10 Must-Read Books to Help You Run a Successful Small Business

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We won’t sugarcoat it: Being a small business owner is hard. Motivating employees, juggling clients, meeting deadlines, tracking inventory — all of it can overwhelm the best of us. Luckily, hundreds of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs have shared their best-kept business secrets in award-winning books. 

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Below, we have rounded up the ten best books on small business. Both informative and entertaining, these texts can help you run a better restaurant, graphic design firm, or whatever you do.   

1. “Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business” by Gino Wickman 

Uninspired. Stuck. Burnt out. Whatever you want to call it, this state of vapid inertia plagues many small business owners. Fortunately, Gino Wickman has a solution. 

In “Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business”, Wickman introduces readers to the Entrepreneurial Operating System. This heuristic approach helps entrepreneurs efficiently address personnel conflict, slumping profits, stalled growth, and other ails. Wickman goes as far as to promise that applying his approach will “eliminate all of your business-related frustrations.”

We admit — this claim seems a little far-fetched. Nevertheless, Wickman offers some practical tips that make Monday mornings at the office a little less hairy.  

2. “The Productivity Project” by Chris Bailey

Do you ever feel like there simply isn’t enough time to tick everything off your to-do list? If so, Chris Bailey can help. 

In “The Productivity Project”, Bailey volunteers as a lab rat and conducts a year-long series of productivity experiments on himself. As a reader, you receive a front-row seat as the writer deprives himself of sleep, cuts out sugar and caffeine, ditches his smartphone, lives in total isolation, and so on. 

The key takeaway? Slowing down and doing less is the secret to producing higher-quality work.  

3. “Company of One: Why Staying Small is the Next Big Thing for Business” by Paul Jarvis

Typically, business is all about more. More clients equal more employees equals more revenue. But in “Company of One: Why Staying Small is the Next Big Thing for Business”, Paul Jarvis challenges this line of thought.  

“…growth isn’t always the most beneficial or financially viable move,” Jarvis writes. In many cases, a bigger business means bigger problems that distract entrepreneurs from the work they enjoy doing, whether that’s writing grants or designing websites.

With this in mind, Jarvis provides tips for generating stable cash flow, satisfying clients, and remedying conflicts when you’re a one-person show. 

4. “This is Marketing” by Seth Godin

With small staffs and shoestring budgets, most small businesses let marketing fall to the wayside. But as Seth Godin reminds us in “This is Marketing”, good ideas don’t sell themselves. “Even the ice cream sundae and the stoplight took years to catch on,” he writes. 

A quick and engaging read, Godin’s book walks entrepreneurs through marketing basics. Learn about building trust with your target audience, why outdated advertising no longer works, and which marketing avenues provide the most “bang for your buck.” Both solopreneurs and prominent CEOs can benefit from “This is Marketing”.  

5. “24/6: The Power of Unplugging One Day a Week” by Tiffany Shlain 

Technically speaking, “24/6: The Power of Unplugging One Day a Week” isn’t about running a small business. But this book will help you stay sane while doing it. 

Written by internet pioneer and renowned filmmaker Tiffany Shlain, 24/6 invites readers to make a small but groundbreaking life change: to unplug from technology one day a week. That means no television, texting, calling, emailing, and definitely no doom-scrolling. Shlain calls it a “Technology Shabbat.”  

As a solopreneur, you may worry that this 24-hour respite will negatively affect business. Even the thought of not responding to a text in .02 seconds may cause panic. But as Shlain explains, this weekly break from business will make you better at your job—not worse.   

6. “The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries 

According to research conducted by Harvard Business School, 75% of all startups flop. Luckily, there’s a way your fledgling company can beat the odds. 

In “The Lean Startup”, author Eric Ries borrows principles from the Toyota Production System to help entrepreneurs understand how to leverage capital and creativity better. The result is a startup that can pivot on the go while giving customers exactly what they want.

Though Ries’ book caters to tech gurus in Silicon Valley, readers can apply the principles he discusses to any small business. Whether you make candles or install driveways for a living, you can learn a thing or two from “The Lean Startup”.  

7. “The 4-Hour Work Week” by Tim Ferriss

If you’re a small business owner, chances are you work around the clock. But what if you could finish your work in a single morning? That’s the premise of “The 4-Hour Work Week” by Tim Ferriss.

Ferriss advocates for a smarter-not-harder style of entrepreneurship in this eye-opening, controversial text. Rather than hustle your life away, the author recommends unorthodox business practices like taking mini-retirements, outsourcing tedious tasks to an assistant, and increasing the price of goods or services.

Though Ferriss’ advice must be taken with a grain of salt, his book will make you rethink logging long hours in the office.  

8. “Boss Life: Surviving My Own Small Business” by Paul Downs

Some books about entrepreneurship are stiff, colorless, and uninteresting. Translation: They’re a total snoozefest. But “Boss Life: Surviving My Own Small Business” is the exception.

This story, infused with tongue-in-cheek humor and raw emotion, follows New York Times columnist Paul Downs as he attempts to transform his custom furniture venture into a thriving business. The road is rocky. Downs must cope with layoffs, pay cuts, and slumping demand. Luckily, he survives to tell the tale.

Boss Life offers budding entrepreneurs practical tips on dealing with vendors, motivating a burned-out workforce, and more. But more importantly, this self-help book-turned-memoir reminds business owners that they’re not alone.  

9. “Atomic Habits” by James Clear

We all want to change habits, from binge-watching Netflix every night to checking email first thing in the morning. Unfortunately, replacing these bad habits with good ones (think: eating more kale, meditating, jogging) is easier said than done. Or so you thought. 

In “Atomic Habits”, author James Clear recommends a “1% better every day” approach. Rather than attempting to overhaul your life in 24 hours, Clear advises readers to make small, incremental changes. Want to exercise more? Start with five minutes at the gym. Want to eat more vegetables? Substitute potato chips with a salad.

You can also apply the tenets of Atomic Habits to your small business practices. To boost revenue, gradually increase production. Or, to be a more compassionate boss, try complimenting at least one employee per day. Little changes go a long way. 

10. “The Soul of an Entrepreneur: Work and Life Beyond the Startup Myth” by David Sax

According to pop culture, the modern-day entrepreneur is a 20-something tech prodigy who invented a smartphone app and got rich overnight. But as David Sax illustrates in “The Soul of an Entrepreneur: Work and Life Beyond the Startup Myth”, this stereotype is far from the truth.

Through deeply personal narratives, Sax spotlights the unseen entrepreneurs of America: the fourth-generation farmers, the bakery owners, the freelance writers, and so on. Though these narratives are touching, don’t expect any tips or tricks. “Unlike most books on entrepreneurship, I’m not at all concerned with the How (how to become an entrepreneur, start a company, or get rich) but the Why,” Sax writes. 

That being said, “The Soul of an Entrepreneur” is a timely read if you’re clocking 80-hour weeks and need a reminder of why you left a cushy, salaried career in the first place.