10 Must-Read Books for Small Business Owners

/ 8 min read
Vivian Tejeda

We’re living in the age of technology. But that doesn’t mean books are going anywhere. As repositories of what some would call infinite wisdom, books help us make sense of the world by passing down compelling stories, theories, and mind-expanding ideas worth considering.

As a business owner trying to navigate the world of startups, contracts, pricing, management, and never-ending list of other tasks, books can be a great place to look to for guidance.

Consider them your unofficial mentors as you navigate the choppy waters of entrepreneurship. It’s a way to access some of the brightest minds and their best thoughts on all things business.

Of course, we aren’t going to leave you hanging. We’ve compiled a list of some of the most impactful business books worth reading, regardless of where you are on your business journey.

All links redirect to Bookshop.org, an online bookstore that supports independent booksellers. If you purchase through these links, Paperform does not receive any commission or monetary benefit.

1. Atomic Habits, by James Clear

For learning the power of habits.

James Clear’s first book, Atomic Habits, walks you through exactly how impactful small but meaningful changes in habits can be. Changes in behavior—and ultimately results—come from focusing on being a bit better every day.

Atomic Habits is a quick and easy read that fills you in on human behavior with plenty of neuroscience, research, and psychology to back it up. It’s not hard to see why the book has gained so much popularity.

Within it, you’ll find frameworks to help you navigate your own entrepreneurial life as well as the practical strategies you can use to cultivate the habits you need to establish for better outcomes.

You’ll learn:

  • How to reframe your approach to habit formation and replacement
  • A better way to think about willpower
  • How to reimagine a better definition of success

2. Deep Work, by Cal Newport

For better managing your work time.

Today it’s easier to jump from one distraction to another than to stay focused on one thing. It’s the dilemma Cal Newport addresses in his book, Deep Work.

How can you focus on the more creative work that requires optimal focus and deeper thinking? How can you make sure it’s possible to focus deeply on a long enough timeline to experience outsized results?

Newport tackles questions like these and more for high performers that want to focus on the needle-moving work that’ll propel them forward.

If you’ve arrived at a point in your journey where it’s becoming increasingly harder to focus and you’re constantly running into overwhelm, this might just be the book you need to pick up.

You’ll learn:

  • The best way to manage your time
  • The four “rules” you need to follow to upgrade your mindset to enable deep work
  • Thought-provoking reframes on the presence of social media in our everyday lives

📚 On a productivity kick? Learn to tame toxic productivity and ensure you get your best work done.

  1. How to Win Friends & Influence People, by Dale Carnegie

For timeless leadership advice.

A classic in the entrepreneurship space, How to Win Friends and Influence People is one of the best books on soft skills. Everyone who owns a business or is thinking of starting one should read it.

Sure, you might be able to start a business website from scratch, but do you know how to persuade your team to get behind your vision? Can you make influential friends and have your opinions heard without making enemies?

Carnegie makes it a point to explore how our social interactions impact our outcomes—whether in our personal lives or in business. Despite its initial release in 1936, Carnegie explores timeless strategies and tactics that leaders can still apply today.

You’ll learn:

  • How to become genuinely interested in other people
  • The six ways to get people like you
  • The 12 tactics you can use to influence and change others’ opinions
  • How to persuade your biggest naysayers

📚 Check out our list of the best leadership podcasts worth listening to and learn everything from financial strategy to management and even the legalities of business leadership podcasts.

4. Shoe Dog, by Phil Knight

For inspiration and proven strategies.

Chances are, there’s something in your closet with a swoosh on it. You can thank Phil Knight, the creator of Nike and author of Shoe Dog, for that.

Knight’s memoir explores the ingredients that come together to build a brand for the ages. He candidly explores the tenacity, knowledge, connections, (and luck!) it took to take Nike from a startup to a global megabrand and the lessons learned along the way.

Rather than hashing through anecdotal evidence, studies, and dry strategy, Knight uses storytelling that weaves you into the birth of a simple idea he took seriously in his 20s that shaped the trajectory of his life, and as a result, millions of others.

You’ll learn:

  • What it was like to make the first few sales out of the trunk of his car
  • What led to the idea of Nike in the early years
  • The risks and setbacks Knight had to overcome to succeed
  • The earliest successes that became game-changers to the life of the brand

5. The E-Myth Revisited, by Michael E. Gerber

For the best overall resources on small business ownership.

What’s not to love about books that answer the question of “why”? That’s exactly what Michael E. Gerber, a respected small business coach and consultant, tries to answer with his book, The E-Myth Revisited.

Throughout each chapter, Gerber points out what truly makes a business work and what it takes to run one.

Though common assumptions lead most of us to think it only takes technical know-how to succeed as an entrepreneur, Gerber makes an argument that it takes more than a technical approach to witness real growth.

You'll learn:

  • How to apply the strategies of a franchise to any business
  • The key difference between working in and on your business
  • The definition of an entrepreneur
  • How to keep common business assumptions from getting in the way of true growth

6. Building a StoryBrand, by Donald Miller

For learning how to effectively market your brand.

Telling a compelling story about your brand is easier said than done. Thankfully, Donald Miller lays out the how-to in his book, Building a StoryBrand. The book explores what it takes to clarify your brand message and how to communicate it on the spot.

With social media leading the way in terms of brand presence and business growth, entrepreneurs today can’t afford to not know the basics of effective storytelling.

Building a StoryBrand is a great read for leaders in all types of industries, regardless of the vision you want to bring to life.

You’ll learn:

  • The seven story points humans always respond to
  • How to express the unique value you offer customers through storytelling
  • How to unearth and portray the most compelling benefits of your business
  • Why customers decide to buy from you

7. The Lean Startup, by Eric Ries

For a no-holds-barred reality check.

You don’t usually think of “lean” and “startup” as words you’d find in the same sentence. But Eric Ries managed to coin the term and explain how it unlocks growth in his New York Times best-selling book, The Lean Startup.

Anyone attempting to start and grow a business can tell you resources are limited in those first iterative phases. Ries explores how to leverage two of the most critical resources—capital and creativity—to create a sustainable path to a thriving business that sees growth while navigating uncertainty.

As a founder of several businesses and a Yale graduate with an extensive track record in starting and growing startups, you’ll get insight from an operator who’s been in the trenches with plenty of firsthand experience to draw from.

You’ll learn:

  • How to navigate creating something new under uncertain circumstances
  • How to approach a startup by being more capital efficient
  • How to test your business ideas before going all-in
  • How to pinpoint the metrics that truly matter
  • What it takes to be agile and adapt to changes in a fast-paced environment

8. REWORK, by Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson

For entrepreneurs questioning the status quo.

Sometimes the same old approach to business is a recipe for failure. What if there was a better way to establish, fund, validate, and grow a business that didn’t involve the typical 20-page business plan?

It’s this question that lays the groundwork for REWORK. Both Fried and Heinemeier Hansson make a compelling argument for why traditional isn’t always best and how seemingly counterintuitive thinking can be the way to grow.

If you’re tired of predictable advice, REWORK might just be the read to shift your thinking and open up a world of possibilities you might not have thought of otherwise. Plus, it’s an easy read you can finish in a few sittings.

You'll learn:

  • Cost-effective ways to get exposure
  • The counterintuitive approach to building businesses that doesn’t depend on investor money
  • How to increase productivity without breaking the bank

9. Side Hustle, by Chris Guillebeau

For anyone thinking about starting a side hustle.

Sometimes side hustles become your main hustle. But never mind that. First, you need to know how you even start a side hustle in the first place.

If you’ve been on the sidelines for long enough and are ready to dive into being a business owner, Chris Guillebeau wrote Side Hustle as a practical guide that takes you from concept to full-blown business in a matter of days instead of years.

With a long list of side hustles under his belt, Guillebeau uncovers what it takes to bootstrap an additional source of income without quitting your day job.

Side Hustle is a great read if you need to take the “scary” out of side hustling and you need that extra push to get started. If you like practical, you’ll love this book.

You’ll learn:

  • How to brainstorm winning side hustle ideas
  • What it takes to master selling, making deals, and conveying your value
  • How to actually get paid from your side hustle efforts
  • What it takes to get a side hustle up and running in under four weeks

10. Give and Take, by Adam Grant

For learning the benefits of paying it forward.

As a Wharton School of Business professor, Adam Grant walks you through why helping others ultimately results in our own success. Grant harnesses the power of real-life stories, like how a basketball executive turned the fate of this team around despite the odds, to make his point.

In the book, Grant beautifully illustrates the importance of giving, relationship building, and networking through storytelling and plenty of research.

If you’re in a position of leadership—or want to be—Give and Take is worth adding to your reading list.

You’ll learn:

  • The difference between “takers”, “matchers”, and “givers”
  • Why a connected approach to relationship building is key to business success
  • How to not burn out when networking and helping others

Beyond business books

Hopefully, this guide laid out some compelling reads worth adding to your Kindle. There is a wealth of information out there, both paid and free, but a book has a way to package information around a theme in a way that often drives the point home.

But hey, books are only one tool in your business arsenal. When you're ready to put what you've learnt about starting your own business to practice, check out Paperform.

About the author
Vivian Tejeda
Paperform Contributor
Vivian Tejeda is a B2B SaaS and marketing writer.

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