As a small business owner, you might never snag a face-to-face meeting with some of the world’s most successful business gurus, professors and corporate professionals; however, by reading their books you can still glean advice and inspiration on running a business. While not all of the titles are specifically “small business books,” much of the guidance applies to companies of all sizes. Here are the best books for small business owners looking for inspiration to help their businesses thrive.
Best Books on Growing a Small Business
1. “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 a 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 can have it even worse.
Their inherent DIY mindset can preclude 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.
As a young entrepreneur, Chris Ducker, aka the “Virtual CEO,” worked 14-hour days, 6 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 is one of the best books for small business owners who grapple with trying to do it all.
2. “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, and your team can’t see the trees for the forest of everything that has to be done yesterday, this is one of the books on running a business that can help you.
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” includes 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.
3. “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 large or small business books for any entrepreneur 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 various tested business methodologies. The book’s principles still hold, even though it was published 20 years ago. If you’re looking for one of the best books for growing your small business, “Good to Great” could help you and your team escape mediocrity and reach excellence.
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.
4. “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 small business books that can share 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.
Using statistics and anecdotal evidence, Berger outlines the way to viral success with the acronym STEPPS — social currency, triggers, emotion, public, practical value and stories. These are attributes that the most successful products have.
Best Books for New Business Owners
1. “Starting a Business: QuickStart Guide”
Author: Ken Colwell, Ph.D., MBA
This Amazon bestseller is rated as one of the more helpful small business books for beginners. Ken Colwell’s comprehensive guide takes entrepreneurs from their business’s concept stage to reality.
Colwell asks readers the “big picture” question: Why do you want to start your own business? He then navigates the processes for getting your venture up and running, from how to write a business plan to product/service pricing strategies, where to register your business and how to craft a marketing plan.
Colwell worked in the financial services industry before entering academia. He’s the current dean of the School of Business Administration at University of Houston-Victoria.
2. “The E-Myth Mastery: The Seven Essential Disciplines for Building a World-Class Company”
Author: Michael E. Gerber
“The E-Myth Mastery” is just one of the books for small business owners in Michael Gerber’s “E-Myth” series, which has been sharing advice with entrepreneurs since the 1980s.
This book covers the 7 disciplines every business owner should employ: leadership, marketing, lead conversion and generation, money, management and client fulfillment.
Rather than just imparting information about each skill, “The E-Myth Mastery” also engages the reader with training modules, tests and other exercises to ensure you’ve mastered the content.
Inc. magazine calls Gerber “the world’s #1 small business guru,” and a Success magazine’s “E-Myth Mastery” review states, “Gerber’s powerful insights have given thousands of entrepreneurs new control over their businesses.”
3. “The Founder’s Dilemmas: Anticipating and Avoiding the Pitfalls That Can Sink a Startup”
Author: Noam Wasserman
While many small business books for beginners will guide your early entrepreneurship, “The Founder’s Dilemmas,” like Jim Collins’s “Good to Great” advises you what not to do as you start your new business.
The primary quandary “The Founder’s Dilemmas” tackles is whom you choose to do business with — potential partners, investors and other hires — and how to navigate these relationships to ensure mistakes and discord don’t tank your startup.
Some reviewers noted the advice is best for high-growth businesses rather than smaller sole proprietorships. If you have immediate or long-term goals to scale your business, this could be one of the best books for starting and growing a small business.
Inspirational Books for Business Owners
1. “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 among the most inspirational books for business owners. 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.
2. “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us”
Author: Daniel Pink
Daniel Pink is a best-selling author who has written a number of inspirational business books. “Drive” stands out as one of the most insightful. Instead of encouraging businesses to hand out external rewards to employees, Pink’s approach suggests harnessing inherently human internal motivations such as 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.”
3. “The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference”
Author: Malcolm Gladwell
You know the popular storytelling trope where the protagonist is ready to give up right before their entire life’s dream comes true? “The Tipping Point’s” premise is that everything has a tipping point: That magical moment when everything snaps into place. When that line is crossed, it leads to a crescendo of awareness and activity.
If you can just keep going — keep pushing — you also can reach the tipping point with your business. This is what Malcolm Gladwell argues in “The Tipping Point” with his statistics, anecdotal evidence and cold, hard case studies.
Gladwell’s contribution to the inspirational business books genre will encourage you to never give up on your business goals.
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.
Best Small Business Books to Start Your Reading List
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 can ignite your passion for growing your business.
If you’re like most entrepreneurs, struggling to find the time to make your big schemes a reality, we recommend you prioritize reading “Virtual Freedom.”