Starting or Growing a Small Business? The 10 Business Books You Should Read

We’ve rounded up our favorite 10 business books to arm you with information and get you fired up for your new enterprise.

Becoming an entrepreneur isn’t rocket science. It’s harder.

To be one of the (sadly) tiny percentage of small businesses that thrive, owners must not only be an expert in the service they provide, but also possess the grit to persevere, the magnanimity to provide exceptional customer service and, the business acumen to run a business from the ground up. That’s no small task!

Just because you’re about to forge a new path for yourself doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from a heap of reference material and inspiration to help you manage your own brand of excellence. We’ve rounded up our favorite 10 business books to arm you with information and get you fired up for your new enterprise.

10 Business Books You Should Read

Grit by Angela Duckworth

Why do some people succeed while others fail? Psychologist Angela Duckworth will tell you it comes down to grit and self-control. Forget talent, intelligence and skill—it’s the interest, passion, practice and hope that leads “gritty” people to enjoy the kind of triumph that can only come from hard work. If you’re looking for a taste of Duckworth’s research, check out her Ted Talk.

[What Duckworth wished she could have said to her dad when she was a young girl]
“’But let me tell you something. I’m going to grow up to love my work as much as you love yours. I won’t just have a job; I’ll have a calling. I’ll challenge myself every day. When I get knocked down, I’ll get back up. I may not be the smartest person in the room, but I’ll strive to be the grittiest.’

“And if he was still listening: ‘In the long run, Dad, grit may matter more than talent.’”

The Business Start-Up Kit: Everything You Need to Know About Starting and Growing your Own Business by Steven D. Strauss

Every entrepreneur could use practical advice they can count on. Attorney and business columnist Steven D. Strauss breaks down the process of conceiving of and building the right business for you. Using examples from businesses with humble beginnings (ever heard of Microsoft, Disney or Amazon?), Strauss pinpoints pivotal decisions that took a small idea and turned it into an empire.

Business Books

From The Business Start-Up Kit: Everything You Need to Know About Starting and Growing your Own Business

The Founder’s Dilemmas: Anticipating and Avoiding the Pitfalls That Can Sink a Startup by Noam Wasserman

Winner of the 2014 Entrepreneurship Practice Award (among others), Harvard Business School Professor Noam Wasserman’s work shines a light on the common errors entrepreneurs make at the outset of a small business—and offers practical tips on how to avoid them. With wisdom drawn from 10 years of research and the real-life experiences of businesses like Twitter and Pandora, you’ll get an insider’s view that leads to insights you can use in your business.

Wasserman on why he wrote the book:
“Almost two-thirds of [start-up] failures were because of people problems—not being able to handle people issues well. That is what has become my life’s mission over the last 12 or 13 years; to go and map out those most critical decisions when founders are first heading into it… One of the key goals in the role of my book is to be able to pinpoint that path ahead, all of the pitfalls you’re going to face but if you understand what they are, you can make better decisions early on.”

The Art of the Start 2.0 by Guy Kawasaki

If you’re looking for a rogue way to start a business, check this title out. In this updated version of the classic The Art of the Start, Kawasaki says business plans are no longer relevant, social media trumps PR and advertising and crowd funding is the new investor. For a preview, watch a video lecture Kawasaki delivers for Singularity University.

Art of the Start 2.0: Full Lecture from Singularity University on Vimeo.

Kawasaki on why he updated The Art of the Start:
“When it comes to startups, I’ve been there and done that several times over. Now I’m doing what techies call a ‘core dump,’ or recording what’s in my memory. My knowledge comes from my scars-in other words, you will benefit from my hindsight. My goal is simple and pure: I want to make entrepreneurship easier for you. When I die, I want people to say, ‘Guy empowered me.’ I want lots of people to say this, so this book is for a broad population.”

Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses by Eric Ries

For author Eric Ries, innovation is baked into your business process. Forget writing a business plan and updating it from time to time—incorporating constant infusions of fresh thinking in every aspect of running your company will help it thrive. You’ll find interesting insights from a bold voice in the world of business.

Ries on the Steer section of the book:
“Steer dives into the Lean Startup method in detail, showing one major turn through the core Build > Measure > Learn feedback loop. Beginning with leap-of-faith assumptions that cry out for vigorous testing, you’ll learn how to build a minimum viable product to test those assumptions, a new accounting system for evaluating whether you’re making progress, and a method for deciding whether to pivot (changing course with one foot anchored to the ground) or persevere.”

The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau

Author Chris Guillebeau is in the midst of completing a tour of every country in the world—and he’s never had a job in his life. If those aren’t the qualifications for an intriguing perspective worth considering, we don’t know what are. In The $100 Startup, Guillebeau studies 50 case studies in which people with no special skills found a way to monetize an aspect of their personal passions.

Guillebeau on modern “renegade entrepreneurs”:
“What’s new… is how quickly someone can start a business and reach a group of customers. The building process is much faster and cheaper today than it has ever been. Going from idea to startup can now take less than a month and cost less than $100… Commerce may have been around forever, but scale, reach, and connection have changed dramatically. The handyman who does odd jobs and repairs used to put up flyers at the grocery store; now he advertises through Google to people searching for ‘kitchen cabinet installation’ in their city.”

The Portable MBA in Entrepreneurship by William D. Bygrave, Andrew Zacharakis

Are you regretting not investing in that MBA? Don’t worry about it. This book lays out the core curriculum of leading business schools so you can learn everything you need to know to about business. Look for information on business planning, marketing, managing taxes and so much more.

What character trait do many entrepreneurs possess?
“First, entrepreneurs are creative individuals. Empirical support is found from a study published in 2008. Data were collected from 40 graduate students enrolled in entrepreneurship programs. the control group consisted of another 38 students enrolled in other graduate programs. Those enrolled in entrepreneurship programs scored higher on personal creativity than those students from other programs. Thus, personal creativity had a strong influence on entrepreneurial intentions—that is, intentions to start a business.”

Will It Fly? How to Know if Your New Business Idea Has Wings… Before You Take the Leap by Thomas K. McKnight

Want to know if your business has potential before investing too deeply into it? Along with a wealth of information about starting and sustaining a business, entrepreneurial consultant Thomas K. McKnight presents the “Innovator’s Scorecard” to help you assess and refine your business ideas.

An often-overlooked factor of success:
“Uniqueness is a critical element of success. However, it can be fleeting in the face of a vigorous, competitive counteroffensive. If you cannot sustain the uniqueness, then you are certain to be confronted with questions about how you intend to protect yourself. Mediocrity or doom are certain to be your only possible destinations.”

Boss Life: Surviving My Own Small Business by Paul Downs

Want to pick the brain of a veteran small business owner? Paul Downs is your guy. He writes about his experiences as the owner of a furniture store for almost 30 years—and doesn’t flinch from the harsh realities of the lean years, dumb decisions and big-time misfortunes he’s endured along the way.

Sometimes we learn better from others’ mistakes:
“If this were a standard business book, I would tell you all the smart things I did to achieve financial success, and maybe trot out a few mistakes to show some humility. Unfortunately, I’m no business genius and I’m not rich. My story has neither tidy conclusions nor a triumphant ending. So this book will be different.”

Founders at Work: Stories of Startups’ Early Days by Jessica Livingston

Ever wonder how successful entrepreneurs got their ideas—and how they went about following through on their dreams? Founders at Work is a compilation of interviews with the founders of huge technology companies and zeroes in on their earliest days. Find out their secrets and get inspired by their interesting perspectives.

On getting started:
“Over the years, I’ve learned that the first idea you have is irrelevant. It’s just a catalyst for you to get started. Then you figure out what’s wrong with it and you go through phases of denial, panic, regret. And then you finally have a better idea and the second idea is always the important one.”

Your turn – what’s your most recommended business book. Let us know in the comments below!

about the author

Freelancer & FreshBooks Customer Heather Hudson has been a freelance writer for more than 17 years. As a small business owner, she understands the triumphs and challenges of life as an entrepreneur. And as a longtime FreshBooks customer, she’s always looking for ways to work smarter, not harder. You can learn more about her work at