Looking for inspiration or ways to build your business skills? You can’t beat a great book! These must-read books for entrepreneurs will help you discover more about the psychology of marketing, tweak your mindset and enhance your leadership skills. These are the business books I love, recommend and buy for entrepreneurs and small business owners.
My goal is to introduce you to books that may not be the ones that everyone else raves about. These books are the lesser known gems amongst all the blockbusting bestsellers. Often these are the books that have the greatest meat to them, and not just the greatest marketing razzmatazz. They have been carefully selected to be full of tangible actions, clear insights and more than a dash of humour.
The Psychology of Marketing
The Advertising Effect: How to Change Behaviour by Adam Ferrier & Jennifer Fleming5 Second Summary: This is a fascinating book based on the premise that all advertising is designed to change behaviour. The more the behaviour is changed, the more effective the advertising is. It looks at 10 different psychological strategies and tactics that advertisers use to trigger a response. It goes on to explore how advertising can be a force for good rather than mindless consumption. This book is a wealth of information and is one of the best books on advertising on the market today.
To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others by Daniel Pink5 Second Summary: Not just another sales book – this book explores the latest psychological research into the future of sales and selling. It suggests that every single person on the planet sells. Even if they are not selling widgets or services, they are selling ideas or trying to motivate others to take action. By learning the skills of how to effectively and ethically sell, you increase your influence and achieve greater success not only in business, but as a parent and citizen.
Brainfluence: 100 Ways to Persuade and Convince Consumers with Neuromarketing by Roger Dooley
5 Second Summary:
This is a great introduction to Neuromarketing as it summarises a whole pile of research in easy to digest snippets. Neuromarketing is all about understanding how the brain works and applying this knowledge to marketing and selling.
This is not a mind-numbingly boring academic text. Each chapter is only a few pages long at most, and highlights a unique point or idea that is easy to apply to a business setting.
If you want to understand the psychology behind marketing, this is a brilliant place to start.
The Pumpkin Plan: A Simple Strategy to Grow a Remarkable Business in Any Field by Mike Michalowicz5 Second Summary: The Pumpkin Plan is one of those books that you read and promptly recommend to your friends, simply so you can spend a few hours debating and exploring what you have read and what it means. This book looks at how giant pumpkins are grown, and how the lessons from growing pumpkins can be applied to business. It sounds simplistic, and yet it is one of the most profound books on entrepreneurialism, finding your niche and building your business that you can find on the market. The Pumpkin Plan covers huge swathes of territory, from helping you recapture the dreams of why you started your business, through to identifying your sweet spot for your business, customer identification and service, business growth and decision making. It is very easy reading, not academic or dry, but written in an engaging and humorous way.
Value-Based Fees: How to Charge – and Get – What You’re Worth by Alan Weiss5 Second Summary: This is the book I have referred more small business owners and consultants to than any other over the past decade. It takes a deep dive into the world of pricing models, and why billing by the hour is seriously bad for business. It explores the concept of the perception of value rather than value as an absolute or fixed thing. It then converts this into tangible strategies to set your pricing for your clients. While there is a fair whack of pomposity in the book, don’t let that put you off. The kernels of wisdom in this book are absolute gold.
The Ten Principles Behind Great Customer Experiences by Matt Watkinson5 Second Summary: Customer experience is much more than simply great customer service – it is a whole new way of thinking and operating in your business to achieve better customer outcomes. What is customer experience? “The qualitative aspect of any interaction that an individual has with a business, its product or services, at any point in time.” This book simply and clearly gives guidance on ways every business can enhance their customer experience process. It is well researched, brilliantly written and easy to action.
Mindset & General Psychology
The Art of Work: A Proven Path to Discovering What You Were Meant to Do by Jeff Goins5 Second Summary: Once every five years or so, I read a book that is so profound that as soon as I finish reading it I close the book and start immediately reading it again from page one. This book is designed to help you discover your life’s work, and the interaction of your calling with your job. If you feel even slightly off path, this is the book to help you work through the confusion. I have lost track of how many times I have read and reread this book – returning over and over to my favourite quotes and passages. If I had this book in paper version rather than on my Kindle, the pages would be deeply creased, and the spine broken from too much use. It is one of those books that seep into your soul.
The Freaks Shall Inherit the Earth: Entrepreneurship for Weirdos, Misfits, and World Dominators by Chris Brogan5 Second Summary: Being an entrepreneur isn’t easy. There’s the long days, general confusion and muddling through. There’s the fear that if you are fully yourself, that your clients will leave in droves. If you have ever felt that you don’t fit in (without a lot of personal compromising) then this book is for you. It is not just for avocado eating millennials, but for entrepreneurs of all ages who choose to do business on their own terms. This book helps you celebrate your difference and to build your business on what makes you unique. This is not mindless platitudes, but practical wisdom on succeeding on your terms.
Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Dan & Chip Heath5 Second Summary: Change is one of the hardest things to deal with and accept. We all start with good intentions, and then somewhere along the line we derail. Switch is a great book that draws from psychological studies to help overcome inertia and ensure good intentions turn into actions, and then into permanent habits. This book is relevant not just to business, but to our personal lives and relationships.
Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant5 Second Summary: I am always intrigued by groupthink, and how leaders gain power and status. When I read this book, I read it through the lens of politics. This book shines a bright light on influence, power, status, respect and status. It explains why people speak up and others remain silent. It explores how to bring your unique gifts to the world, and what it takes to make a difference. The book is filled with intriguing research and stories that will challenge your view of the world.
The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds by Michael Lewis
The Alter Ego Effect: The Power of Secret Identities to Transform Your Life, by Todd Herman
The Alter Ego Effect is a deceptively simple book – which looks at the power of creating a heroic alter ego to call on when the chips are down. This is not about play-acting, but tapping into a deep, heroic part of your psyche to help you achieve extraordinary things.
The book isn’t the simply “pretend you are someone else” schtick of the personal success snake oil salespeople. This book is remarkably practical, with solid steps to work out why an alter ego works and how to create one that will work for you (lycra superhero garments and optional extra).
If you are working on your self-esteem, or simply want a handy strategy you can pull out of your kit bag in the moments that we would all rather not have, then add this book to your reading pile.
Reinvent Yourself by James Altucher
The Niching Nest by Tad Hargrave @TadHargrave
5 Second Summary:
The Niching Nest helps you to assess what is your true business niche. It provides multiple perspectives and approaches to illuminate possibilities and areas of potential. If you are stuck on “What is my niche,” then this is a great place to start.
I have followed Tad’s work for nearly a decade, and been fortunate enough to be part of some coaching programs he has ran. His Niching Spiral ebook is like holding a fabulously warm mug of hot cocoa in the depths of winter. You can feel the warmth and gentle support seep through every cell of your being.
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying by Marie Kondo
Unless you have lived a very secluded life, 2016 was the year of pulling out undies from your drawers and asking “Does this spark joy?” (and trying hard not to sound creepy while you are doing it).
There’s something soothing about sorting and clutter clearing when everything around you is out of control. I suspect that’s why this clutter clearing book took off this year.
While the concept can be boiled down to one sentence, reading the book seems to quietly work its way through your brain until you can’t help but tackle the piles of clutter in your home.
Its adherents have become almost cult-like in their zeal to merrily toss, throw and otherwise discard everything that is not nailed down in their homes … and then start to eye off their friend’s homes.
Does the book work? I am known as keeping a neat home, yet I still had 3 full car loads to take to the dump and charities. Other colleagues who were challenged by clutter found that after reading the book, they could actually park their car in their garage again (after 15 years of the car languishing in the driveway).
It you feel like you could do with a little bit of taking back control, then this is the book for you to read.
Leadership & Creativity
Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen, by Donald Miller
Building a StoryBrand explores how to improve your connection with your customers through the seven elements of powerful stories, and in particular, how to reflect this through your marketing copy.
It starts with the traditional hero’s journey writing model and then digs into the model in unique and highly practical ways. The approach explores the psychology of the customer and what makes them buy particular goods or services.
Donald Miller’s language is easy to understand, and relatively jargon-free, making it suitable for all types of business owners.
The only thing to be aware is that the book is obviously a lead into his high-priced training courses, so go into the book with open eyes, and take the gems that are scattered throughout the book while ignoring the subtle manipulation to “buy, buy, buy.”
An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth: What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything by Chris Hadfield5 Second Summary: Chris Hadfield made space eternally fascinating for thousands of people while he was in the International Space Station. His book goes deeper than what you saw on YouTube and during his broadcasts, and explores the essence of leadership, building competence, dealing with fear and the unknown. It covers his life philosophy of “prepare for the worst – and enjoy every moment of it.” This book is essential reading for any leader.
Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull.5 Second Summary: Ed Catmull is one of the founders of a little animation studio called Pixar. In this book he explores how to build a creative and positive work culture. This is not a polished fluff piece, but one rooted in tangible, warts and all advice. He is not afraid to explore the mess, the unknowing, the mistakes and the culture that goes into building creativity. But while the book focusses on creativity, the lessons about how to embrace failure, encourage openness and foster collaboration across work silos are valid no matter your business.
Real Artists Don’t Starve: Timeless Strategies for Thriving in the New Creative Age by Jeff Goins
The Mom Test: How to talk to customers & learn if your business is a good idea when everyone is lying to you, by Rob Fitzpatrick
If you have ever wondered why focus groups, or asking your customers about your plans goes awry, then this book is for you. People who care about you will lie to you to spare your feelings (think about the answers to the “does my butt look big in this …” scenario).
The Mom Test looks at how you can ask better questions of your customers, and how to get meaningful and useful feedback on your product or service.
Asking better questions helps to reduce biased answers, and the book explores how to frame the questions you ask to remove the inherent bias.
It also explores some counter-intuitive steps such as why you should never start by telling someone your great idea before you ask for feedback.
The Mom Test is full of practical examples and sentences you can liberate and apply to your business straight away (which means it is more than worth the purchase price).
This book will help you stop racing off down into dry gullies because you think a business idea sounds brilliant, but you later discover that there is no real market of people willing to pay for the good or service.
If you are thinking of expanding your services, or starting a new business, this book should be mandatory reading.
Trends & History
How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World by Steven Johnson5 Second Summary: How We Got to Now is a fun, light, romp through the ages that makes you appreciate how many little tiny inventions go together to create our modern life. This book is filled with quirky stories that draw links between apparently random facts. In this book, you will learn how Gutenberg’s printing press ultimately led to the discovery that the body is made up of cells … along with many other gems. It makes you realise that small things can lead to massive consequences.
Flash Foresight: How to See the Invisible and Do the Impossible by Daniel Burrus5 Second Summary: If you have ever wondered how to see the future for your business without a crystal ball, then this the book to read. Flash Foresight by Daniel Burrus helps you with seven ways to spot and take advantage of swelling business trends before you get swamped by them. It looks at hard trends – a projection based on tangible facts, events and objects. These are future facts and will definitely happen. It also looks at soft trends – things that may happen based on statistical analysis. By knowing the difference between hard and soft trends, you are more likely to ride the right trend for your business.
Small Data: The Tiny Clues That Uncover Huge Trends by Martin Lindstrom5 Second Summary: Martin Lindstrom is one of my favourite futurists. He is one those unique people that can spot emerging trends and advise businesses on when to pivot and when to run like hell. He does this not by analysing reams and reams of data, but by noticing the tiny minutiae that make up people’s lives. One of my favourite stories of his relates to noticing fridge magnets in Siberia and how that linked to the creation of a powerful online community and e-commerce site for Russian mums. This book takes you through his thinking process and opens your eyes to details we simply take for granted in our lives and the lives of our clients.
Surge: Time the Marketplace, Ride the Wave of Consumer Demand, and Become Your Industry’s Big Kahuna by Mike Michalowicz5 Second Summary: This book takes a simple concept of catching a wave, riding it in and knowing when to jump off, as an analogy to explore business trends and market positioning. The book helps you find your wave, identify your target market and match your skills to their needs, create your “rally cry” and then stay at the front of the wave. In exploring the concepts, you take a detour through the world of UGG boots and Cronuts as well as many other fascinating companies. Each point is clearly illustrated, and you leave with tangible ideas to help you to look at your business with fresh eyes.
How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World by Steven Johnson @stevenbjohnson
5 Second Summary:
How We Got to Now is a fun, light, romp through the ages that makes you appreciate how many little tiny inventions go together to create our modern life.
I love a great story – and brilliantly quirky stories that draw links between apparently random facts are some of my favourite stories to read. In this book, you will learn how Gutenberg’s printing press ultimately led to the discovery that the body is made up of cells … along with many other gems. This book is easy to read and is a brilliant book for anyone with a scientific interest.
Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, by Caroline Criado Perez
This book was one that shook me to my core. It explored why the equitable allocation of floorspace for public toilets creates queues, why mobile phones are the size that they are, why women freeze in office air-conditioning and why women are 47% more likely to be seriously injured in car accidents.
Impeccably researched and cited, this book highlights the massive data gaps across everything from technology, health, urban planning and the media, caused by biased data that excludes women. These gaps are generally not conscious or deliberate, but they have life-shattering impacts on women.
This is one of those books that if I could gift every person in public policy and research, I would!
Accidental Genius: Revolutionize Your Thinking Through Private Writing by Mark Levy5 Second Summary: Have you ever had thoughts go round and round in your head, but can’t work out which way to turn? Do you ever surprise yourself with random gems of wisdom that pop out of your mouth? This book helps you tap into your own wisdom and find amazing clarity, using a technique called freewriting. “Freewriting is deceptively simple: start writing as fast as you can, for as long as you can, about a subject you care deeply about, while ignoring the standard rules of grammar and spelling. Your internal editor won’t be able to keep up with your output—you’ll generate breakthrough ideas and solutions that you couldn’t have created any other way.” If your job requires even an ounce of creativity, innovation or communication, then you need this book. It is hands down the most useful book on the market to get you out of writer’s block, or confusion. It is chock full of strategies I wish they taught in every school and on every leadership program.
There Is No Good Card for This: What To Say and Do When Life Is Scary, Awful, and Unfair to People You Love by Kelsey Crowe and Emily McDowell
Many of us struggle finding the right words to say when life kicks our friends and loved ones in the teeth. We particularly struggle with death, suicide, cancer, miscarriage and a host of other nasties, so we fall back on platitudes or silently disappear from the scene in embarrassment.
Emily McDowell has been there and done that, and created the amazing Empathy Cards. She collaborated with a psychologist to put together an incredibly useful and practical book on what to do and say when life sucks for people you care about, and you don’t want to make things worse.
It is designed to help you respond with kindness, compassion and resilience, while building authentic connections.
The book is helpful, funny, visually engaging and understanding of what it means to be human. It is the book I wished I was given as a teenager, and wished I could embody throughout my life.
If you want to be a better friend, parent, colleague or simply a better person, then read this book! It is the ultimate gift for people you care about.
Content Machine: Use Content Marketing to Build a 7-figure Business With Zero Advertising by Dan Norris @thedannorris
5 Second Summary:
This book helps clarify what content marketing is and isn’t, and provides highly actionable tips on where to focus your content marketing efforts for best results.
Dan is one of Australia’s internet success stories. He went from a failing web design business to one of our leading entrepreneurs. He credits much of his success to strategic content marketing that supports a clever and strategic business model. His book is an easy, engaging read and has solid strategies that most small businesses can implement to get the most out of their content marketing.
Do You Talk Funny?: 7 Comedy Habits to Become a Better (and Funnier) Public Speaker by David Nihill @FunnyBizzSF
5 Second Summary:
The structure and the delivery of your content is what makes people engage or hit the snooze button. This book shares lessons from stand-up comedy about how to appropriately add humour to your presentations (especially if you are not naturally funny).
If ever you have had to give a speech, you have probably faced the experience of speaking to a room where eyes have glazed over and people are surreptitiously checking their phones. This book is the antidote.
Doug Stevenson’s Story Theatre Method – Strategic Storytelling in Business, by Doug Stevenson
Stories are almost magical things that, when told correctly, help sway opinion and trigger action.
When I was speaking at WordCamp Brisbane about my experience after the majority of my clients were hacked, I didn’t want my talk to be “nice”. I wanted it to be impactful and one of those “wow” talks.
I had heard about Doug Stevenson, but hadn’t done any of his courses or read his book. Boy was I in for a massive shake-up!
I read his Story Theatre Method book and did two of his online courses, and my talk was transformed. Feedback from members of the audience was that my talk was one of the highlights of the event.
Doug teaches not only the elements of how to tell a great business story, but also the physicality of “in moments” vs “out moments.” He teaches story branding through the phrase that pays, and how to add humour that works for all audience types.
Finally, he also teaches how to actually get people to respond to the Q&A section of your talk – and not to have an awkward silence where everyone shuffles their feet and tries to work out the fastest way to the coffee cart.
If your role includes speaking in front of an audience, then take a deep dive into the world of Doug Stevenson: Your audience will thank you!