9 best books for entrepreneurs
Dream of becoming the next Steve Jobs or Sheryl Sandberg? Have a read of these pearls of entrepreneurial wisdom
With so many workers feeling underpaid, underappreciated and overworked, it’s no wonder so many of us are venturing out on our own and becoming self-employed.
Last year, 17 per cent more people searched “how to start a business” online compared to 2016, according to audience insights tool Hitwise. It has never been easier to make that dream a reality: you can work from anywhere, hire people via your smartphone and use social media to spread the word.
But even though the prospect might sound exciting, you’ll still need to do your research, and stocking up on words of wisdom from those who have been there and done that can be particularly valuable.
It sounds easy but when I first went freelance in 2017, I struggled to find relatable books for a small “one-man band”; they all seemed targeted at multi-million-pound corporations. Complex jargon and advice on payroll systems and diverse stock portfolios didn’t resonate with me at all.
New entrepreneurs like me might not consider ourselves traditionally business savvy but we are constantly hustling, juggling three different job titles and working out of our spare rooms (or a coffee shop when feeling adventurous).
I might not be your traditional definition of a business woman but as an ex-teacher I now freelance as a writer while managing two blogs of my own – recently I started my own blogger-outreach business.
The books on our list are written by those experienced in all aspects of business, from running their own companies to lecturing at business schools and even making the final of The Apprentice.
Unless specified otherwise, the majority of the books are written by British authors but there’s a smattering of offerings from our friends across the pond. Regardless, the advice remains invaluable to UK entrepreneurs. Whether you need a nudge to take the leap or practical advice on things like branding and budgeting, these books will make that transition that little bit easier.
Self Made: The Definitive Guide to Business Start-Up Success by Bianca Miller-Cole and Byron Cole: from £10, Hodder & Stoughton
The Apprentice finalist Miller-Cole has teamed up with her successful entrepreneur husband Byron Miller (she runs hosiery brand Bianca Miller London and branding business The Be Group while he is founder of the BLC group, an umbrella company for a number of businesses he owns) to create an indispensable guide for any new business. It’s jam-packed full of value with advice on a plethora of topics that every start-up needs to know but many business books skip over, including sourcing investors, navigating social media, networking on LinkedIn and developing your presentation skills.
Bianca’s style is extremely relatable and it’s refreshing to find a read with no fancy business jargon in sight. This gem of a book lives up to its title and is ideal for those in the beginning stages of their business. It is available in Kindle Edition and Paperback.
Social Media Planner 2018: £35, Luan Wise
Social media is crucial to the success of any business, so if you don’t know your Facebook from Feedly or Twitter from Tumblr, this planner is an invaluable purchase. Marketing consultant Luan Wise (who has worked with Royal Mail and University of Cambridge) guides you through the knowhow you’ll need to create your own social media plan for the whole of 2018. The planner comes with a diary section for scheduling all of your social activity and the attached online portal (use free with purchase) is excellent value for money, full of resources to guide you and your business into the social media world.
We especially liked the social media audit. This allows users to tick off tasks as they go along and includes tons of practical tips that even an expert would find useful, such as an in-depth strategy for creating the perfect LinkedIn page. The 2019 version will be available in October.
The New Business Road Test: What Entrepreneurs and Investors Should Do Before Launching by John Mullins: from £16.25, FT Publishing International
There are plenty of inspirational and motivational business books on the market but this one offers a much-needed reality check. Rather than simply encouraging you to get out there, it provides a vital framework to consider whether your business model is a viable one (and if you’re the right person to take it on) before you launch it.
The book is divided into two parts: part one forms the “road test” with easy-to-digest chapters that centre around questions such as “Is this an attractive market?” and “Can you and your team execute?”, while part two acts as a toolkit with chapters on analysing the market and evidence-based forecasting.
The fact this book is now in its fifth edition is a testament to the value John Mullins, Associate Professor at London Business School, has given to entrepreneurs over the years. The core principles of business may remain the same but this book feels current with many updated case-studies. It’s available in paperback and Kindle edition.
Recipe for Success: The Ingredients of a Profitable Food Business: from £6, Karen Green
If you’re dreaming of making a living from baking cakes or serving up street-food, this book is full of relatable content to help grow your foodie business. Karen Green, a commercial director for several successful food businesses, imparts plenty of specific knowledge that you won’t find elsewhere such as researching your target suppliers and pitching.
Each section comes backed up with case studies and useful exercises for the reader to complete. The “swot” analysis (helping you to identify potential “strengths, weakness, opportunities and threats” to your business) was a highlight and will help food business-owners feel forewarned and forearmed against potential pitfalls and disasters. In just over 200 pages it takes you through everything a food-based business owner needs to take control, improve and ultimately grow their company. It’s great value at only £6 for the Kindle edition and just over a tenner for the paperback.
When to Jump: If The Job You Have Isn’t The Life You Want by Mike Lewis: from £10, Hodder and Stoughton
Yes, there are more entrepreneurs than ever before, but how do you know if this path is right for you? With a foreword by Facebook boss Sheryl Sandberg, this is the perfect guidebook for those who are only tentatively dipping their toe into the entrepreneurial world. It is an anthology of first-person short stories written by successful entrepreneurs, all of whom share their journeys from leaving the BBC to become a sailing explorer to transitioning from medical school to starting a non-profit organisation. It is an inspiring and useful read which will hopefully convince you to take the plunge!
Brand Brilliance: Elevate Your Brand, Enchant Your Audience by Fiona Humberstone: from £17, Copper Beech Press
Good branding is vital for any business to succeed. This beautiful, A4 paperback coffee-table style book by British brand expert Fiona Humberstone is great if your budget doesn’t stretch to employing an outsider. Fiona guides you through all the key considerations when creating your “brand”, from finding your niche, to using a mood board, considering typography and nailing your visual style. Expect successful branding case studies from small businesses to learn from and plenty of question prompts for helping you make your own branding a hit.
100 Things Successful People Do: Little Exercises for Successful Living by Nigel Cumberland: from £9, Hodder & Stoughton
This nifty pocket-sized paperback offers both moments of respite and bolts of energy. Written by Nigel Cumberland, who has 25 years’ experience working globally in the corporate sector, it’s full of words of wisdom for budding entrepreneurs to take on board. The book is simply laid out chronologically, As well as enlightening us on the 100 things to do, it’s peppered with inspirational quotations and personal reflections from the author, giving the tips credibility. It’s not something you’d read in one sitting; instead, we recommend keeping it on your desk and dipping into it throughout your working day when you need a bit of motivation.
Radical Candor: How to Get What You Want By Saying What You Mean by Kim Scott: from £9.50, Macmillan
Good communication is a vital skill any entrepreneur needs but what if you’re not confident dealing with the hiring and firing that comes with employing your own staff? Former Google and Apple executive Kim Scott draws on her years of experience in Silicon Valley to provide a guide to “radical candour” – in other words, how to be clear and firm with your employees without falling into false praise or aggression.
We loved Kim’s openness at sharing her own experiences of being a poor communicator (we could certainly relate to her story of constantly using “um” in meetings!) and the two-part structure (philosophy followed by tools and techniques) made it easy to apply what we’d learnt and reflect on our business practices.
Tribes of Mentors: Short Life Advice from the Best in The World by Timothy Ferriss: from £10, Vermilion
Chances are, to most entrepreneurs, Timothy Ferriss needs little introduction. Most famous for The 4-Hour Work Week, his book and podcasts are the go-to for business self-help. This latest publication takes the form of a huge collection (and we’re being literal here – the paperback is pretty hefty so you might be better off with the Kindle version) of interviews with some of the most successful people in the world. Some of them are household names (such as Larry King and Ashton Kutcher) while others are big in the business world (such as Pinterest co-founder Ben Silbermann and TED owner Chris Anderson).
The size and sheer number of interviews make the book a little overwhelming to navigate but it’s well worth ploughing through. Our favourite section focused on the interviewees who refused to be interviewed for the book – Ferris publishes their responses as examples of “how to say no” with style!
For the A-Z guide to entrepreneurship, we recommend Self Made... as it truly is a business bible you’ll pick up time and time again. If social media isn’t your thing, then Social Media Planner 2018 is a fantastic introduction to the world of Twitter, Facebook and beyond. Finally, if you’re still uncertain about taking the leap, try When to Jump... for a vital dose of courage.
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