On the up 19 October 2020

8 must-read business books for new business owners

Man reading business book with a hot drink
With so many business books available, how do you choose?

Launched your own business or dream of one day making your business idea a reality? We asked SME owners and business leaders to recommend the best business books for new and would-be entrepreneurs.

1. Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely

Recommended by: Gauthier Van Malderen, CEO and co-founder of Perlego, Europe’s fastest growing EdTech start-up. Boasting over 400,000 titles, from 3,000 of the world’s leading publishers, Perlego is the world’s largest online textbook library.

Gauthier Van Malderen read Predictably Irrational following a recommendation from a friend. Always keen to work on his personal development, he explains how the book “challenges the reader’s assumptions and decision making”.

Predictably Irrational dives into self-defeating behaviours, procrastination and other aspects of our lives that we are often unaware of.”

2. Your Press Release Is Breaking My Heart by Janet Murray

Recommended by: Sally Giblin, CEO and co-founder of Pure Bundle. Pure Bundle makes sustainability simple for time poor parents by curating collections of pristine preloved clothes from quality brands.

On launching her business in 2019, Giblin wanted to collaborate with the media to spread the word about sustainability. When a friend and business associate recommended Janet Murray’s book, the emotive title piqued her interest.

Your Press Release is Breaking My Heart is so good Giblin has read it twice in the last year. “A good pitch isn’t about promoting your business. It’s about helping journalists to find stories people want to know about.”

“You learn how to tell stories people actually want to hear.”

3. The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield

Recommended by: Ben Harper, Founder and CEO of Meet Hugo, a business intelligence company which uses an innovative platform to match users up with targeted leads to follow up on.

Following a glowing recommendation from a friend, Harper read this book when first starting out in business. “One of the best pieces of advice I was given was to read as much as I could,” Harper says. “This book taught me that with anything big I faced in life, there would always be some form of resistance holding me back. I knew once I could overcome the self-doubt and fear that the book talks about, the more I could invest in myself.”

Harper recommends this book to all business owners because, he says, “it teaches readers that fear is just a natural reaction when we care deeply about something, and in many cases, this can be the very thing that can stop us achieving our goals.”

“The War of Art will help any budding entrepreneur realise what is holding them back and how they may overcome it.”

4. The E-Myth by Michael E. Gerber

Recommended by: Tim Prizeman, owner of Surf ‘n’ Fries, serving amazing fries with delicious food in Newbury, Oxon.

Prizeman read The E-Myth because so many other business owners recommend it as essential reading. The invaluable lesson the book taught him, he says, was to “Systemise and delegate ruthlessly.”

“This book is written for smaller businesses from someone who understands, the agony, emotion and pressures and that sometimes your business can become a prison as much as a passion.”

5. The Lean Startup by Eric Ries

Recommended by: Chris Ball, Managing Partner of Hoxton Capital Management. Hoxton Capital Management provides personal financial advice to expatriate clients living globally.

Reading the book, Ball says, “taught me how to run a successful start-up and get it off the ground.” He now recommends it to other new business owners as he has first-hand experience of knowing how vital it is “to understand the importance of being lean, efficient, and flexible when starting a business, as opposed to being big and bloated.”

“It’s always great to get insight from other successful and experienced entrepreneurs.”

6. Start With Why by Simon Sinek

Recommended by: Michael Jones, co-founder of houseof, born out of a shared passion for design led homewares and curiosity for doing things slightly differently. Michael and his co-founder, Helen, are building a consumer led online retailer which challenges the norms.

Jones came across this book after watching Simon Sinkek’s TED Talks.

When he first read Start With Why, he was working for a large corporate retailer and beginning to feel slightly jaded with the direction high street retail was going. Reading the book was “the perfect call-to-arms and one of the impetus behind starting houseof.”

The book helped him understand “how a business should motivate its staff”. Asked what invaluable lesson he learned from the book, Jones explains, “Humans want to belong to communities and culture. The feeling of togetherness and a common goal is why certain brands have that tribe-like affinity, and others are simply transactional. Ignoring the competition and focusing on the “why” you do what you do will be a trusted guide for your business.”

Jones and his co-founder have been in business for eighteen months. “Founders have a tendency to get bogged down in the operational elements and just staying above water in terms of the bigger picture.”

“Realigning oneself to those initial “whys” is invaluable in the day to day of running of a business.”

7. The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers by Ben Horowitz

Recommended by: Artjom Jekimtsev, CEO of Adverttu. An AdTech and Advertising business, Adverttu gets brands on the road with on-vehicle advertising.

One of over 300,000 followers of Andreessen Horowitz, Jekimtsev came across this book since author Ben Horowitz is also one of the co-founders of the widely known VC firm.

One invaluable lesson Jekimtsev learned from the book is how valuable training is to any business. “Training is, quite simply, one of the best activities a manager can perform.” The book explains how the hours you dedicate to training your staff can repay your efforts many times over.

When asked why he recommends this book to new business owners, Jekimstevoffers this quote:

“A: “Do you know the best thing about startups?”
B: “What?”
A: “You only ever experience two emotions: euphoria and terror. And I find that lack of sleep enhances them both.”

“I think every first-time start-up founder can relate. And this book tells it as it is.”

8. Turning the Flywheel by Jim Collins

Recommended by: Peter Ryding, CEO and founder of Virtual Interactive Coach, an integrated software solution that combines performance improvement of coaching to the upskilling of learning.

A great fan of Jim Collins, Ryding devours everything and anything written by the author. Specialising in boosting shareholder value through business transformation, The Flywheel is one of the techniques Ryding has used to generate over one billion pounds for businesses he has worked in.

“Building a flywheel is non-trivial to get right, however it is always worth it. It excites the top team, inspires employees and scares the competition,” Ryding says. While it’s “simple to understand the concept” is also “easy to get wrong unless you have total clarity on what business you are in (Ray Croc of McDonalds famously said he was NOT in the burger business – he was in the replication business).”

As stated on Jim Collins’ website, “In building a great company or social sector enterprise, there is no single defining action, no grand program, no one killer innovation, no solitary lucky break, no miracle moment. Rather, the process resembles relentlessly pushing a giant, heavy flywheel, turn upon turn, building momentum until a point of breakthrough, and beyond.”

This is what the book explains in detail and the single biggest reason Peter Ryding recommends it to anyone in business or starting out in business.

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