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Turning your passion or idea into a small business can seem complicated, overwhelming, and too stressful to attempt. Luckily, books can help us learn more about starting and running a small business as well as motivate us to keep going through the hardest days.
A record-breaking 9.8 million new small businesses opened in 2020 and 2021, so we spoke to three successful small business owners who started their businesses during the pandemic and read books to guide their entrepreneurial journeys. Their recommendations range from traditional business books to motivational self-help books and inspirational memoirs, so if you’re considering starting a small business, here are some reads that may help you along the way:
“Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life,” available at Amazon and Bookshop, from $12.99
During the pandemic, many people began to think differently about their careers and aspirations. This book helps readers apply Bill Burnett and Dave Evans’ “Life Design” method to their own lives with real-world examples and practical techniques to create a life that works for you and fits your purpose.
“No matter where you are or how old you are, it’s never too late to design a life you want to live,” says Shekeitha Jeffries, founder of My Pretty Girl Notes, a stationery company that uplifts and honors Black women. “This book is dedicated to helping you find your purpose with questions about life and how you see yourself in the world.”
You can also take an online class led by Burnett and Evans on the same topic.
“Year of Yes,” available on Amazon and Bookshop, from $10.32
Shonda Rhimes is the creator of the hit TV shows “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal.” But in her memoir, “Year of Yes,” she addresses how her introverted side often kept her away from opportunities like media appearances and interviews. This book is about her commitment to saying “yes” for one year and the ways it changed her life.
“[This book] is a reminder to say yes to the things you’re most afraid of,” says Jeffries. “It’s hard to start a business, it’s hard to have the confidence when even your family or friends might not see your vision. Say yes to yourself… Do it even if you’re scared.”
“Legend Planner,” available at Amazon, $24.99
While technically a book you write in, a guided planner can become an indispensable tool in starting a small business.
“If you’re running a business, you need to learn how to get organized and you need to do it quickly.” That’s why Darwin Alford, founder of the sustainable streetwear brand Reclaimed DNA, recommends finding a great planner that works for you. She finds the layout of the Legend Planner most helpful for her handmade, made-to-order sustainable clothing business.
“You can write out your monthly and weekly schedule, but the layout includes a section for your goals, habit tracking, separate work, and personal to-do lists, [as well as] space to identify your wins for the week and improvements for next week.”
You can also read our picks for the best planners here.
“The Fashion Business Manual,” available at Amazon, $37.04
As a fashion business owner, Alford recommends “The Fashion Business Manual” to anyone looking to start a business specifically in the fashion industry.
“This is an amazing overview of what is it to run a fashion business,” says Alford, who notes it “covers everything from forming an idea, finding a production team, marketing, taking stock, accounting.”
“It’s fully illustrated so it’s an easy read, but it does give you an idea of the weight you’ll take on when you start your business and how to get prepared to manage all the aspects you may not have thought about yet,” adds Alford.
“The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph,” available at Amazon and Bookshop, from $14.99
One big hurdle in starting a small business is learning to adjust to unanticipated challenges. “Especially as an entrepreneur, there are going to be so many things that we are not prepared for. This book helped me shift my mindset to understand that there are going to be obstacles in your life and that is okay,” says Ruth Sherrill, founder of Ruth Sherrill Marketing Services and Director of The Black Girl Initiative.
Written by Ryan Holiday (of “The Daily Stoic” fame), “The Obstacle Is the Way” is a philosophy book that offers a formula to help readers turn obstacles into opportunities. “It’s a book that’s helpful for business, relationships, and the ups and downs we go through so we can understand obstacles will happen and learn how to better handle them,” says Sherrill.
“Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway,” available at Amazon and Bookshop, from $11.49
Small business owners often deal with fear and imposter syndrome but “Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway” helped Alford move forward nonetheless. “Imposter syndrome is there, it’s going to be there, but move with it and do it anyway.”
With practical techniques such as Susan Jeffers’ 10-Step Positive Thinking Process, this book can help readers overcome passivity and negativity, even on the most challenging days.
“You’re never going to feel fully prepared, no matter what Instagram shows you of others that seem to have it all together,” says Alford. “Have faith in yourself.”
“Staying Power,” available at Amazon, $19.95
Recommended by Jeffries, “Staying Power” is an action-oriented guide that helps readers identify their purpose, articulate their value, and market themselves effectively to guide their business journey with purpose.
“There’s not always going to be someone in the room who looks like you and that can create insecurities, [but] you need to come in commanding the attention and the recognition you deserve,” says Jeffries, who credits the book with providing “advice so you can become more visible and be heard.”
“Push beyond your insecurities, fear, and the stereotypes you face,” she says. “As a business owner, you have to be confident in who you are and the products and services you provide — you have to be the voice of your business.”
“The Mountain Is You,” available at Amazon, $16.19
This self-help recommendation aims to help readers learn new skills to step out of their own way and reach their greatest potential by looking insightfully at their most damaging habits, building emotional intelligence, and releasing past experiences that may be damaging their confidence.
“This book helps you reflect inward, look at your self-saboteur, and find empowerment,” says Sherrill. “When things don’t go your way as a small business owner, it’s easy to blame yourself, but we need to get out of our own way to be successful.”
“The Go-Giver,” available at Amazon and Bookshop, from $11.90
“The Go-Giver” is an anecdotal business book that uses the story of an ambitious go-getter to teach readers that shifting their focus from “getting” to “giving” can add value to our lives and ultimately help them get more in return.
“This is a great business book because it helped me find new ways to appreciate my clients and value our relationship,” says Sherrill. “It’s not about what you’re trying to get from people, but what you’re trying to give to them.”
“The 12 Week Year,” available at Amazon and Bookshop, from $12.59
Recommended by Sherrill, “The 12 Week Year” is a self-help business book that redefines your “year” as 12 weeks in order to help you be more productive and reach goals faster.
“Whatever your goal is, this book can help you break it into bite-sized pieces,” says Sherrill. “I always have so many things to work on for my clients, but I need to work on bettering my business, too. It helped me set my goals, manage them, and see them objectively.”
“Yes!,” available at Amazon and Bookshop, from $9.29
Backed by over 60 years of research into the psychology of persuasion, “Yes!” offers insightful tips in short chapters that can help readers become more persuasive in their personal and professional lives. These tactics can help small business owners clarify their message, differentiate themselves, and capture consumer interest.
“Like so many other business owners, I follow so many marketing experts, but every great idea I’ve had came from what I learned in this book,” says Alford. “It covers a different way of understanding how we get connected to things so we can better understand our consumers.”
“Sustainable Marketing,” available at Amazon, $25
“Sustainable Marketing” is an inclusive guide that uses case studies, academic research, and professional examples of how to implement and maintain sustainable marketing practices that will positively influence your brand and customer loyalty.
“It’s nice to find a book that talks about the constructs of having a sustainable business,” says Alford. “This book gives you a basis to understand that you are a business and you do need a profit, but you can find a balance where growth can benefit you, the planet, and other people.”
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Disclosure: Written and researched by the Insider Reviews team. We highlight products and services you might find interesting. If you buy them, we may get a small share of the revenue from the sale from our partners. We may receive products free of charge from manufacturers to test. This does not drive our decision as to whether or not a product is featured or recommended. We operate independently from our advertising team. We welcome your feedback. Email us at [email protected].