Business self-help books line the shelves of bookstores, but picking the right one that will actually change an entrepreneur’s working strategy can be tough.
In a special report Monday on small business, The Wall Street Journal asked seven entrepreneurs and business academics about which self-help books were truly helpful either in getting a business off the ground or helping it to running smoothly.
Here’s what they had to say—and none of these successful business owners mentioned anything about cheese or who might have moved it:
1) “The E-Myth”
By Michael E. Gerber
This bestseller explains the importance of entrepreneurs working on their businesses rather than in them, according to J. Richard Braun, owner of Virginia Beach, Va.-based insurance firm Braun Agency Inc.
While people may have the technical skills their new businesses require, they need to focus more on building “replicable systems that can and will operate in an owner’s absence,” Braun told The Journal.
Creating systems that allow others to operate his business has allowed Braun to pursue new ventures, including other start-ups and real estate investments.
2) “Who: The A Method for Hiring”
By Geoff Smart and Randy Street
Based on more than 1,300 hours of interviews with more than 20 billionaires and 300 CEOs, “Who” is the book “that has had the most influence on my business,” according to Craig Zoberis, president of Fusion Systems Inc., a contract manufacturer in Burr Ridge, Ill.
Half of all managers have a 50% failure rate in picking new employees, and hiring mistakes cost companies millions of dollars not to mention wasted hours. The authors of this large research study offer a four-step process for better hiring practices, including the use of professional networks.
“Mr. Zoberis adopted this approach at his 40-employee company in 2009 and now doesn’t have a lot of mishires,” The Journal reported.
3) “Start With Why”
By Simon Sinek
This book was a life-changer for David Hassell, CEO of San Francisco software start-up 15Five, who said Sinek’s message “had me understand why it’s important to know why you’re in a particular business, both for your own fulfillment and for attracting the right customers and employees.’
Those who know why they do what they do are the ones who inspire others, meaning employees who work for more than a paycheck and customers who have a cause to align themselves with, according to Sinek, who shared his ideas about starting with why in a TED Talk.
Spelling out the whys of 15Five showed that the start-up was committed to improving to such a high degree that some customers paid for the company’s software while it was still in a rough state. “In fact one of our beta customers even approached us and offered to pay well before I’d even considered asking them to pay,” The Journal quotes Hassell as saying.
4) “The Art of the Start”
By Guy Kawasaki
This book, which bills itself as “The Time-Tested, Battle-Hardened Guide for Anyone Starting Anything” is the favorite pick of Steven Kaplan, faculty director for the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business.
Kaplan said “Art of the Start” is a clear, focused and entertaining book that centers on “substance rather than fluff, encouraging entrepreneurs to focus on customers and be specific about their business model.”
Geared toward high-growth, high-value start-ups such as tech companies, the book by a former Apple marketing maven is a reminder that the greatest whizz-bang technology available will sell only if entrepreneurs have a deep understanding of who their customers are.
5) “Little Bets”
By Peter Sims
Breakthrough ideas emerge from small discoveries, according to “Little Bets,” and this is how the book demolishes the excuses entrepreneurs usually have for not starting a business, says Prof. Saras D. Sarasvathy of the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business.
The book lists Apple CEO Steve Jobs, award-winning architect Frank Gehry and Pixar Animation Studios’ story developers as achieving breakthrough results by taking methodical, experimental—and small—steps when coming up with new ideas.
“Little Bets,” Sarasvathy told The Journal, “shows how ‘doing the doable’ without waiting for a big idea, or guarantees about the final outcome, can lead to amazing breakthroughs.”
6) “Mastering the Rockefeller Habits”
By Verne Harnish
Barrett Ersek, CEO of fertilizer start-up Holganix in Glen Mills, Pa., said this guide to developing disciplined routines was “an important influence in my journey from lawn boy to serial entrepreneur.”
Best practices laid out in “Rockefeller Habits” show entrepreneurs how to succeed with structured quarterly and annual planning. The book includes a one-page strategic plan.
Ersek said that since reading the book, he has set up a strict schedule for meetings with his executive team: one and a half days once a year, two hours quarterly, 45 minutes weekly and five minutes daily. Every meeting has a clearly defined purpose, which is a big improvement over previous meetings when “there would be a lot of complaining and little focus,” Ersek said.
7) “Street Smarts: An All-Purpose Tool Kit for Entrepreneurs”
By Norm Brodsky and Bo Burlingham
“I wish I had this book before I started my four businesses,” Kalika Nacion Yap, CEO of Citrus Studios, told The Wall Street Journal. “Norm passionately shared real-life experiences that were far more valuable to me than books that merely spout theories.”
Yap, whose current business in Santa Monica, Calif., is an interactive design agency, said that knowing earlier what she learned from “Street Smarts” would have helped her tremendously and “saved a lot of heartache.”
Business author and motivational speaker Tom Peters lauds “Street Smarts” as a “genius” book written by veteran company-builder Norm Brodsky, who shares his entrepreneurial wisdom monthly in Inc. magazine.
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