Reading business books can help you start and grow your business. Some are even life-changing.
Here are the 20 best business books of all time. If you haven’t read (or listened to) them, I highly recommend you take the time.
Don’t have time to read the book? I’ve provided a brief takeaway of each so you get the main point:
The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It
by Michael Gerber
Summary: Gerber covers the myth that most people who start a business are entrepreneurs. The book takes you through the steps of growing a business, from the initial entrepreneurial idea to established big business. Along the way, you’ll learn the roadblocks that often occur when attempting to grow a business and how to avoid these common pitfalls.
The Takeaway: Gerber covers the vital distinction between working on your business versus working in it.
How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie
Summary: One of the best selling books of all time, Carnegie gives pointers on how to make you more popular (which can translate to a more popular business), increase your influence and earning power and become better at selling. The author includes the six ways to make people like you, the twelve ways to win people over to your way of thinking, the nine ways to change people and more.
The Takeaway: Having charisma can improve your odds of success.
Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek
Summary: According to Sinek, great leaders start with the questions “why.” Even Sinek himself starts with the same question: Why are some people and organizations more profitable? Why do some leaders gain such a loyal following? Why are some companies more innovative? He concludes that the greatest influencers of the world think, act and communicate in a different way, which he calls the Golden Circle.
The Takeaway: By asking why, you can apply the Golden Circle to your leadership style and improve your business.
What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful by Marshall Goldsmith
Summary: Goldsmith is an executive coach who highlights the importance of listening well, saying thank you, thinking before you speak and apologizing for any mistakes. His advice is meant to take you to a higher level of success by helping you focus on your behavior rather than technical skills.
The Takeaway: Your behavior is what will ultimately decide whether you achieve average or phenomenal success.
The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Richby Timothy Ferriss
Summary: In this best-selling book, Ferris shares his story of going from making 40K per year and working 80 hours per week to making 40K per month and working 4 hours a week. He teaches you how to achieve similar results by using the techniques he used, such as setting up systems, outsourcing and delegating. This iconic book is both inspirational and practical in its advice on how to become the ultimate entrepreneur.
The Takeaway: In order to have more money and time, you must learn the best way to leverage other people’s time and skills.
The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses by Eric Ries
Summary: Ries believes in ditching traditional business plans and instead pitches adaptation through innovation. His approach promotes creativity and allows companies to change directions quickly as consumer tastes change. The principles he lays out on agility can be applied to any business, regardless of size.
The Takeaway: The key to growing and maintaining a successful business is to continuously evolve and innovate.
The Art of Profitability
by Adrian Slywotzky
Summary: Slywotzky discusses the various successful profit models that companies such as Intel, Microsoft and American Express use. He presents the material in a creative way, by using the story of strategy teach David Zhao and his young student. In this sense, the book becomes like a classroom where you can learn which profit model you can apply to your own business and increase revenue within 90 days.
The Takeaway: The path to profitability lies in understanding your customer, which requires careful thought and observation.
Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us by Seth Godin
Summary: Godin discusses how leading a group of people who share the same passion can bring you more success and fulfillment. He calls these groups “tribes.” With the help of the internet, he argues, anyone can become a leader of their own tribe and even spark a movement.
The Takeaway: Think about what you’re passionate about in regards to your business and have the courage to speak up, interact and form groups of like-minded people. This will make you a leader of your industry.
First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman
Summary: Based off of the findings by Gallup on effective managers, Buckingham and Coffman share the one key trait found in great managers: They break conventional rules. One difference is how they hire based on a person’s talents rather than their skills or experience. Once hired, the great manager sets expectations and focuses on the employee’s strengths rather than trying to fix weaknesses.
The Takeaway: By breaking traditional rules, you can end up with better teams and, thus, a better business.
The 80/20 Principle: The Secret to Achieving More with Less by Richard Koch
Summary: The 80/20 principle, also known as the Pareto principle, stems from a verified observation that 80% of all results stem from 20% of our efforts. Koch helps you identify the critical 20% in every aspect of your life, including in business.
The Takeaway: By applying the 80/20 rule to your life, you can concentrate on the few things that matter most to you and dump the rest. This will net you bigger results–both financially and in overall satisfaction.
SPIN Selling by Neil Rackham
Summary: SPIN selling is the result of data from 12 years of research conducted by the Huthwaite Corporation, which Rackham founded. SPIN stands for Situation, Problem, Implication and Need Payoff. Rackham specifically covers selling high value products and services and gives real-world examples that demonstrate the effectiveness of this strategy.
The Takeaway: By using SPIN, the author believes you can increase your sales from bigger accounts, giving you more money for the same amount of work.
Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make Competition Irrelevantby W. Chan Kim & Renee Mauborgne
Summary: Based on the results of a study of successful strategic moves by various companies, authors Kim and Mauborgne created Blue Ocean Strategy. Blue Ocean, as they call it, is any area where competition is sparse or even non-existent. This is in contrast to a Red Ocean, which is any crowded market where competition is fierce. The book then provides the principles and tools business leaders can use to find and execute their own Blue Oceans strategy.
The Takeaway: Go where there is little to no competition by creating a “new” industry or market.
Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t by Jim Collins
Summary: Collins’s book is derived from a management study conducted in the nineties of what made top companies so successful. The book covers the results of the study and how leaders can apply these principles to their own businesses. Some of the findings include the type of leadership required, the role of technology and utilizing a culture of entrepreneurship.
The Takeaway: When you blend discipline with a sense of entrepreneurship in you company’s culture, you increase your chances of becoming a great company that lasts.
Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill
Summary: This timeless classic is part story-telling, part philosophy. Hill illustrates his business principles by sharing the successful paths of Andrew Carnegie, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and other millionaires of his generation. He calls these philosophies the Laws of Success. While Hill promotes success, he reminds the reader that cultivating lasting relationships, such as having great friends and business partnerships, is the true path to wealth.
The Takeaway: The biggest lesson learned from this book is understanding the importance of relationships and how cultivating them leads to greater success and fulfillment.
Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future by Peter Thiel and Blake Masters
Summary: Thiel is the co-founder of PayPal and Palantir and also an early investor in Facebook. In other words, he knows a thing or two about building remarkable businesses. In this book, he promotes innovation rather than copying what competitors are doing. Similar to the arguments laid out in Blue Ocean Strategy, the author dares to ask every entrepreneur, What company can you build that no one else has done?
The Takeaway: When you create something new that is useful or exciting, you create a monopoly.
Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable by Seth Godin
Summary: Godin has lots of nuggets of valuable perspectives for business owners and this book is no exception. The Purple Cow is a symbol for something that is so different, it practically markets itself. Godin draws on examples of iconic companies such as Apple, Starbucks and Dyson to support his theory. The book is brief but the point of it is powerful.
The Takeaway: Create great products that are unique and customers will find you.
What Great Brands Do: The Seven Brand-Building Principles That Separate the Best From the Rest by Denise Lee Yohn
Summary: Yohn has over twenty-five years working as a consultant to large brands such as Burger King, Frito-Lay and Sony. In this book, she lays out key principles that any business leader can use to create a powerful brand. Some of the book’s most powerful messages advocate creating a strong company culture, staying true to your company’s identity and ignoring trends.
The Takeaway: A brand-centric approach will allow your business to stop chasing customers and automatically attract them instead.
Crushing It! How Great Entrepreneurs Build Their Business and Influence-and How You Can, Too by Gary Vaynerchuck
Summary: In this follow-up to Vaynerchuk’s 2009 best-seller Crush It!, Vaynerchuk explains the importance of personal brand in business. He shares stories of entrepreneurs who have achieved tremendous success by following the advice he laid out in Crush It! He also discusses what’s changed in social media since its release and which principles remain timeless. He dissects various popular platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and more—and gives you effective tactics to become a star on each.
The Takeaway: Creating a vibrant personal brand will exponentially grow your business and give you the life of your dreams.
Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant
Summary: In the same vein of Purple Cow and Blue Ocean Strategy, author Adam Grant promotes originality. He gives real-world examples of how going against the grain has proved successful, such as a billionaire who fires employees who won’t question his decisions, an Apple employee who challenged Steve Jobs and a TV executive who saved Seinfield from the cutting-room floor. The book provides an outline of how to recognize a great idea, move forward with it, find allies and manage fear.
The Takeaway: Grant believe that by presenting novel ideas and battling conformity, you can stand out from the crowd.
Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell
Summary: Outliers goes into depth about what makes high-achievers different from the average population. Gladwell presents the research of the “10,000 hour rule,” which states that a person must dedicate that many hours to master a particular subject. He argues that the reason most people don’t achieve success in their desired field is because they don’t put in the hours needed to become an expert at it.
The Takeaway: By learning from the best and the brightest, Gladwell helps the reader learn how to choose a course and remain dedicated until they ultimately persevere.