I’ve been running The Marks Group for more than twenty-five years and have read a lot of great business books along the way. But these are the ten that I re-read most because they’ve had such a significant impact on me, particularly as a small business owner.
The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White
My dad told me to read this book in high school and although that was 40 years ago, it was an old book even then.
But life, as in business, is about communicating and there’s no better book about communicating than this one. It’s even older now, yet this 100-year-old writing advice still stands the test of time.
First written by Cornell University English professor William Strunk Jr., and updated by his student (and the author of Charlotte’s Web) E.B. White.
Their advice to “omit needless words” by changing phrases like “the fact that I had arrived” to “my arrival” is the kind of guidance business writers will always require.
The E-Myth by Michael Gerber
Gerber’s book taught me why my business will never be a big business, and I’d consider it to be required reading for anyone starting up a business.
Its main premise is that to grow, companies need policies, procedures, infrastructure, and consistency so that the business can be run by someone other than the owner.
To use an example from the book, think of a McDonald’s franchise. With just a little training, any new manager could run that business without the owner’s involvement.
Unfortunately, that kind of structure is something most small businesses, including mine, lack.
Grit by Angela Duckworth
Drawing on multiple studies, Duckworth—a University of Pennsylvania professor of psychology—shook up the education world in 2016 with Grit.
This book proves that to succeed you need not only talent, but a blend of passion, persistence, and grit to persevere and accomplish your long-term goals.
And without your grit, your small business may never survive.
How To Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
Since its publication, Carnegie’s book has sold more than 30 million copies and is consistently among the most influential books in American history.
Even today, its lessons for meeting people and building relationships in order to profit are learned by hundreds of thousands of new readers.
How to Win Friends and Influence People will continue to be a worthwhile read for anyone, and especially for those in sales or service industries.
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini
Business, as in life, is all about negotiations.
And every few years, I revisit Cialdini’s masterpiece to remind me of the finer points of negotiations to help me win new customers, keep my costs low, and my employees happy.
Based on thirty-five years of evidence, Cialdini covers key influencers of persuasion, including the six weapons of influence:
- The importance of reciprocation
- Why you must have commitment and consistency
- Showing social proof
- Why both parties should like each other
- How to show authority
- Proving scarcity
Leaders by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, Jeff Eggers, and Jason Mangone
This national bestseller is a fantastic insight into the minds and actions of thirteen of the world’s greatest leaders that have influenced the way I lead my small organization.
Written by a retired U.S. Army four-star general who led the U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Gen. McChrystal’s theme throughout the book is “what makes a leader great?”
I’m not anywhere near there yet, but this book has given me a path to follow.
Lost and Founder: A Painfully Honest Field Guide to the Startup World by Rand Fishkin
Even though I’ve been running my own company for a couple of decades, I still—from time to time—jump into new ventures and also advise clients on theirs.
There are many great books offering startup advice, but recently I’ve been turning to Fishkin’s book, which warns of the challenges of venture capital financing and how some growth strategies can be more harmful than good.
The most important advice he gives (which I’ve always passed on to my clients) is to drive growth from your existing customer base first before hunting for new work.
Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
Yeah, it’s the 10,000 hours book.
When I first read Gladwell’s premise in this book I dismissed it as just an unproven theory…until I read about the Beatles in Germany and Michael Jordan at practice.
Gladwell’s study of these and many other successful people and what made them successful ultimately had an enormous impact on how I viewed myself and my business.
Yes, luck and innate talent are a factor. But the people that are really, really successful at what they do put in the time.
It’s a great book and told in an easy-to-read manner.
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey
When I want to read a book to make myself a better manager, I turn to this one.
I believe that most personal productivity books written since then are merely a version of Covey’s original masterpiece. In more than four-hundred pages, Covey discusses these principles in a very readable way, with examples and inspirational advice:
- Be Proactive
- Begin with the End in Mind
- Put First Things First
- Think Win-Win
- Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood
- Sharpen the Saw
It’s the grand-daddy of a genre and a book I revisit every few years just to make sure I’m on track.
Unleash the Power Within by Tony Robbins
I’ll admit it…I’ve never actually *read* this book.
Instead, I plunked down the $200 or so back in 2000 and listened to the audiotape (yes, tape) series featuring Unleash the Power. The inspiring advice from the greatest business coach of all time kept me company during countless car journeys to clients across the state of Pennsylvania.
My cassette player is long gone, but I still keep current on Robbins’ teachings, subscribe to his podcast, and every once in a while consider taking a walk across those hot coals.
Finding balance as a business owner can be challenging. Hopefully, these books will help you, too.
I’m no industry titan, but my business is doing pretty well. And I’ve managed to balance things to not only make a few bucks but have a fun and enjoyable family life too.
Some of the reasons for my happiness have to do with my friends, family, and things I’ve learned – and still learn – from people wiser than me.
The books that I’ve listed above have also played a large part. I hope they help you too.