My Favorite 15+ Books for Small Business Owners

By Maria Peagler

Jan 06

my favorite business books

What’s the one thing profitable business owners have in common?

They’re lifelong learners.

After all, if you generate profits in your business year after year, you need to stay up-to-date on your industry, how business practices change, and how to stay current.

As an author, I’m a voracious reader, not only of fiction, but non-fiction business books. Today I’m sharing with you those business books that helped the bottom line of my business.

415-zyGlFSL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_1.  Less Doing More Living

Author: Ari Miesel

This book was one of my favorites of 2014. Written by a Ari Miesel, a business owner who has a debilitating disease and is the father of twins, who found a way to automate much of his business. I’m usually not a big fan of automation tactics, as they remove any personal touch your clients need from you. But Ari developed an online productivity system to automate much of the behind-the-scenes, freeing you up for the customer touchpoint tasks. I was able to save hundreds of hours and literally thousands of dollars by using his methods.  He has perfected the art of automating his business and his life so he can focus on the priorities needing most of his attention.

Favorite Highlight

“According to the 80/20 rule, I should be focusing on only the things that only I can do, like creating original content for the blog.  Everything else should be handled by someone else.”

41Qn40zaexL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_2.  The Checklist Manifesto

Author:  Atul Gawande

One of my favorite business books of all time.  I’ve recommended this book often and cannot emphasize enough how the process of creating a checklist helps me to document lengthy and complex processes and train my staff how to do them as well. Gwande shares examples of critical professions relying on checklists to avoid loss of life, such as architects, engineers and World Health Organization surgeons.

Favorite Highlight

“But finding a good idea is apparently not that hard.  Finding an entrepreneur who can execute a good idea is another matter entirely.  One needs a person who can take an idea from proposal to reality, work the long hours, build a team, handle the pressures and setbacks, manage technical and people problems alike, and stick with the effort for years on end without getting distracted or going insane.  Such people are rare and extremely hard to spot.”

download3.  Anything You Want

Author: Derek Sivers

A slim, yet invaluable book from Derek Sivers on his journey from being a music lover who coded a simple program to founder of CD Baby, selling it for over 21 million dollars.  What I love about this book is Derek’s candid story of ups and downs in his journey, and his advice on enjoying your own and not getting swallowed by sharks.  Derek has done multiple TED talks and is generous with his time, answering questions via email from readers on his website.  I asked him a question for my son about going into the music business, and we was kind and open with his advice.

Favorite Highlights

“Never forget absolutely everything you do is for your customers.  Make every decision – even decisions about whether to expand the business, raise money, or promote someone – according to what’s best for your customers.”

“It’s counterintuitive, but the best way to grow your business is to focus entirely on your existing customers: just thrill them, and they’ll tell everyone.”

51HtHc4sTvL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_4.  12 Week Year

Author: Brian Moran

I almost didn’t include this book in this year-end list because the author, Brian Moran, was decidedly curt when I reached out to him about an issue on his website.  However, I have gotten such tremendous results using this method I would be remiss in not mentioning it. Brian’s method recommends intense focus on a few goals over a 12-week period, even scoring yourself on your efforts and results.  I’ve been using his method for an entire year, and I can report I’ve gotten better results working with his method on my own than in hiring “experts” to tackle the same problem.

Favorite Highlight

“In 12 week planning, you identify the top one to three things that will have the greatest impact, and pursue those with intensity.”

515vWYjaFzL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_5.  The First 20 Hours

Author:  Josh Kaufman

A similar book to the 12 Week Year, but Josh Kaufman’s (The Personal MBA) focus is on mastering a skill in a short period of time – 20 hours to be exact.  What I loved about this book is similar to what Tim Ferriss does in his 4 Hour Chef: Josh recommends breaking down the skill set you need to learn and identifying the critical elements you need to master.

Favorite Highlight

“What feels like the long way is the shortest way. Zero-practice shortcuts don’t exist. No practice, no skill acquisition. It’s as simple as that.”

41Jl9XR0HqL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_6.  4 Hour Chef

Author: Tim Ferriss

As a gourmet cook, I didn’t read Tim Ferriss’ book to learn how to master cooking. Instead, I read it to learn how to “hack” learning, which is what Tim is REALLY teaching in this book, using cooking as the vehicle.  Tim figured out the key to quick learning early on working for Berlitz — the foreign language company — and applied those same tactics to other learning disciplines.  He distills the quick-learning principles to acronyms easy to remember like CAFE and DSSS, and these tactics help me learn quickly in an industry that changes daily.

Favorite Highlight

“The lowest volume, the lowest frequency, the fewest changes that get us our desired results is what I label minimum effective dose (MED). It’s a broad concept that applies to almost any field.”

41O9Zptxu7L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_7.  168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think

Author: Laura Vanderkam

I interviewed Laura Vanderkahm on the blog here after reading her book about time management. I hesitate to call it a time management book, because I’ve decidedly eschewed those in favor of smarter approaches to life and how I choose to spend my time.  Laura’s book is an eye-opener into how much time we all REALLY have, how we spend it, and how there truly is enough time in the day to do everything you need and want.

Favorite Highlight

“Once you know what you want to do in the next year, you can break this down into what you want to do in the next month (120 – 240 hours) or week (24 – 26 hours). On Sunday nights, or before the start of your workweek, sit down and list the actionable tasks you need to do to advance you toward these goals. Then, this is the key part: schedule them in, knowing exactly how long they will take.”

download (1)8.  Delivering Happiness

Author: Tony Hsei

Tony claims this book is all about how Zappos delivers an over-the-top customer service experience.  I view it as the bible for anyone who wants to turn a boring business into a global brand that never competes on price. The shoe business was about as exciting as watching paint dry, until Tony turned it upside down with fun, great teamwork and amazing customer service.  A must read.

Favorite Highlight

“I realized that, whatever the vision was for any business, there was always a bigger vision that could make the table bigger. When Southwest Airlines first started, they didn’t see their target market as just limited to existing air travelers, which was what all other airlines did. Instead, they imaged their service as something that could potentially serve all the people who traveled by Greyhound bus or train, and they designed their business around that.”

51gn6AuFkNL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_9.  The Lean Startup

Author: Eric Ries

If you’ve heard the terms minimum viable product, pivot and lean, then you’ll understand the impact Eric Ries has had on the startup industry over the past five years.  Eric tells the story of how his failing tech business learned to stop guessing at what customers wanted and actually interacted with them and making tiny improvements along the way.

Favorite Highlight

“Success is not delivering a feature; success is learning how to solve the customer’s problem.”

10. Mastering Evernote

Author: Brandon Collins

I finally got on the Evernote bandwagon in 2012 and this small Kindle book helped me figure out how to customize my experience in Evernote.  As great a product as Evernote is, I never found it intuitive to use, which is why it took me so long to adopt it into my business toolkit.  This book finally got me using it like a pro.

Favorite Tip

Add most-used notes to the the shortcut bar so you don’t have to search for them repeatedly.

download (2)11.  Moonwalking with Einstein

Author: Joshua Foer

Summary

Not a business book per se, but a fascinating read at how regular people can develop super-memories. I’ve been able to pump up my own memory with these techniques, and help my son do so for college exams.  Not a how-to book, but a telling of one reporter’s story of covering the world memory championships, to challenging a participant to coach him in memory techniques, to winning the championship the next year. Truly a fun book to read.

Favorite Highlight

“The more we pack our lives with memories, the slower time seems to fly.”

51GWfhjxetL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_12.  The Stupidly Simple Way to Backup

Author: Christian O. Schilling

An inexpensive Amazon Kindle book that has a smart strategy for backing up your life and business (and what you don’t need to backup): personal photos, application purchases, etc.  I’ve been days away from a book deadline when my home was struck by lightning, killing all the electronic equipment in the house.  My backup saved me!

Favorite Highlight

“I save all my application serial codes within my password application. If I ever need to install an application again, I just download it from the web and look up my password in 1Password (or LastPass).”

download (3)13. The Power of Visual Storytelling

Authors: Ekaterina Walter and Jessica Gioglio

2014 was the year of the image in marketing, and has forever raised the bar for our expectations of visual communication online. It’s no longer enough to have great content: it needs stunning visuals to accompany it, and Ekaterina Walter’s book talks about this phenomenon, how it has impacted business, and her favorite tools for creating images (even if you’re not a photographer or graphic designer).  Listen to my interview with Ekaterina here, then see case studies of small brands using visual storytelling here.

Favorite Highlight

 “. . . usage of visuals has resulted in a social media era that rewards creativity.”

download (4)14. Thinkertoys

Author: Michael Michalko

Michael is a genius at structuring creative exercises that get you thinking beyond the everyday. I’ve used his techniques to develop formats for my infographics, identify new features for my products and far more.

Favorite Technique

Lotus Blossom Diagramming

download (5)15.  The Ultimate Sales Machine

Author: Chet Holmes

Chet breaks down the sales process for people who don’t think they’re salespeople.  My favorite parts of his process are “pig-headed persistence,” identify your six to do’s everyday, and discovering the common characteristics among your perfect customers.

Favorite Highlight

“The key to being productive is to stick to the six most important things you need get done that day. “

illust-ebook16. Virtual Freedom

Author Chris Ducker

Chris owns a VA placement service, and often exaggerates what a VA can do in this book.  However, I appreciated much of his management and bonus strategies for VAs and have used them myself.

Favorite Highlight

“Request a list of the VA’s personal recommendations for your business. This could include potential products, ways to better serve your customers, or any tools or training that would help your VA do her job better.”

I hope you’ve enjoyed this list of my favorite books for small business owners.  What are your favorites? Add to this list in the comments below!

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About the Author

Founder of Socialmediaonlineclasses.com, Benjamin Franklin award-winner for independent publishing, award winning author of eight books, wife, mom, quilter and watercolor artist.

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