Everyone has their favorites. These are mine. Some are focused on Small Business practicalities. No inspiration. That's elsewhere. These are also not focused on the task of moving or motivating change in large organizations. That's elsewhere, too. Especially if you are considering entrepreneurship, read these to get some ideas of what to do, what to avoid. If you are in business for less than five years, the start-up books are also good for you.
If you are an employed professional, there are books for you, too. Your work is not less honorable than owning your own business; don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Some books here are primarily for you.
And some books are for both employed and unemployed (my mother's term for my twenty years of consulting) readers!
Blunder: Why Smart People Make Bad Decisions, Zachary Shore, takes you on a tour of the most common [that means you make them, too!] errors, with examples heavily weighted to public policy blunders. He is an expert on that. Jonah Lehrer, How We Decide, gets more into the details of the cognitive errors our biological brain is prone to. These two gents manage to cover a huge amount of ground. And then there's The Wisdom of Whores, Elizabeth Pisani, subtitled Bureaucrats, Brothels and the Business of AIDS. You will learn a great deal about AIDS. You will also learn a great deal about how science gets warped to fit political and personal agendas, another part of how we decide. She is dead wrong about why women in south and east Africa have so much AIDS, because she pooh-poohs the thousands of studies of how little power, in marriage and in their family homes, women have in these cultures. She also completely misses the subject of female genital mutilation; this has to be a major factor in driving up HIV rates among these women. Why does she fall down? Dr. Pisani gives us a window into the kinds of mistakes that a strong-minded person with a tell-it-like-it-is style falls victim to; I enjoyed seeing them because lots of us entrepreneurs have these same blind spots. Watch out, you Myers-Briggs J-types.
The Invention of Air, Steven Johnson.
The inclusion of a bio of the famous chemist Joseph Priestley might seem odd in a business list. Here are two themes: that polymaths should be honored; that the coffeehouses of the 18th century promoted tremendous synergy in multiple fields. I frequently wonder if we will achieve as much in the 21st, where direct human connections are being replaced by more frequent but superficial contacts. People don't get jobs and referrals from anonymous Facebook "friends." They get referrals from people they really know. In person.
The Plan-As-You-Go Business Plan, Tim Berry
Berry's admission that his own best-selling business plan software can't actually help you do a business plan is rather endearing. The only way to do a really powerful job is to ask and answer really powerful questions - like this book asks. In this book, he aims at people who are convinced that they don't need any kind of plan, or planning is too scary. He suggests - as I do! - that you do as much planning as you need at any point. The definition of exactly who you are selling to and what messages they need to hear is crucial. Financial projections, less so, especially if you aren't quitting your day job. The perfect combo is to get good questions from this book or from the world's most amazing business coach, and use said coach to brainstorm, refine and ground your dreams in reality.
Start and Run a Real Home-Based Business, Dan Furman, Self-Counsel Press (2nd)
Dan is the perfect antidote to the platitudes so prevalent in small biz lit. He tells it like it is! The only chapter you have to really be careful with is the business planning chapter: he intends to say that you need solid business planning and don't confuse planning with a formal plan. It comes out sounding like he is against hiring a professional like me. Which proves that even a professional writer (Furman) can have trouble communicating what he really means.
The One-Page Business Plan for Non-Profit Organizations, Jim Horan
For anyone, really, who wants a fill-in-the-blanks format to answer the most important questions. For folks with for-profits, you don't get pressed to delve deeply enough into most of the marketing/customer questions you need, but if the whole process scares you too much to even start, this one will ease you into the groove. Then you can call me and we'll be halfway there!
How to Market, Advertise and Promote Your Business or Service in Your Own Backyard, Tom Egelhoff
Your own backyard, in this case, means a small town. Have you wondered about how best to market a business without the metropolis focus of most small biz books? This is a good one.
The best book on business in small towns is Country Bound! by Paul and Sarah Edwards, for its realistic tone. As the Edwards's explain, rural people don't have as much money as city people, they are conservative and careful, and you have to deliver something that they desperately need and can't create themselves. They are tough, pragmatic and impervious to sizzle. Stay realistic and you can do it. The Edwards' only flaw in their other books, including their excellent Finding Your Perfect Work is that they explicitly state that everyone should be an entrepreneur, which is patently absurd. Many, many kinds of work MUST be done in a standardized way, and approximately 85% of the world's population has a personality that is best nurtured in a good employment situation. Most of these numbers are fleeing the corporate world for an entrepreneurial world that they are not best suited for simply because corporate organizations have become complete shark-pits.
The Art of the Start, Guy Kawasaki
I love this little volume from a man who has started so many tech companies, lost some, won some and learned a lot about the importance of bottom-up business planning. You will find this valuable whether you are an entrepreneur or a creative employee.
The Ultimate Small Business Marketing Guide: 1500 Great Marketing Tricks That Will Drive Your Business Through the Roof, James Stephenson with Courtney Thurman.
This is a collection, as it says, of different marketing ideas. DON’T try to do all of them. Pick 3-5 and work them for 6 months, then evaluate. In the case of speaking and writing, know that the pay-offs may be zero and they may take a long time to click. If you need cash flow now, I strongly recommend CJ Hayden’s Get Clients Now! – it’s a 28 day marketing plan for professionals and consultants. This will keep you focused, will help you stay motivated and moving forward. Most importantly, by making you stay on track with a limited number of specific strategies, it prevents you from dissipating your energy.
Entrepreneur Magazine has published a number of excellent (and a few mediocre) books. Since everyone is excited about e-business, look into their Start Your Own E-Business. It’s a collection of case studies that may inspire you; I hope that you look at not just what they did, but the context in which they did it. The special circumstances that allowed them to thrive have probably changed, and new, different windows are now open – so don’t plan a me-too; it won’t work.
Gravitational Marketing is another one of the 00s buzzwords. Like viral marketing, this is less involved in convincing the mass market and more focused on attracting the specific customers you want. Aren’t you sorry you didn’t pay attention in 7th grade when they taught gravity? Well, read this one and catch up! It’s appropriate for anyone wanting to sell an idea or a concept, as well as a product.
The author of All Marketers are Liars (which I STRONGLY recommend for everyone) and Purple Cow (not so much), is on the same track as Hypnotic Writing. Joe Vitale shows how to help your readers come to conclusions; as he explains, people sometimes believe what they hear, but they always believe what they conclude themselves. [The root of most of the world’s misery is our stubborn refusal to reconsider our conclusions, regardless of how little data or logic went into their original creation. See Dr. Pisani on AIDS, above.] This is another series of books that everyone needs to consider.
Susan Sweeney’s 101 Internet Businesses You Can Start From Home is a great place to spark ideas, but please understand that her information is just a starting point to your research and you don’t make this your Bible.
Outliers [Malcolm Gladwell, the author of Blink]. The true story of success is not about brains and dedication and working hard. It’s about having the opportunities (like Bill Gates’ wealthy parents gave him) to get the ten thousand hours of dedicated practice and study to get really expert at something that turns out to be the Next Big Thing. The Beatles had a series of fluke opportunities, including some gigs in Germany that required them to write and perform for 8 hours at a time, day in and day out. As this finely-researched book explains, beyond a certain point, additional intelligence or talent really doesn’t help you (even Mozart). What you need is nurturing and the opportunity to get that ten thousand hours. I cannot encompass this amazing book in a short review. Go out and read it. Today.