Are you a small business owner that needs inspiration? Check out this list of top business reads.
If you want to take your business to the next level, your best bet might be to follow high performers in their habits. And the most popular habit, by far, is reading. For example, Mark Cuban reads 3 hours a day, and Bill Gates finishes 1 book a week.
But what should you read as a small business owner?
We surveyed nearly 250 small business owners, founders, and CEOs to discover their go-to books for business inspiration. And we narrowed the list down to the top 8 recommendations.
1. The Lean Startup by Eric Ries
Startups are expected to thrive in the most uncertain environments. Even a solid core product, shifting markets, industry developments, and the millions of other variables involved in creating a successful business change so quickly that your business can be left behind.
The Lean Startup by Eric Ries is geared towards early-stage startups, but its principles apply to any business. This book promotes testing frequently and moves forward in small steps rather than overplanning to summarize its main points.
Its focus on flexibility and practicality are two of the reasons why so many entrepreneurs and small business owners love this book. And since it’s just under 300 pages, it’s not a very intensive read.
These are some of the business owners we spoke to who loved The Lean Startup:
“So many small business owners can benefit from this book, as it really stresses the importance of not putting all of your money into one major investment before your business has even had the chance to grow. It teaches business owners how to engage with their audience, and understand what their customers’ needs are at a smaller scale.”
– Jeanine Duval, Cofounder, and Editor in chief of Edelwyn.
“This book is the sole reason that Honey and Roses has become a successful business where my previous ventures failed. Why? Because it teaches you about how to start a business without funding, and importantly how to find out what your customers actually want.”
– Joe Whiteside, Founder of Honey and Roses Coffee.
“A must-read if you are looking to become an entrepreneur or if you are looking at a different way to do things at your company.”
– Toby Dash, Founder of Five Star Skincare
2. The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber
Spending too much time in your business rather than working on your business? Michael Gerber’s The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It may be from 2009, but its core message is as essential for small business owners today as it was when it was first published.
Written from his 40 years of experience in small business, Gerber takes you through the business lifecycle, common assumptions about running a business, and how to overcome typical pitfalls.
“This book provides a blueprint to get started with your idea once you’ve ascertained whether or not it would succeed.”
No matter what industry you’re in, this book is likely to help you overcome your business pain points and take your organization to the next level. And for many business owners, this book proved to be their guiding light in a competitive landscape:
“Too many people think that they need to reinvent the wheel when in reality there are books and classes that can help guide them through this process. This book provides a blueprint to get started with your idea once you’ve ascertained whether or not it would succeed.”
– Charlotte Miles, Founder of MeMoreMoney
”The book talks about the main reason why most small businesses fail, which is improper staffing, and lays out a clear plan on how to tackle that problem in your own business.”
– John Simmons, CMO at Stickysolutions Inc
“The book helped me to realize that just because you might know a business/niche inside and out, it doesn’t mean that you’re destined to be successful within it.”
– Cliff Auerswald, President of All Reverse Mortgage Inc
3. Start with Why by Simon Sinek
Cutting it close to The E-Myth was Simon Sinek’s instant classic, Start with Why. At 240 pages, Start with Why deconstructs the success of illustrative innovators, leaders, and entrepreneurs. As you may guess from the title, this book centers on the foundation of your business.
Rather than focus on nitty-gritty techniques and trends, Sinek brings you back to why you started your business in the first place. While it’s more of a mindset reset, Start with Why offers many small business owners who may want to realign their businesses with their goals.
And if you aren’t a big reader, that’s fine. The author has also delivered a Ted Talk on the core messages of his book.
Small business owners shared with us why they personally loved Start with Why:
“Strictly speaking, it’s not about small businesses but the philosophy of business in general, and
that’s precisely what I like about it. It makes you adopt a bird’s eye view on your own business ideas and goals, reassess and redefine them where needed, find the best communication angle that will resonate with your audience.”
– Adam Garcia, Founder of The Stock Dork
“Start with Why by Simon Sinek is one of the most valuable business books I’ve read. I go back to it often. He explains that making money is not a “why,” but rather that you must discover a niche that you are passionate about, ensure a shared worldview and community around the topic, and make a unique product. Then strive to make a business that makes money while customers feel that they are getting value.”
– Dan Potter, Cofounder of CRAFTD
4. Profit First by Mike Michalowicz
When it comes to the financial side, small business owners quickly discover that getting paid is more complicated. Unlike the first 3 business classics, Profit First is all about accounting.
And it’s hardly a snoozer. Rather than give you complex spreadsheet algorithms, Michaelowicz focuses on simplifying small business accounting and providing insights that can help you transform your cash flow.
As one of the short books on the list, it may only take you a week to finish, but it may fundamentally change your business for the better.
Here are just a handful of small businesses that rave about this book:
“Profit First is a must-read for everyone with brilliant company ideas who wants to avoid going bankrupt. It is simple to put into practice, and it works.”
– Eduard Klein, Digital Marketing Specialist
“Many small businesses fail because they’re unable to be profitable. In Profit First, you learn a cash management system that flips the script upside down and allows you to take control of your company’s cash flow.”
– Justin Green, Founder of Assist FP
“Most business owners make money and spend that money on other expenditures without paying themselves or saving money for the future. Mike discusses the profit first method of saving a small amount of income in separate business banking accounts for profits, your salary, taxes, and an expense account. Establishing individual accounts using the profit first method allows you to realize that you have a profitable business, take a salary, and cover business expenses.”
– Annette Harris, Harris Financial Coaching
5. Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss
Another common favorite book for small business owners is Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss. Unlike the other books on this list, this one is huge! And for a good reason. Rather than a step-by-step business guide, Tools of Titians is 700 pages of concise interviews from some of the most successful individuals across the globe.
From actors to businessmen and scientists, this book contains insight from dozens of individuals. Business owners can leverage these high performers’ knowledge and daily routines and apply that information to their business operations.
Business owners can leverage these high performers’ knowledge and daily routines and apply that information to their business operations.
In fact, it’s the diversity of voices in this book that gives small business owners inspiration:
“These are actual experiences of different real people, so there would be no way that you’ll not find something relatable to what you are going through.”
– Dan Belcher, Founder, and CEO at Mortgage Relief
“I love learning about the methods used by successful people to get where they are. In this book, Tim Ferriss interviews more than 100 successful folks from all walks of life to discover their productivity secrets and mindsets. My copy is full of notes and highlights, and the numerous nuggets of wisdom it contains have shaped my life and work.”
-Brad Touesnard, Founder and CEO of SpinupWP
“This is a large book, but it is one you don’t need to read chapter by chapter because it is a collection of interviews with successful people that you can consume piecemeal. It is nice to get the perspective of successful people on topics regarding wisdom, health, and wealth, but it is even more useful as Ferriss adds his own insight into the ways in which routines and habits have shaped the success of the people being interviewed.”
– Trevor Larson, CEO of Nectar HR
6. High Output Management by Andrew S. Grove
With an emphasis on management skills, High Output Management is a long-time favorite in Silicon Valley. Written by Andrew S. Grove, the former CEO of Intel, this is more of a playbook than anything else. Through Grove’s tried and true experiences, you can find ways to improve your businesses’ performance at any stage.
The founders that loved this book found it to be a must-read for its strategic approach to management:
“It is eye-opening for managers that training is essential for productive teamwork and long-term success. Overall the book is a complete guideline for middle and upper-level managers to accelerate work satisfaction.”
– Perry Zheng, Founder and CEO of Cash Flow Portal
“High Output Management gives you all the advanced principles on how to think about strategic management.”
– Evan Tarver, Cofounder and CEO of Selling Signals
7. Built To Last by James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras
Built to Last helps small business owners plan on how to position their organization to stand the test of time. In their book, Collins and Porras study 18 different companies and analyze how they could outperform their competitors.
In Built to Last, small business owners can learn how businesses can learn from visionary companies to create a sustainable, long-lasting business. Most of the business owners who recommended this book found that it changed their business on a fundamental level:
“What I took from the book is that visionary companies revolve around a purpose, and this is something I’ve tried to apply to my own business.”
– Dave Nilsson, Founder of ConvertedClick
“I also still look at Built to Last often. This book profiles several visionary companies and examines what made them successful on a fundamental level.”
– Jeremy Yamaguchi, CEO of Lawn Love
8. People Operations by Jay Fulcher, Kevin Marasco, and Tracy Cote
While this book — written by leaders at Zenefits — was not included in the survey, we still recommend this as a must read for business owners, HR managers, and those looking to navigate the future of work.
People Operations: Automate HR, Design a Great Employee Experience, and Unleash Your Workforce explains how leaders at small- and medium-sized businesses can stop spending time on HR administration — “paperwork” — and start focusing on the “peoplework” that truly fuels employee growth and productivity.
Here’s some of the feedback we’ve received:
“New to POPs? Expect to reach for this book often. Experienced POPs professional? You’ll find the frameworks accessible for helping others understand the goal of POPs, and you’ll be left with some gems to consider like high-performance reasons your team works and how to tap into them.”
-Amy Dalebout, VP People & Culture of MotoRefi
“Companies can no longer hide behind beautiful cultural value statements; they need to live that purpose. People Operations provides a practical guide to support healthier teams and healthier business.”
-Arianna Huffington, Founder and CEO of Thrive Global
You can check out our book — and its 5 star reviews — here.
And for more on POPs strategy, you can also listen to the People Operations Podcast.
More books for small business owners
To tell you the truth, we had so many submissions, it would be impossible to list all of the books that could be beneficial. But if you feel like you’ve read everything on this list, we’d be happy to share the honorable mentions:
- Deep Work by Cal Newport
- Shoe Dog by Phil Knight
- Building a StoryBrand by Donald Miller
- Grit by Angela Duckworth
- Atomic Habits by James Clear