10 business books that changed my life

I love books. I’m a voracious reader and collector of books and I’m always looking for books I can use and recommend in my business.

Here is a list of 10 business books that have changed my life (with notes about why I found the book to be so important). These are the books I’ve bought and I eagerly read over and over again, usually learning something new each time.

I present them to you below, in no particular order (and I’ve used an affiliate link on Amazon, although I don’t really care if you buy them through the link or not… just get the books and read them!).

There were many more that could have been runners-up (future blog post perhaps?).

1. How to Master the Art of Selling

By Tom Hopkins

When I started my first business right out of college, I struggled because I didn’t know a single thing about selling. My business struggled so much that I was forced to get a job just to pay the bills. Out of desperation, I took a sales job because it had the most promising remuneration and growth opportunities. And it was for that employer that I learned to sell. They invested a lot in my sales skills and it paid off as my career grew. But as I grew, I started to drink up more information about sales. And this classic sales book by Tom Hopkins was the book I bought and turned to again and again and again. I read many other books but rarely have found a book that was such a key go-to book as this. The only other exception being Jeffrey Gitomer’s The Sales Bible. When I restarted my business a couple of years later, it was those sales skills I learned from my employer and even more-so from Tom Hopkins that provided the key to success. Today, I am a huge advocate for the importance of sales skills and I still read Tom Hopkins’ book regularly.

Get it from Amazon: How to Master the Art of Selling

2. Blue Ocean Strategy

by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne

While studying for an MBA in Strategic Management, I had read a lot of books about how to start and grow a business strategically. I encountered many strategic tools — some were useful, others were not, and many were enduring. But one of the very best tools I encountered was Kim and Mauborgne’s Blue Ocean Strategy, which outlines different business elements on a “canvas”, compares those various elements with competitors, and then provides simple tools to create competitive differentiation. Although not without its faults, the Blue Ocean Strategy was among the easiest strategic management tools to understand and implement, and I’ve used it repeatedly in my business and my clients’ businesses with very positive results. In fact, it was because of Blue Ocean Strategy that I made a very early (as well as strategic and profitable!) shift from being a general freelance writer to being a financial and real estate freelance writer.

Get it from Amazon: Blue Ocean Strategy

3. The Compound Effect

by Darren Hardy

This book was bought at a time when I was thinking about how my actions, behaviors, decisions, and habits were impacting my business. I had reached a certain level of success and wanted to push higher but knew that I had some bad habits to get rid of — namely, I tend to be a great starter but not a great finisher and I needed a bit of inspiration and guidance to push me through. This book was the inspiration I needed. It’s a small, simple book and it laid out exactly what I needed to do if I wanted to break out of the level I felt stuck at. When you read this book, you’re frankly not going to be wowed by anything you haven’t heard before. But that’s okay. That’s not the purpose of the book. It is a great book to read over and over as a kick in the ass to get you producing good work regularly, particularly because it reminds you of the value of the compounding effect of consistent habits.

Get it from Amazon: The Compound Effect

4. The 10X Rule

by Grand Cardone

I’ve been a fan of Grant Cardone for a while. I’ve seen the great work he is doing in his own business and life and it has served as inspiration to work hard and focus on the gritty, gutsy love of selling. So when I saw his book at the bookstore, I picked it up and thumbed through it and ended up buying it. Cardone’s premise is this: If you want to be successful, you need to do way more than 1X effort. 1X effort doesn’t get results, or only gets mediocre results at best. Instead, you need to do 10X effort to exceed your goals and achieve the results that are truly worth getting. Cardone’s book inspired me to push — push hard!!! — for the things I want to achieve in my business. This book is dangerous because if you read it, you can expect to work harder than you’ve ever worked before!

Get it from Amazon: The 10X Rule

5. Persuasive Business Proposals and Powerful Proposals

by Tom Sant; by David G. Pugh and Terry R. Bacon

Okay, technically these are two books. But I’m listing them both here anyway because I can’t think of one without the other. Years ago, when I wanted to ramp up my ability to write proposals, I went to the library and read everything I could on proposals. These two books stood out from the ones I read, and I bought them both at the same time. I always read them together. Together, they have had a huge impact on my business and nearly all of the money I’ve earned in the past 5 or 6 years have been because of the proposal-writing skills I learned from these two books.

Get them from Amazon: Persuasive Business Proposals and Powerful Proposals

6. The Power of Focus

by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, and Les Hewitt

I almost didn’t buy this book. The reason is: I’m not a huge fan of The Chicken Soup For The Soul series. I guess there’s nothing wrong with the series, it’s just not really what I like to read. So I incorrectly assumed that this Focus book was like the Chicken Soup books. I can’t remember what changed my mind (maybe I picked it up in the library and actually read through it? Not sure). It was just what I was looking for. As I’ve mentioned earlier, I am a good starter but not always a good finisher and I need to regularly check my level of focus on a particular project and make sure I’m engaged all the way through to a successful end. And to help me do that, I try to find tools and techniques… and the 10 steps in this book have proven to be helpful. At times, the book becomes a little heartwarming and there are a lot of anecdotal stories, which I tend to skip over, but the steps are worth reading the book for and my ability to finish projects increased because of it.

Get it from Amazon: The Power of Focus

7. Cashflow Quadrant

by Robert Kiyosaki

Here’s another book I almost never bought. I used to hate Robert Kiyosaki… or rather, I didn’t like his overly simplified message and I didn’t like the way his followers misunderstood him and miscommunicated his message. But since then, I’ve met people who have more accurately reflected what Kiyosaki is trying to communicate, and I’ve read several of his books. (At first they were research for specific client projects and later I read them for myself). Frankly, I still find most of his books somewhat simplistic. But there are a few things I can appreciate, and this is why his book Cashflow Quadrant earned a spot on my top 10 business books: Kiyosaki is passionate about businesses and real estate (which are passions I share), he is passionate about financial education (which I appreciate and have long been an advocate of myself), and he is passionate about turning employees and small business owners into big business owners and investors (which is something I love to think about and talk about on this blog). Furthermore, his work in Cash Flow Quadrant builds on some of the overly-simplified concepts he introduced in Rich Dad, Poor Dad and provides further detail and far more practical advice. And although I first read this book with skepticism, it turned out to be a mirror of the worst parts of my business that were desperate need of fixing!

Get it from Amazon: Rich Dad’s CASHFLOW Quadrant

8. Getting Things Done and Making It All Work

by David Allen

I cheated again and listed two books for one spot. I first read David Allen’s Getting Things Done several years ago, basically because everyone else in the world was reading it and had fallen in love with it. I’m a contrarian and was happily using other life management/time management systems and they were working for me… well, they worked for me until my business grew to a certain point and then they stopped working for me. Desperate to fix what was broken, I picked up Getting Things Done again and tried it for myself. At first I had mixed results until I read Making It All Work, which I felt provided some much-needed clarity to a few foggy parts of GTD, as well as a clearer way to approach the bigger picture aspects of GTD. After reading both books and taking the best of each one, I’ve enjoyed a surprisingly successful implementation that really lives up to what Allen promises. (I recently blogged about a GTD hack for handling ongoing projects, which is something I felt GTD was lacking).

Get them from Amazon: Getting Things Done and Making It All Work

9. The Willpower Instinct

by Kelly McGonigal

I’ve had the book for a month and a half now. It blew my mind the first time I read it and I plan to read it again very soon. As you might have noticed from some of the earlier books, I sometimes need some help staying focused and engaged through projects — including big client projects as well as long-term projects for myself (like writing books, building brands, and sticking to a business plan for more than a year or two). I felt that (along with learning about focus in The Power of Focus and habits in The Compound Effect) I needed to learn how to control my thinking and understand why I don’t always feel like sticking with a project. This book turned out to be so much more than that! McGonigal is an incredible writer (one of the most engaging in this list, in my opinion) and she provides chapter after chapter of insight and tools to help you strengthen your willpower. The lessons can be applied to business and to all aspects of life and I’ve noticed a considerable change in several areas of my life because of what I’ve implemented while reading this book.

Get it from Amazon: The Willpower Instinct

10. Scientific Advertising

by Claude C. Hopkins

I’m doing more and more work in the field of direct response copywriting (as opposed to technical writing or content marketing) so I’ve been strengthening my skills in this area. One of the most famous and “must read” books that every big league copywriter recommends is Hopkins’ Scientific Advertising. And I can see why it’s so important to read. Hopkins has written a basic primer on the key aspects of advertising (which are all highly applicable to direct response copywriting) and he covers the gamut from headlines to copy to psychology to testing. The book is a fairly quick read and I should warn you: It’s VERY old school — Hopkins talks about the “advertising man” and about “housewives” who buy things from door-to-door salesmen. The book was written in the 1920’s and you can see that quite plainly in the language. However, the truths from his book are just as applicable today (and because of the internet and the many multiple marketing channels available, the lessons are perhaps more important than ever). There are other copywriting books out there but few are as good as this one. It’s a classic, and for good reason. This book continues to have a significant impact on me because it first offered a series of “hooks” on which to hang additional learning about direct response copywriting, and later the book became a sort-of touchstone reminder of what is really important in copywriting when you strip away everything else. My copywriting (and my business, actually) improved because of this book.

Get it from Amazon: Scientific Advertising

I hope you’ve found a book or two to read! What are your favorite business books? Which ones changed your life? Put them in the comments below!

Aaron Hoos

Aaron Hoos is a writer, strategist, and investor who builds and optimizes profitable sales funnels. He is the author of The Sales Funnel Bible and he's a real estate investor and a copywriter for real estate investors.

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