Lessons Learned

The Five Best Business Books I’ve Read in 2020

by | Dec 17, 2019

This post is about the best business books I’ve read, or at least those that have helped me by changing my personal mindset for the better. These books literally blew my mind away, so I wanted to share my reaction to each book within this roundup.

In no particular order, I learned the most from the following:

A few side notes about the above links:

1. None of these links are affiliate links. I don’t earn a dime if you either click on any of these links or buy any of these books.

2. I have read every single book on this list from cover to cover.

3. Finally, I link to each book through Goodreads rather than Amazon, because I don’t want to steer you to Amazon if you don’t want to use it. What I like about Goodreads is if you go to the link, you can choose where to buy the book, be it via Kindle, Barnes and Nobles, Apple books, an audio book, or even your local library.

Now, onto the books.

While I’m not going to spoil them for you, I will talk mostly about the overall angle in each, my personal reaction, and how they helped me become a better business owner.

1. Think and Grow Rich

Napoleon Hill

think and grow rich

This book was first written in 1937 and revised in 1960, so the pre-Internet tactics outlined in this book are definitely outdated. But that’s not what we’re looking for when we read this book. What is infinitely valuable about this book is the set of principles Napoleon puts forth.

The principles of faith, persistence, and autosuggestion are still relevant today—even as we lurch headfirst into an era of social media, artificial intelligence, and Internet of Things.

If you truly understand these principles and use them correctly, the results will absolutely blow the “this book will completely change your life” clichè out of the water.

While it does get somewhat tactical about staying organized, making decisions, using masterminds, and specialized knowledge, the most impactful lessons are eloquently woven into the captivating stories Napoleon tells in his book. These lessons always stick with you, especially those most relevant to your current life path.

The single most important thing I got out of this book is a profound change in mindset that has affected every facet of my being—not just as a business owner, but as an individual with dreams, personal aspirations, and internal struggles.

One minor note of caution before you delve into this book: the writing is quite dense. This is one of those books that needs to be read at least twice for it to truly sink in—and probably not cover to cover in a single sitting. However, that is of no concern because the principles in this book are truly timeless and—as we content marketers like to say—”evergreen”.

Click to buy: Think and Grow Rich

2. The E-Myth

Michael E. Gerber

the e-myth

The E-Myth is especially relevant to small businesses. An acquaintance I met at a conference recommended it to me when I was explaining how I was struggling to reach my business goals.

As it turns out, one of the biggest reasons many small businesses fail is that their owners were unable to delegate effectively and think like a CEO of a larger company. Michael Gerber weaves these lessons into one long case study about a woman who loved to bake pies and wanted to grow a business out of it.

I used to be a software developer, so I liked to get technical with things. But when running my own business, I realized—with Gerber’s book—that I would have to resist my own tendencies to think like a technician and instead think like a CEO for my business to continue growing. For someone who used to enjoy being in the trenches, this was a difficult pill to swallow. This also meant that I had to change my working habits, plan for the longer term, hire other people, and—perhaps most importantly—learn how to delegate without abdication.

I also enjoyed Gerber’s storytelling and writing style, as it was quite engaging and not so difficult to wade through like Napoleon’s Think and Grow Rich. The pages turned effortlessly; the lessons were easy to absorb while being present within the story.

Click to buy: The E-Myth

3. Built to Sell

John Warrillow

built to sell

This book is about learning how to structure your business such that you could sell it later. Like Gerber in his E-Myth book, John Warillow also uses a protagonist throughout the book. He tells a fictional story of how a man wanted to sell his business. However, his business, in its current state, would not be able to operate without him.

With the help of his (fictional) advisor, he had to change how he ran his business by instituting standard operating procedures. Once he developed business processes and easy-to-understand procedures that others can follow without his presence, he could take a few days off without worrying that his business would implode. Over time, he made adjustments to his company’s processes and hired a team to do the work. Once he was able to remove himself from the day-to-day operations, he was able to sell his business for a meaty multiple.

The harshest lesson from this book is that even if you have a successful business, it is worth precisely $0 if it cannot run without you—specifically you. If you attempted to sell a business that cannot run without you in it, it would fall apart in a day.

To be honest, this book deeply resonated with me because one time, I got sick with a bad case of food poisoning and I could not work for a few days. Whenever I checked my phone, I would see all these emails streaming into my inbox. Yet, there was no one to run my business while I was out of commission. That was not a good feeling, and definitely not an experience I would like to repeat again.

I learned that even if I have no intention to sell my business anytime soon, my life would be much easier if I documented all my internal processes and hired others to follow them instead of doing everything all by myself.

Having a properly structured business with all its processes clearly documented for others to follow provides a degree of freedom and financial independence that many of us seek. It also puts in a nice position if we ever wanted to sell our business, whether or not we actually intend to do so.

Click to buy: Built to Sell

4. Win Without Pitching Manifesto

Blair Enns

win without pitching manifesto

Despite the book’s title, this isn’t really about pitching or selling. It’s really about setting boundaries while focusing more on having conversations rather than “selling yourself”.

In his manifesto, Blair presses upon the importance of having exploratory conversations before presuming to know the best solution for a potential customer. Just like a doctor-patient relationship, it is important for a doctor to take a full medical history and do a physical exam while asking the patient follow up questions about their symptoms. All this needs to be done in order to provide a proper diagnosis and prescribe the correct solution.

The same applies to fields such as consulting, content marketing, copywriting, sales, lead generation, and countless others.

But how can you have these conversations when you’re first breaking into a field or just starting out as a small business entrepreneur?

The answer is to become an expert in the areas where you aspire to prescribe the right solutions to your customers. This also ties into Napoleon Hill’s lesson about specialized knowledge being much more valuable in his Think and Grow Rich book. It is easy to gain a little bit of general knowledge about everything, but much more difficult to gain in-depth expertise about a particular topic.

This is exactly why such knowledge is valuable, and customers are willing to pay for it.

The other lesson Blair imparts in his manifesto is about setting boundaries with regards to addressing money issues early in a new professional relationship, getting paid upfront, and refusing to work at a loss as a matter of respect for oneself as a business owner. In particular, freelancers and solopreneurs stand to benefit from these lessons while starting out in a crowded and competitive marketplace.

Prepare yourself, though. If you—like me—grew up hearing “the customer is always right”, this book is going to flip a lot of your deepest beliefs on their heads.

Click to buy: Win Without Pitching Manifesto

5. They Ask You Answer

Marcus Sheridan

they ask you answer

This book is truly one of a kind, and the ideas put forth in this book are revolutionary. As I read this book, I can imagine the visceral push-back reaction many business owners would have. But as long as you keep an open mind, and are willing to try unconventional ideas in your business, you just might get the results you’ve been trying to get for years!

They Ask You Answer is about content marketing—which is in my wheelhouse. If you are creating blog posts, videos, podcasts, or social media content—ideally all of the above—this book is for you.

There is really only one principle to learn from this book, and it’s all in the title:

Whenever your potential customers ask questions, you answer them.

Why is this so important?

Because it’s all about trust.

Customers, who are getting smarter and more educated with each day through social media and online reviews, are more likely to do business with companies they trust the most. And the best way companies can earn their trust is to answer all of their questions—honestly—even if the answers may conflict with own interests.

You would be surprised how many companies, both large and small, don’t even bother to do this. Instead, when customers start asking the tough questions, most companies opt to bury their heads in the sand—just like ostriches do—rather than being honest and answering them even if they feel doing so might hurt their business interests. Half-jokingly, Marcus calls this “ostrich marketing”.

After reading this book, I came away with tons of content ideas based on all the questions my clients and prospects have asked me in the past. Over the past several months, I’ve written (or had my team members write) dozens of blog articles as well as a FAQ addressing most of the questions that I had been asked while running my business.

Of course, if you don’t see an answer to a burning question on my site, just ask and I will answer!

Click to buy: They Ask You Answer