10 Books to Read Before Starting a Business 

It’s an indelible part of the American Dream, even if it’s not for everybody—the idea of starting your own business, being your own boss, and beginning a journey that can lead to self-sufficiency and, hopefully, incredible wealth.

But anything worth doing requires effort—and doing the prep work in advance to make sure you have the best chance of success. The 1o books below contain the collective wisdom of some of the most successful folks in the world, and absorbing their lessons will bring you closer to your dreams.

Nuts and Bolts

The Peter Principle: Why Things Always Go Wrong, by Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull
The man who identified the infamous “Peter Principle” takes on the vein of incompetence that runs through much of our society as well as our business endeavors, a source of inefficiency and poor decision-making that can ruin a business before the first customer walks in the door. If you’re going to dive into the choppy waters of entrepreneurial ambition, you should be aware of the painfully easy ways you can doom your business to failure right from the start—or, worse, ruin a good beginning by making poor choices later. More importantly, it’s important to recognize that sometimes, these bad decisions are outside of your control. Being able to recognize the signs before disaster strikes will give you a head start.

The Portable MBA in Entrepreneurship, by William D. Bygrave and Andrew Zacharakis
For anyone seeking to enter the entrepreneurial world, this incredible resource covers all the fundamentals. It can help you brush up on virtually any aspect of the business world you’re unfamiliar with, from creating a business plan, to finding investors, to building a marketing plan, to dealing with taxes. It’s an entire post-graduate education between two covers. Even if you’re not one to put much stock in degrees, it’s information that might mean the difference between disaster and success.

Jab, Jab, Right Hook, by Gary Vaynerchuk
If there’s a universal truth in today’s business world, it’s that social media is a vital marketing tool. If there’s a second truth, it’s that very few people know how to effectively market via social media. Vaynerchuk is a recognized social media expert who specializes in boot camps that provide a crash-course in what works and why when it comes to today’s ever-changing social media landscape. If you’re going to get your business off the ground, you’re going to need social media’s help, and this book will give you the basic tools to brand your business, connect with potential clients and customers, and use social media to slip past the competition and claim your share of the market.

Simple Numbers, Straight Talk, Big Profits!, by Greg Crabtree
If you’re going into business, you’re going to be dealing with numbers. It’s that simple. Knowing the theories of entrepreneurship is one thing; you also have to be able to understand what the numbers are (really) saying, and how they can tell you whether your business is a success yet—or whether it ever will be. Crabtree is an accountant, which means he understands the deep magic of taxes, revenue, and amortization, concepts he communicates sans jargon or confusing double-speak. By the end of this book, you might not be ready to take the CPA exam, but you’ll have a firm understanding of how a business operates in terms of finances—and that will give you a fair chance of success.

Inspiration

Rework, by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson
If you want to stop preparing and start doing, this is the book for you. It’s the anti-business business book, wherein all the conventional wisdom is tossed out the window. Fried and Hansson argue that you don’t need business plans, investors, or careful branding to start a business—you just need a dream, a lot of energy, and the techniques contained in this book. You’ll learn how to move forward on a shoestring budget, how to generate and maintain buzz for your brand, and how to grow your business without begging for investors or wasting time on things that won’t matter in the long run.

Shoe Dog, by Phil Knight
Sometimes you’re going to feel like giving into despair, and the fear there’s no way you’ll ever pull off your business plan. In those moments, read Shoe Dog. Phil Knight borrowed $50 from his father in 1963 and launched Nike, selling imported shoes out of the trunk of his car. His story, as told in this fascinating business memoir, is as inspirational as they come, the sort of tale every entrepreneur dreams will someday be theirs to tell. If you ever doubt that your vision, energy, and passion aren’t enough, read Phil’s story, and get fired up again.

The Long Tail, by Chris Anderson
The traditional line is that businesses should always be growing—more market share, more customers, more products, more, more, more. There’s another way of looking at it, however—selling less of more stuff. Arguing that products that have very low demand or sales can collectively add up into something greater than the bestselling items in the category, author Chris Anderson offers an exciting new way to look at how you sell things going forward.

The $100 Startup, by Chris Guillebeau
The idea of starting a business often involves trying to figure out where the immense resources and huge amounts of capital are going to come from. But maybe not: Guillebeau draws on his own experiences, as well as interviews with successful entrepreneurs who launched businesses with small investments, sometimes as little as $100, to show that you can launch a nimble, profitable business without tying yourself up in debt. Guillebeau’s approach offers a way out, a way to give yourself more free time and take on more adventures while funding your lifestyle through your business, with the goal that your business should fund your life, not the other way around.

The Martian, by Andy Weir
This fictional story of an astronaut stranded alone on Mars might not seem to have anything to do with business … except you can read it as an extended metaphor for dealing with the problems that will definitely, absolutely, 100 percent come up as you build your business. Those problems might not include zero breathable atmosphere and a total lack of food, but the way Mark Watney goes about solving one catastrophe after another with an engineer’s creativity will inspire anyone trying to launch a business with limited resources and a seemingly unlimited supply of problems.

Cautionary Tales

Bad Blood, by John Carreyrou
Finally, take a moment to read about how unchecked ambition and extreme tunnel-vision—not to mention a misguided attempt to replicate Steve Jobs—once led to total disaster. Theranos was the talk of the town: the hot startup valued at $9 billion based on little more than the heady claims of its founder, Elizabeth Holmes. Said claims turned out to be flagrant invention; the core technology the company was built on never actually worked, and a desperate Holmes stands accused of defrauding investors by going to extreme lengths to fake results. As the final fate of Holmes and her company winds its way through the courts, this book will remind anyone starting a business that it’s always better to be honest and realistic—and to admit when you’re wrong.

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