Written By Tim Russell
10 Best Business Books for Small Business Owners
The boom in business books shows no sign of running out of steam, with new volumes flooding the shelves seemingly every week. But as a small business owner, you don’t have time to read them all. Or even a tiny percentage of them, so how to choose which ones are right for you?
To save you lots of searching, Booming Businesses have picked the ten best business books our team has read in the last few years. Books that get straight to the point, don’t waste the reader’s time, and contain genuinely useful and actionable advice. Rather than the usual jargon, waffle and business bingo cliches. So whether you’re looking for information on marketing, communication, product, strategy or just general business advice, you should find at least a couple of useful purchases here!
The Personal MBA by Josh Kaufman
Kaufman’s starting point is that traditional MBAs are expensive, outdated and don’t prepare graduates for the real business world. So instead he has distilled thousands of hours of study and business reading into one handy manual. It follows an MBA-like structure but which a) is a lot cheaper than doing an MBA and b) will prepare readers for the reality of running their own businesses.
The book covers every aspect of running a business. Including how to evaluate new business ideas, how to create and deliver value, sales & marketing strategies, the psychology of business and how to cope with being your own boss, recruitment and working with others, the financial aspects, and working with systems.
Whether you’re already running your own business, at the dreaming stage, or working for someone else and just want to brush up on your skills. There is tons of useful info in this book and it will quickly become one of the best business books you always have sitting on your desk, ready to be referred to on a regular basis. If you only buy one book off this list, you should make it this one!
24 Assets by Daniel Priestley
Priestley’s earlier books, Entrepreneur Revolution and Key Person of Influence, were great reads about the new brand of digital entrepreneurship. 24 Assets is even better, a concise look at exactly what you need to build in order for your business to be a success. His theory is that every online business has 24 identifiable assets that make it a success. Funding assets such as a business plan or a valuation. Culture assets, such as the key people involved in the business. Systems assets, such as marketing or operational processes. Product assets, such as products for prospects and products for repeat buyers. And brand assets such as brand identity and image.
It’s a quick read, fizzing with ideas and inspiration and works really well as a checklist for anyone planning a new business. It will also help you focus your time – and budget – on the things that matter, rather than vanity metrics.
The Startup Playbook by David S Kidder
A lot of the best business books on startups take a one-size-fits-all approach to telling you how to make your business a success. Kidder takes a different approach, by talking to the founders of several successful startups to find out how they did it and identify what they all have in common. Kidder interviews 40 startup founders from companies such as PayPal, Spanx and Flickr, to find out how they handled areas such as idea generation, product development, financing, and overcoming the various hurdles that new businesses inevitably encounter.
As well getting some good ideas and inspiration, you’ll also find this book rather comforting. You’ll realise that even the founders of multi-billion dollar startups started out just like you did. And went through the same challenges, learning from their mistakes as they went along.
Become an Idea Machine by Claudia Azula Altucher
“Ideas are the currency of the 21st century” according to the book’s author. And her premise is that to come up with one good idea, you need to come up with many more bad ones. Less a manual and more of a brainstorming catalyst, this book gives you various strategies for idea generation. It helps you “exercise your idea muscle” and come up with ten new ideas. Whether it’s for business, art, hobbies or your personal life, every day, and getting into the habit of idea generation.
I included this book as, in a genre that can often be a little dull, it’s a light, fun read that will change the way you think and have you trying to spot new ideas in everything you do. And let’s face it, if you come up with 70 ideas in the week it might take you to read this book, at least one of them might be the big one!
The Strategist by Cynthia Montgomery
Montgomery is a professor at Harvard Business School, and The Strategist is the result of hours of teaching top CEOs and business owners about strategy. A subject many of them have barely dwelt on, but which they soon come to appreciate is key to their companies’ success. Few of them have been asked “Are you a strategist?” before, or are able to give an answer!
Montgomery defines what exactly strategy is and why it is so important. Using real world examples from companies that have radically changed their strategy – such as Gucci, Apple and Ikea – with both positive and negative outcomes.
Essentially, the book is about defining you and your company’s purpose. And why having a clear purpose matters so much to the company’s success. It’s something a lot of the best business books gloss over. But I guarantee that after reading this – and particularly after reading about the companies that got it so disastrously wrong – you’ll spend a lot more time thinking about it.
Non-Obvious by Rohit Bhargava
Many businesses strike it rich by successfully predicting future trends. Whilst others fail because they get their predictions wrong. Bhargava’s book is all about avoiding the mistake of making obvious guesses about the things you see around you. And instead digging a little deeper and discovering trends that may not be immediately apparent. He writes about curating and gathering information on certain topics which allows you to spot trends as they form. About having the curiosity to ask the right questions, and about how you can turn your trendspotting into actual theories and business ideas.
It’s a thoroughly absorbing read as it questions conventional wisdom. It shows how so many people get their forecasts badly wrong because they look at the obvious, rather than the data that lies beneath. He also gives an insight into some future trends he’s spotted such as microconsumption, predictive prevention and disruptive distribution. A very timely book, as we negotiate the huge turmoil and disruption of 2020 and think of how we can prepare ourselves and our businesses for the new normal. Whatever that may look like. There is definitely money to be made in the months to come and reading this book may help you identify opportunities.
Epic Content Marketing by Joe Pulizzi
Founder of the Content Marketing Institute, Pulizzi is pretty much the godfather of content marketing. And this book is the only one you will ever need on this huge and often confusing topic. Read it, read it again, learn it, and apply it, and you’ll stay on top of your company’s content marketing strategy.
Pulizzi looks at the history of content marketing. It’s been around a lot longer than you might think! But most importantly, rather than focusing on the content itself or the channels used to share it, he talks about WHY content marketing is so important. And why, when formulating your business’s content marketing strategy, you need to think long and hard about your audience and go into painstaking detail to create your buyer personas.
As someone who spends much of his working day on content marketing, I found this a fascinating read. Albeit a dense one. There are stacks of information here and you’ll probably need to take notes or stick markers in the relevant pages. You’ll find yourself saying “I MUST start doing that” every few minutes. Every content marketer’s bible.
Made to Stick by Chip & Dan Heath
Subtitled “Why some ideas survive and others die”, Made to Stick looks at the concept of idea ‘stickiness’, i.e. why some ideas have longevity and stick around, while others die young. Inspired by Malcolm Gladwell’s approach, the book looks at real life stories and business case studies. As well as looking at how to apply those successful principles to your own business activities.
The writers essentially boil the stickiness of ideas down to the acronym SUCCES. Simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional, and stories. So basically if you want your idea to have legs, it needs to be easy to understand, original or distinctive, easy to grasp and remember, believable and trustworthy. And appeal to people’s emotions and have a compelling backstory to it.
OK, so that was a little bit of a spoiler. But there’s a lot more to the book than those six concepts. And along with helping you tailor your business approach so it has long-term appeal, it’s a very entertaining read in itself, whether you’re an entrepreneur or not.
Exactly What to Say by Phil M Jones
This short, sweet little book was written by an expert in verbal communication. And it consists of a list of “magic words” designed to make your business conversation more persuasive and fruitful. Jones says that one thing successful business people have in common is that “they know exactly what to say, how to say it, and how to make it count”. And it goes on to explore some of these magic phrases and exactly why they are so effective.
The list is short, and the book is short, but it contains a lot of actionable wisdom. You will almost certainly find yourself saying “I bet you’re a bit like me…” or “The good news is…” to clients, prospects and colleagues alike in the days that follow your reading of it. A superb little manual on making your patter both more likeable and more productive. And who wouldn’t want to do that?
How to Be a Productivity Ninja by Graham Allcott
If you find yourself sitting at a cluttered desk, wading through a never-ending stream of emails, struggling to get stuff done in that post-lunch slump, and generally feeling stressed out, you need this book. Allcott begins by focusing on when you’re at your best. What time of day you’re most focused, most energised, most able to concentrate. And suggests building your day around that and creating a timetable so you can use that time to get your most important tasks done. He also looks at the reasons we get stressed and simple ways we can eliminate them. Not looking at your phone last thing at night, or turning off work email notifications at the weekend for example. And he also has some great strategies for decluttering your email, and spending your time using email to actually, er, read and action emails rather than simply trying to manage your inbox.
Allcott writes in a very light, humorous way. And the very act of reading this book will make you feel better about yourself already. His various strategies for making the most of your time are simple, actionable and easily achievable. A great book both for you and the people you work with – buy your whole team a copy!
So here is our complete list of the best business books. Okay, we know, you’re busy with your business and don’t have time to read one book let alone ten of the best business books. But I assure you it’s worth your while reading every single one of these. And certainly, a much more valuable way to spend your time. Rather than staring at your inbox for ten minutes or going out for your fifth coffee of the day. Take half an hour a day over lunch to read a few pages, or half an hour at night before you sleep. You’ll soon find yourself getting through at least a book a week and giving a huge boost to your business brain. Happy reading!