I’ve always been an avid reader. Since I can remember, grabbing a book, hunkering down on the couch, and falling into a bestseller has been my favorite pastime. As an entrepreneur, that habit stuck.
But over the last couple of years, with business booming, a heavy travel schedule, and normal everyday life, I found my time spent reading was falling off.
Oh sure, I’m a podcastaholic and news junkie, but it’s not the same as reading a book cover to cover.
So I made a commitment for the new year. I’d read a book a week. Problem was, I had a bookshelf in overload and a calendar I needed to hack. Why couldn’t I find an extra hour in each day? And that’s when it hit me.
As a cyclist, I ride 5-6 mornings per week. What if I switched from physical books to audio books? I wondered how many books I could get through if I used that hour as my personal learning time. Turns out, that was a game changer.
That one decision made a complete shift in how I start my day. Instead of running into it, allowing the day to control me, I hacked my own life and habits.
With audio books as my new riding companion, I was able to “read” 61 books this year. That number amazed me!
Now some of the books listed below are new, some are oldies but goodies, but all are the best (and my personal favorite) books for entrepreneurs.
No matter what stage of business you’re in, there’s something to learn from these books. Oh and one important note: none are filled with fluff, theory, or high-level mumbo jumbo. Nope.
To become a great business book, my definition is this:
But with thousands of books written and published every year, sorting through business books for entrepreneurs can be daunting. After all, who has time to waste on a less than stellar book?
That’s why I’ve put together a list of the 21 best books for entrepreneurs and an Infographic at the end – don’t forget to grab that too.
21 of the Best Business Books for Entrepreneurs
For those with a limited attention span, here’s the TL;DR version. Below is a quick review and why I’ve added each book to the list.
The 5 Second Rule: Transform your Life, Work, and Confidence with Everyday Courage by Mel Robbins
Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity by Kim Scott
Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done by Jon Acuff
Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear
When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel Pink
Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport
The Lean Startup:How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses
Transform your Life, Work, and Confidence with Everyday Courage by Mel Robbins
Seth Godin says he reads for a specific amount of time before he gets the gist. The gist of the 5 Second Rule is simple and one.
Use the 5 second rule to get out of your own way and get stuff done.
Now while I don’t have much of an issue with self-motivation, this book connected with me on a very deep level. No matter the habit or fear holding you back, the beauty of this book is in its simplicity to push you through it. As Mel explains,
“The moment you feel a desire to act on a goal or a commitment, use the Rule.”
When you feel yourself hesitate before doing something that you know you should do, count 5-4-3-2-1-GO and move towards action. – The 5 Second Rule @melrobbins Click To Tweet
Every once in a while, a book comes along at the exact right moment. There I was, working on a new project and finding everything difficult. The ideation, development, and content writing felt heavy and overwhelming.
Even though I’d been through this process many times before, I was dragging my feet and couldn’t figure out why. Then along came Jon with the words I needed to hear and the formula to get it done and to the “Finish” line.
“The world is littered with half-finished books, almost started businesses and nearly done diets. Who knew the secret was to have more fun, kill the hidden rules you live by and embrace imperfection? Jon Acuff did, and you’re about to as well.” – Steven Pressfield, author of The War of Art
Perfectionism makes things harder. Finishers make things easier and simpler. The next time you work on a goal, ask during the middle of the project: Could things be easier? Could things be simpler? – Finish @JonAcuff Click To Tweet
An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear
I’m a big fan of Charles Duhigg and, “The Power of Habit.” So when James Clear came along with a book complementary to Charles, I gobbled it up.
What he’s provided is an easy to follow approach to incorporating positive habits and eliminating those that don’t serve us. Too often I find myself laying the shame on thick when I can’t overcome a bad habit that’s cropped up.
James Clear says no to that. He offers very practical steps to let go of the guilt and instead embrace your own habit-building system.
If you’re struggling to change habits, the problem isn’t you, it’s your system. Bad habits repeat themselves not because you don’t want to change, but because you have the wrong system for change. – Atomic Habits @JamesClear Click To Tweet
Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport
As someone that works in the online world, distraction is easy to come by. Guarding our time and our minds is essential to getting things done.
In his book, “Deep Work,” Cal explains that getting into a deep work zone isn’t as hard as many would have you believe. It’s a skill anyone can develop and one that’s critical to your success.
It impacts how you work, the results you produce, and how quickly you can move from one task to the next.
Deep Work is the professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push cognitive capabilities to their limit. It creates new value, improves skill, and are hard to replicate. – Deep Work, Cal Newport Click To Tweet
How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses by Eric Ries
According to a Harvard Business School study by Shikhar Ghosh, the failure rate of all U.S. companies after five years is over 50%, and skyrockets to 70% at 10 years.
I’ve read all or portions of this book a dozen times over the years and with good reason. There’s gold in every chapter that shares how to avoid failure.
The Lean Startup will radically change how you run your business, work with your team, innovate, and how to smartly navigate your market. this is a methodology and a movement your business needs to implement.
The goal of every startup experiment is to discover how to build a sustainable business around the vision. – The Lean Startup @ericries Click To Tweet
Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High by Kerry Patterson
Crucial conversations are all around us. But are we really prepared when they come along? Think about your last crucial conversation where:
Stakes were high
Parties involved had strong emotions
How did the conversation go? Was it heated, argumentative, and left all parties feeling frustrated or angry? You can avoid that by staying in conversation (promoting positive dialogue) to get the results you want.
At the core of every successful conversation lies the free flow of relevant information. – Crucial Conversations, Kerry Patterson Click To Tweet
Jumpstart Your Income, Your Life, Your Success by Darren Hardy
Are you an entrepreneur or creative that gets excited about a project, partnership or “big idea” only to lose steam in a short amount of time? This book will get you out of that cycle, giving you step-by-step actions to multiply your success.
The concept of, “The Compound Effect,” is simple, reap rewards when you take small, consistent action. It has far bigger rewards than taking big steps over a short period of time.
You will never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine. – The Compund Effect @DarrenHardy Click To Tweet
Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts by Brene Brown
After barely getting through Dare Greatly, Rise Strong, and Brave the Wilderness, I hesitated to purchase this book. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of Brene and her work, but her books aren’t my typical style.
I immediately found myself identifying and relating on a very deep level to this book. Brene’s easy style, sense of humor, and incredible storytelling, you’ll learn what it takes (and what the data says) about being a braver, more daring leader.
“One of the most important findings of my career is that daring leadership is a collection of 4 skill sets that are 100% teachable, observable, and measurable. It’s learning and unlearning that requires brave work, tough conversations, and showing up with your whole heart. Easy? No.”
Choosing courage over comfort is not always our default. Worth it? Always. We want to be brave with our lives and our work. It’s why we’re here. – Dare to Lead @BreneBrown Click To Tweet
Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers by Ben Horowitz
Ben Horowitz is a technology engineer and the cofounder/general partner at the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. If you think this might only be for startups, specifically SaaS based, you’d be wrong.
This book applies to anyone building a business and eager to circumvent the biggest challenges any business owner or leader faces. From hiring to pricing, communication and company culture, it sheds light on topics (the hard things) other books don’t.
Life is struggle.” I believe that within that quote lies the most important lesson in entrepreneurship: Embrace the struggle. – The Hard Thing About Hard Things @bhorowitz Click To Tweet
The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph by Ryan Holiday
No matter the struggle or personal tragedy, we all have mishaps, unfortunate events, and roadblocks that come up within our business and life. Too often though, we allow those obstacles to derail us instead of learning how to turn that obstacle into an advantage.
As Ryan explains, flipping an obstacle on its head isn’t the solution. Pushing through that obstacle is where greatness is born. The obstacle standing in your way can (and will) become your way.
Wherever we are, whatever we’re doing and wherever we are going, we owe it to ourselves, to our art, to the world to do it well. – The Obstacle is the Way @RyanHoliday Click To Tweet
Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t by Jim Collins
What does it take to make anything great and what separates the good from the great? As another classic on my list of business books, “Good to Great” focuses on what it takes to create explosive results in your business.
If you’re looking for a baseline and want to better understand what makes great companies truly great, start with, “Good to Great.”
Through data, interviews, and analysis, you’ll learn the 7 key principles successful companies adhere to without fail.
Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice, and discipline. – Good to Great @level5leaders Click To Tweet
The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg
As I mentioned above, I’m a big fan of Duhigg. Any time I can build a better mousetrap and increase productivity, I’m all in.
The trick to motivating ourselves and improving productivity? It turns out it’s as simple as believing that we have authority over our actions. As humans, we crave control and understanding how that motivates us, changes everything.
When people believe they are in control, they tend to work harder and push themselves more. They are, on average, more confident and overcome setbacks faster. – Smarter Faster Better @cduhigg
Leading a high-performance marketing team is harder than ever. Between systems, processes, and proving ROI, teams and their leaders struggle to meet expectations, hit objectives, and stay focused in an ever-changing online world.
But there’s also never been a more dynamic and exciting time to lead a marketing team.
As a CMO who values radical transparency across the organization, I’m always in search of a better way to wrangle efficiency and ensure success.
That’s where actionable insights, a synced team working in flow, and a clear view of the future come in to play.
In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know to lead a team to greatness.
How To Lead A Successful Marketing Team
1. Move Out of a Manager Mindset
A couple of years ago, I had the chance to meet fellow speaker, Kim Scott at Hubspot’s massive Inbound Marketing event.
Problem was, not everyone in leadership initially jumped onboard. It quickly became apparent why: the difference was the manager vs. leader mindset.
Those comfortable with radical candor were leading, inspiring, and encouraging their team. Those uneasy about too much transparency and unfiltered feedback were the managers. They were the ones creating plans, objectives, and strategies to manage the outcome.
Now don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with being a manager. I think back to one of my first jobs as a kid at Baskin Robbins here in Southern California. My manager was awesome. She was funny, easy to get along with, and worked hard to build the team.
But did she inspire me to follow her vision? Did she make me want to start my own successful ice cream business? Nope.
Let me explain why with a quick definition of a manager vs. a leader.
Halelly Azulay, founder and CEO of TalentGrow LLC and author of Employee Development on a Shoestring, puts it this way:
Leaders attract a following who believe in their vision, while managers have people who do work for them without necessarily any intrinsic buy-in to a particular vision.
As a marketing leader, you want buy-in. You want your marketing team to feel connected on a deeply personal level to what you’re building, creating, and putting out into the world.
Because the alternative creates a situation we’ve all been in.
A manager who barks orders without clearly set expectations, and refuses to walk alongside the team, doing the actual work.
As someone leading a marketing team, if you don’t have the back of your team, you will have unease within the ranks. And where there’s unease, there’s tension that eventually translates into a breakdown of trust.
Losing that is a nail in the coffin of your marketing team.
Not only will it kill your effectiveness as a team, but the congruency in how you work together.
That’s where balance comes in. As a leader, you must keep your team future-focused, customer-centric, and with a finger on the pulse of your ever-changing industry.
So before you brazenly embrace radical candor, first embrace a mindset shift. Move from manager to leader. Your team will thank you for it.
2. Create a Clear Path of Communication
Great marketing teams have open lines of communication. That’s because great leaders connect on an emotional level.
Each one of those leads back to one key leadership area: how you communicate.
But as someone who oversees a team in 9 different countries, I know firsthand that communication, especially face to face is a challenge.
That’s where a clear path of communication that offers insight without ambiguity is critical.
A few years ago, we made the transition out of Skype (yikes!) and into Slack. It wasn’t an easy uproot, but an extremely necessary one.
Skype was no way to communicate efficiently and led to a lot of confusion, broken processes, and missed deadlines.
To eliminate these challenges, we formed Slack channels specific to each aspect of the company, including ongoing functions. This in and of itself creates all new challenges, like how to manage an onslaught of chatter.
That’s why it’s so important to keep everyone in the appropriate channels. For example, if you’re working on a campaign that doesn’t need your design team involved from beginning to end, keep them out of the channel.
Communicating with Channels - YouTube
Now while I’d like to believe that everyone can manage their day, Slack puts even the most productive of people to the test. Those shiny notifications that scream, “look at me now,” can be a major distraction.
This moves me into the next required tool: a project manager.
Atlassian’s JIRA is our system of choice for project management and daily accountability. We follow a lean approach and work in weekly Sprints. Not familiar with it? It’s an easier way to plan, develop, and deliver your marketing campaigns.
It took some thoughtful reverse-engineering of our product Sprints, but once we found our groove, the marketing team was able to move fast and in tandem.
To get started with each aspect of this communication process, identify:
Your daily communication workflow: Get out of your antiquated system (or worse… email) and create an interactive online environment. Whether you have a remote team or one sitting within a brick and mortar, congregating in offices and around the water cooler is a waste of time and resources.
Your project management process: Wrap your arms around every moving piece within your marketing department. Begin with high-level buckets and then outline what falls within those buckets. For example, one bucket might be content marketing. List everything your team does that would fall under that topic. It’s a time-consuming project initially, but this will give you the ability to break each aspect down into weekly Sprints.
One last thought on how you handle internal communication:
If you have a product that’s managed by an engineer team, an improved communication and management process will flow into your product or feature announcements. No more last minute launches!
Better communication equals happier customers and team members.
3. Embrace Accountability
Accountability is a critical aspect to any successful marketing team. Think about it…
When accountability is allowed to deteriorate or is non-existent, clarity is lost and bad habits creep in.
When you consider that it takes up to 2 months to form a new habit, allowing bad habits to take root is like chucking time and money out the window.
That’s why we implemented the people, performance, potential model. The beauty is in its simplicity. You’re working together as a team to hold everyone within the organization accountable.
During the review process, you’ll identify the:
Backbones of your organization (high performers but typically not your innovators)
Superstars (high performers looking to excel)
Icebergs (low performers and often stuck in their old ways)
Problem children (low performers with high potential)
Since the entire team is involved in this type of a performance assessment, be prepared to manage emotions.
I remember our first “no holds barred” marketing team performance reviews. I worried that there would be a lot of finger pointing and blaming. Instead, after a full day of “People, Performance, Potential Reviews,” the feedback was unanimous.
The team found that the radical candor test we’d run (the one I mentioned above) was a roaring success. They’d learned how to communicate openly in a transparent and compassionate way.
Sure, I could huff and puff that it was successful because each leader had proven they truly cared about the team, but it was more than that.
Our performance model was a success because the team had embraced the mission, vision, and values of the company.
They’d learned how to take each one and incorporate it into every interaction. As a leader, your goal is to do the same. Help them support, promote, and rally around each other.
A team with healthy communication skills fosters a happy work environment.
4. Focus on the Metrics that Matter
Think about the last time you took part in a marketing meeting that quickly devolved into a never-ending debate. Those meetings have no place in today’s fast-paced online world.
Today, you must be able to organize efficient meetings, track your KPI’s, and stay focused on the metrics that matter most.
Without it, you have a team chasing targets they don’t understand and a goal line that’s out of everyone’s reach. In general, your team is one hot mess.
97% of employees and executives believe lack of alignment within a team impacts the outcome of a task or project.
Now consider the upside to clearly aligned goals.
Your team is documenting as you go, making iterative adjustments, following a defined plan, and staying the course without getting caught up in wild or broad assumptions.
Marketers who document strategy are 538% more likely to report success than those who don’t. Click To Tweet
So what are those metrics? That will depend on your company and goal. It could be everything from customer acquisition cost (CAC) to sales qualified leads (SQL), customer value, and/or sales revenue.
For our team, we track all of the above and then some.
An example of marketing goals could look like this. You’ll start with a high level objective and then follow it with key results.
If you’re not familiar with OKR’s, I talked about it in this post.
OBJECTIVE: Improve CTA conversion on Activation Stage Blog Posts
Now add your key results. They’d look something like this:
Increase addition of new contacts into marketing campaigns in Q1 by 35%.
Increase social engagement by 20% across all social channels.
What you’ll learn through this process is the who, what, and why of each metric you’re tracking.
For your team, determining what those metrics are will make you proactive instead of reactive. You’ll track what matters, including analysis, events, and real-time data. This avoids the disconnect I see among teams all too often.
It also gives you clarity. As opposed to perception or gut reactions, you’re making decisions grounded in data and mapping your collective performance.
This facilitates honest conversations to ensure everyone understands their role and value within the company and team.
If you’ve been struggling to align and lead your marketing team, take a deep breath. The leader within you is ready to emerge, but the process takes time.
When you commit to testing and implementing a few of the ideas above, you’ll not only grow as a leader, but as a team.
And as you build confidence, so will your team. Confidence breeds trust and trust is the deciding factor between a team that sticks together and one that ultimately falls apart.
Keep pushing, keep doing, keep learning, stay the course.
What will you have achieved through brand awareness?
What impact will this have on your audience and your business?
The key is to claim what I call, your “I gotta’s.” They’re the non-negotiables that drive your content strategy. Here’s what that might look like for you.
Attract 100 new leads every month
Create 5 new pieces of solution-based content every month
Turn 10 leads into new customers every month
Not only does this define what absolutely has to happen, but also what you must achieve to arrive at success.
2. Do Your Research
The company that controls the sale using content marketing isn’t the person pumping out content for the sake of it. It’s the company that’s actively listening, producing real world answers, and solving customers biggest pain points.
To move people from conversation to conversion, make research your biggest competitive advantage. Learn what makes your audience tick, how they interact with your competitors, and what content they’re already consuming.
The days of pushing out more content to more people are over. Today it’s about creating relationships by sharing the right content, at the the right time and with the right people in a permission based environment.
To begin the creation of your daily posting schedule, begin by looking at your analytics. What content is performing best and at what time? While there’s plenty of posts telling you the “best time to post on social media,” they’re all generalizations.
Your best time to post is when your audience is online and engaged and the best type of content to create is the content your audience enthusiastically connects with, shares, and promotes.
5. Outline a Weekly Content Calendar
Once you decide on your daily posting schedule, it’s time to get that content into a calendar.
There are 2 ways to build a social media calendar. One is with a spreadsheet (Excel or Google Sheets will work), and the other is with an app like CoSchedule. I prefer an app that allows me to see everything at a glance and ensure everything has a place (and is in its place!)
With it you can:
Save time by planning ahead.
Maintain a consistent flow of content across each platform.
Ensure messages are appropriately timed throughout each day.
Make content creation and management more collaborative.
6. Identify Processes, Systems, and Tools
There are dozens of tools that can help you earn back in your day. Here are a few of my favorites:
Be Focused – will help you manage your tasks, track tour progress, your goals, and more.
Commun.it – great for listening, sharing, and responding to mentions of your brand.
Drop.lr – allows you to easily screenshot and create an instructional video.