If you are an entrepreneur or aspire to open your own company, I would bet that the last 12 months made you think twice. At least this was my case as an owner of two different businesses. One is in the hospitality industry, and the other is a consultancy, and both suffered during the Covid-19 crisis. Fortunately, we survived, thanks to some of these books every entrepreneur must read.
If you want to prepare your enterprise for the oncoming reconstruction — a word that is more and more used by government worldwide — there are a few things that you should know.
The first is that the new business climate is more efficient than it had ever been. The 2020 economic crisis accelerated the natural selection among inefficient companies. Survivors have leaner costs and better systems.
The second is that customer experience changed. People are, slowly, going back to socialize. They will have renewed expectations of how your firm should serve their needs.
The third is that scarcer resources demand better negotiation. That applies to government grants, contract renewals, or debts.
The books that I recommend below address these problems. The video version of this article with the best books for entrepreneurs is here.
While they may not be recent, neither are economical crises. The causes change — sometimes are the subprime loan, others the oil prices, and now a global pandemic.
The challenges are similar.
This reading list will help you be prepared to thrive in this, and the next, post-crisis conditions. We also published an article answering about the best age to start your own business and another with 6 essential factors to consider before starting a business.
Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit: The Secrets of Building a Five-Star Customer Service Organization
Leonardo Inghilleri, Micah Solomon and introduction by Horst Schulze (former The Ritz-Carlton president)
Why read it:
A must-read if your enterprise relies on customer service (meaning most businesses) or if you manage people who do. This book gives you the necessary knowledge for identifying a company in a congested market. It teaches valuable lessons about how to build a brand, improve customer loyalty, and obtain the most elevated of all forms of publicity: passionate word of mouth.
Especially helpful is the contrast between predictive service and reactive service. Clear examples are presented, and their effects.
The primary reason any entrepreneur should read this book is that you lose customers if you disappoint them, regardless of how amazing your product is. Additionally, if your product is easy to copy, providing exceptional customer service not only differentiates you in the market but also builds loyalty. Loyalty makes your customers less sensitive to price changes. Price changes that may be needed in the post-crisis, inflationary scenario.
How it helped me: It is the second book by Leonardo and Micah that I read. Again they delivered flawless lessons of service culture and delivery to customers. This is a book that anyone in the service industry should read. I shared with my staff the insights about predictive service, and it helped us to achieve better satisfaction ratings.
Sean Ellis and Morgan Brown
Why read it:
Sean Ellis and Morgan Brown are leaders of the “growth hacking” tendency; one of them being the creator of the term. This book is not about tactics and strategies. It is also not about one single hack that will drive crowds of customers. It is about tuning processes (like testing alternative solutions) to reduce risks and generate quick wins. It is all about iteration and incremental growth.
The authors lead the reader through the steps to build a growth engine, with the help of examples from actual businesses. Instead of isolated cases, they bind each case so you can understand the entire process from the start to the end.
Hacking Growth does not give you the formula to go viral or escalate your business. Especially because there is not a proven formula for that. But if you are looking to learn about process improvement and designing agile companies, this is an excellent book to start.
How it helped me: The grocery story examples. Instead of delivering their lessons using deep-pocketed startups from California, they create situations with a small brick-and-mortar and use it to exemplify their message. It makes it easy to understand even the most alien concepts.
Why read it: Allan Dib dismisses the myth that print marketing is dead. He brings the concept that all forms of media may be useful, and should be mixed to find the perfect blend for your business. To find this blend, he suggests a sequence of tests and trial-and-error. The testing relies on measurement, and that is why this is one of the critical points from Dib: calculate your marketing ROI.
Once you find your ROI, you start to optimize it. This means cutting out everything that is not profitable because we cannot position a business to everyone in every niche. Have a narrow focus on your customer avatar (another idea from the book), and you will create a robust marketing model.
How it helped me: It helped me with my pricing decisions — something I explained in this article. My firm has competitive prices compared to our regional competitors. I did not realize, however, that our standard of service was far better.
The problem is that cheap prices gave the wrong message about our market positioning. Potential guests thought we had an inferior quality just because of our prices.
Why read it:
Chris Voss served as one of the main FBI negotiators in many crises, not only in the USA but also abroad. In the Philippines, for example, he negotiated with the members of Abu Sayyaf, an ISIS-affiliated terrorist organization. With all his career expertise, he translates in this book brilliant insights, useful in multiple sorts of negotiations. There are lessons to avoid the fight-or-flight reactions that often make both sides lose.
We negotiate dozens of times every day. Some of these negotiations change the course of our life: a salary raise, a new job; buying a house. Still, most of us have no serious training in negotiation. And that is why this book makes such a difference.
Chris Voss presents techniques like the Ackermann model, isopraxis (also known as mirroring), calibrated questions, and many other proven solutions he used during his career at the FBI.
How it helped me: It helped me to reduce the costs of my business during the COVID crisis — like the negotiation that I described in this article.
Andrew S. Grove
Why read it:
This is the oldest book on this list. It is even considered “old” by current standards.
Curiously this makes it a must-read. It is from a time when what was needed to be said (or written) was said. Andrew Grove does not save words or is afraid of crushing sensibilities. He put on the paper what he applied during his decades at the head of Intel, overcoming plenty of crises.
Andy Grove explains complex organizational concepts and processes into simple steps that anyone can comprehend and execute. The former Intel CEO was a decisive individual, and the book shows it. He lays out dilemmas, lists the pros and cons of decision-making, and then makes a judgment, for better or worse. Over the 272 pages, there are frank stories of the difficulties of management, including the mistakes committed by the author. Brilliant lessons from a legendary CEO.
How it helped me: I learned I can’t control my customers, but I can control my enterprise inputs and processes. As a manager, I should do everything possible to reduce brief stops caused by minor issues. This led me to quick reactions and responses to emergencies.
Starting Your Own Business Far From Home: What (Not) to Do When Opening a Company in Another State, Country, or Galaxy
Why read it:
I put this book as an extra mention because I am not overconfident to the point of listing my own books among titans like Andy Grove or Leonardo Inghilleri. Still, I think it is a good reading for starting entrepreneurs, written by one himself.
Four years ago, I dropped a promising career just after a promotion, to follow the dream of opening my own business. It was difficult, especially because it was a hospitality firm and we faced one of the worst crises in history in this sector during 2020.
As an additional obstacle, I opened this company in a country totally different from my culture and with a language that I barely speak (at the beginning).
But both I and my business survived. The lessons I learned, the mistakes I made, and the solutions I found are all in this book.
PS: some links above are affiliated links to Amazon.
Do you have any other title to suggest to this list of books every entrepreneur must read? Let us know in the comment section!
If you are ready to go for the next step and start your business, take a look at this article about the types of business risks that we prepared for you, and the damage that agency problems can cause for your enterprise. Also, take a look at this list of must-read self-development books to transform your life.
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Levi Borba is the founder of expatriateconsultancy.com, creator of the channel Small Business Hacks and the same website for Small Business Owners, and best-selling author. Subscribe to my articles (for free) and receive (also for free) the ebook “The Blueprint for First-Time Business Owners”.