8 Must-Read Business Books for First-Time Entrepreneurs

Business Books

She’s doing more than just reading; she’s soaking up wisdom that can put her on the road toward entrepreneurial success — and you should be doing the same!

Whether you are surrounded with experienced business people, or are still searching for your mentor, all entrepreneurs could use a bit of wisdom

Luckily, some of the best business owners on the planet have taken the time to write about their experiences so that the rest of us can learn a thing or two, and maybe even get inspired to give business ownership a try.

So if you’re coming up on your one-year anniversary of owning a small business, or have yet to even pick out a name, these memoirs, interviews, and essays are timeless accounts of business ownership, and are exactly what you need to renew your inspiration and commitment to your dream.

Find out how some of the greatest successes came to be in 8 of our favorite business books for first-time entrepreneurs!

1. Founders at Work, by Jessica Livingston (2008)

This collection features interviews with the founders of major companies who share the stories of the early days of their startup adventures. It may seem a stretch to find common ground between yourself and the founders of huge corporations like PayPal, Apple, and Hotmail, but almost every business begins the exact same way: with a small idea.

That’s why, no matter what type of business you want to open, finding valuable insight from those who came before you is incredibly useful. Opening a business is very hard work and we all need a bit of inspiration every now and then, and that’s what you’ll find in the form of this book.

2. Ogilvy on Advertising, by David Ogilvy (1983)

Business has changed a lot since 1983, but how to sell remains the same. This delightful romp takes you through the mind of the original “mad man” David Ogilvy, who founded an ad agency that still operates today. It also provides a look inside some of the more famous ad campaigns he was responsible for, and the creative process which led him to his final work.

Not all business books deal directly with the selling process, which makes this one especially useful in that it shows what it takes to speak directly to a prospective customer.

Ogilvy’s ideas on how to get to the root of a product, and how to make that product appeal to consumers, rings true even in our world of ecommerce and QR codes. No matter what line of work you’re in, this quick read is sure to inspire you.

3. The Great Game of Business, by Jack Stack (1992)

This book lays out the formula for an employee-ownership model of business that so many small companies have utilized to create a greater incentive for their employees. And even if you don’t want to build a company with this same ownership model, the lessons on management are insightful and useful for any owner who wants productive, happy employees.

4. Personal History, by Katharine Graham (1997)

This book’s title suggests much more than a book about business, and in the end shows how life lessons can be used to mold yourself into a savvy businessperson.

As publisher of the Washington Post, Graham took the reins of a family business and was able to leave her own personal imprint on it, while also becoming the first female CEO of a Fortune 500 company. She became most notable for guiding the paper through the Watergate scandal, and shares her insights into managing a business through fraught times.

5. Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time, by Howard Schultz and Dori Jones Yang (1997)

Business Books Starbucks

Howard Schultz, Chairman, President and CEO of Starbucks Coffee. Howard’s account of building the Starbucks empire will inspire you to follow your own small business dreams.

The ubiquitous green logo will follow you no matter where you go or what country you’re in, and because it’s all based on something as old as coffee, we think this story is worth a read.

Not only is this a story of building a company, it’s a story of building a cultural phenomenon out of a simple idea. And if you’re planning on growing your idea into the next Starbucks, you need to figure out how to grab the community’s attention and never let it go. This book is even more amazing when you think about how far the company has come since its publication.

6. Small Giants: Companies That Choose to Be Great Instead of Big, by Bo Burlingham (2005)

Of all of the business books on this list, this one speaks directly to a specific type of small business owner: the owner who doesn’t necessarily want to be the next Starbucks, but wants a firm place in the community and a thriving business that will last generations.

Instead of settling on the standard ‘mom and pop’ plan, this book lays out paths for growth that don’t involve worldwide expansion, but rather a deeper ingraining within one’s own local community. The lessons here not only speak to customer relations, but how to establish long-term connections with locally based vendors, and how to run a business that employees actually want to work for.

7. Take the Stairs, by Rory Vaden (2012)

Vaden lays out the ultimate time and life-management skills needed to achieve your goals. His goals were to open a communications firm, which he did, but his lessons are applicable to entrepreneurs of every interest. Because once you know what you want to go after, you need a solid plan to get there, and Vaden’s steps are not only concrete, but easily doable no matter what your background is.

8. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain (2013)

While Cain’s book might seem like a self-help manifesto for the terribly introverted, she actually lays out the communication barriers that arise between people of different temperaments, namely introverts and extroverts, and how to overcome them no matter which category you fall into. Some of the greatest innovators of our time have described themselves as introverts, and this book finally gives them their due and describes how other introverts can make the most of their quiet disposition.

The best way to prepare yourself in business is to never stop learning, and these classic business books will not only give you insight to how some of the greatest businesses in the world were created, but inspire you to push forward with your own dream as well.

What are your favorite business books?

About the Author

April Atwood

April is a freelance writer who combines her marketing and writing experience with a love for supporting small businesses. She writes, bikes, and uses a coffee press, but not in the pretentious way.


  1. Deborah S. says

    Ogilvy on Advertising sounds like a fantastic read and very similar to a book I read recently that I want to recommend. The book is called “Conversations That Sell” by Nancy Bleeke (http://www.conversationsthatsell.com/). I’ve been in sales for a long time, but I have always had problems preparing myself for sales pitches and meetings. It is difficult to prepare in this business on a per client basis, and most of us find ourselves getting stuck with a lot of generic “sales babble” for lack of a better term. This book provided me with solid strategies and ideas on how to make each conversation I have tailor made for the person I am dealing with and also how to make on the fly adjustments to my strategy. A really solid read for people involved in the industry. I will definitely check out Ogilvy on Advertising. Thanks again

  2. Ethan M says

    Thank you very much for posting these up. There are some classics in there and I’ve read a fair few of them but you’ve listed a couple that I’ll have to check out soon.
    Beyond the more obvious, older classics there are some great new business books out there. The best I read this year was a little one by David Silverstein called One Dot, Two Dots, Get Some New Dots. It details a strategy involving the use of your powers of observation in order to stimulate your creativity and get you ahead in the world of business. Really great read and full of valuable advice. Highly recommended. http://www.davesdots.com/

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