I'm a brand strategy expert who reads 50 to 70 books every year. These are the 7 most essential books to read this year to grow your business.

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  • Shanna Goodman has worked with hundreds of small businesses over the last 15 years.
  • She is an avid reader and says it helps her better advise clients.
  • Read the books in the order they're listed, and use them as a framework to determine why and how to grow your business.
  • Click here for more BI Prime stories.

As a small business owner, I constantly seek out resources to grow my own business and to also help other small businesses succeed. I'm an avid reader and have read 50 to 70 books every year for the last 10 years. I often choose books that will help me learn how to run my business better, to live more happily, or a combination of those things. 

Last year, my marketing strategy agency surveyed our clients about the biggest challenges they face. Nearly all said they wanted to grow their businesses. This seems like a goal every business owner should have, but if you don't find the right environment to grow in, there's potential for that growth to be really painful.

Consider these questions: In what way should you grow? Is it to earn more money? Will having a larger team give you higher prestige in your market? As you're growing, should you stop doing technical work or admin work to focus more on the big picture? Figure it out before you sink a bunch of money into expanding your team.

If you're unsure where to start, I highly recommend you check these books out. Read them in order, because the later books build on the foundations of the early books. All seven of them are on my own bookshelf, referenced regularly, and full of sticky notes with underlines and notes in the margins. If I'm stuck on a strategy question or implementation problem for a client, I'll pick up a book and thumb through to brainstorm solutions. Here are the exact books that helped me figure out the hard questions for my business.

1. 'The E-Myth Revisited' by Michael Gerber

The E Myth Revisited
Harper Business

The reading list starts with this book because it gives you a framework on the role you play in your business, which was a huge mental shift for me when I first read it many years ago. Most small business owners take on too much and end up being miserable, and sometimes even broke. 

Gerber wrote this book after decades of consulting small businesses. One of his key points is that the entrepreneur is an entrepreneur only for a second before switching to "The Technician" and/ or "The Manager." For example, when a really great electrician decides to start his own business (to give himself a better job), he's first creating a job for himself as a "Technician." As the business grows and he hires more electricians, he transitions to a "Manager," which he may not be good at or enjoy — and this is why most small businesses fail. It takes different skills to be a really great electrician than it does to be a really great manager.

Perhaps instead of growing the business by hiring more electricians and doing more jobs, the electrician could bid for more complex, higher paying jobs and do the same amount of work but for a higher price. Or, he could grow his business by creating resources to help other people learn electrical work, such as resources for DIY 全民彩票苹果软件owners or new electricians right out of school. In teaching others, he could charge for in-person workshops or online programs. The key is to determine the role you want and then how to make repeatable processes around that role.

2. 'Start with Why' by Simon Sinek

“Start with why” Simon Sinek
Penguin Group

Simon Sinek's has more than 48 million views on YouTube. In this book, Sinek helps people find work that inspires them — he believes that great leaders inspire others by putting purpose first.

This book is great for figuring out what you want your role in your business to be, and it provides a guiding framework as things evolve in your business (because they'll always be evolving). 

For example, when I started my company five years ago, I assumed my growth trajectory would be hiring more people like myself, bringing on more clients, and increasing revenue while maintaining a certain profit margin.

What I realized was that if I was an agency with a 20% margin, the same percentages applied whether I had a $250,000 company or $1,000,000 company. The risks were just bigger as the size of the team grew larger, and I'd end up spending most of my time in administration and managing a large team, which isn't what gave me energy.

"Start with Why" helped me define what truly motivated me and what I wanted to accomplish in this world: helping small business owners live a more fulfilled life. This knowledge created a flexibility for my business to know what things to focus on and what I could leave behind. 

3. 'Find Your Why' by Simon Sinek

Find Your Why

One of the main points of Simon Sinek's second book is to guide people through the process of writing their own "Why." This book is a facilitator's guide for leading group discussions on how to discover their "Why," complete with specific exercises and questions. We've actually used this book to lead "Why" workshops with clients.

Defining your "Why" can simply be a contribution and impact statement. The contribution is what you have to share with the world and the impact is what you'd like to accomplish. 

To arrive at a contribution statement, you have to write out a statement like this:

We exist to [contribution] to [impact].

For example, my company's contribution statement is "We exist to help businesses rethink their marketing to discover new opportunities."

This process was really helpful for our brand strategy agency several years ago, and then we revised our "Why" as our business evolved to focus more on small business owners.

If you're a solo business owner, have a small team, or have a clear idea why you're in the business you are, Find Your Why might be overkill, but I found it tremendously helpful in turning my ideas into words.

4. 'Positioning' by Al Ries and Jack Trout

McGraw-Hill Education

Now that you've figured out your role in your business and your specific "Why," you need to think about how to communicate your message to your customers so they can find you (and buy from you). 

This classic is the first marketing book I ever read and is probably the most important marketing book, in my opinion. The premise is that because people are inundated with messages on a regular basis, your company's message needs to cut through the noise. You do this by having clear and distinct attributes of your product. Your brand must have a lasting identity and "positioning" in the consumer's mind.

The book explains the concept that you don't have to actually be the first, but to be thought of first. For example, the iPod wasn't the first mp3 player on the market,

5. 'Building a Storybrand' by Donald Miller

Building a Story Brand
HarperCollins Leadership

Telling your story is surprisingly difficult for most small businesses, but critical in standing apart from the crowd. You'll probably have to dig deep on this. Give yourself the space and time to really process this book and take advantage of the free online resources the author provides. 

Too often, small businesses make everything about them ("Here's what we offer," and, "We'd love to have your business"), but that's the completely wrong approach. To be honest, no one cares. But it's your job to make them care.

The author presents classic story arcs as a solution to simply tell your story in a way that people can relate to. This book provides a step-by-step approach on how to craft a brand story that puts your customers' stories above your own. Additionally, it makes the case for why a super simple story arc is necessary — we're constantly scanning our environment for relevant information and skipping over things that don't apply to us.

Read more of my key take-aways from this book on my blog here:  

6. 'Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion' by Robert Cialdini

Harper Business

This is another classic marketing book. It dives into the elements that make us trust people and buy what they're selling, even if they're not selling anything. Cialdini says employing six "weapons of influence" (reciprocation, commitment and consistency, social proof, liking, authority, and scarcity) in a thoughtful way is key to good business.

For example, the book explains the phenomenon I experienced when trying to sell a weird statue at a garage sale years ago. When it was marked "Free!" no one even looked at it. After looking up similar types of statues online, I realized it was worth potentially $150. I then made it an exclusive "Item of the Hour" and slapped a $75 price tag on it. I started talking it up and telling people about the company that made it (from the info I found online) and within 15 minutes I had two customers fighting over it, ultimately selling for $85.

Three important weapons were used in that garage sale experiment of mine — my authority stating the name of the statue's artist and the price of similar work, social proof in printing off similar statues, prices, and testimonials from the artist's website, and scarcity by nature of my only having one statue to sell. At the time I didn't know what I had stumbled onto, but it made perfect sense after reading this book. 

7. 'Creating Customer Evangelists' by Jackie Huba and Ben McConnell

Creating Customer Evangelists
Lewis Lane Press

I first heard Jackie Huba speak at a social media conference in 2013 where she talked about Lady Gaga's massive early success and encouraged business owners to use those same techniques.

While Lady Gaga's rise in career may sound like an unlikely business topic, this book does a great job describing why and how to encourage enthusiastic word of mouth buzz for your business. For example, the main component of Lady Gaga's marketing strategy was to identify her superfans and give them opportunities to share their love, making them unofficial ambassadors. 

Lady Gaga's team lovingly named these superfans "Monsters," and these fans in turn loved being called out and recognized for their loyalty. Lady Gaga's team continued to put these super fans on pedestals, collecting their information and offering special access and exclusive deals. This created even more excitement for the superfans, and they were continuously rewarded for promoting buzz around anything Lady Gaga was doing.

In a really practical way, this book breaks down how you, a small business owner, can reward your best clients, and then have them talk you up to basically everyone they have influence on. The idea is "word of mouth" on steroids, because the steps mapped out are really intentional in moving toward an identified desired outcome.

Read more of my key take-aways from this book on my blog here:

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