because this particular book is out of print and very difficult to find. (Case in point: Amazon is currently selling used copies for more than $120 each.)

“This was the best book,” says Hayman. “It was like this guy was in my back pocket for 13 years.” In fact, Hyman was so impressed that he contacted the author and told him how upset he was with him. Jonovic’s response was to ask why, to which Hayman replied, “You should have written this 13 years ago. It would’ve saved me a lot of time!”

Hayman even credits this book for making it possible for he and his brother to purchase the family business from their father. So, if you’re in a family business and working to figure out how to make it thrive, this may be a very good book for you.

Permission Marketing: Turning Strangers into Friends and Friends into CustomersAuthor: Seth Godin

Tami Belt, sole proprietor of Blue Cube Marketing Solutions, calls this favorite business book “an old classic,” sharing that it “planted the seed” that business is all about developing relationships. “This book taught me that it’s about the customer, not the seller,” says Belt. “While this concept is widely understood today, it was not the norm back when Seth published the book.”

The Ultimate Sales Letter: Attract New Customers. Boost Your Sales.Author: Dan S. Kennedy

Paul Savola, Real Estate Marketing Consultant, shares that this book is one of the books that made him take my business seriously and not just think of it as a hobby.” He even admits to reading it “at least 5 times,” leaving handwritten notes on the pages for quick future reference.

“Even though this book applies to ads and direct mail, you’ll be able to focus on creating better blog posts, videos through your titles, and, after, you get into the sales letters,” says Savola. It also helps you learn how to “put together a catchy title,” says Savola, an invaluable skill when it comes to catching your target market’s attention.

Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results Without Losing Your SoulAuthors: Karin Hurt and David Dye

Megan Constantino, Founder and Chief Creative Officer of Parachute Partners, says that Winning Well is one of the best business books because it “challenges the common win-at-all-costs mentality.” It also offers “specific tools and techniques for managers to achieve lasting results while remaining a decent person,” says Constantino, who considers this book “a practical resource for inspiring teams and developing leaders.” So, if that’s what you’re looking to do, then Winning Well may be the book that can help you do it.

How I Found Freedom in an Unfree WorldAuthor: Harry Browne

Rose Sexton, Business Communication Services, shares that this book “helped me to find the courage to leave the corporate world behind and to start and stick with running my own first business at age 34. That business was still going after 20 years when I chose to fold it in order to become my parents’ caregiver,” adds Sexton, who is currently in the sixth year of her second business.

“The philosophy in the book inspired me to seek the freedom I wanted from working for incompetent managers,” says Sexton, adding that it “allowed me to march to the beat of a different drummer at a time when women were just beginning to feel their oats and remote work was not in vogue. It allowed me to stop waking to an alarm clock, stop wasting time getting to an office, and to take on only the work that I chose to take on.”

“The book is chock full of great advice for living that I didn’t find elsewhere,” Sexton says of this book which she still keeps in her nightstand drawer.

The 29% Solution: 52 Weekly Networking Success StrategiesAuthors: Ivan Misner and Michelle R. Donovan

Cathy Yerges, founder of BG3 LLC (which stands for Business Growth 3 Ways), calls this “my favorite business book.” Why? The author, Dr. Meisner, “is the founder of BNI, the world’s largest business networking organization,” says Yerges. “In this book he outlines 52 strategies that can be implemented throughout the year to create a vibrant networking culture.”

What impact has this book had on Yerges? “As a small business, the health of my company is determined by the number of word-of-mouth referrals that we get,” Yerges says. “By following many of the practices that Dr. Misner suggests, I have been able to build a steady stream of clients that have been referred to us over last 10 years.”

Any books you’d like to add to the list…books that you think other small business owners would benefit from reading? If so, add them in the comment section below!

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by Christina DeBusk // Freelance writer, author, and small business consultant committed to helping entrepreneurs achieve higher levels of success.

Opinions expressed by contributors are their own.