I did NOT go to business school. However, my entrepreneurial spirit eventually led me to starting my own business. And I had to learn a lot along the way.

And let me tell you…

My entire business education came from online courses and books.

Here are the books that really helped me in my business and that I use practically every day. Starting with…

My 6 All-Time Best Business Books For Entrepreneurs

#1: Smartcuts: The Breakthrough Power of Lateral Thinking by Shane Snow

Best business books for entrepreneurs Smartcuts

Goodreads score: 3.92

I absolutely LOVE this book (plus, I got a chance to meet and become friends with Shane Snow! He is a gem of a human being). What I love about it is that it’s smartcuts… not shortcuts.

As an entrepreneur, you often wear many hats. You’re doing:

  • accounting
  • HR
  • marketing
  • content creation
  • teaching
  • design

Oh my! Thank goodness we have a team now, but in the very beginning, I was doing everything.

Smartcuts helped me think more strategically about my time. It allowed me to think about what kinds of smartcuts I can take that other business owners have used, too. It’s all about working smarter, not harder.

Want more Shane? Head over to my article with Shane Snow here.

Shane Snow Quote

Key Takeaways:

  • It’s critical to find a mentor to guide you—business research shows that 70% of entrepreneurs who have a mentor raise more capital than those who don’t.
  • Feedback is useful, especially negative feedback. Negative feedback points out weaknesses and helps you improve… as long as you don’t take it personally.
  • Success may come fast and unexpectedly. It’s your job to capitalize on it and keep the momentum going.

#2: Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini

Vanessa van Edwards holding the book  Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

Goodreads score: 4.20

Influence is one of the best psychology books ever written, period. First published in 1984, it has since sold 3 million+ copies and has been translated into 30 languages. The book contains various psychological strategies that great persuaders use, and Robert even takes up jobs as a car salesman and waiter to demonstrate these strategies in person.

If you’re an entrepreneur, salesperson, marketer, or want to influence people in any way, I highly recommend giving this book a read.

Key Takeaways:

  • People feel obligated to reciprocate “favors.” A good strategy is to give something before asking for something in return.
  • In negotiations, ask a very high amount, then retreat back to what you really want.
  • When something is hard to get, we want it even more.
  • We value something more if it is harder to achieve.

#3: Your Brain and Business: The Neuroscience of Great Leaders by Srinivasan S. Pillay

Best business books for entrepreneurs Your Brain and Business

Goodreads score: 3.56

Srinivasan S. Pillay Quote

Srinivasan is an incredible neuroscientist and filled Your Brain and Business with SO much research it blew my mind. I highlighted almost every single line of the book. It is chock-full of science and so incredibly helpful.

And the best part of this book?

None of it is guesswork. No phoney baloney, no hearsay. All of it is based on hard, scientific facts. If you want to know what’s happening in our brains and how to use your brain to become a better leader, this book is for you.

Key Takeaways:

  • Positive thinking is critical to your success. What you think becomes your reality, so it’s important to think happy things about yourself and avoid negativity.
  • Your “thinking brain” has the capacity to store tons of information. It quietly works in the background as you go about your everyday life, so it’s important to stock it with knowledge so you can reap the passive benefits.
  • Split up change into smaller pieces to avoid overburdening your brain with big change. Clearly set smaller goals before diving deep. 

#4: Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products by Nir Eyal

Best business books for entrepreneurs Hooked

Goodreads score: 4.09

If I had to summarize Hooked in one word, I’d say it’s like the modern-day version of Influence. Hooked helps you build habit-forming products, as well as loyal fans and avid customers.

I also am good friends with Nir Eyal, and we did SO many interesting, helpful podcasts. I highly recommend these for the golden nuggets you’ll find in them. Check out my interviews with Nir on how to raise indistractible kids and how to be indistractible yourself.

Key Takeaways:

  • Habits are easy to break and hard to form. To successfully form a habit, do it often. Make it easy to perform your habit, and over time, your brain will think less of doing it and automatically do it more.
  • Habit-forming products are hard to ditch since they are built upon habits. They also are very competitive in markets because replacing habit-based products is so hard that there needs to be a major improvement to the product for people to change.
  • Follow the trigger-action-reward-investment model to get users hooked on your product. Over time, as the customer uses your product more, they will like it more.

#5: Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

Best business books for entrepreneurs  Made to Stick

Goodreads score: 3.94

Chip Heath quote

In the very beginning of my business, I was struggling with vitamins and painkillers. What I mean by that is:

  • When you take a vitamin, it’s good for you. You should take them and they’ll help.
  • On the other hand, if you need a painkiller… you need it NOW. People will do anything to get a painkiller.

Made to Stick made me realize for the first time that I need to make my content “stickier” to make it helpful. So if you’re thinking about pitching an idea or changing behavior, this one is for you.

Key Takeaways:

  • Stories stick because they are memorable, and people want to spread the message. Simple messages work the best.
  • To get people off autopilot, your message must be unexpected. Something needs to stick out of the ordinary.
  • Use curiosity to your advantage. Curiosity gaps are plot holes or “who did it?” type moments where your audience is eager to find out what happens next. Keep the curiosity, and their interests will be heightened.

#6: Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us by Seth Godin

Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us - business book

Goodreads score: 3.82

Now, I love everything Seth has ever written.

But for entrepreneurs, I love Tribes specifically. This book is about building tribes, or building your community. It’s a tiny little book and an easy read, but it keys you in on how to find your people so you can build an authentic following.

Key Takeaways:

  • Modern tribes need to be exclusive, personal, and have a strong story. Forget appealing to the masses, because if you try to win everyone, you won’t win anyone.
  • You need about 1,000 people to truly keep up a movement. This is the number of believers you need to create change and lead.
  • When starting out, don’t focus on the numbers. Focus on bringing people together, closer, and tightening the bonds. You can do this by forming “insiders” vs. “outsiders” and excluding some people.

The 3 Best Business Books of All Time

These are the books that made the bestseller lists. If you haven’t read them yet, you’ve probably heard of them—and for good reason, too. Here are the 3 books that have changed businesses all across the globe, starting with…

#1: Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear

Atomic Habits business book

Goodreads score: 4.35

If a business is a house, James Clear’s book, Atomic Habits, is the foundation underneath. This book is a game changer in the way you should go about changing your habits. It’s an all-time bestseller. James Clear even has a blog on how to form good habits.

Great businesses start with great habits, and I love this book because it’s not only theory—it inspires you to take life-changing action.

James Clear quote

Key Takeaways:

  • Build habits by making them easy. Play more guitar by putting it in the center of the room, or leave healthy snacks closer to you than unhealthy ones.
  • Link a habit you want to form with a temptation. This means forming a habit by doing it while rewarding yourself and giving hits of dopamine. You’ll more likely continue the habit this way.
  • Develop a habit tracker, calendar, or diary to track your habits and stay accountable.

#2: Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. by Brené Brown

Best business books for entrepreneurs Dare to Lead

Goodreads score: 4.15

What makes a great business leader? Brené’s book on leadership teaches you how to be courageous and gain respect. You’ll need both of these traits to succeed as a leader. In fact, I still employ many of the techniques I learned in Dare to Lead on my attitudes as a boss!

Key Takeaways:

  • Vulnerability should be cherished. Showing we are vulnerable and prone to failure shows that we are still strong in face of it. Societies that shun failure, on the other hand, are prone to produce weaker ideas, due to fear.
  • Great leaders should spend time getting to know their team’s fears and emotions.
  • Perfectionism stems from the feeling of trying to win approval. It is the enemy to greatness because it is associated with addiction, depression, and anxiety.

#3: Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People by Vanessa Van Edwards

Vanessa Van Edwards and her book Captivate

Goodreads Score: 4.16

I might be a little biased, but I wrote Captivate to help you sharpen your people skills. And in business, people skills are everything.

This book is the accumulation of the business soft skills I’ve learned. And it took me years of writing and researching. When it hit the bestseller list and got translated into 16 different languages, I was blown away. This is the modern guide to How to Win Friends and Influence People.

In Captivate, I give you a science-backed framework to master ANY business interaction you find yourself in:

  • build trust and confidence with your boss or coworkers
  • know what a person is really feeling during a business meeting, without having to ask
  • how to network and build your business connections

Whether you’re a social pro or a natural introvert, this book is for you if you want to take your business soft skills to the next level. For a limited time, get the first chapter for free:

Key Takeaways:

  • Make an amazing first impression by using nonverbal “hacks.”
  • Learn to spot personality traits to accurately assess others.
  • Master the 3 types of storytelling to connect with others.
  • Decode people’s feelings by identifying the 7 universal facial expressions.
  • … and more!

The 3 Best Business Books For Beginners

Don’t know where to start? I got you covered! Learn the ins and outs of business, what businesses are, and what successful businesses look like with these 3 books.

#1: Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek

Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek

Goodreads score: 4.08

I love reading books by Simon Sinek. From Leaders Eat Last to The Infinite Game, Simon always has great entrepreneurial ideas. But Start with Why holds a special place in my heart because it was one of the first books to really make me dive deep into WHY I started my business in the first place.

This book is perfect for beginners who are starting a company or thinking about it. If you love books with lots of useful stories, case studies, and real-life examples from companies that changed the world, this is the book for you.

Simon Sinek quote

Key Takeaways:

  • Instead of trying to sell your product with features, sell your product with values. Explain why your company exists and what it’s trying to achieve. People buy the why more than the what.
  • If you want to succeed, you’ve got to activate the limbic brain (i.e., the feeling part of our brain). Emotions sell harder than facts.
  • In every society, there are innovators and early adopters of wildly successful products. These are the die-hard fans who accept new trends. Afterward follow the mainstream and laggards who arrive late to the party.

#2: The Personal MBA by Josh Kaufman

The Personal MBA business book

Goodreads score: 4.08

Looking to pack down an entire business degree into one small book? The Personal MBA aims to do just that. Now, this book probably won’t replace an entire business degree, but it does contain lots of essential information for business beginners.

If you have no idea where to start or what a business even is, this book is great to help you understand basic business principles.

Key Takeaways:

  • When this was published, an MBA degree student had an average debt of $41,687, yet there is no correlation between long-term career success and having an MBA.
  • Follow your dreams or follow the money? The answer is both. You’re more likely to stay with a passionate project, but you also need to focus on a business that can be profitable.
  • Past performance is the best predictor of future performance. So, check a new applicant’s employment history, and don’t assume they will change in the future.

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

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

Goodreads score: 4.24

Do you really want to be the CEO of a company? You might be imagining sipping coconuts on the beach à la 4-Hour Workweek. Think again. In The Hard Thing, Ben Horowitz pulls you back down to reality by explaining how the job of CEO isn’t all glitz and glam—and how it is one of the toughest and loneliest jobs in the world.

Key Takeaways:

  • The life of a CEO is hard. They face The Struggle. To make it easier, try to get as many people involved as possible so you don’t face it alone. You also need to have focus and see the solutions, while avoiding the hazards and potential failures.
  • Don’t try to hide bad news. Discussing news with your team and being honest helps fix the problem sooner.
  • Hire people for their strengths, not their weaknesses. Place your people where they will excel and show their skills.

The 3 Best Books For Female Entrepreneurs

Calling all female entrepreneurs, aspiring businesswomen, and future female leaders! Did you know that there are only 33 women CEOs in the Fortune 500? Now, I know that number is rising, but it’s far off from being equal. As a woman entrepreneur, I know how hard it is to swim in an ocean of male sharks. Here are the books that can inspire you to take your business beyond greatness:

#1: Grit to Great: How Perseverance, Passion, and Pluck Take You from Ordinary to Extraordinary by Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval

Grit to Great: How Perseverance, Passion, and Pluck Take You from Ordinary to Extraordinary by Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval

Goodreads score: 3.64

What makes a great business leader? Talent? Performance? Vision? Those may play a role, but the ultimate trait, according to Linda and Robin in Grit to Great, is grit. Grit is what makes you work at 2 a.m. while everyone else in the house is fast asleep. And grit is what makes dreams become reality.

Linda Kaplan Thaler quote

Key Takeaways:

  • Hard work will get you far, but simply daydreaming will not. That’s why hard work beats out talent most of the time.
  • At some point, it’s better to just go in and start doing instead of waiting around.
  • To be successful, you must face failure and learn from your experience.

#2: Girl, Stop Apologizing: A Shame-Free Plan for Embracing and Achieving Your Goals by Rachel Hollis

Girl, Stop Apologizing: A Shame-Free Plan for Embracing and Achieving Your Goals by Rachel Hollis

Goodreads score: 3.90

This book takes you on a wild ride chock-full of motivation, humor, and a firm but warm wake-up call if you’re slacking in business. Girl, Stop Apologizing is filled with empowerment and sets you in the right direction. It’s not strictly business, but a good overall approach to life and the mindset you need to achieve business success.

Key Takeaways:

  • Women often neglect their dreams because we are raised to be a good wife or mother.
  • “Mommy guilt” is the expectation women feel to forgo their own passions to instead raise a family or care for others.
  • Learn to plan, have confidence, be persistent, and be effective to achieve your goals.

#3: #GIRLBOSS by Sophia Amoruso

#GIRLBOSS by Sophia Amoruso

Goodreads score: 3.67

Sophia Amoruso isn’t just a girl boss… she’s one helluva badass. As a high school dropout who used to shoplift to a now-CEO of a multimillion-dollar business, in #GIRLBOSS, Sophia recounts her life lessons and how she paved the road to her entrepreneurial success. This is truly a zero-to-hero story and one I’ve read a couple times already!

Key Takeaways:

  • People are different. Whether you’re introverted or extroverted, you’ve got to leverage your skills to find the career path for you.
  • Don’t be afraid of being a wanderer. Try different jobs to take advantage of new opportunities, and revel in being an unconventional woman.
  • Creative people aren’t just creative. They can be business oriented, too. Learn to balance your creativity and business to flourish.

The 3 Best Books for Starting a Business

Haven’t started your business yet? Looking to find the best way to do it? Look no further. These are the books that helped me rev my business to life. Without them, I would have spent a LOT of time with trial and error. Here are the books that will give you a blueprint to success:

#1: Company of One: Why Staying Small Is the Next Big Thing for Business by Paul Jarvis

Company of One: Why Staying Small Is the Next Big Thing for Business by Paul Jarvis

Goodreads score: 3.97

I read this book recently, and WOW has it changed my opinion on business. This book is for all the small business owners out there. The reality is: you don’t need a big business to succeed. You don’t need to be Google, or Apple, or Tesla.

The real winners are those business owners that can define their own success—and if you’ve got a small team like me, that’s great! You’ll find tons of value in Company of One.

Paul Jarvis quote

Key Takeaways:

  • Companies of one should always question growth. They should leverage productivity and find innovative ways to scale without hiring more employees. After all, you are the only person who cares the most about your company.
  • Resilience is a key trait that leads to success. Resilient people accept reality and don’t engage in wishful thinking. They have a sense of purpose, motivated by more than just money. And they are adaptable. They change if their environment changes.
  • 74% of businesses failed because they scaled too quickly. Extra people simply turns into more meetings and less productivity.

#2: The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It by Michael E. Gerber

Business Book The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It by Michael E. Gerber

Goodreads score: 4.03

If you’re on the cusp of starting a business, The E-Myth Revisited is a great read to help you avoid some of the pitfalls you might face. And after reading this book, I realized there are a LOT of pitfalls that most business owners don’t think about, including me! The dollars I spent on this book were SO well worth it—I probably saved thousands from what I learned were absolute killers in the business world.

Here’s what you should know…

Key Takeaways:

  • One million small businesses are founded in America each year, but 80% of them fail in the first 5 years.
  • A big mistake is letting quality slip as the business grows. During this adolescent stage, many businesses’ quality goes down as free time diminishes. Successful businesses plan out what the future would be like if the owner weren’t there.
  • Try operating in a franchise business model—with a franchise, everything works perfectly without the owner’s presence. Imagine you build a business so simple it can be operated by virtually anyone.

#3: Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future by Peter Thiel and Blake Masters

Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future by Peter Thiel and Blake Masters

Goodreads score: 4.17

Zero to One is a supermotivating book that promotes the idea that ANYONE can make a startup. However, to help you make a startup that actually succeeds, Peter outlines tips and tricks from startups that worked.

Oh yeah, and Peter’s also a co-founder of Paypal. So he’s got a little credibility, too.

Key Takeaways:

  • Thinking outside the box is a critical skill. Instead of thinking how you can produce lots of phones and distribute them worldwide, think of how you can build a new, future-forward phone from the existing model. This kind of thinking is unconventional yet needed.
  • Monopolies are good—they actually show that companies are doing something right. If your product is the best, it might have a monopoly on all other products.
  • Keep innovating. Find the secrets that make your product a winner, and keep chasing those secrets. As soon as you stop, your competitors will find those secrets, instead.

The 3 Best Business Management Books

#1: Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t by Jim Collins

 Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap...And Others Don't by Jim Collins

Goodreads score: 3.92

If you’re looking for hard examples of companies that made it, look no further than Good to Great. I love this book because it showed me what it takes to transform an average company into a great one. What are the key factors that make a successful company? Read on…

Jim Collins Quote

Key Takeaways:

  • To become a great company, find what your company can be the best in the world at, what you can be passionate about, and the key economic indicator to focus on.
  • Leverage technology only if it helps you push toward your goals. Don’t pursue technology as a goal itself.
  • The right people are key to a great company. Hiring the wrong people will make your company suffer.

#2: EntreLeadership: 20 Years of Practical Business Wisdom from the Trenches by Dave Ramsey

EntreLeadership: 20 Years of Practical Business Wisdom from the Trenches by Dave Ramsey

Goodreads score: 4.21

Are you a small business owner, or plan to be one? If you’re limited on time, I highly recommend Dave Ramsey’s book. EntreLeadership takes you on a journey of how Dave sets up his managerial systems and designs the exact type of company he wants. He literally took a business from nothing and built it to over 600 people.

It’s superuseful if you’re planning to be a leader or manager in business!

Key Takeaways:

  • Great EntreLeaders have specific, clear goals and small steps to take along the way to achieve them.
  • Create a daily to-do list to control your time, and prioritize it to concentrate on the items that will make a difference.
  • If your marketing isn’t working, try changing it. A good strategy is an ongoing process, so if something doesn’t work once, tweak it until it does.

#3: High Output Management by Andrew S. Grove

Best business books for entrepreneurs High Output Management by Andrew S. Grove

Goodreads score: 4.33

An oldie but goodie, High Output Management is perfect for managers. It’s also written by the former CEO of Intel, which speaks volumes about the tips you’re about to read. If you want to dive into the responsibilities of managers and how to motivate your team to work at their peak performance, you owe yourself the favor of reading this book.

Key Takeaways:

  • You may hate meetings, but they are essential. There are 3 kinds of meetings, and each meeting has a sole purpose depending on the situation.
  • When making a decision, always consult your team first. Make sure to create a supportive environment where people feel free to talk and may share information they otherwise wouldn’t give.
  • Motivating and training employees is a big responsibility for the boss. Training should be an ongoing process; people constantly need training to sharpen their skills.

Can Reading Make You Rich?

Thomas C. Corley, author of Rich Habits: The Daily Success Habits of Wealthy Individuals, conducted a 5-year-long study, researching the daily habits of 177 self-made millionaires.

And yes, millionaires definitely read.

88% of rich people “devote thirty minutes or more each day to self-education or self-improvement reading.” Also, most millionaires don’t read to be entertained (sorry, Harry Potter fans!).

“The rich read to acquire or maintain knowledge,” Thomas said.

This means reading relevant books that will build your skill repertoire or further you in your specific industry. Thomas also found that millionaires tended to read 3 types of books:

  • biographies of successful people
  • self-help or personal development books
  • history books

Luckily, business books fall into the second category.

Without reading, I wouldn’t have made it to where I am today. And without reading, these successful people likely wouldn’t have made it, either:

  • Warren Buffett, who devotes 80% of his daily time to reading
  • Mark Cuban, who reads 3 hours a day
  • Bill Gates, who reads 50 books a year

And remember, while reading the right books can make you rich, what’s more important is action.

Vanessa van Edwards quote on business books

So, what are you reading to help your success? And do you have a favorite business book? Let me know where you are in your reading journey in the comments below!

About Vanessa Van Edwards

Vanessa Van Edwards is a national best selling author & founder at Science of People. Her groundbreaking book, Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People has been translated into more than 16 languages. As a recovering awkward person, Vanessa helps millions find their inner charisma. She regularly leads innovative corporate workshops and helps thousands of individual professionals in her online program People School. Vanessa works with entrepreneurs, growing businesses, and trillion dollar companies; and has been featured on CNN, BBC, CBS, Fast Company, Inc., Entrepreneur Magazine, USA Today, the Today Show and many more.

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