Best business books: what to read for small business success

Whether you’re thinking about starting a business or are already a few years in, it always helps to get advice from experts in the field. We’ve pulled together a list of highly-rated books from successful business owners and researchers to help you get your business to where it wants to be.

Best business books for beginners

It’s easy to get completely overwhelmed when you first start thinking about running your own business. We’ve picked the three books that should help any budding small business owner work out where they stand.

1. Will It Fly? By Thomas M McKnight

When you first come up with an idea for your business, it’s easy to let your imagination run away with you before you’ve worked out whether your idea has legs - or wings.

Will It Fly helps you answer questions from whether your business can succeed in the market you’re trying to break into, to whether this particular idea is the right fit for you as a person.

Most promising review

“This book, written by an inspiring mentor, will provide the framework and guidelines to direct your ideas into a viable business venture. “Will it Fly” clearly and concisely makes you think seriously about your new business and motivates you to put your best foot forward in the marketplace.”

2. The Lean Startup, by Eric Ries

While The Lean Startup is aimed at more technology-focused businesses, the principles Eric Ries puts forward can be used by anyone hoping to get their business off the ground.

Concepts such as Build, Measure, Learn can be used by anyone - in fact, we use it at Simply Business, not just in our tech department, but from areas as diverse as marketing, product, and even in our contact centre.

Most promising review

“This book is a must read for modern managers, researchers, innovators and entrepreneurs. Very well written and rich of very powerful examples, this books reviews the key principles behind modern business based on innovation.”

3. The $100 Startup, by Chris Guillebeau

For British business owners, a dollar sign in the title might be a bit off putting, but the idea of running a business on a shoestring budget is the same on both sides of the pond.

The book focuses on 50 businesses that have grown from an initial $100 investment by the owner, to over $50,000 - in most cases the special ingredient was the passion each business owner had for what they were working on.

Most promising review

“This is truly the most inspirational book on how to start a small business from scratch. Chris (who has actually done it all himself to a high level of success) shows how with low or no resources you can follow a passion, become your own boss, and be successful. His are not hollow words, he backs a clear exposition on how to run a business with numerous life examples of people who he has met and interviewed who have achieved so much with so little to start.”

Best business plan books for small business owners

Once you feel you’re ready to start your business, you need a plan to work from. These three books are our picks to help you get your business plan in place.

1. Getting Things Done, by David Allen

Getting Things Done is subtitled “The Art of Stress-Free Productivity”, a concept which may feel unfamiliar to a lot of small business owners. The more your business grows, the less time you feel you have.

This book is designed to help you rethink the way you organise yourself and your business to create an environment where you are better able to grow - and to take time out.

Most promising review

“I can’t rate this book highly enough. I bought it after listening to some of the podcasts, and I can honestly say that it has changed my life. I’m more organised, more productive and far less stressed. I’ve even been asked to run some training as a result of the change in my practices. If you want to improve your organisation, productivity and mentality then buy this book. It’s a great blend of practical advice supported by plain, comprehensible theory.”

2. The Plan-As-You-Go Business Plan, by Tim Berry

The concept of planning as you go may seem more like not having a plan at all to some, but Tim Berry outlines how you can adjust and adapt as your business changes and grows to create your business plan as a living document that won’t go out out date.

Most promising review

“Tim Berry simplifies a very daunting task so that everyone who is in business or thinking about being in business can get organised and see the ‘big picture’. One of the unique features of this book is that it links to its own live website. As Tim tells us on the homepage, “Why settle for a book by itself, when together, with something like this site, we can do a lot more?”

3. Business Model Generation, by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur

Business Model Generation is designed particularly for those who want to break the mould - but might not quite be sure how to go about doing so. It explains common business models, but also gives you a toolkit to adapt them to your own needs.

On top of that, the book aims to help you get a better understanding of your business - from your customers to your costs - as you work through it.

Most promising review

“There are not many books that present clear and compelling ideas in a graphically engaging format, with a wealth of real-world examples. This is one of the few. I come from an enterprise architecture background and I have found in this book a practical and down-to-earth modelling approach for Business Architecture. At last!”

Best business development books for small business owners

Once you’ve started your business, the advice you need is on how to keep things going. Here are three of the best rated books to help small businesses develop.

1. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen R. Covey

When you’re a small business owner, one of the most impactful ways you can develop your business is by focusing on your own personal development.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People aims to help you - and your business - become more effective by challenging the way you work, and the way you think about work.

Most promising review

“This book offers a good framework to live by, if you’re lacking direction. I personally feel it’s a great help for me in my business life to bring everything together in what I’m trying to achieve with my customers and life generally!”

2. Good To Great, by Jim Collins

Once you’ve started your business, knowing how to grow it is the next step. But what if you started off on a wobbly framework, and you’ve realised things need to be fixed before you go any further?

This book is another series of case studies, looking at companies that perform particularly well and breaking down why, exactly, that is.

Most promising review

“Good to great summarises the findings from extensive research into what makes certain high performing companies outperform their peers. The findings are both interesting and capable of being replicated by any company that wishes to improve performance.”

3. The E-Myth, by Michael E. Gerber

When you’re starting your business, you’re going to have some assumptions about what it means to be a small business owner. The E-Myth is here to challenge those assumptions, and help you grow in the process.

Recently updated for the digital age, this book has long been a favourite among small business owners. If you’re looking to grow your business - and keep that growth going - this could well be the book for you.

Most promising review

“Any business owner, whether of a startup or an established business, will find this book beneficial - but he or she must be prepared to have their perception of what it means to be a business owner challenged - only read it if you really want to get out of your comfort zone and make the best of your potential!”

Best business networking books for small business owners

For some businesses, the biggest hurdle is how to network. These are our top three books for small business networking.

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

How to Win Friends and Influence People is now 80 years old, but the advice Dale Carnegie gives is still relevant today.

Not only does the book provide advice on how to make friends more easily and make yourself more likeable - which in itself can be really valuable in business circles - it also has sections on getting people to agree with you and specifically on winning new clients, should you feel your negotiation skills need work.

Most promising review

“This is book is simply amazing, such a easy read. The principles outlined in this book are easily applicable through practice. I can honestly say it has changed my outlook on life and given me a better understanding of how to handle people.”

2. Never Eat Alone, by Keith Ferrazzi and Tahl Raz

For a more modern take on networking, Never Eat Alone may be the book you’re after. It covers both what actions you can take, as well as how to adjust your own thinking, in order to network better.

While there’s definitely a glitzy ‘American Dream’ tone to this book, if you can see past that then there is clear, actionable advice that will help you take on your networking difficulties one step at a time.

Most promising review

“An excellent introduction to, and perspective on, the ‘art’ of networking. Recommended to me by a friend after watching him in action at a convention in the U.S., I bought it at the airport & had read most of it on the return flights to Ireland. I just couldn’t put it down and wished I’d read it earlier.”

3. Networking Like a Pro, by Ivan R. Misner with David C. Alexander and Brian Hilliard

Networking Like a Pro is special in that it’s particularly aimed at entrepreneurs and small business owners, and takes the particular networking hurdles you’re likely to face into account.

The book is focused not just on making new contacts, but on how to develop those contacts so they can actually be of help to you and your business. It uses a ‘results-measuring system’ so that you can see what’s working, what’s not and how to improve.

Most promising review

“This is a great book for anyone who wants to learn how to implement a referral marketing strategy for their business. It gives you all the tools and templates that you need to put the author’s advice into action. I would recommend it to any business owner who is thinking of joining a networking club or group.”

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