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The Ultimate List of Books Small Business Owners Need to Read

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It’s a universal truth that small business owners start out with one set of skills and end up mastering many others throughout their business journey. And since a third of small businesses start their company with less than $5000, most business owners simply don’t have the budget to hire consultants or employees to help them run the business. 

If you’re on a tight budget, business books are an excellent, inexpensive resource that allows you to take in information at your own pace. 

We’ve put together our ultimate list of books that small business owners need to read — from productivity and profitability to mastering your mindset and finding your voice — with everything you need to increase your skill set and grow your business.  

The Daily Edge: Simple Strategies to Increase Efficiency and Make an Impact Every Day by David Horsager

According to this book, most managers are interrupted about seven times an hour (56 times a day). That’s likely one of the reasons why millions of people have vowed to be more efficient and productive in 2019. 

David Horsager explores his Difference Making Actions (DMA) strategies that “give importance and intentionality to do the most important things every day.” Horsager doesn’t believe in wasting time and shows you how to create a “90 Day Quick Plan” to accomplish your goals — starting right now. 

The book is easy to absorb and peppered with motivating quotes, including one of my favorites: “The one who claims that it cannot be done should not interrupt the one who is doing it.”

Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins: How to Use Your Own Stories to Communicate With Power and Impact by Annette Simmons

In recent years, storytelling has become an essential part of marketing. Annette Simmons, a storyteller herself, believes everyone has the potential to be a great storyteller. Simmons points out that we already tell stories every day, we just don’t realize how much they matter.

To make our stories more effective, Simmons offers tips, techniques and exercises (as well as real-world examples) to help you hone your storytelling skills. She also shows how to incorporate stories into any of your communications — from coffee breaks with the staff to vital presentations in front of potential clients. 

Scrappy: A Little Book About Choosing to Play Big by Terri L. Sjodin

It helps to be scrappy if you want to succeed in today’s business environment. But what does that mean? Scrappy is defined as being feisty, enthusiastic and gutsy — all traits embodied by successful entrepreneurs.

Author Terri Sjodin highlights the real-life stories of everyday people who she says, “got scrappy to reach seemingly elusive goals while saving time, money and sanity in the process.”

This book is full of inspiring lessons, including how to nurture your best ideas, manage risk, create and scale a scrappy culture and execute your plan.

Stronger: Develop the Resilience You Need to Succeed by George S. Everly, Jr., Douglas A. Strouse, Dennis K. McCormack

As one of the original Navy Seals and a pioneer in SEAL combat doctrine and tactics, Dennis K. McCormack knows a thing or two about coping with stress in the face of adversity. In Stronger, the authors of this book set out to learn (and explain) what enables some people to rebound from crushing defeats and extreme adversity. Their conclusion is that “those who can rise above adversity possess personal resilience.” 

Stronger focuses on developing the five core factors of personal resilience, including helping people withstand adversity, making good decisions under pressure and motivating others to achieve peak performance. 

What we liked about this book is that the authors give you homework, including self-assessments and how-to prescriptions, which enable you to think about what you just read and how you can apply it to your own situation.

An Entrepreneur’s Manifesto by Steve Mariotti

Steve Mariotti is the founder of the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE), which educates at-risk youth to become business owners.

The purpose of Mariotti’s book is to start an “Entrepreneurship Revolution”, as he believes entrepreneurial education is “the most practical way to address so many of the ills plaguing the world economy today.”

Mariotti has been instrumental in this battle, and this book is a great mix of education and motivation that will surely inspire you to join the revolution.

Louder Than Words: Harness the Power of Your Authentic Voice by Todd Henry

To build an audience and stand out from the crowd, entrepreneurs need to have an authentic voice.

Author Todd Henry, who calls himself “an arms dealer for the creative revolution”, fills the book with strategies, true stories and exercises so you can work on developing your own authentic voice. He warns successful business leaders that it’s all too easy to become complacent — especially after experiencing some success.

Henry has built a business based on helping entrepreneurs and companies generate brilliant ideas and his advice in this book will help you do the same.

The Sales Assassin: Master Your Black Belt in Sales by Anthony Caliendo

Small business owners are constantly selling something. Whether it’s selling your actual products and services to customers, selling the value of your business to potential lenders, or convincing potential employees to come work for you, selling is part of every entrepreneur’s daily life.

An expert in sales, author Anthony Caliendo explains how you can achieve Sales Assassin Mastery (SAM), which he says, “requires passion, dedication and courage to persevere despite the greatest of obstacles.” Caliendo also believes in order to achieve SAM, you must be an entrepreneur —  even if you don’t own a company. 

Boss Life: Surviving My Own Small Business by Paul Downs

Author Paul Downs proclaims this is not your “standard business book”. He says, “I’m no business genius and I’m not rich...This is real life. The triumph and tragedy of small business. The uncertainty and challenges of being the boss.”

Part memoir, part business lesson, Boss Life highlights one year in the business life of Downs. Every chapter focuses on one month in 2012, which turned out to be a challenging year for Downs’ business. 

In Boss Life, we relive Down’s decision to stop taking a salary for several months when the cash balance fell so low he could only stay open for one more week if payments didn’t start flowing, and his relief (and concern) when his son announced he was putting off going to college for a year. This book shares the ups and downs of being the boss and practical ideas for how to manage it all. 

When Digital Becomes Human: The Transformation of Customer Relationships by Steven Van Belleghem

In his book, author Steven Van Belleghem argues that if you really want to succeed, you need to add a human touch to your interactions with customers — despite the fact we live in a digital world. 

He contends that today customer relationships are more important than ever, and in order to truly engage with customers, you need to have a “digital-first attitude with a human touch.”

This book is packed with real-life case studies of companies that were able to transform their customer relationships. Van Belleghem shares how to effectively transform your business to satisfy today’s “I want everything, and I want it now!” consumers.

How to Get Unstuck: 25 Ways to Get Your Business Growing Again by Barry J. Moltz

Getting stuck in a rut is something that impacts every small business owner as they manage the ups and downs of being the boss. This book by Barry Moltz will help you get out of whatever rut you happen to be in. 

Moltz tackles the 25 most common ways he believes small business owners get stuck, and not only tells you how to get unstuck, but also provides tangible examples of small businesses that have experienced what you’re going through.

This book provides valuable lessons for business owners, like what to do if your sales skills are rooted in 1989 to how to deal with actually hating your customers. 

The Unexpected: Breakthrough Strategies to Supercharge Your Business and Earn Loyal Customers for Life by Howard Brodsky with Dustin S. Klein

Howard Brodsky believes when your business “delivers a ‘wow’ moment for employees, customers, vendors or partners, they not only remember it, they remember you.”

These experiences are what enable you to stand apart from your competitors. Too many businesses, Brodsky says, try to be memorable by being loud, flashy or creating buzz. Instead, he says, “Your actions must be sustainable.” 

The idea is to develop systems that enable you to “deliver unexpected service.” The Unexpected tells you how to do exactly that.

Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business by Gino Wickman

The road to being a successful entrepreneur is never smooth. In Traction, author Gino Wickman shares the secrets of strengthening the six key components of your business. He shares powerful yet easy ways to run your business for better focus, growth and overall enjoyment. 
This book lays everything out with key action steps that you can take immediately to improve your business. Plus, it includes tests that you can complete to gauge where your business currently is so you can track your efforts. 

Profit First: Transform Your Business From a Cash-Eating Monster to a Money-Making Machine by Mike Michalowicz

Profit First begins with one simple premise: Sales – Profit = Expenses. The idea is you should take the total of the money you make, deduct a profit FIRST and then pay your bills. 
Michalowicz believes that by focusing on where to cut your recurring expenses, you can increase your profit margin and stop wasting money on things that aren’t 100% necessary for the success of your business. 
A big takeaway from this book is the premise that not all income is created equal. Concentrating on what you can offer — instead of what you should offer — can end up distracting you from your larger goals. 
This book also includes case studies that support the Profit First business model, as well as plenty of practical, actionable advice. 

Company of One: Why Staying Small Is the Next Big Thing for Business by Paul Jarvis

In the world of business, we're often encouraged to want more — bigger, better and MORE of everything. Company of One bucks this trend by focusing on being a small business that deliberately makes the choice to stay small and be satisfied with the current level of growth and profitability.

Jarvis shares how staying small means more time to spend on what you really want to do and not having to deal with the headaches that come with running a bigger business.

This book includes powerful examples of how small business owners are embracing the concept of the Company of One and building a business and life that fulfills them.

Business Brilliant: Surprising Lessons from the Greatest Self-Made Business Icons by Lewis Schiff

Written through a mix of storytelling and research, Business Brilliant explores common misconceptions about wealth and how highly successful people simply prioritize their time differently. 

Schiff says that synergy — not serendipity — is what produces success. By studying successful entrepreneurs, you can learn how to replicate their success in your own small businesses. 

This book shares the seven principles practiced by some of the most successful entrepreneurs with stories that will inspire you to look at your own business differently (and possibly start aiming higher!).

The 12 Week Year: Get More Done in 12 Weeks Than Others Do in 12 Months by Brian P. Moran

When you’re focusing on goals based on a semi-annual or annual schedule, it’s easy to lose sight of what you’re working towards. The 12 Week Year shares the theory that your productivity and results can suffer when the goals you’re trying to hit are a distant thing of the future. To avoid this complacency, Moran proposes that your “year” actually be tackled in 12-week cycles. 

The 12 Week Year approach is ideal for small businesses, as business can shift quickly and it allows you to work on what’s most relevant to the business now. This approach helps increase your sense of urgency so you get more accomplished in a shorter period of time. 

The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan

Gary Keller is the co-founder of real estate giant Keller-Williams, so he knows a thing or two about building an empire. 

The ONE Thing outlines how entrepreneurs wear many hats, handle too many things at once, and cope with many other distractions. The authors say this fragmented focus leads to stress, loss of productivity and not being able to live your best life.

Instead of doing all the things, this book encourages you to choose one thing to focus on at a time so you’re able to achieve the results you want (in both your professional and personal life). By focusing on less, you’re opening the door for more.

This book provides practical guidance on how to work on your one thing, cut through stress and feel in control so you can stay on track and meet your goals.

The 5 Second Rule: Transform Your Life, Work, and Confidence with Everyday Courage by Mel Robbins

You’re only five seconds away from making a decision that will create a change in your life, according to author Mel Robbins. Hesitation is one of the biggest issues we all deal with: you have a great idea, but five seconds later you’re second guessing everything and stop yourself from taking action. 

By invoking the 5 Second Rule and being firm in the choices you make, you allow yourself to build the confidence you need to make big decisions decisively. 

Breaking the habit of self-doubt and procrastination is the key to effectively applying the 5 Second Rule. This book focuses on using the science of habit while sharing riveting stories and surprising facts to illustrate exactly how you can make this change. 

Killing Marketing: How Innovative Businesses Are Turning Marketing Cost Into Profit by Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose

There are countless marketing strategies available to businesses, but many companies are still stuck using the old “tried and true” methods and haven’t caught on to innovations in the marketing world.

Killing Marketing explores companies that are blazing a new trail with their marketing and looks at the creativity and risk-taking necessary to change the current landscape. 

By changing your marketing approach, you can change your end results. Killing Marketing suggests trying a disruptive approach to attract new audiences, learning how to compete against traditional marketing campaigns and so much more. 

The Referral Engine: Teaching Your Business to Market Itself by John Jantsch

With more and more consumers looking for social proof that your business can deliver results, word-of-mouth referrals are more necessary than ever before. According to The Referral Engine, keeping your customers happy now means you open the door to more business later.

In this compelling book, Jantsch shares how people trust recommendations of actual people over the advertising claims of a business. He writes that customer referrals run in a cycle, so understanding how to tap into the power of these referrals means implementing simple techniques that will draw people to your business. 
If you’re looking to grow your business but don’t have a huge budget for marketing, this book provides plenty of ideas on how to make the most of the customer cycle so you can generate more referrals and continue to grow your business. 

What’s On Your Reading List? 

No matter what stage of business you may be in, there’s always more to learn. If you aren’t certain where to begin or what areas you need to work on, step back and look at your business objectively. Analyze each of your functional areas and figure out where your business may benefit from improvements.

Once you’ve identified areas of opportunity, prioritize them accordingly and get busy reading!

Bonus: Check out our top 25 small business podcast recommendations for learning on the go!



Images Credits

Feature Image: Unsplash / Chris Benson 
Images 1-20:  via Amazon