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3 Books Small Business Owners Should Read

Rieva Lesonsky
books small business owners

There is so much small business owners need to know to operate at peak performance. Luckily we live in the Information Age with plentiful resources. To help you sift through some of the data, every week we’re going to look at three business books small business owners should read and the lessons you can learn from reading them.

Play It Forward: From Gymboree to the Yoga Mat and Beyond ($17)

By Joan Barnes and Michael Coffino

Let me start by saying Joan Barnes, the founder of Gymboree, is one of my entrepreneurial heroes. I have long admired her path to success and how she dealt with the challenges she encountered along the way.

Barnes started Gymboree inspired by personal need (finding a play center where her kids could play) and transformed the company from a small play space into an international network of franchised play programs and company-owned retail stores.

What many people don’t know is that Barnes’ journey was not always an easy one. Along the way she had to deal with the onset of a stress-induced eating disorder and a personal crisis that forced her to resign from her CEO position. But Barnes powered through and started a second successful business in the emerging yoga industry.

Play It Forward is more than a memoir. It tackles the issue of setting work/life priorities that many women business owners face daily. Barnes had no role models when, with no experience, she launched Gymboree. Fortunately for women today, there are entrepreneurial pioneers like Barnes to learn from and be inspired by.

The 10 Laws of Trust: Building the Bonds That Make a Business Great ($15.95)

By Joel Peterson with David A. Kaplan

Author Joel Peterson is the chairman of JetBlue Airways and believes there is a cost to a business when trust is lacking. He says, “Ever-present suspicion, double-riveted legal agreements, caution and caginess in interpersonal dealings—the touchstone of mistrust—can slow things down, drive away the most trustworthy people and inhibit innovation.”

By contrast, he says, “There is power in being trustworthy. The satisfaction from collaboration, the innovation that flows from interdependent teams, the joy that springs from knowing you can trust those with whom you work—are all well worth the effort required.”

Peterson believes that trust is the essence of great leadership and sustainable business success—and lays out 10 laws that will help you build trust in you and your company.

People Before Things: Change Isn’t an End-User Problem ($28)

By Chris Laping

Why is business transformation so hard? According to a survey from Gallup, 70 percent of change initiatives fail. Author Chris Laping, a former SVP and CIO at Red Robin Gourmet Burgers, shows you how to “enable and activate” people for change.

He says there are seven “conditions” that influence people’s ability to absorb change, including knowing why change is needed, how to create awareness and get people to focus on change, how to provide skill-building and more.

So many businesses today think technology is the answer to all business ills. But Laping says before undergoing a tech transformation you need to first honor the human experience. He says technology on its own cannot transform a business—you need to put your people first if you hope to bring about effective change.

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Author information

Rieva Lesonsky

Rieva Lesonsky is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media and custom content company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship. Email Rieva at, follow her on Google+ and, and visit her website,, to get the scoop on business trends and sign up for Rieva’s free TrendCast reports.