- On January 7, 2013
For several years I was chair of the small business owners group of a large professional organization and also coordinated a business book discussion group. I am often asked to share ideas with others who are in the small or start-up business space. Every business –and owner—is different, so what I try to do is help them explore a variety of options and ideas that might work for them, including some of my favorite books that make business fundamentals interesting and actionable.
Here are the five books I often recommend to business owners. With the possible exception of the first title, all of these have a relevant message no matter what role you have in your business–owner, associate, individual contributor, manager. My criteria for this list are that the book addresses a business fundamental (strategy, operations, marketing, sales), provides memorable examples, and describes a methodology for putting the lessons into practice.
1. E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber, 1995. (subtitle: “why most small businesses don’t work and what to do about it”).
I recommend this to every person who tells me they want to start their own business. The story follows a woman who bakes pies and opens a pie shop. Not your business model? The process and recommendations for setting yourself up for success are valid whether you are a tailor, baker, or candlestick maker…or Internet app developer…or marketing consultant. Great description and concrete ideas for what it takes to start a business and succeed. The first book anyone with a glimmer of ‘business ownership’ in their mind should read. (Business Operations)
2. Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne. 2005.
Why spend a lot of time and effort competing incrementally on cost, common features, common perception with the other companies in your market sector? The benefits are slim as you chip away at each others’ slice of the pie (the bloody red ocean). Apply some innovation and create a new market space where there is no competition. The analytical framework shows that innovation doesn’t have to be a happenstance thing left to the lucky; the authors show you how to study your market and competitors so you too can generate the innovative idea needed to break out into the blue ocean. This way your efforts (and marketing budget) go towards serving your customers better and not trying to keep up with the competition. The authors take you through the whole lifecycle of strategy, implementation, adoption, and continuous improvement, with techniques and examples for each phase. (Business strategy)
3. Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. 2007.
How to effectively and memorably tell your story. Very fun to read with a useful message. If you are already into marketing, some of the messages in the book may be common knowledge and merely a refresher for you, although presented in an interesting way and with memorable examples. The Bottom Line: “Sticky” is understandable, memorable, and effective in changing thought and behavior. The premise: there are six elements to making a message sticky: Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional, Stories. (hey, it spells SUCCES(s)…how about that for stickiness?) (Marketing)
4. SPIN Selling by Neil Rackham. 1988.
Techniques for successfully selling ‘big ticket’ items/services which have a longer lead time from “impulse” purchases to convince decision-makers. An older book and a bit tedious (lots of facts and numbers which I just glossed over), but a sales classic and very, very applicable to those of you who do B2B or B2G project or consulting services. I found it a great refresher and useful when crafting out my ‘pitch’ and follow-on activities. (Sales)
5. The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling: Mastering the Art and Discipline of the Business Narrative by Stephen Denning. 2005.
Stories are everywhere—in my own experiences, on the job, in the news. It is so much engaging and memorable to use a story to get your point across than to “blah—blah—blah” with facts and statistics. The Leader’s explains how to use storytelling as a component of your business strategy. Which type of story must be true and which are better articulated as a vision or a parable a la Aesop’s fables and the Bible? How detailed do you need to be in your story? Which is more important—the content or the presentation? Denning outlines best practices and includes stories, of course, on how to create narratives to address eight different objectives: Motivate others to take action; Build other’s trust in you; Build trust in your company; Instill Organizational Values; Building High Performing Teams; Transmit knowledge; Neutralize gossip and rumor; Share your vision. (Marketing)
I’m still looking for the best book to recommend for social media. It’s a hot topic to write about these days and so there is an overwhelming number to choose from and I haven’t settled on a favorite yet. I really like Groundswell(Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff, 208) for its insistence on alignment of social media with business strategy and target market, but it is a bit too strategic to be immediately useful to a small business owner. Can anyone recommend a great social media book that would help a new business owner make the most of the current technologies?
What are your choices for favorite business books that focus on business fundamentals?