Running a small business entails long hours, sleepless nights and a lot of troubleshooting. It’s easy to fall into a lull and wonder if you’ve made the right choice. Thankfully we live in an era where the world’s most successful business gurus, professors, and corporate professionals are more than happy to give you their secrets in books. While they may not all be specifically “small business books,” these are the best books for small business owners looking for inspiration to help their businesses thrive.

1. ‘Measure What Matters: How Google, Bono, and the Gates Foundation Rock the World with OKRs’

Author: John Doerr

Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) are the focus of Measure What Matters, featuring a foreword by Larry Page, co-founder of Google. If your small business struggles with managing consumer data, this is the book for you. If your team can’t see the trees for the forest of everything that has to be done yesterday, this is the book for you.

Bill Gates says, “I’d recommend John’s book for anyone interested in becoming a better manager.” John Chambers, executive chairman of Cisco, says, “Measure What Matters is a gift to every leader or entrepreneur who wants a more transparent, accountable and effective team. It encourages the kind of big, bold bets that can transform an organization.” 

Measure What Matters is chock full of digestible case studies of some of the most powerful companies in the world, including Intel, Cisco and Google. While Silicon Valley is highlighted, the fundamental principles of OKRs can be applied to any small business.

2. ‘Contagious: Why Things Catch On’

Author: Jonah Berger

Contagious: Why Things Catch On is a mesmerizing how-to on why certain products and ideas catch on and why others wane. If you’re looking for ways to make your small business product fly off the shelves, Jonah Berger, professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, has answers for you.

Replete with stats and anecdotal stories that will mesmerize you and your staff,  “Contagious” is itself an example of everything Berger claims to be true. Berger outlines the way to viral success with the acronym STEPPS, which summarizes the attributes that the most successful products have.

  • Social Currency: people love to share; find your product’s “inner remarkability” and give people ways to achieve and provide visible symbols of status that they can show to others.
  • Triggers: Triggers are stimuli that prompt people to think about related things. Design products that your target market is frequently triggered to think about by the environment. And create new triggers by linking products to prevalent cues in that environment. Top of mind leads to tip of tongue.
  • Emotion: When we care, we share. Naturally contagious content evokes emotion; contagious emotions are anger and anxiety, awe and humor.
  • Public: Monkey see, monkey do; people tend to follow what others are doing. Others need to see when people are using your product; design products that create “behavioral residue.”
  • Practical Value: demonstrate how a product will save time, improve health or save money, Highlight the credible value of the product in a way that people can easily share with others.
  • Stories: People are more likely to tell stories than pass on information. Imbue products with ideas and stories that people want to tell.

3. ‘The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon’

Author: Brad Stone

Brad Stone is the senior executive editor for technology at Bloomberg News. He penned this blow-by-blow account of the rise to greatness of the most successful small business of all time, Amazon. An instant New York Times Bestseller, The Everything Store is arguably the most inspirational book a small business owner could ever read. From a humble start, selling used books online in his garage, Bezos transformed the way the world shops. You may or may not be able to replicate the success of Amazon, but you can certainly draw insights and inspiration from the story that will keep you motivated.

Accolades include:

  • Winner of the Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award
  • Chosen Best Book of the Year by the Washington Post, Forbes, The New Republic, The Economist, Bloomberg and Gizmodo
  • Listed as one of the top 10 Investigative Journalism Books by Nieman Reports

4. ‘Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us’

Author: Daniel Pink

Pink is a best-selling author who has written a number of inspiring books about doing business. Drive stands out as one of the most insightful. While the rest of business world is handing out carrots to motivate employees, Pink’s approach revolves around harnessing inherently human internal motivations like the desires for self-determination, self-fulfillment and altruism.

Merging psychology with economics, Pink explores how businesses of all sizes can drive success with a completely new methodology.

Says Scientific American, “Pink makes a convincing case that organizations ignore intrinsic motivation at their peril.” 

The Miami Herald says, “Persuasive . . . Harnessing the power of intrinsic motivation rather than extrinsic remuneration can be thoroughly satisfying and infinitely more rewarding.” 


5. ‘Virtual Freedom: How to Work with Virtual Staff to Buy More Time, Become More Productive, and Build Your Dream Business’ 

Author: Chris Ducker

One of the biggest obstacles that small business owners face is lack of time. Even when a small business owner becomes a master of time management, there’s rarely enough time to get everything done. Entrepreneurs tend have it worse.

They inherently have a DIY mindset that precludes them from striving to build a team. Virtual Freedom flawlessly demonstrates the power of outsourcing to achieve everything the subtitle claims: be more productive, grow your business and have more time.

Chris Ducker, AKA, the “Virtual CEO,” was just like you. As a young entrepreneur, he worked 14-hour days, six days a week. Exhausted, he vowed to make a change. In less than a year he not only found more time for family by outsourcing his business tasks; he also had time to launch a second business.

If you struggle with getting things done, this best book for a small business owner is worth at least twice the time you’ll invest in reading it.

6. ‘The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference’

Author: Malcom Gladwell

Have you ever read those stories where someone gives up right before their entire life’s dream was about to come true? The Tipping Point will inspire you to never give up on your business goals. The premises is that everything has a tipping point; that magical moment when everything snaps into place; when a line is crossed that leads to a crescendo of awareness and activity.

If you can just keep going, keep pushing, you’ll reach that tipping point with your business. This is what Gladwell proves in The Tipping Point with his statistics, anecdotal evidence and cold hard case studies.

Gladwell is also the author of the bestselling, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, and a former reporter for the Washington Post. He currently serves as a staff writer at The New Yorker Magazine.

7. ‘Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t’

Author: Jim Collins

As a #1 bestselling book in 2001, Good to Great remains one of the most popular books for any business owner who wants to avoid the failures of their predecessors. More a compendium on what not to do, Jim Collins’ Good to Great serves as a map of landmines for businesses.

Case-study research discussed in the book includes analyzing a variety of tested business methodologies. Even though the book is dated, the principles hold true years later. If you’re looking for ways to transform your business from good to great—to escape mediocrity and reach excellence—this book is for you and your team.

Jim Collins is a Socratic advisor to business leaders around the country. He’s a former teacher at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and the recipient of the Distinguished Teaching Award in 1992. At the management laboratory he founded in Boulder, Colorado, he does research and engages with senior-leadership teams and top CEOs.

What Books Should You Start With?

Some of the most well-known business people in the world started where you are now. Whether you’re a brand-new startup or you’ve been at this for years and you’re looking for some fresh ideas, these small business books will ignite your passion to grow your business. These books will help you along the journey to reach a similar destination.

But if you’re like most entrepreneurs, struggling to find the time to make your big schemes a reality, #5, Virtual Freedom, is worth a look.

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