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20 Books to Read Before You Start Your Own Business

20 Books to Read Before You Start Your Own Business

If you dream of starting your own business, there is a way to go around enrolling to business school. Many successful CEOs have actually never been to college and yet they are among the most knowledgeable individuals in their business and industry. You can turn to a more grassroots approach to learn everything you need to know about starting a business by reading the words of those who have been down the entrepreneurial path before.

While no single business “How-to” or “”How-I” book contains all the information you need to launch a successful business, a collection of quality books can help you glean vital wisdom and inspiration before you take the plunge. Here is a list of 20 books I would comfortably recommend to any serious would-be founder.

1. Will It Fly? by Thomas K. McKnight

Will It Fly by Thomas K. McKnight

    One of the biggest questions aspiring founders grapple with before they make the leap into entrepreneurship is how to know if their new business idea has wings. Will the business idea take off or fall flat? McKnight offers a 44-item checklist drawn from his immense depth of experience in business launches to help you evaluate your new business ideas. His book will guide you through everything from evaluating your personal attitudes to your business exist strategy. In the end, you should have a clear idea of what your chances of success are.

    2. Lucky Or Smart? by Bo Peabody

    Lucky Or Smart by Bo Peabody

      Bo Peabody was an Internet multimillionaire by his late twenties after co-founding five different companies in different industries. Was Peabody plain lucky or smart to have achieved this feat at his age? He addresses this question in his book and helps us understand how luck and intelligence work together. Peabody notably observes that he was at least smart enough to know when he was getting lucky and goes in depth to teach us how we too can cultivate the same perception and advantage.

      3. The Fire Starter Sessions by Danielle LaPorte

      The Fire Starter Sessions by Danielle LaPorte

        If you’ve been timid about taking the plunge into entrepreneurship, Danielle La Porte’s book is designed to give you that little nudge you need to get right on with it and launch your biz. This beautifully written book, chock-full of personal anecdotes and motivational goodies features 16 elaborate startup sessions that will shake action out of you. This is a pleasurable, self-help read that is definitely one to consider if you are looking for something to get you fired up for the entrepreneurial journey ahead.

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        4. Million Dollar Consulting by Alan Weiss

        Million Dollar Consulting by Alan Weiss

          Million Dollar Consulting is what many people in business circles call the consultant’s bible. The book has earned Alan Weiss the enviable tag of “Rock Star of Consulting.” If you are selling yourself into the C-suite, this is your book. The book covers the fundamentals from setting up your office to writing proposals and delegating labor, as well as effective networking and pricing strategies.

          5. Start Run & Grow a Successful Small Business by Toolkit Media Group

          Start Run n Grow a Successful Small Business by Toolkit Media Group

            If you are looking for the perfect all-in-one small business reference book, this is one of the best references you will get. The book walks you through the entire process of setting up a business from planning to accounting and staffing with handy checklists, case studies and model business plans to help you start and grow your business. You will learn effective human resource management strategies including payroll, benefits, hiring and firing methods.

            6. The Barefoot Executive by Carrie Wilkerson

            The Barefoot Executive

              Wilkerson’s personal story of how life circumstances forced her to work from home is both inspiring and enlightening. If you are thinking of starting a home-based or online business, this book is for you. The book tackles topics like how to find your target market, develop effective marketing strategies and build your brand with easy-to-understand and follow charts and tables. This is a good read for all those in “soft” services like online marketers, consultants and other service providers.

              7. The Business Start-Up Kit by Steven D. Strauss

              The Business Start-Up Kit by Steven D. Strauss

                Steven D. Strauss, small business columnist for USAToday.com and one of the nation’s foremost authorities on small businesses, certainly knows his game. In this book, Strauss offers a compendium of valuable information to benefit every aspiring founder who wants to start and succeed in business. He explains what works and what doesn’t work in start-ups and offers ample tips and guidance on, among other things, picking a business and why one’s passion is important.

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                8. Start Your Own Business by Rieva Lesonsky

                Start Your Own Business by Rieva Lesonsky

                  Who are better placed to understand what it takes to start a business than Rieva Leonsky and the editors of Entrepreneur magazine? This book that bears the tagline: “The only start-up book you’ll ever need” is thorough in a quest to live up to its high premise. Now in its fourth edition, the book has sold more than 200,000 copies and become widely regarded as the quintessential business start-up book for people starting their own businesses.

                  9. The Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki

                  The Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki

                    Guy Kawasaki’s startup classic is a great replacement for whatever textbook you would use in an entrepreneurship class to prepare for business ownership. The book offers insider information on a wide range of topics, covering all stages of the start-up process from raising money to motivating staff. Kawasaki offers many golden nuggets of information like how investors will view you, which is helpful for those seeking external financing.

                    10. Escape from Cubicle Nation by Pamela Slim

                    Escape from Cubicle Nation by Pamela Slim

                      If you are currently an employee for a corporation somewhere silently wishing you could start your own business and be your own boss, this book is for you. If you recently left your corporate job to start your own business, this book is for you too. Pamela Slim lucidly explains everything you need to know about starting a business before and soon after you take the plunge from how to get clients to how to get insurance. She offers valuable guidance and motivation that will re-energize and reinforce your commitment to escape the corporate cubicle horde for good.

                      11. The Business Planning Guide by David H. Bangs Jr.

                      The Business Planning Guide by David H. Bangs Jr.

                        The Business Planning Guide is one of those sobering guide books that offer a reassuring voice of experience when venturing into the unknown waters of business startups. Bangs Jr., a former banker and entrepreneur, draws on his vast experience and provides expert guidance on different aspects of launching a new business venture, including how to analyze your business strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and current market conditions. Some people consider this book an essential “compass” and “map” for anyone embarking on the entrepreneurial journey for the first time.

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                        12. Startup from the Ground Up by Cynthia Kocialski

                        Startup from the Ground Up by Cynthia Kocialski

                          Kocialski is a talented writer and her book a handy resource for anyone with a new business idea but isn’t sure where to begin. The book provides useful information to help you transform your idea into a business. You will learn how to take your service or product concept and translate it into a viable business model, as well as how to seek funding and recruit and hire an effective team. If you are ready to build a successful business not just a job, grab this book and read everything the author has to say.

                          13. The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau

                          The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau

                            The $100 Startup is a book I enjoyed reading both for the pleasure of it and value it provides. Guillebeau gives a rousing case for creative thinking and how you can (and should) leverage your natural talent or long-loved hobby to build a thriving business. He gives compelling case studies of somewhat-accidental, but passionate entrepreneurs who built businesses earning more than $50,000 from very modest budgets (often $100 or less). If you’re looking to build a small business that allows you to lead a location independent lifestyle of adventure, meaning and purpose, this is the book that will point you in that direction.

                            14. The Lean Startup by Eric Ries

                            The Lean Startup by Eric Ries

                              The Lean Startup is a book you will find handy if you are looking to start a software or technology-based business. Author Eric Ries shares insightful stories and case studies from his experience with software startups and other companies during the dot com boom. Ries teaches on the principles of lean manufacturing and advocates continuous innovation tocreate radically successful businesses. You will find this book especially valuable if you lack experience in creating and measuring business processes.

                              15. The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber

                              The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber

                                Michel Gerber is credited for popularizing the important distinction between working “on” and working “in” your business. If you don’t know what the distinction is, you need to grab this underground bestseller and find out. The book will walk you through the entire steps in the life of a business from idea infancy, through to the troubling pains of business adolescence and the sweet stage of business maturity, as well as dispel any myths surrounding starting a business that you may have. You will also learn how common place advice and assumptions can get in the way of establishing a successful business.

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                                16. The Startup Owner’s Manual by Steve Blank

                                The Startup Owners Manual by Steve Blank and Bob Dorf

                                  If you are thinking of starting a Silicon Valley style scalable startup, this bestselling classic by Silicon Valley serial-entrepreneur and academician Steve Blank is a near-encyclopedic guide you ought to get. The book offers a scientific approach to entrepreneurship that emphasizes on the need for “rigorous and repeated testing” to unlock the secret to startup success. The authors draw from The Four Steps to the Epiphany, one of the most influential and practical customer development business book available.

                                  17. Rework by Jason Fried and David Hansson

                                  Rework by Jason Fried and David Hansson

                                    Rework is a collection of essays drawn from the authors’ design and usability blog, Signal vs. Noise by 37signals.com. The authors lay bare the philosophies and strategies that have helped propel 37signals to its enviable success with the aim to inspire us to put the strategies into practice. If you would like to hear an alternative voice to much of the startup advice given out there and learn how to make money as a primary goal in the early part of your startup, this is a quick-read book you should definitely get.

                                    18. The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss

                                    The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss

                                      It’s difficult to read The 4-Hour Workweek without feeling fired up and ready to go. The book is fun, inspirational and quite motivational. It teaches the intricacies of how to create an automated income-generator that leaves you free to pursue your other passions, such as traveling. If you’ve heard of the Pareto Principle (otherwise known as the 80/20 rule), this book explores surprising applications of the principle and offers some useful information about building a successful web business.

                                      19. Flying Without a Net by Thomas J. DeLong

                                      Flying Without a Net by Thomas J. DeLong

                                        Flying Without a Net isn’t exactly about how to start a business, but it explores a series of personality traits and anxieties among would-be entrepreneurs that often sabotage the very success high achievers seek when starting a venture. The book teaches how to draw strength from your vulnerability and adopt practices that give you the courage to “do the right things poorly” before “doing the right things well.” If you like a little psychoanalysis and would like to realign your entrepreneurial sensibilities, this is a book that should be at the top of your reading list.

                                        20. Founders at Work by Jessica Livingston

                                        Founders at Work by Jessica Livingston

                                          Founders at Work is a brilliant collection of interviews with successful entrepreneurs from the 80s and 90s sprinkled with an adequate dose of newer blood. The book is weighted more toward inspiration than technical instruction, but there is nothing quite like hearing the stories of the world’s most celebrated founders like Steve Wozniak (Apple) and Max Levchin (PayPal) tell us straight how it was for them in the very early days. You will hear how these entrepreneurs got the ideas that made them rich, launched their businesses, went out of business, overcame start-up challenges and the lessons they learned along the way. If I could recommend only one book to a new entrepreneur, this would be it.

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                                          The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

                                          The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

                                          It’s a depressing adage we’ve all heard time and time again: An increase in technology does not necessarily translate to an increase in productivity.

                                          Put another way by Robert Solow, a Nobel laureate in economics,

                                          “You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.”

                                          In other words, just because our computers are getting faster, that doesn’t mean that that we will have an equivalent leap in productivity. In fact, the opposite may be true!

                                          New York Times writer Matt Richel wrote in an article for the paper back in 2008 that stated, “Statistical and anecdotal evidence mounts that the same technology tools that have led to improvements in productivity can be counterproductive if overused.”

                                          There’s a strange paradox when it comes to productivity. Rather than an exponential curve, our productivity will eventually reach a plateau, even with advances in technology.

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                                          So what does that mean for our personal levels of productivity? And what does this mean for our economy as a whole? Here’s what you should know about the productivity paradox, its causes, and what possible solutions we may have to combat it.

                                          What is the productivity paradox?

                                          There is a discrepancy between the investment in IT growth and the national level of productivity and productive output. The term “productivity paradox” became popularized after being used in the title of a 1993 paper by MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson, a Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and the Director of the MIT Center for Digital Business.

                                          In his paper, Brynjolfsson argued that while there doesn’t seem to be a direct, measurable correlation between improvements in IT and improvements in output, this might be more of a reflection on how productive output is measured and tracked.[1]

                                          He wrote in his conclusion:

                                          “Intangibles such as better responsiveness to customers and increased coordination with suppliers do not always increase the amount or even intrinsic quality of output, but they do help make sure it arrives at the right time, at the right place, with the right attributes for each customer.

                                          Just as managers look beyond “productivity” for some of the benefits of IT, so must researchers be prepared to look beyond conventional productivity measurement techniques.”

                                          How do we measure productivity anyway?

                                          And this brings up a good point. How exactly is productivity measured?

                                          In the case of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, productivity gain is measured as the percentage change in gross domestic product per hour of labor.

                                          But other publications such as US Today, argue that this is not the best way to track productivity, and instead use something called Total Factor Productivity (TFP). According to US Today, TFP “examines revenue per employee after subtracting productivity improvements that result from increases in capital assets, under the assumption that an investment in modern plants, equipment and technology automatically improves productivity.”[2]

                                          In other words, this method weighs productivity changes by how much improvement there is since the last time productivity stats were gathered.

                                          But if we can’t even agree on the best way to track productivity, then how can we know for certain if we’ve entered the productivity paradox?

                                          Possible causes of the productivity paradox

                                          Brynjolfsson argued that there are four probable causes for the paradox:

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                                          • Mis-measurement – The gains are real but our current measures miss them.
                                          • Redistribution – There are private gains, but they come at the expense of other firms and individuals, leaving little net gain.
                                          • Time lags – The gains take a long time to show up.
                                          • Mismanagement – There are no gains because of the unusual difficulties in managing IT or information itself.

                                          There seems to be some evidence to support the mis-measurement theory as shown above. Another promising candidate is the time lag, which is supported by the work of Paul David, an economist at Oxford University.

                                          According to an article in The Economist, his research has shown that productivity growth did not accelerate until 40 years after the introduction of electric power in the early 1880s.[3] This was partly because it took until 1920 for at least half of American industrial machinery to be powered by electricity.”

                                          Therefore, he argues, we won’t see major leaps in productivity until both the US and major global powers have all reached at least a 50% penetration rate for computer use. The US only hit that mark a decade ago, and many other countries are far behind that level of growth.

                                          The paradox and the recession

                                          The productivity paradox has another effect on the recession economy. According to Neil Irwin,[4]

                                          “Sky-high productivity has meant that business output has barely declined, making it less necessary to hire back laid-off workers…businesses are producing only 3 percent fewer goods and services than they were at the end of 2007, yet Americans are working nearly 10 percent fewer hours because of a mix of layoffs and cutbacks in the workweek.”

                                          This means that more and more companies are trying to do less with more, and that means squeezing two or three people’s worth of work from a single employee in some cases.

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                                          According to Irwin, “workers, frightened for their job security, squeezed more productivity out of every hour [in 2010].”

                                          Looking forward

                                          A recent article on Slate puts it all into perspective with one succinct observation:

                                          “Perhaps the Internet is just not as revolutionary as we think it is. Sure, people might derive endless pleasure from it—its tendency to improve people’s quality of life is undeniable. And sure, it might have revolutionized how we find, buy, and sell goods and services. But that still does not necessarily mean it is as transformative of an economy as, say, railroads were.”

                                          Still, Brynjolfsson argues that mismeasurement of productivity can really skew the results of people studying the paradox, perhaps more than any other factor.

                                          “Because you and I stopped buying CDs, the music industry has shrunk, according to revenues and GDP. But we’re not listening to less music. There’s more music consumed than before.

                                          On paper, the way GDP is calculated, the music industry is disappearing, but in reality it’s not disappearing. It is disappearing in revenue. It is not disappearing in terms of what you should care about, which is music.”

                                          Perhaps the paradox isn’t a death sentence for our productivity after all. Only time (and perhaps improved measuring techniques) will tell.

                                          Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

                                          Reference

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