Of the dozens of business books I read over the last 15 years, I put together a list of business books for beginners, my top 15 favorites – the ones that lay a solid foundation for entrepreneurs in the beginning of their journey (let’s say the first 0-3 years). I created this list with new entrepreneurs in mind as well as creative entrepreneurs. It includes a mix of productivity, marketing, personal finance, leadership, and overall business advice. Let’s call this Level One of the business book recommendations, because there are certainly more intermediate and advanced books out there, plenty more skills to learn and deepen, but these 15 books get you off to a solid start!
Aim for one book per month. That means you have a reading list for the next 15 months, which is pretty cool if you ask me. Don’t rush through them, as tempting as that might be. There’s a lot of information to absorb with each one, so take your time, absorb it, read it twice, and take notes. You’ll thank yourself later for your diligence!
This post includes affiliate links, which means when you make a purchase, I get a small commission at no additional cost to you, but I only recommend what I use and love, so I hope these books bring you as many insights and blessings as they brought me.
Here’s the quick rundown of all my favs, but if you want a little more insight to why I recommend each one, keep reading (plus, my three current reads are at the end of this post).
It’s remarkable how, even back when the internet didn’t exist, MLK inspired a movement around the country. How’d he do it? Martin Luther King, Jr, didn’t have a plan, he had a dream.
We tend to start a business to fulfill a personal need like paying the bills. But that’s not sustainable for us in the long run, and it doesn’t translate well in our marketing to attract and retain clients and customers. Instead, our why – why we do what we do, our mission, our purpose, our cause – is what attracts our clients to us, connects us on a common goal and purpose, and creates the kind of loyalty that has Apple fans wrapped around a building camping out in tents on a cold Black Friday eve for the newest iPhone.
Consider this: if you work 50 hours per week and get 8 hours of sleep each night, you still have 62 hours each week to get things done. 68 hours! That’s quite a bit of time considering many people say they never have enough time for the things they want to get done.
It’s insane to think about how we all have the same 168 hours week after week, and yet some people are able to accomplish so much more than others. That was a real eye opener for me. In fact, it changed the way I approached my schedule. Most of us look at our schedule in 24 hour increments, but truly it’s our week that repeats its schedule.
Considering that as entrepreneurs, time is one of our most valuable resources (it is the one thing we cannot create more of once it’s used, and it’s how you bill your time as a service provider to determine project costs), it’s important we protect our time and spend it wisely. When you start thinking about your time differently in terms of weeks, you’ll see how much more you’re able to get done – and what you can hand off or eliminate from your to do list.
“It’s not what you know; it’s not even who you know; it’s what you implement that counts.” Getting things done is one of the biggest struggles I see among many entrepreneurs. What I love about the 12 Week Year is that it’s really like a project management system for accomplishing our goals and things that matter most to us (you know from my years as a project manager that I love this!).
You’ll break down your goals into steps to follow week after week with a system for managing those actions when you fall behind so you can still stay on track. The entire idea is that instead of creating a goal for the next 12 months, you rethink your goals in terms of 12 weeks, because the amount of time we give ourselves to accomplish something is the amount of time it’ll take us. So, if we could actually accomplish our goal in 12 weeks vs 12 months, why wouldn’t we?
There’s also a corresponding 12 Week Year Field Guide that I found immensely helpful!
Sooo many creative entrepreneurs struggle with putting their work out there, or getting down to business and creating the work itself. You are not alone in that my friend. One of the biggest blocks in our way is our own resistance, and Steven Pressfield gives you actionable ways to move past resistance in his book The War of Art. Read and reread it as many times as you need so you can get your work out there!
Something I didn’t expect after reading this book and implementing what I learned was that my relationships in all areas of my life improved. I’d initially picked up the book because I wanted to get better at meeting new people and making conversation. As an introvert, I wasn’t convinced I was great at that. I wanted to get better. Dale’s principles helped me improve and feel more confident approaching others.
Even though Dale Carnegie’s principles are 50-some years old, they are timeless and will continue to remain relevant because people are still people and the way we treat each other matters.
When you approach your relationships with his principles in mind, you build better relationships with clients, a stronger network of vendors and other professionals who you mutually end up recommending clients to, and better personal relationships overall.
Can you set limits and still be a loving person? Yup, and this book helps you do that. Another common struggle in this space is people pleasing and I believe it’s a good business practice to set boundaries. Which also ties directly into protecting our time (if you remember from book rec #2, 168 Hours).
You don’t have to let your life spiral out of control or feel selfish by setting boundaries. In fact, I’ve learned that some of the biggest issues in the workplace come from a lack of clear boundaries. So truly, I believe it is more of a service to others and ourselves to set clear boundaries and expectations, communicate them, and enforce them, because when we do we’re able to actually get the things done that we promised we would without wearing ourselves thin by taking on too much and not knowing when (or how) to say yes or no.
Jon is quite witty, which makes this a rather enjoyable read while you’re learning valuable business lessons. But most of all, if your dream is to make your passion your full time job, you’ll love Jon’s advice. If you’re struggling with how difficult it is to manage your full time job while side hustling to build up your dream job, you’ll find actionable ways to make both work, so that your dream job can become your reality.
One of my favorite lessons is “Defining Success”, because we can often get so carried away with our big goals and dreams that we are continuously reaching for the next big thing and never actually feeling like we’ve “made it”. If we continue relentless pursuit this way, two things happen: one, we never feel satisfied or happy, and two, we lose sight of what we currently have – including the people supporting us.
Learn what it takes to make your dream job your reality and quit your full time job for good with Quitter.
Even though Entreleadership is mainly focused on managing teams and employees, learning how to do that also helps you manage your clients better. Before you hire on actual employees, you’ll most likely hire independent contractors for one off projects, like a graphic designer for your branding. Additionally, someday your business will grow to the point of hiring on a virtual assistant, bookkeeper, editors, etc and it’s better to begin operating with the kind of team-oriented mindset now so that when the day comes to build your team, you and your business are ready for it.
Interestingly, managing others is less about managing and more about leading, and is easily one of the most challenging parts of being the CEO of your business.
If you haven’t realized by now, being effective at running our business and serving our clients has a lot to do with how we manage our workload and our time.
One of my favorite takeaways from the 4-Hour Workweek is Ferriss’s system for responding to emails and phone calls.
There was a time I found it increasingly difficult to complete tasks because I was constantly interrupted with emails and phone calls that seemed to require immediate attention. It took twice as long for me to get back into a flow to complete the original task. One day, I realized I’d spent 4 hours on a task that should have only taken 25 minutes, because I’d been answering phone calls and the new tasks that came with them then coming back to my original task for a few minutes and answering another phone call and the cycle repeated. Even though I was doing things nonstop, I felt so drained and like I wasn’t really accomplishing anything. The 4-Hour Workweek helped me develop a system to overcome that and more.
The truth is, to accomplish anything in life, we don’t do it alone. Let’s say a friend of yours just moved to your area and is looking for a new nail salon. Without hesitation, you’d offer two or three places you know deliver incredible service. Or, let’s say your friend is looking for a new job in a specific field, and you know someone who works for a company in that field so you get them in touch with each other and before you know it, your friend lands a new job.
That’s the power of our personal network. But when many people think of networking, they think of the networking jerk – the guy or girl who shows up with business cards in hand and a pre-practiced elevator pitch with a quid pro quo agenda. Instead, Keith shows you how to create a network based on generosity and genuine relationships. If you start your business with this way of networking and relationships in mind, your business will naturally and easily grow.
Whenever someone asks for a book around money mindset, Think and Grow Rich is my go-to recommendation! Many of us have developed beliefs about money that are working against us, instead of for us, whether that belief is something we learned from our parents or something we picked up on our own as adults from our environment. Shed that old belief and replace it with a new one. We are destined to be prosperous and abundant, but if you don’t believe your services are worthy, then shifting your thoughts and beliefs around money is necessary for growth.
My brother, Robert, gave me Think and Grow Rich as an audiobook on CD for Christmas many years ago before Audible was a thing, so I used to listen to it in the car on my way to and from work. One could argue it’s part of what stirred up my journey into entrepreneurship!
“A good product with lousy marketing has very little chance of success.” But you probably already know that, don’t you? What I love about the Purple Cow is the tons and tons of examples given through case studies. Specific examples on ways to be remarkable. To stand out. To get noticed. To be seen.
If you’re serious about growing a business but you’re struggling to manage an annual salary of $60,000 (ie, credit card debts, living paycheck to paycheck, no emergency fund, no savings), it’s time for real talk. The same very real talk I once had with myself.
When your financial responsibilities are only about your own personal finances, that’s one thing. But when you’re running a business that’s responsible for OTHER people’s paychecks, it’s another thing entirely. At that level, if your business is bringing in, say, $250,000 per year, assuming your current salary is $60,000 annually, that’s 4x as much money to manage. You HAVE to make sure funds are set aside for paying those salaries, in addition to the other business expenses. If you can’t get a grip on managing $60,000 now, it’s going to be much harder to manage $250,000 later.
I highly, highly recommend learning how to manage your current financial situation now so you can better manage the empire you’re building.
I wish I’d read this book in college. Or better yet, back in high school. In fact, this book might just be my favorite gift for graduates. One thing I’ve heard SO many people say (not just entrepreneurs) is that no one teaches you how to really manage your money and it’s a much needed skill. If you want to be financially healthy, you want to build wealth for your future, you want to make sure you’re taking care of your family – you’re going to appreciate this book more than you’ll ever know.
Like Dave says, “live like no one else now, so later, you can live and give like no one else.” I can’t wait to hear what you think of this book! (It’s only a 3 hour audiobook on Audible, I binge listened in two gym sessions over a weekend!)
When themes start repeating themselves, it means it’s a pretty important theme. So yes, this is another book about productivity and being able to meet your goals. Productivity has a lot to do with mindset and setting achievable goals, and I love the way Hyatt breaks things down in this book.
For instance, when I think about working out I often don’t feel like doing it. But when I remember why I’ve set the goal – it makes me feel more productive, it makes me feel like a success first thing in the morning, I feel stronger every day – remembering my why helps me stay motivated. That’s just one of the valuable lessons I learned from Hyatt.
Raise your hand if your snooze button just might be a little worn out 🙋🏽♀️ After working all day long at my full time job, I was exhausted at the end of the day with little energy to pour into my side hustle. So I started getting up earlier in the mornings instead. Since my day job started at 7am, I got up at 4am to work for the dream and was in bed by 7pm each night. It didn’t take long to realize that how my morning went actually started with how I prepped myself the night before. Ie, when I got a full 8 hours of sleep, it was so much easier for me to wake up on time in the morning. But when I stayed up late, that snooze button and I were besties, and I missed a valuable morning of working on my dream job.
As entrepreneurs, we HAVE to be more self-motivated. I remember wanting so badly to work for myself, only to start working for myself and thinking, “I wish I had someone to tell me what to work on”. The Miracle Morning helped me develop habits for successful mornings, and I’m confident it’ll help you do the same.
Wow, that’s it! My top 15 Business Book Recommendations for entrepreneurs. These are the books that had the biggest impact on me as an entrepreneur, to really set up a solid foundation, and I know they’ll have an impact on you too.
Tell me in the comments below which one you’re excited to get started on or which ones you already read!