When I started my own small business five years ago, with no experience in shoes, retail or business, I bought every business book that I could get my hands on and still do the same today. I have always sought knowledge through books. They help me grow and get out of my comfort zone and to learn. For me, a good book about business is motivating and empowering; it is honest and personal; and it helps me be a better, prouder and happier small business owner.
Here are my top 10 books that helped me achieve all this and more.
1. Chapter One: You have the power to change stuff
Talk about practice what you preach! First, when I ordered this book online from Thankyou, I was asked to pay what I thought it was worth. And then when I opened it to start reading, I had to turn it around 45 degrees as the pages are printed “the wrong way”. Daniel dares the reader to think and act differently; and he clearly isn’t afraid of doing so himself, whether it’s creating and selling his inspiring book about his journey to date or his range of products to raise money for aid projects around the world with the aim of getting one billion people out of poverty.
As someone who is dedicated to giving back in business, I enjoyed reading how he convinced (on a shoestring, no less!) a jaded retail and manufacturing industry, as well as the public, that you can be a consumer and do some good, too.
2. Small Giants: Companies that choose to be great instead of big
You know how with some books you just can’t read them fast enough because you are so thrilled by every word? This was such a book for me. It’s rare to find a business book that celebrates staying small. I spent a lot of time underlining huge chunks of this book as I felt both vindicated and inspired reading it. Bo interviews some proud small business owners who believe in the soul of a business, in being unique and personal, in giving back, in being in synch with their market and putting purpose before profit.
This is my favourite business book ever! And in it is my favourite description of the business journey: there’s the start-up phase (tick, yes), the throw-up phase (sigh, tick, yes) and the grow-up phase (yah, tick, yes!).
3. Daring & Disruptive: Unleashing the entrepreneur
This was another book where there was a lot of underlining, ah-ha-ing and head nodding! Lisa is such an inspiring soul; she was so relentlessly honest in this book and not afraid to be vulnerable. As a result, it was relatable, cathartic and I could see myself in her journey. There’s a great mix of her own amazing rollercoaster adventures in business and lessons learned, as well as inspiring quotes and mantras. I was a little devastated to finish it but I reckon I will be re-reading it again soon for another jolt of motivation and inspiration.
4. Dream Believe Create: A woman’s guide to small business
Before I opened my business, this was one of the few books that I read that not only offered practical advice, but was also personal and shared the author’s own journey. That’s what I enjoyed the most. As a former Olympic and Commonwealth Games champion swimmer, representing Australia and travelling the world, Hayley had no time for part-time jobs like most teenagers.
It wasn’t until she left sport and opened her own swim school that she started her first ever job and that was as a business owner. I found that incredibly brave and, as it turns out, Hayley now owns a gorgeous homeware store in the same street as my shoe shop. Small world.
5. The Book of Joy
I know! This is a strange choice for a business book, but when a book is this powerful and its impact so great, I just had to include it because being joyful is not just for after-hours or for your personal life; and because being kind should be championed more in business. These two inspirational men, both in their 80s and friends of different faiths, are so wise that it often took my breath away. I mean, these men are giants; they are icons and inspirational leaders who have dealt with their own enormous adversities. Their take on life and how to be joyful was meaningful and personal. It made me feel joyful just reading this book!
6. Who Stole My Mojo? How to get it back and live, work and play better
I read this long before starting my business and loved it. And I have since re-read it and still love it! What I particularly appreciate is that if you lose your mojo (your sparkle, your light, your ability to do a happy dance!) then you can get it back and Gary tells you how. He’s right … you have to work at it all the time, but it gets easier. I love how he manages to reference movie stars, sporting heroes and business greats to illustrate his points. And as for someone who can get a bit anxious and self-absorbed, some of his strategies (for life and for business) like letting go of the “uncontrollables” is pretty life changing.
7. Banker to the Poor: Micro-lending and the battle against world poverty
This book was pivotal to my business becoming a not-just-for-profit as it introduced me to the power of micro-finance. Muhammad was an economics professor in Bangladesh when he started to wonder why the area around the university remained unfarmed. He asked around and realised it was due to lack of capital for irrigation as the local population was desperately poor. And not only were they poor; they were hopelessly trapped in the poverty cycle. So this amazing man did something about it and established the Grameen Bank in 1983, providing miniscule loans to the very poor.
What I find so heart-warming is that an entire new way of giving and empowering people was developed just because a professor looked out his window and wondered what was going on. He cared enough to do something about it. He and the bank were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006.
8. The E-Myth Revisited: Why most small businesses don’t work and what to do about it
I had heard a lot about this author and the concept before I read this book. I now understand the hype. He makes a lot of sense and I was able to tweak many of the ideas to suit my own small business where I purposefully want to stay small (instead of moving away from it and building an empire). What I loved is learning to look at my business as a product itself and recognise that it is too easy to be very busy doing your job, and not spend enough time focused on your business and its future. They are two different things and I have found stepping away from the day-to-day operations, as in physically removing myself from the shop, means that I can dwell on the bigger picture, dream and plan for an exciting future.
9. Shoes: A history from sandals to sneakers
I realise this book is going to be of little interest to anyone outside the shoe business. But I think it’s so important to become an expert in your field and this book has been a valuable reference, helping me learn so much about the history of footwear. Everyone should have their own version of this book that reflects the history and accomplishments of their own particular industry.
10. Shoe Dog: A memoir by the creator of Nike
There’s one line in this fantastic book that resonated so much I nearly wept. “I wanted what everyone wants,” Phil writes. “To be me, full-time.” That’s exactly how I felt when I started my small business and how I still do: loving the opportunity to be myself, to be authentic and to be true to my values and vision. Phil is an outstanding example of this and his journey, from selling a few pairs of running shoes he exported from Japan as a young man keen on adventure to creating his global iconic brand, all the while resisting conventional practices and trusting his gut, was super inspiring. I felt his angst as he struggled with cash flow; and admired his convictions as he stayed true to his beliefs.
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