If you’re reading this then you’re either interested in starting your business, or you’ve started one already but found that you built yourself a job, not a business.
You might have read books and articles about genius entrepreneurs building multi-billion dollar businesses, going public with an IPO, and escaping off into the sunset.
But that’s not you.
Instead, you want to build a business so your wife can stop working.
Maybe you want a business that gives you time to spend with your kids.
Maybe you’re just tired of your day job and want to build something on the side that gives you more fulfillment.
You’re in luck.
The books in this article will teach you to think like an MBA, even if you’ve never taken a business class in your life. You’ll learn how to start, market, and scale a business, even if you’re still working a day job. And most importantly, you’ll learn about different kinds of business that others have already built so you have a roadmap for your own journey.
Let’s get into it.
The Foundation of a Successful Small Business
1. The Four Steps to the Epiphany by Steve Blank
This is the best step-by-step startup book you can read. The book organizes the beginning stages of building a business. It talks about knowing your values, being market-driven, focusing on customer development versus product development, and how to go mainstream by making products for early adopters first.
2. Great by Choice by Jim Collins
This book tackles the question of, “Are successful companies just lucky or are there replicable patterns they follow?”
Centered around the tenets of discipline, calibrated creativity, and a healthy sense of paranoia, the book teaches you how to create a foundation for your business that will let it thrive amidst uncertain environments.
3. Good to Great by Jim Collins
If you’ve ever wondered what separates good companies from the ones that are truly great, then this book holds the answers. Concepts in the book, like the Hedgehog Concept and the Flywheel, show you the qualities and mindsets you need to cultivate in yourself and in your employees to build a company that lasts.
4. Purple Cow by Seth Godin
This book is about how you and your business can stand out… And how to handle the risk that comes with being different. You’ll learn about creating remarkable products and services, and identifying the first few customer-slash-evangelists who will excitedly tell the world about your business
How to Start a Successful Small Business
5. The Personal MBA by Josh Kaufman
You should read this book if you think you need an MBA to build a successful business (spoiler alert: you don’t). You’ll learn to ask the hard questions that will help you make the right decisions so your business succeeds. You’ll build a framework for business decisions like getting outside funding, vision, marketing, negotiation, and collaboration.
6. The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber
Coupled with The Personal MBA, this book is for anyone who is great at what they do and now wants to build a business around that expertise. You’ll learn about the nitty-gritty operations side of the business: how to plan for growth from day one, what to put in place so that you’re building a business and not a job for yourself, and how to (eventually) find and train people to run your business for you.
7. The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss
If you want to build a business and not another job for yourself, then you need to be intentional about this from the beginning. This book will teach you how to redefine why and how you work, help you eliminate as much busy-work from your plate as possible, and prepare yourself for entrepreneurship — even if you’re still at your day job.
8. The Lean Startup by Eric Ries
Building a successful business is simple but difficult. It’s not about how fast you grow. It’s not even just about how much revenue you make. Instead, it’s about finding a profitable business model that can stand the test of time.
In this book, you’ll learn the right and wrong reasons to start a business. You’ll learn how to test to make sure your business idea is profitable before you release your product. And you’ll also learn how to bake marketing into your product so that it sells itself.
9. Zero to One by Peter Thiel
The most difficult stage of building a business is taking it from 0 sales and customers to the first ones. That’s much harder than going from 1 to 2. In this book, you’ll learn why successful founders tend to be weird oddballs, the sequence you need to follow if you want mass-market success, and the 7 crucial questions you need to ask yourself before you start your business.
How to Find Your First Customers for Your Small Business
10. This Is Marketing by Seth Godin
This is the best high-level marketing book you can read. Good marketing is about painting a story about how your business can help your customer improve their life. And This is Marketing gives you a framework for the marketing strategies and tactics that you’ll learn in other books.
11. Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne
Stop trying to be better. Just try to be different. This is the main premise of this book — and it’s the most important positioning concept you need to learn in a world of commodities and choice. The book teaches you to be different, to carve out category or niche (blue ocean) and to stop seeking out crowded markets (red oceans).
12. Tribes by Seth Godin
The health of your business is dependent on the audience or tribe you built around the change you’re trying to make. Tribes is a short book that goes into detail on how communities start and thrive, and how you can start, nurture, and build a tribe around your work.
13. Show Your Work! by Austin Kleon
If you subscribe to the “build it and they will come” model of marketing, then you’re in for a rude awakening. These days, your marketing needs to start as soon as (or even before) you build your product. This book shows you how you can start documenting the process of building your business… So that when you finally launch, you won’t launch to crickets; you’ll have people who are eager to buy.
14. Traction by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares
If you want a systematic way to grow customer demand as early as possible, then you need to read this book. It runs you through the 20 possible channels you can take to find customers, and with ‘The Bullseye Method’, teaches you how to systematically test each one until you find the ones that give you the most bang for your buck.
How to Grow and Scale Your Small Business
15. Company of One by Paul Jarvis
This book is about perspective and priorities — how “successful” doesn’t have to mean big, and how ‘“staying small” might actually be a better definition of success for your business. You’ll learn to focus on the people who are working in the business (for a small business, that’s probably just you) and the two things you should emphasize to build a successful small business.
16. Small Giants by Bo Burlingham
This book is for business owners who want to keep control of their company. You’ll learn why staying private might be a good idea in this time of high growth, IPOs, and unicorns. You’ll also learn what it means to be community-focused as a company, both internally and externally, so that you grow without outside funding.
17. Work the System by Sam Carpenter
If you’re reading this, then it’s likely you struggle with perfectionism and control — two common traits that entrepreneurs share. More than just learning to build systems, this book will teach you how to let go of perfection and focus on controlling the parts of your business that you can change.
If you want to learn how to scale a business without making a job for yourself, then this book is for you.
18. The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker
As a business owner, you have to wear a lot of hats and that can get overwhelming. In this book, one of the history’s foremost thinkers on business and management helps you take your effectiveness and efficiency to the next level by asking, “Is this decision even worth making?”
You’ll learn why and how to delegate based on strengths and not weaknesses, how to make decisions when you have to, and why holding longer decision-making meetings might actually save you more time down the road.
19. The 80/20 Principle by Richard Koch
Whether it’s dealing with toxic customers, having too many business ideas, or just having too much on your plate, entrepreneurs are constantly stretched thin. The main premise of this book — that the largest share of your results is produced by just a small fraction of the work — helps you simplify your professional (and personal) life.
By focusing only on the 20% of products and customers that actually drive your business, you’ll spend more time on the most important tasks, instead of managing your time.
20. Startups Made Simple by Matt Knee
Drawing from his experience running an INC5000 company, Matt helps entrepreneurs start and run their businesses. In this book, he distills lessons from the best business thinkers and books (including ones from this list) and organizes it into a step-by-step system you can follow to start and grow your own business.
Did we miss one? Let us know in the comments!