Every entrepreneur has at least one lifechanging business book on their bookshelf.
This book might have taught you lessons you wouldn’t have learned anywhere else. Maybe reading it inspired you to pivot your career in another direction, or think or act in a new way that benefitted your leadership style.
We spoke to 17 small business experts to find out which business book changed their life. Here are the books they recommend every entrepreneur add to their reading list.
1. The Startup Owner’s Manual: The Step-By-Step Guide for Building a Great Company by Steve Blank
For me, Steve laid out all of the pre-work that was needed to be done before a company should even be started. From getting out of the building and getting feedback from random strangers to being on top of your company and not in it, Steve takes real-world examples and explains everything in detail. He gave me the confidence and the reasoning to get the ball rolling on becoming an entrepreneur. – Gene Caballero, Co-Founder, GreenPal
2. Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares
Traction is an excellent and very practical business book. It cuts right to one of the core challenges in starting a company — growth. Weinberg and Mares
3. Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein
Nudge changed my life. I work in digital marketing. Every week, day, and minute it gets more competitive. We are constantly looking for ways to nudge up that conversion rate. Nudge provides actionable and ‘why didn’t I think about it that way?’ tips on how to subtly get people involved in your product and increase yield of your sales. It’s so simple, it’s criminal. If you don’t read this business book you will probably never know. It enhanced my conversion rates in eCommerce by 100%. I’ve had two promotions since reading it 12 months. – Brett Downes, SEO Team Leader, Traffic Jam Media
4. Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder by Arianna Huffington
I read Arianna Huffington’s book, Thrive, at a critical moment in my entrepreneurial journey. Being a CEO is like being Chief Cook and Bottle Washer one moment and Captain of the Enterprise the next. You need to stay focused, but with all the demands on your time, you end up approaching every day as if you have a bad case of ADD. I could not focus. I was exhausted. I was drowning in emails and constantly on a plane. In Thrive, Arianna shared her own personal journey launching The Huffington Post, leading up to the moment where she collapsed in exhaustion and tumbled down the stairs in her home.
She took up meditation and in the book, she builds a case for how meditation can change your life and help you build your business. Five years ago, it was difficult for me to sit still for half an hour. I took Arianna’s suggestions to heart and began meditating. I did some deep thinking about where I wanted to be and what I wanted my life to look like. Meditating, getting plenty of sleep, listening to your inner voice — these are luxuries few CEOs have time for but need the most. This business book may have added a good ten years to my life and certainly took the burnout and stress out of running a business. – Danica Kombol, CEO, Everywhere Agency
5. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck
Every entrepreneur should read Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. It’s so relevant to personal and professional life. Dweck explores the relationship between mindset and success, and how outcomes can be influenced by how we decide to think about our innate talents. This book impacted and shaped the way that I approach problems as an entrepreneur. It also changed how I think about leadership and team motivation. – Ada Chen Rekhi, Founder & COO, Notejoy
6. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Really Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink
Every entrepreneur, manager and leader needs to read this business book. It is the number one leadership book I recommend to my clients and audience. There are so many aspects to leadership and one of the most important variables is people. The book compiles 40 to 50 years of research to correlate what creates performance and motivation from a leadership perspective. It taught me how to better motivate my team members and produce better results. – Kerwin Rae, Founder and CEO, Kerwin Rae
7. How The Best Get Better by Dan Sullivan
I did not realize it, but I had chosen to be in the time and effort economy. This left me feeling limited and as if I was part of the rat race. Once I realized my unconscious choice, I pivoted and started my own firm so that I could live and work in the results economy. Dan also reviews a range of out-of-the-box strategies, such as scheduling days as focus days, buffer days, and free days or eliminating your office and creating a workspace to increase focus and productivity. – Margaret M. Koosa, CEO, The Alchemists
8. Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek
Simon Sinek’s Start with Why completely changed my life. Reading this business book made me realize that my job wasn’t really aligned with my beliefs and the direction I wanted to steer my life. I made a hard pivot, quit the day job, and started my own business. It didn’t happen overnight. I planned the exit carefully for many months. The seed to do it stemmed from that book. Two years later, I couldn’t be happier about my decision now.
The premise of this book circles around a simple yet profound idea. Sinek tells and shows us through many examples why, against all odds, some companies flourish while others fail. Why some people inspire, while others’ communication falls flat. He then tells how to use this strategy to inspire action in ourselves, our families, companies and organizations, and our prospective clients. I’ve read over a hundred business books and most repeat the same points that have already been said decades ago. Start with Why really stood out to me because of the unique approach and colorful real-life examples. – Cynthia Brown, Founder and Editor-in-Chief, Only Top Reviews
9. Nice Girls Don’t Get The Corner Office: Unconscious Mistakes Women Make That Sabotage Their Careers by Lois. P. Frankel
Girls are often raised differently than boys. For many of us, there’s a persistent message to be submissive, passive, nice girl. How does that message manifest itself in our work? With this book, I could reveal and face these unconscious attitudes. It turned my life around in terms of confidence and assertiveness. This business book reveals a plethora of these unconscious behaviors. There’s probably something here for every woman to tackle and develop from the college graduate to the CEO. – Beata Hajde, Co-Founder and Chief Editor, Give Me A Bag
10. How I Raised Myself from Failure to Success in Selling by Frank Bettger
My selling technique is completely based on Bettger’s style. It’s a laid-back, enthusiasm-driven approach to selling and it suits my personality. The lessons I learned from the book improved my sales overnight. I listen to it every now and then to ensure my technique remains sharp. If you currently struggle to close, read this book. It will probably transform your fortunes, too. – Henry McIntosh, Director, Twenty One Twelve Marketing
11. Work Less, Make More: The counter-intuitive approach to building a profitable business, and a life you actually love by James Schramko
The business book that has changed my life the most is Work Less, Make More by James Schramko. His idea of focusing on your EHR (estimated hourly rate) inspired me to think differently about everything I did. When I read the book I was averaging around $20/hour with our business. Only 6 months later my EHR has skyrocketed to over $100/hour. When you are able to increase your EHR, everything else falls into place. The less you have to work to make more money. It’s an incredible formula. – Kelan Kline, Founder, The Savvy Couple
12. Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges by Amy Cuddy
My go-to book is Presence. I must have read this book cover to cover at least three times. Each time I have a different takeaway. My favorite chapter is “I Don’t Deserve to Be Here.” As a female CEO in a male-dominated industry, I often feel small or anxious about my personal presence because I’m often the only female in the room or giving a presentation. This business book has helped me embody the idea that not only am I beyond capable, but I deserve to be in this type of leadership role based on my past success. It’s helped me reduce my anxiety and feel more confident as a female leader. – Keli Hammond, CEO, B Classic
13. The Financial Times Guide to Leadership: How to lead effectively and get results by Marianne Abib Pech
This is directed to entrepreneurs that are looking to build team members or already have a team of individuals that work with them. Success in business is also related to your ability to not only manage yourself, but also manage a team. This book goes into details on the mindset, skills, and habits that leaders should have in a business. One of the major points I like is setting goals as a team and giving feedback with empathy. As a leader, you have to remind your team on the vision of your company and set expectations accordingly so that each person is accountable for their performance and results. When you take care of your teammates, it will be reflected in the experience of your customers. – Kimberly Ihekwoaba, Multimedia Storyteller, Kihek Creations
14. Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World by General Stanley McChrystal
I’d wholeheartedly recommend every entrepreneur read Team of Teams. It gave me insight into how companies can become too rigid as they grow. This stops them being able to adapt to changes in the business environment. This business book made me think completely differently about how I could scale my business in the future. – Nathan Monshin, Director, SI Risk
15. Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future by Peter Thiel
I think this book gives would-be entrepreneurs a great perspective on approaching not just their idea, but also market size and opportunity. I highly recommend it. – Ross Cohen, co-founder and COO, BeenVerified.com
16. Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen
Every entrepreneur has too many things to do and not enough time. This book gives an outline and philosophy on how to organize and execute so that you get the most important things done without becoming completely overwhelmed. The ideas and thought processes can be customized to suit your specific business or style. I used the ideas in this book to create a system for managing all of the incoming tasks and how to decide if I need to do it, delegate it, defer it, or drop it. This has allowed me to get more of the key tasks completed each day. – Nick Disney, Owner, Sell My San Antonio House
17. Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
In my opinion, all of the most important business books are biographies. My personal favorite is Steve Jobs. There’s nothing that can prepare you for the challenges you’ll encounter when you start a business. It’s crucial to read about how great entrepreneurs like Jobs handled their own professional roadblocks. It reminds you that building a successful business is a lot harder than it seems, but that it’s also not impossible. – John Linden, Designer, MirrorCoop