Small business owners and entrepreneurs should get their brains in shape just like professional athletes mold their bodies into lean mean performance machines. Stephen Covey, author of 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People, likened the human brain to a saw. He said we need to continually sharpen that saw in order to get the best performance out of it day after day.
The best way I know to keep my brain healthy is by reading. So, I’ve provided a list of my top favorite books every small business owner should read.
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
Author: Stephen R. Covey
Summary Stephen Covey, an internationally respected leadership authority, realizes that true success encompasses a balance of personal and professional effectiveness, so this book is a manual for performing better in both arenas. His anecdotes are as frequently from family situations as from business challenges.
Biggest Takeaway My biggest takeaway from Covey’s timeless masterpiece is the concept of beginning with the end in mind. My mind is very formulaic. I need structure to what I do, to everything I create.
Learning to Begin with the end in mind for every project I take on as a small business owner has helped me get started on projects with which I was previously paralyzed by doubt. Now that I can visualize what the outcome should look like, it’s empowering me to dream bigger and act on those dreams.
Favorite Quote “Begin with the end in mind.”
Rich Dad Poor Dad
Author: Robert T. Kiyosaki
SummaryRich Dad Poor Dad, the #1 Personal Finance book of all time, tells the story of Robert Kiyosaki and his two dads—his real father and the father of his best friend, his rich dad—and the ways in which both men shaped his thoughts about money and investing. The book explodes the myth that you need to earn a high income to be rich and explains the difference between working for money and having your money work for you.
Biggest Takeaway The most important thing I learned from this book that I still use today is the concept of the “Three Piggybanks”. Kiyosaki stresses the importance of putting all money you make (aside from what you need to pay the bills) into three categories:
This is absolutely one of the best business books to read for anyone who wants to work smarter, not harder.
Favorite Quote“Failure is part of the process of success. People who avoid failure also avoid success.”
Speak and Get Results
Author: Sandy Linver
Summary We’ve all known the “naturals”– people who can get up to speak in any business situation and make something happen. They get the budget approved, win the big account, get the group’s support at the weekly staff meeting. When the “naturals” finish speaking people believe– and act. Now fully revised and updated, “Speak and Get Results” helps you to be a natural– helps you to get the results you want.
Biggest Takeaway I’m big on systems and processes. Maybe it’s my German heritage. You know, engineering and efficiencies. Linver does a superb job breaking down the science of designing a speech or presentation that will get your audience to take exactly the actions you want them to take when you’re through.
There’s an actual formula for this in the book that every small business owner can use as a template for your next sales meeting, client proposal, or whatever you’re talking about where you want actionable results to occur in your company. In my opinion, this is one of the best books on business speaking available.
Favorite Quote “Your primary task is to direct your listeners’ change so it leads them to the result you want.”
Author: Gary Vaynerchuk
Summary Do you have a hobby you wish you could do all day? An obsession that keeps you up at night? Now is the perfect time to take those passions and make a living doing what you love. In CRUSH IT! Why NOW Is The Time To Cash In On Your Passion, Gary Vaynerchuk shows you how to use the power of the Internet to turn your real interests into real businesses.
Biggest Takeaway The biggest thing I took away from this book is how crucial it is for every small business owner to create a personal brand. People buy from people, not companies. Gary goes into great detail explaining the why and the how of creating irresistible personal brands. This is by far one of the best books for business owners who want to translate their offline sales into online sales.
Favorite Quote “It’s never a bad time to start a business unless you’re starting a mediocre business.”
Author: Chris Ducker
Summary Entrepreneurs often suffer from ”superhero syndrome”—the misconception that to be successful, they must do everything themselves. Not only are they the boss, but also the salesperson, HR manager, copywriter, operations manager, online marketing guru, and so much more. It’s no wonder why so many people give up the dream of starting a business—it’s just too much for one person to handle. But outsourcing expert and ”Virtual CEO,” Chris Ducker knows how you can get the help you need with resources you can afford. Small business owners, consultants, and online entrepreneurs don’t have to go it alone when they discover the power of building teams of virtual employees to help run, support, and grow their businesses.
Biggest Takeaway This is an awesome read for any small business owner or entrepreneur who needs an assistant, whether in-house or virtual. I just hired my first assistant, much to the celebration of my staff. Before I did, though, I put Ducker’s 3-step exercise into practice. Going through it helped me identify:
Favorite Quote“you’ll have access to the most powerful asset any entrepreneur can wish for – more time.”
Authors: Ken Blanchard & Sheldon Bowles
Summary “Your customers are only satisfied because their expectations are so low and because no one else is doing better. Just having satisfied customers isn’t good enough anymore. If you really want a booming business, you have to create Raving Fans.”
Biggest Takeaway My favorite thing about this book is that it is immediately actionable. After a couple of chapters, I realized that I had been way over-thinking how I could improve my own agency’s customer service.
Just like so many profound concepts in life, this book showed me that it’s really quite simple to create raving fans out of my own clients. You, as a small business owner, only have to put yourself in their shoes to gain the necessary perspective to make the right adjustments in your own company.This is definitively one of the all time best books on business customer service out there.
Favorite Quote“Every day I go to a different store and pump gas for at least an hour to listen to customers.”
Built to Last
Authors: Jim Collins & Jerry Porras
Summary Drawing upon a six-year research project at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business, James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras took eighteen truly exceptional and long-lasting companies and studied each in direct comparison to one of its top competitors. They examined the companies from their very beginnings to the present day — as start-ups, as midsize companies, and as large corporations. Throughout, the authors asked: “What makes the truly exceptional companies different from the comparison companies and what were the common practices these enduringly great companies followed throughout their history?”
Biggest Takeaway Collins uses wonderful examples throughout this book of companies who are doing things the right way and the wrong way. Very well known companies, I might add. What dawned on me very early on in reading it is that there’s no need for me, as a small business owner, to reinvent the wheel when it comes to building my own successful company. If I just identify the best traits of larger successful companies, I can apply them to my own business, minus the mistakes of the companies who didn’t make the grade.
Favorite Quote“Every day I go to a different store and pump gas for at least an hour to listen to customers.”
Who Moved My Cheese?
Author: Spencer Johnson
Summary With Who Moved My Cheese? Dr. Spencer Johnson realizes the need for finding the language and tools to deal with change–an issue that makes all of us nervous and uncomfortable. Most people are fearful of change because they don’t believe they have any control over how or when it happens to them. Since change happens either to the individual or by the individual, Spencer Johnson shows us that what matters most is the attitude we have about change.
Biggest Takeaway What I walked away with from this book was a renewed sense of reality. As a small business owner, it’s easy to get caught in the weeds of everyday work problems. Steve Jobs didn’t create the personal computing experience and then go on to revolutionize the way we listen to music and communicate with each other by just settling for the status quo. He embraced change and all the power that comes with it, just as this book teaches. Greatness begins when you challenge what is acceptable by the average Joe and push for meaningful change.
Favorite Quote“Life moves on and so should we”
The 4-Hour Workweek
Author: Timothy Ferriss
Summary Whether your dream is escaping the rat race, experiencing high-end world travel, earning a monthly five-figure income with zero management, or just living more and working less, The 4-Hour Workweek is the blueprint.
Biggest Takeaway Tim Ferriss is a giant in his own right. But if you listen to his podcast (yes, he’s got one, too), he says quite often that he’s just an ordinary guy who’s
figured out how to be ultra effective in what he does.
What I take away from this book is hope that I can be more effective and efficient in just about any aspect of my life. Tim also helped me see that the systems and processes I create as a small business owner for one company can translate well into other companies I create.
Favorite Quote “The question you should be asking isn’t, “What do I want?” but “What would excite me?”
The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership
Author: John C. Maxwell
Summary What would happen if a top expert with more than thirty years of leadership experience were willing to distill everything he had learned about leadership into a handful of life-changing principles just for you? It would change your life. John C. Maxwell has combined insights learned from his thirty-plus years of leadership successes and mistakes with observations from the worlds of business, politics, sports, religion, and military conflict. The result is a revealing study of leadership delivered as only a communicator like Maxwell can.
Biggest Takeaway This book acted as a checklist for my leadership skills when I first read it. The format provides an easy means for skipping around to what you think you might need to work on most in your life right now as a small business owner.
Favorite Quote “Leaders touch a heart before they ask for a hand.”
A friend had been talking about starting a business for at least six months. Whenever I saw him, that's all he talked about. Eventually, I got tired of it. "What are you waiting for?" I finally asked. It turns out, he thought the process of starting a business was extremely complicated. "I don't want to go through all that stuff," he said, "unless I'm absolutely sure my idea is perfect." Like a lot of would-be entrepreneurs, he was stalling because he was intimidated by the apparent complexity of the administrative and legal tasks involved in starting a business. So I bet him lunch that we could take care of all that in less than three hours.
The goal is to get off square one and get on to the fun stuff.
Get over the company-name thing.
Many people agonize endlessly over dreaming up the perfect company name. Don't. If you're waiting until you come up with the perfect name, you're also waiting to start making money.
Instead, at least for now, forget branding and unique selling propositions and all the business-identity stuff. And don't worry about finding the perfect URL or website design or promotional literature. You're putting those carts way before your business horse, too.
Just pick a name so you can get the administrative ball rolling.
Remember, your business can operate under a different name than your company name. (A "doing business as" form takes minutes to complete.) And you can change your company name later, if you like.
Get your Employer Identification number (EIN).
An EIN is the federal tax number used to identify your business. You don't need an EIN unless you will have employees or plan to form a partnership, LLC, or corporation.
But even if you don't need an EIN, get one anyway: It's free, takes minutes, and you can keep your Social Security number private and reduce the chance of identity theft, because if you don't have an EIN, your SSN identifies your business for tax purposes.
Note: If you're using an online legal service to set up an LLC or corporation, don't use it to get your EIN. Instead, apply online at the IRS website. You'll have your EIN in minutes.
Now it's time to head to your locality's administrative offices.
Register your trade name.
If you won't operate under your own name, your locality may require you to register a trade name. In most cases, you'll get approved on the spot.
Get your business license.
Your county or city will require a business license. The form takes minutes to fill out. Use your EIN instead of your Social Security number to identify your business (for privacy reasons if nothing else).
You may be asked to estimate annual gross receipts. Do your best to estimate accurately, but don't agonize over it. You're just providing an estimate.
Complete a business personal-property tax form (if necessary).
Businesses are taxed on "personal" property, just like individuals. Where I live, no form is required for the year the business is established.
If you are required to file a business personal-property tax form and you plan to work from home using computers, tools, etc., that you already own, you won't need to list those items.
If you purchase tangible personal property during your first year in business, you will list those items when you file your business personal-property tax form the following year.
Ask your locality about other permits.
Every locality has different requirements. In my area, for example, a "home occupation permit" is required to verify that a business based in a home meets zoning requirements.
Your locality may require other permits. Ask. They'll tell you.
Get a certificate of resale (if necessary).
A certificate of resale, also known as a seller's permit, allows you to collect state sales tax on products sold. (There is no sales tax on services.)
If you will sell products, you need a seller's permit. Your state department of taxation's website has complete details, forms, etc., if you decide to apply online, but most localities have forms you can complete while you're at their administrative offices.
Get a business bank account.
One of the easiest ways to screw up your business accounting and possibly run afoul of the IRS is to commingle personal and business funds (and transactions). Using a business account for all business transactions eliminates that possibility.
Get a business account using your business name and EIN, and only use that account for all business-related deposits, withdrawals, and transactions.
Pick a bank or credit union that is convenient. Check out your local credit unions; often they provide better deals than banks.
Set up a simple accounting spreadsheet.
Worry about business accounting software like QuickBooks later. For now, just create a spreadsheet on which you can enter money you spend and money you receive.
Bookkeeping is simple, at least at first. All you need are Revenue and Expenses columns; you can add line items as you go.
Instead of spending hours playing with accounting software, dreaming up potential expense and income categories, and creating fancy reports with no data, spend that time generating revenue. As long as you record everything you do now, creating a more formal system later will be fairly easy. It will also be more fun, because then you'll have real data to enter.
And now you're an entrepreneur, with all the documents to prove it.
Welcome To The...