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Starting a Business? 12 Must-Read Books

the little engine that could! start a business

If you want to be a successful entrepreneur, reading is essential. It will change your world and expose you to new information, points of view, and ideas to help you see the world through a different lens and launch your business. According to the Harvard Business Review, all leaders are readers.

Create the Reading Habit

How much should you commit to reading every day? Start with one page.

You might question the simplicity of reading one page a day, or wonder if I’ve lost it. Hold that thought. If you can commit to reading one page a day, this article will have an exponentially positive impact on your life.

You are probably telling yourself you can read more than one page a day. Good. Once you open the book, you are welcome to read as many pages as you want; the goal is to get in the habit of cracking the spine of a book every day.

Mentally, it’s much easier to commit to reading one page a day than 10, 20, or 50, especially on days when we’re rushed.

And since starting the habit of reading a page a day, I can’t think of a single day where I have read only one page. Your fate will likely be the same.

As the law of inertia states: Objects in motion stay in motion, objects at rest stay at rest. Get on the reading train.

Here’s another tip: When do you read? In order to make the reading habit stick, we need to make it part of our routine. For me, I read a few pages every day during breakfast and then again before bed. My morning routine is set to allow me time to read every day, so I don’t schedule phone calls or other activities during breakfast — I know I’m going to be reading.

If you’re going to commit to reading every day, find a time that works best for you. Perhaps it’s right when you wake up, on the train to work, or before you go to sleep.

Other tips to catch the reading habit:

  • Keep books in the bathroom.
  • Keep books in the car or your laptop case to read for a few minutes before going into work.
  • Keep books at your desk to start each workday.
  • Trade books with a friend and swap books when you’re done.
  • Join a book club.
  • And of course, don’t forget the financially savvy way to read — get or renew your free library card.

So what’s on today’s book lists? There are two categories: Books for those of you thinking about becoming entrepreneurs, and for those who have already taken the plunge. If there are other great books you’ve read that you think belong on one of these lists, please leave a comment below.

Seven Books to Read Before Taking the Entrepreneurial Leap

“So Good They Can’t Ignore You,” by Cal Newport

Newport discredits the “follow your passion” myth. Instead, he observes a number of case studies of whether passion alone is enough to make it in a new venture — his results conclude that it’s not.

Rather, becoming an expert at something valuable is far more important, according to Newport, and his evidence-based book makes a strong case. This is a must-read for anyone pondering the entrepreneurial leap into the unknown.

“The Art of the Start,” by Guy Kawasaki

So you have an idea. What does it take to turn it into a company?

With well-organized chapters, personal experiences to share, and helpful FAQs, this book can provide a good roadmap for you, whether you’re starting a nonprofit or an international technology company. This is more of a manual for anyone looking to bootstrap a company, pitch ideas, or dive into entrepreneurship. Kawasaki focuses on taking action, which is a must if you’re going to become an entrepreneur.

“The $100 Startup,” by Chris Guillebeau

Think you lack the funds to start a business? You’re not alone. Whether you’re fresh out of college or consumed with a full-time job and family to feed, this book details 50 case studies of entrepreneurs who started businesses for less than $100 and are now making at least $50,000 a year from their businesses.

Who says you need to raise or make millions to reap the joys and benefits of being an entrepreneur? This book will get you focused on what can be done, rather than focusing on a lack of resources. The concepts are easy to follow and apply.

“Rework,” by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson

This easy-to-read page turner can be finished in an afternoon. If you’ve ever dreamed about venturing out on your own, pick it up.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of business books that give you the same old regurgitated advice: Write a business plan, study your competition, find investors, and launch your business. “Rework” outlines a better, faster, easier way to succeed in business. You don’t need plans, investors, office space, a staff, or anything else. Those are all just excuses.

According to “Rework,” what you really need is to stop talking, planning, and making excuses, and start working.  If you’ve read my posts about entrepreneurship, it’s no secret I strongly agree with this advice of taking massive action. You need less than you think to be successful. If you’re struggling with the idea of entrepreneurship and how complex it is and just want to take action, “Rework” is for you.

“The Little Engine That Could,” by Watty Piper

This classic children’s book was written in 1930. There will be times when others don’t believe in you. But the principles of hard work and optimism are essential if you’re going to take a stab at entrepreneurship. I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.

“The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” by Stephen R. Covey

Covey’s book outlines the abundance mindset and focuses on seven key habits that are essential to success. They are worth learning and living if you try your hand at entrepreneurship.

The seven habits are:

  1. Be proactive.
  2. Begin with the end in mind.
  3. Put first things first.
  4. Think win-win.
  5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
  6. Synergize.
  7. Sharpen the saw.

“Click Millionaires,” by Scott Fox

This subscribes to the theory that anyone can launch a startup or new business with little or no money, thanks to the Internet. The goal with “Click Millionaires” is to create an online lifestyle business that works with your life, family, and passions.

For some, the goal is not millions of dollars and a corner office, but freedom and a lifestyle that you control. If that’s how you think, this book is for you.

Five Books to Read After Taking the Entrepreneurial Leap

“Business Model Generation,” by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur

This is a picture-friendly strategic management book to help you identify the key components of your business and pick the right business model for your company.

Rather than investing countless hours putting together a business plan, the book outlines a business model canvas to help you think about and identify the key building blocks for your business. The key areas of the business model canvas are:

  1. Key partners
  2. Key activities
  3. Key resources
  4. Value propositions
  5. Customer relationships
  6. Channels
  7. Customer segments
  8. Cost structure
  9. Revenue streams

There are printable versions of the business model canvas online. If you’re thinking about starting a business or have recently taken the leap, do yourself a favor and fill out a business model canvas to provide clarity around the key building blocks of your business.

The beauty of the business model canvas is you can fill one out any time you have a new idea for a business and get a fairly accurate picture of the business model in a relatively short amount of time.

“The Lean Startup,” by Eric Ries

Most startups fail, but according to Ries, many of these failures are avoidable. He shares battle-tested, innovative strategies to start and grow businesses and respond to customer feedback.

Rather than relying on business plans, he shows the reader how to continuously create innovative products to meet the demand of the target market. The concept of minimum viable product (MVP), or intentionally going to market before your product is ready for user feedback, relies on agile development and nimble organizations — a vast contrast from how old-school business models were established.

This book is becoming widely accepted in entrepreneurial circles and business schools and is changing how products are developed and companies are built. It’s a must-read.

“The Ultimate Sales Machine,” by Chet Holmes

If you’re open for business, one of your goals should be to increase sales.

Holmes helped hundreds of businesses experience exponential growth and double sales with a few simple and repeatable strategies. Buying this book and learning these strategies are good ways to invest your time if growing your business is near the top of your to-do list.

Instead of trying to do 4,000 things, focus on doing four things 1,000 times. Focus and pigheaded discipline are what you need for your business to succeed.

In this book, Holmes also explores how to hire sales superstars to grow your business and stresses the importance of business owners taking a step back and investing the time to work on their business as well as in their business. Working on the impact areas of the business (sales, hiring, marketing, etc.) just a few hours a week can significantly improve your business, but too many business owners get trapped working in the business full time, while failing to devote sufficient time to workingon the business.

“How to Win Friends and Influence People,” by Dale Carnegie

This book is all about people skills: how to ask better questions, and how to be a magnet to attract people to you. The book may be considered common-sense psychology of how to deal with people, but it’s as relevant today as when it was first published in 1936.

“Jeffrey Gitomer’s Little Gold Book of YES! Attitude”

I have bought and distributed more than 100 copies of this book to my friends, family, and employees. While it may not be the Holy Grail of optimism and it can easily be considered hokey or silly, the importance of optimism in starting a business can’t be valued highly enough.

Pages 138-139 summarize Gitomer’s ideas and are worth a quick peek every day. I committed to following Gitomer’s advice of “the rule of every day” and committed to reading something positive or uplifting every day for a year. Ironically, it consisted of reading those two pages every day for a year. My mindset, relationships, and business all showed significant improvement, as did the lives of my employees, many of whom wrote me thank-you notes that year, which I still have and cherish.

If there are other books you think are valuable for readers exploring or just starting out in entrepreneurship, please leave a comment below. Thank you in advance for your suggestions, and best of luck to everyone thinking about starting a business. To those of you who have already taken the leap, keep pushing forward.



This was originally posted up on The Simple Dollar.
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