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Best Business Books in 2020: The Best Books for Starting a Business

Written by

Patrick McNulty

https://selfpublishing.com/author/patrickmcnulty/

Published on

2020-03-04

You want to read the best business books out there…

But there are literally thousands of business books in print, and about a hundred of those are considered to be the best business books of all time.

No one has time for that – especially not busy business builders and entrepreneurs.

Which is exactly why we’ve narrowed down the list, and curated these must-read business books for you to start with, along with their actionable takeaways.

But choosing the right book at any given time depends on a couple of factors. What’s your objective? How actionable will the ideas in the book be for you? Does the information apply to your particular business?

We’ve chosen four categories of business, so you can skip around to the categories that resonate with you most: Leadership, Interpersonal, Business Strategy/Growth, and Mindset.

Here are the best business books to read: 

  1. Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink
  2. Start With Why by Simon Sinek
  3. The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John C. Maxwell
  4. Influence by Dr. Robert Cialdini
  5. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
  6. How to Talk to Anyone by Leil Lowndes
  7. Scaling Up by Verne Harnish
  8. 80/20 Sales and Marketing by Perry Marshall
  9. The Great Game of Business by Jack Stack 
  10. The One Thing by Gary Keller
  11. The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss
  12. Awaken The Giant Within by Tony Robbins

What are the best business books?

The best business books are able to inspire, inform, and entertain in an unforgettable, highly valuable way.

These books over deliver on value, and are a low-cost option for business mentoring – not only for those looking to start a business of their own, but also for those looking to improve on an existing business.

For the price of a couple of coffees, you can access a distillation of the wisdom, experience, and advice of the greatest business leaders of all time.


Best Business Books on Leadership

In this section, we’ll dive into the valuable books on leadership first. These are essential books for starting a business, or scaling a business, because leadership affects all aspects of your business – no matter what stage you’re in.

Educating yourself on leadership fundamentals and best practices from your starting point is the best way to avoid business pitfalls that will end up costing you time and money. 

#1 – Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink

extreme ownership book

When it comes to the most inspiring examples of leadership out there, it’s difficult to look beyond Jocko Willink.

If you’re not familiar with Jocko, he’s a former Navy Seal who has since gone on to share his leadership principles and experiences with the wider business world.

You may have come across Jocko being interviewed by figures such as Tim Ferriss or Joe Rogan. However, if you want to make the most of the wisdom Jocko has to offer, you need to check out Extreme Ownership.

In this business book, Jocko shares stories from his epic military career and uses them to highlight the most important concepts for business leaders.

So what can we learn from this mighty military leader?

Key Takeaways:

  1. The importance of belief. Without a belief in the underlying deeper purpose, or mission, it’s difficult to lead or perform. 
  2. The buck stops with the leader. Rather than blaming team members, or throwing people under the bus, a leader is required to take responsibility for whatever happens under their watch.
  3. The need to prioritize and execute. To succeed, we must prioritize and execute effectively, even under chaotic conditions.

Both the leadership concepts found in Extreme Ownership, as well as the stories that illustrate them, make it a worthwhile read for leaders of all types. 

#2 – Start With Why by Simon Sinek

Simon Sinek made it his mission to find out what made the world’s best leaders as effective as they are.

He didn’t restrict his quest to the world of business alone, also studying leadership in the context of politics and social movements. 

The key concept Sinek discovered was the importance of leading people by inspiring them. The proof of this concept, as well as the examples that led him to believe it, can be found in Start With Why.

Key Takeaways:

  1. The importance of why. Without having a deeper purpose for things, people are unlikely to buy in or feel an emotional connection to them. 
  2. Never manipulate. To be an effective leader, you need to authentically inspire those you lead, rather than attempting to lead through manipulation.
  3. The knock-on effect. By inspiring the people that work for your business, they become happy, which in turn leads to happy customers, in turn leading to happy shareholders. 

No matter which field you happen to be in, taking the time to focus on the deeper purpose of what you do is sure to benefit your work and life. 

#3 – The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John C. Maxwell

If you’re looking for a leadership expert who has worked with not only top Fortune 500 companies, but also international political leaders and the U.S Military, look no further than John C. Maxwell. 

The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership is one of Maxwell’s bestselling books, having sold well over a million copies. 

The key concept of the book is distilling Maxwell’s background in leadership, as well as observations he has made from the wider world, into a set of easy to follow principles. Maxwell promises that if you follow the principles in his work, people will, in turn, follow you. 

Key Takeaways:

  1. Get personal buy-in. If a leader wants people to buy into their vision, people must first buy into the leader. 
  2. Empower those you lead. To be an effective leader, you must be willing to empower the people around you. 
  3. Focus on the process. Just like Rome, Maxwell states that leaders are not built in a day, but must develop daily. Leadership is a journey rather than a destination. 

Taking the time to understand Maxwell’s laws gives each of us the chance to reflect upon different aspects of our leadership style, highlighting potential areas for growth. 


Interpersonal Books on Business

This section focuses on business books that inspire and educate on how to deal with people and strengthen your interpersonal skills. 

These perennial bestsellers are must-reads not only for those in business, but for anyone that deals with other people in general. 

#4 – Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Dr. Robert Cialdini

influence business book

If you’re looking to learn about the topic of influence and getting people to behave in the way you want, author Dr. Cialdini is worth listening to.

Despite Cialdini’s academic credentials, Influence is a very readable book. It’s widely regarded as one of the most important works on the topic of persuasion.

Rather than just explaining how to influence people, Cialdini also illustrates his key concepts with interesting anecdotes from the real world, showing his principles in action. 

Influence is genuinely one of the most entertaining business books of all time, and also gives a useful framework for us to consider the extent to which we are personally influential. 

Key Takeaways:

  1. The power of scarcity. When people perceive something as being scarce, they are often willing to pay a premium for it.
  2. Give to get. Reciprocation is a powerful and effective law. People are much more likely to do something for you if you’ve done something for them. 
  3. Authority equals power. When people perceive someone or something as authoritative, they are more likely to comply. 

Influence is effective in helping you persuade the people around you, but should be used ethically to avoid coming across as manipulative.

#5 – How To Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

For over 80 years, people have turned to Dale Carnegie’s How To Win Friends and Influence People to learn interpersonal skills.

Almost every subsequent book on people skills is somewhat in debt to Carnegie’s work. 

Even many decades down the line, it’s still widely regarded as one of the most effective guides to getting better results from the people around us.

Key Takeaways:

  1. Show interest. To form a connection with someone, show interest in them and what they care about, rather than expecting them to take an interest in you.
  2. Listen well. Listening carefully and attentively to someone is one of the best ways to create deep rapport. 
  3. The importance of feeling good. When people feel good about what you want them to do, they are far more likely to do it well. 

Although Carnegie may have been writing in a different era, his ideas and principles are as true today as they ever were. Use them to have a more powerful interpersonal effect on the people around you. 

#6 – How to Talk to Anyone by Leil Lowndes

It’s hard to overstate the importance of being able to strike up a meaningful and effective conversation with people in different situations and coming from different backgrounds. 

We never know when we will happen to come across someone who might be relevant to our personal or professional lives. 

If you’re looking to improve your ability to make meaningful face-to-face connections, then Lowndes’ work should be on your reading list. 

Key Takeaways:

  1. More than words. When breaking the ice with someone, the tone of what you say and the body language you give is far more important than the words alone.
  2. Go further. Seek to go further than most people would. For example, while it’s common to thank someone, it’s less common to thank them for something specific and meaningful. 
  3. Subliminal rapport. Use someone’s own choice of language when talking to them to create a deeper sense of connection and rapport. 

Lowndes’ guide is very actionable and digestible, so it’s a good choice if you’re looking to start putting it to work in your life as soon as possible. 


Best Business Books on Strategy/Growth

Now let’s talk about the books every business owner should be reading on strategy, growth, and overall business development. 

There are various niche topics within the strategy, growth, and development section, so these books are meant to give a “lay of the land” or general, yet comprehensive overview. 

Once you discover a niche area you want to learn more, we recommend doing some research to learn more about that specific topic.

Related: Book Funnel Strategy to Grow Your Business

#7 – Scaling Up by Verne Harnish

While most people know that most companies fail, it’s less widely understood exactly why this happens.

In Scaling Up, Verne Harnish explores why some companies survive while others fail, but also why some are able to make the leap to massive growth and success while others stagnate.

Fun fact: Scaling Up is actually a self-published book!

Every concept shared by Harnish is illustrated interestingly and effectively with fascinating examples from the entrepreneurial world.  

The four key areas identified by Harnish as being most relevant to a company’s prospects are people, strategy, execution, and cash. 

Key Takeaways:

  1. Combine goals and routines. It’s not enough to have either vision or habits alone, but they must exist in combination. 
  2. Values should be lived. Too many organizations treat values as something abstract when in fact they should be something embodied in day to day life. 
  3. Constant feedback. Organizations should have constant input and feedback from both internal members of the organization as well as external customers. 

Scaling Up is an essential read for anyone who wants to know when or how to scale up their business. 

#8 – 80/20 Sales and Marketing by Perry Marshall 

Although originating in the world of economics, the Pareto Principle has since gone on to have a huge impact on the business world. 

Commonly referred to as 80/20, the Pareto Principle states that the majority of results in any area come from the minority of actions. For example, roughly 80% of revenue will stem from roughly 20% of sources.

Perry Marshall took this concept and applied it to the business world, with a particular focus on digital marketing.

Related: How to Grow an Email List

80/20 Sales and Marketing is an essential read for anyone looking to become more efficient and effective in business. 

Key Takeaways:

  1. 80/20 is fractal. Even after identifying the key 20% in any given area, this can be further divided into the top 20% of the initial 20%. 
  2. Testing and optimization. Finding out exactly what works, and why it works, is essential to get results. Split test and optimize relentlessly. 
  3. Explore charging more. Every company with an established set of customers will be able to offer more value and charge higher prices to a percentage of them. 

This business book is vital for any business owner looking to understand and optimize performance through proven principles. 

#9 – The Great Game of Business by Jack Stack

Imagine being given the responsibility of leading an almost bankrupt division of a company, and having the responsibility of improving its fortunes, even when you lack the business knowledge to do so. 

That’s the exact situation Jack Stack found himself in when taking over a division of International Harvester. Stack found that seeing business as akin to sporting competition was one of the most helpful frames to take.

The concept of business as a game was more than just an abstract idea. Stack’s paradigm led to some influential concepts still in use until this day. 

Key Takeaways:

  • Open book management. Stack advocated giving the entire organization a full look at the financial aspects of a business, in contrast to accounting existing as an isolated silo. 
  • Give everyone a stake. By giving everyone a stake in the financial performance of an organization, performance improves.
  • Be transparent. An effective leader should share good and bad news with the whole organization – things shouldn’t be sugar coated or glossed over. 

Although different businesses may wish to apply Stack’s concepts to a greater or lesser extent, they are a fascinating read for anyone in the business world. 


Mindset/Wellbeing Business Books

Leadership, relationship building, and business growth are all essential topics for you to read on, but let’s be real here…

Your mindset and well-being as a business owner is the center of your performance and function. This means it’s imperative that you read up on some of the best business books that have to deal with improving your mindset, managing your expectations, and developing your perspective. 

#10 – The One Thing by Gary Keller

There are few things more detrimental to success in business than the feeling of overwhelm.

We live in the age of distraction, where it’s arguably harder than ever before for people and companies to stay focused on one thing in particular. 

Gary Keller’s key concept is that an absolute emphasis on focus is needed to regain a sense of control and make progress.

In Keller’s own words, the idea underpinning The One Thing is surprisingly simple, but it has immensely powerful results. 

Anyone drowning in distraction, or feeling unsure of what to focus on, is advised to read and apply The One Thing.

In a nutshell, to live by The One Thing, always think ‘what is the one thing I can do, such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary.’ 

Key Takeaways:

  1. Don’t multitask. The ability to multitask is often worn as a badge of honor, but Kelly is insistent that multitasking is one of the worst ways to go about tasks.
  2. Block out time. Once you know what your one thing is, block out time for it, and guard this time at all costs. 
  3. Domino effect. Success is sequential, rather than instant. Doing the right things in the right order will create a cumulative effect. 

The tone of The One Thing is positive and supportive, making Keller almost a friend to lean on when things get overwhelming.

#11 – The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss

Tim Ferriss is one of the newer voices in the world of success, having risen to prominence a lot more recently than many others in this article.

Through his books, blog, and podcast, Ferriss has shared insights into peak performance, drawing upon the knowledge and experience of countless high-achievers. 

The 4-Hour Work Week was the way that many people got acquainted with Tim Ferriss, and it remains one of his most popular products. 

The book shares Ferriss’ own experience in escaping the endless grind of the company he created, instead opting for a life of freedom and adventure.

Key Takeaways:

  1. Avoid reactivity. One of the main lessons in The 4 Hour Work Week is to avoid feeling like you have to always be responsive and reactive. Email is one of the main illustrations Tim Ferriss uses for this. Block out a particular time of day for responding to email, and ignore it the rest of the time.
  2. Delegate where possible. Ferriss advocates delegating tasks where possible, freeing up your time for the things that truly matter to you.
  3. Life won’t wait. Too many people wait until later in life to do the things that matter to them. We’re never guaranteed to make it that far, so instead find time for your passions at whatever age you happen to be. 

The 4-Hour Work Week is an important read for anyone looking to live life on their own terms and escape the tyranny of the 9 to 5. 

#12 – Awaken The Giant Within by Tony Robbins

mindset business book

Tony Robbins is one of the most iconic figures in the world of coaching and self-development. 

A lot of people associate Robbins with the celebrity admirers he has, but he’s worked with people and organizations of all types, including world leaders and the military.

Awaken The Giant Within is a mammoth book, promising to help people of all types unlock their potential and live a life of real meaning. It’s written in a conversational and practical style, making it a pleasure to get to grips with despite its length. 

So how can the ideas found in Awaken The Giant Within benefit people in every area of the business world?

Key Takeaways:

  1. Consciously consider values. Take the time to consider your values, and which motivate you more than others. This is the best way to ensure your everyday activities are aligned with your core. 
  2. Leverage pleasure and pain. By associating pleasure with the things you need to do, and pain with the things you need to avoid, you’re far more likely to succeed. 
  3. CANI. Robbins emphasizes that to succeed, we must adopt a mindset of CANI, standing for ‘constant and neverending improvement.’ 

Although Robbins’ ideas have applications far beyond the world of business, the fact that they resonate so strongly with entrepreneurial high-performers is a testament to their effectiveness.

Using The Best Business Books 

While there’s nothing wrong with reading solely for pleasure, doing so represents an opportunity cost. 

You probably have only a certain amount of time you can spend reading, so why not use it for something that will benefit your business most?

Seek out a business book that speaks to your situation, study it carefully, and take action on its contents. It might just be the best value investment you ever make. 

What best business books for starting a business would you add to this list? 

Patrick McNulty

Patrick McNulty is an author from London currently making his way around the world. He writes for sites including The Good Men Project and is working on his debut novel, due for release in Summer 2020. You can catch Patrick in an independent coffee shop with an iced Americano and his trusty Moleskine notebook.
Patrick McNulty