I have identified a tightly defined business library of 12 great books suitable for entrepreneurs and business owners.
The list will keep developing as I find new books to include but I don’t want the list to exceed twelve books. I’ve read and reviewed hundreds of business books and you can discover the full list at Business Book Reviews including my ratings from 1 to 5 Stars.
Why 12? It’s a book a month and then, in the second year, I recommend you read them again.
If you need helping applying the ideas and your business is based in the UK, it may be time for a complimentary Business SOS.
The Twelve Best Business Books For Business Owners & Entrepreneurs
These are the twelve books I currently recommend most strongly. Below the list, I explain why the books are included. The links take you to reviews on this website and not to Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
- The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber – *****
- Getting Everything You Can Out Of All You’ve Got by Jay Abraham – *****
- The Genghis Khan Guide to Business by Brian Charles John Warnes – *****
- The Ultimate Sales Machine by Chet Holmes – *****
- Duct Tape Marketing by John Jantsch – *****
- The Brain Audit By Sean D’Souza – *****
- Blue Ocean Strategy by W Chan Kim and Renee A Mauborgne and Blue Ocean Shift by the same authors. – *****
- The One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard & Spencer Johnson – *****
- Profits Aren’t Everything They’re the Only Thing by George Cloutier – *****
- Forget the Urgent!: Rather Focus On The Important by Matias Birrell and Javier Arevalo – *****
- My provisional choice on the Inner Game (what the business owner thinks and feels) is Think And Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. It’s been a hugely influential book and many entrepreneurs love it although it feels a bit old fashioned to me.
- A book about clearer thinking and better decision making. My provisional choice is Thinking Smarter by Michael Kallett.
Why I’ve Chosen Each Of These Great Business Books
This classic small business book revealed how many businesses are born, an employee realises that he’s better at the trade than his boss so he decides to start a rival business which he assumes will be an even bigger success. This is the Entrepreneurial Myth of the title as the book explains the three roles needed – the technician to do the work, the manager to organise the work (people and systems) and the entrepreneur to build the business.
It also explains that the business owner has a unique opportunity to build a business to support him in his life’s objectives and introduces the idea of a franchise prototype.
The writing style is poor and the sensitive may prefer to head for the Summary:The E Myth Revisited (link to Amazon.co.uk) rather than the book itself. Subsequent books by the author are even more indulgent.
This is an unconventional marketing book from probably the most famous American marketing guru in the world. It will open your eyes to a profitable opportunity seeking mindset that sees hidden profits throughout a business.
This isn’t the best book full of Jay Abraham’s ideas – that’s Money Making Secrets of Marketing Genius, Jay Abraham and Other Marketing Wizards – but it is the one that’s available at a sensible price. Money Making Secrets is better known as the Mr X Book because the story goes that it was written by one of the entrepreneurs who made a fortune and spotted an opportunity to share the Abraham secrets with the masses. It’s not included because a costs hundreds of US Dollars and wins only one star for presentation.
Abraham became famous famous for his $5,000 to $25,000 courses which lasted for three to five days in the 1980s, 90s and 2000s as he indoctrinated entrepreneurs in his thinking.
The book is also available in summary form but I’d definitely go for the full book.
These two books from Michael Gerber and Jay Abraham together form a solid grounding in what is now called business coaching.
As well as understanding about marketing and operations, as a business owner, you also need to understand finance intuitively so that your inner self guides you to the right decisions.
The Genghis Khan book was remarkable when I started my working life over thirty years ago and it remains the best book on the drivers of financial success in terms of profit and cash flow. It really helps you to understand the dynamics.
It’s a bargain if you can get it at around £25 or so but don’t buy The Genghis Khan Guide To Business Cashflow Handbook because it’s not nearly as good. Both books look very similar with black covers and white writing so take care ordering the right one.
A very good finance book is Financial Foreplay by Rhondalynn Korolak but it lacks the power and wow factor of the Genghis Khan book.
This is a wide ranging book that covers sales, marketing, team meetings and time management. It’s very much focused on general business development with the purpose of improving the business in the marketplace and internally so that promises are kept.
If you find the number of choices within business overwhelming, I think you’ll like the authors approach because he believes that there are just twelve things you need to focus on and do with pig-headed determination.
While the author managed businesses for Charlie Munger, Warren Buffett’s partner in Berkshire Hathaway and went on to work with plenty of the Fortune 500 companies in the USA, he made his name in the small business community with a series of PEQ seminars with Jay Abraham in the early 2000s. He later went on to partner Tony Robbins before he died in 2012.
The author was originally a business coach for Michael Gerber’s E-Myth Worldwide business but he has branched out and developed a fine brand of practical, small business marketing advice on his own.
The book has been updated but not extensively re-written. It covers the selection of your market and development of your message but its great strength is in the way it covers the different marketing media, that’s the way your message reaches the customer. If you’ve got the original book, there’s no need to upgrade.
The author talks about O2O marketing – that’s online to offline marketing as he agrees with me that most buyers have usually done plenty of research before they make contact.
This book won out over others because it suits many different types of businesses. If you have a small professional services business, I loved Book Yourself Solid by Michael Port.
This excellent short book is about writing your marketing message (copywriting) but it’s based on the author’s model for how the brain makes buying decisions. He argues that the brain needs to hear seven different aspects before it feels ready to make the decision. He contrasts the brain to you at the airport at the baggage carousel waiting for your seven bags to appear. Obviously you don’t leave when the carousel is going around and you’ve only collected five of your bags, you wait for all seven. When the buyer’s brain receives part of the message, it waits.
The author is written by a New Zealander and will be a relief to anyone put off by the aggressive nature of American copywriting. This is much gentler but as you read it, you can see how it works. The audit element of the title refers to the fact that the method can be used as a diagnostic tool if the copy isn’t converting.
There are some very good books about copywriting and I think it’s good that some of them will test your comfort zone but The Brain Audit is selected because it’s a joy to read and I’ve had great feedback from people I’ve recommended it to. The paperback is expensive but the Kindle version is ridiculously cheap.
Blue Ocean Strategy by W Chan Kim and Renee A Mauborgne and Blue Ocean Shift by the same authors
These are books about differentiating products, services and businesses and contrasts the limited success of me-too products launched into red oceans compared with innovative products launched into blue oceans where there isn’t a clear rival.
This is a hard subject and I think the book by Harvard Professor Michael Porter, called Competitive Advantage which introduced a tool called the value chain but it’s too much of an academic read and the examples are 20+ years old. I also think Competitive and Corporate Strategy by Cliff Bowman and David Faulkner is a great book and one I would never be without but again it’s not written for a small business audience.
Neither is Blue Ocean Strategy but I think it’s much more approachable and the ideas will be riveting to any aspiring entrepreneurs who want to be genuinely innovative.
As well as helping to make differentiation a much more tangible subject by introducing criteria within a product offer, it has great value in encouraging you to look at customers who don’t buy but have the underlying need or desire. The easy way to differentiate is to specialise in a narrow niche and continue to define a tighter and tighter group of customers but, each time the market shrinks, so does your profit potential. This book on the other hand gives you methods of how to look across different markets and bring benefits from both e.g. think how smartphones and tablets have reduced the need for laptops and digital cameras as well as the mobile phone.
The updated version of the book is the one to read but it’s not an extensive re-write of the original book. The second book, Blue Ocean Shift is a how-to guide while the first explains the what and why. I’ve cheated by having two books but I see them as part 1 and part 2 of one longer book.
Having this choice as my strategy “book” means that the library is weak on analysis the market and understanding past trends and likely future developments. I haven’t found a great strategy book targeted at smaller businesses.
This was a revolutionary book because it introduced the idea of a management fable as a great to make powerful points and it has been extremely popular.
The “one minute” is a gimmick but the message is important. It doesn’t take long to manage your staff provided you follow a simple system that explains what you want them to do and then gives them feedback quickly. It isn’t the complete answer but it will go a long way to making you a better manager of your people.
This has been updated but not extensively re-written as The New One Minute Manager with step 3 Reprimands replaced by Re-directs to stop employees being criticised when the fault lies with the manager.
There isn’t a One Minute compendium but the first book was followed by:
- Putting the One Minute Manager to Work
- Leadership and the One Minute Manager
- The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey
- The One Minute Manager Builds High Performing Teams
- Self Leadership and the One Minute Manager
- The One Minute Manager – Increase Productivity, Profits And Your Own Prosperity
The co-authors have also worked used the management fable to tackle other subjects like customer service (Raving Fans), motivation (Gung Ho!) and change (Who Moved The Cheese?).
While the other books build on the first, the only other one I think is outstanding is The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey which explains why delegation often fails to work. The manager accidentally accepts back responsibility for moving forward with a problem, freeing the employee of the responsibility for taking any more action.
If you’d like a book that pulls together many of these ideas and presents the issues in a more serious way, I have Leading at a Higher Level: Blanchard on How to be a High Performing Leader by Ken Blanchard in my library.
This isn’t a nice book but it’s a very important book if you need to be shaken up because your business isn’t performing well.
The Genghis Khan book gives you the mechanics of understanding finance but this is about attitude and commitment to making money.
I couldn’t work in a business that implemented all these ideas, or live with myself if I was the boss. But that’s the thing. You don’t have to take it all, just the bits that you approve of and will help you. Just know that the worse your business is performing, the more of these ideas you should consider seriously.
I believe business owners need to know about and understand the Theory of Constraints (TOC).
This was originally developed in manufacturing industries to help manage production scheduling and improve due date delivery performance whilst reducing stocks. It’s developed into a much wider concept of business that affects operations, sales and marketing, distribution and project management. It has also developed its own logical thinking processes for analysing problems.
I’m suggesting this book because it’s a great summary of the Theory of Constraints told in the format of a business novel. That’s a TOC tradition but it’s a great way of getting the key messages across in a way that seems relevant to the reader.
This was a hard choice because I could have picked:
- The Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt and Jeff Cox – this is the original book and was one of the first business novels.
- Goldratt and the Theory of Constraints.: The Quantum Leap in Management by Uwe Techt – a more conventional business book which explains the main ideas of TOC very well.
- Absolute Certainty: How To Give Your Clients Exactly What They Want by John Haylock – ideas for improving service businesses based on TOC and value pricing contained within a novel. This isn’t as comprehensive but it is very easy to read and might be the most relevant to your business.
When I read The Goal, I found it compelling and, like the best thrillers, hard to put down. It is however very much about improving a manufacturing business and was written very early in the development of TOC, even if it has been updated.
The Book About The Inner Game
I was quite slow to realise that, what goes on in the head of the business owner, is a vital ingredient in the success of a small business. Larger businesses have a management team to drive them forward but small businesses often rely on one person to keep focused, positive and determined. No wonder small businesses can get stuck.
When I talk about inner game, I’m thinking of the process that develops from how the owner sets the major goals for his life and business through to shorter term goals, priorities and time management. I’m also talking about resilience to adverse situations, beliefs and values about the business, life, customers and employees.
An obvious choice is Think & Growth Rich by Napoleon Hill.
The Book About Thinking, Problem Solving & Decision Making
I’ve stepped into this topic a little with the Theory of Constraints which is a focused form of systems thinking, looking to produce the maximum from the entire business system and not getting distracted by departmental excellence which may hinder the overall business.
I need to go further but I’m not clear in my own mind which one book fits in well with the others and has adequate scope.
My provisional choice is Thinking Smarter by Michael Kallett.
Putting this list together is one of that ideas that seemed a great thing to do before I started but was harder than I expected.
I settled on 12 books because it’s the equivalent of one book to read a month and when you’ve read them all, you can start again to remind you of the big ideas. It would have been much easier to build a library of 24 books but I think there’s enough of a challenge to get you to read these.
When I first started coaching, I developed an improvement model called The Eight Pillars of Business Prosperity and this blog is still organised along those lines. Those pillars are shown below and you can see how the books fit in:
- Your KPI – Genghis Khan.
- Your Inner Game – some of The E-Myth Revisited, Profits Aren’t Everything, Getting Everything You Can, some of The Ultimate Sales Machine, my provisional choice of Think And Grow Rich and Thinking Smarter.
- Your Strategic Positioning – Blue Ocean Strategy and some of the marketing books cover your positioning and your USP.
- Lead Generation – Duct Tape Marketing, The Brain Audit, some of The Ultimate Sales Machine.
- Lead Conversion – some of The Ultimate Sales Machine, some of Getting Everything You Can, The Brain Audit.
- Revenue Regeneration – Getting Everything You Can.
- Employees & Suppliers – The One Minute Manager.
- Your Systems – some of The E-Myth Revisited, Forget The Urgent, some of The Ultimate Sales Machine.
As you can see, I’ve managed to have partial coverage of every topic.
It’s weak on the management of people but it’s easy to move from one of the One Minute Manager books to another or to a more extensive leadership and management book by Ken Blanchard.
It looks weak on sales training as distinct from marketing. I’m in the Peter Drucker camp that says “the job of marketing is to make selling superfluous” and the Chet Holmes book is very strong in terms of selling and recruiting sales superstars.
There are some of my favourite business gurus missing. If I had doubled the number of books from 12 to 24, I suspect books by Dan Kennedy and Jay Conrad Levinson (Guerilla Marketing) would have sneaked in. From a strategy perspective, I find it hard to exclude a book that is either written by Michael Porter or has a summary of his ideas.
Finally, in theory, it is virtually impossible to beat a great book written for your particular niche. Unfortunately, in practice, many of these books are disappointing. First you have the disguised general marketing book. It has the content of a normal marketing book but it has a specific trade or profession in the title. These are often produced in series where virtually the only thing that differs between one book or the next is the title. These are a con because the the underlying book is usually very ordinary or even third rate.
The other category of specific niche book is one that’s written by a true insider but it doesn’t give much away. The good stuff is normally locked away in more expensive training programmes and the book is a lead generation tool to get you on the email list. If you deepen the relationship, you’ll get a recipe based on what the successful businesses are doing. It can help close the gap between poor performance and good performance but it won’t be innovative enough to achieve great performance. How can it be when you’re following a standard recipe that is either derived from or open to your competitors.
Applying The Ideas In These Great Books
Reading the books will increase your knowledge of what makes businesses successful but it can be hard to take the ideas and to apply them to your own situation.
Some times it’s obvious what needs to be done but other times, it isn’t.
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- Blue Ocean Shift by W Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne – 5 Stars
- Blue Ocean Strategy by W Chan Kim and Renee A Mauborgne – 5 Stars
- Blue Ocean Strategy Expanded Edition by W Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne – 5 Stars
- Leadership and the One Minute Manager by Kenneth Blanchard, Patricia Zigarmi and Drea Zigarmi – 5 Stars
- Blue Zebra Strategy – What’s In A Name & Image?