November 14, 2011
There are countless self-help books aimed at budding entrepreneurs. But which of them have actually helped people start or improve an enterprise?
We asked business owners and educators for the books that have given them the best advice. Here are some of their top picks.
"Who: The A Method for Hiring" By Geoff Smart and Randy Street
"Who" is the book "that has had the most influence on my business," says Craig Zoberis, president of Fusion Systems Inc., a contract manufacturer based in Burr Ridge, Ill.
The book argues that managers make hiring mistakes half of the time and then must spend precious resources cleaning up after bad employees. The authors provide a four-step process for hiring more smartly, including using professional networks to find the best candidates.
Mr. Zoberis adopted this approach at his 40-employee company in 2009 and now doesn't have a lot of "mis-hires," he says. "I have been able to take the fundamentals and strategy for hiring as outlined in 'Who' and successfully implement them into Fusion's hiring process—with undeniable results."
"The E-Myth" By Michael E. Gerber
"Gerber's book caused me to rethink what I wanted to accomplish in my business and how I was going to do that," explains J. Richard Braun, owner of Braun Agency Inc., an insurance firm based in Virginia Beach, Va.
"The E-Myth," he explains, argues that most businesses are started by people who know how to do technical work—such as a plumber who launches a plumbing company—but who don't know how to run a business. The answer? Build "replicable systems that can and will operate in an owner's absence," Mr. Braun says.
By putting those systems in place, owners can hire other technicians to do the company's core job and then get managers to oversee the business's various operations. Then the owner can concentrate on the true work of an entrepreneur—providing a vision and overall goals for the company, as well as looking for new opportunities.
For instance, Mr. Braun says, creating systems at his own company "has allowed me to pursue additional ventures, including real-estate investments and other business start-ups."
"Start With Why" By Simon Sinek
"Sinek's message changed my life. He had me understand why it's important to know why you're in a particular business, both for your own fulfillment and for attracting the right customers and employees and ultimately achieving great success," says David Hassell, CEO of San Francisco software start-up 15Five.
The book argues that companies must give employees some bigger reason to work there, and give customers a cause to align with, not just a product or service to buy, Mr. Hassell says. "It means the difference between
having people show up and working for a paycheck, or giving their all," says Mr. Hassell. "It means the difference between having customers who become evangelists or those who will jump to the cheapest competitor as soon as they can."
Spelling out his own company's mission—that all employees can make crucial contributions to a business—has helped build loyalty and trust, he says. Some customers were willing to pay for 15Five's software while it was still in a rough state, "knowing that we were committed to improving it," he says. "In fact, one of our beta customers even approached us and offered to pay well before I'd even considered asking them to pay."
"The Art of the Start" By Guy Kawasaki
This book tackles an old topic—starting a business—but is much more clear, focused and entertaining than a lot of other manuals on the market, says Steven Kaplan, faculty director for the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business.
It centers on "substance rather than fluff, encouraging entrepreneurs to focus on customers and be specific about their business model," Mr. Kaplan says. "Start-ups have a tendency to overfocus on how great their technology is, how big the market is. They spend too little time understanding their customers deeply and why the customers actually will buy the technology." (A caveat: The book is geared toward high-growth and high-value start-ups, such as tech companies, Mr. Kaplan says.)
"Little Bets" By Peter Sims
This book demolishes the usual excuses entrepreneurs have for not starting a business, says Saras D. Sarasvathy, an associate professor at the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business.
For instance, she says, "when people say 'I don't have an idea,' they mean they don't have a world-changing, path-breaking blockbuster idea—and unless they have a big idea like that they cannot begin."
"Little Bets," she says, argues that you don't need one of those big ideas; you can start with something simple. The book "shows how 'doing the doable' without waiting for a big idea, or guarantees about the final outcome, can lead to amazing breakthroughs," she says.
"Mastering the Rockefeller Habits"
By Verne Harnish
This guide to developing structured, disciplined routines was "an important influence in my journey from lawn boy to serial entrepreneur," says Barrett Ersek, CEO of Holganix, a Glen Mills, Pa., start-up for fertilizer supplements.
For instance, Mr. Ersek set up a strict schedule for meetings. He now huddles with his executive team for 1½ days once a year, two hours quarterly, 45 minutes weekly and five minutes daily, and each of the get-togethers has a clearly defined purpose. "Before, we might have had a strategic meeting, but it would occur a lot less frequently," Mr. Ersek says. "There would be a lot of complaining and little focus."
"Street Smarts: An All-Purpose Tool Kit for Entrepreneurs" By Norm Brodsky and Bo Burlingham
"I wish I had this book before I started my four businesses," says Kalika Nacion Yap, CEO of Citrus Studios, a Santa Monica, Calif., interactive-design agency. "It would have helped me tremendously and saved a lot of heartache."
The book covers a range of topics that entrepreneurs need to know about, from basics like managing people and finances to bigger issues like understanding your overall life goals. "Reading this book was like having coffee with a veteran entrepreneur," Ms. Yap says. "Norm passionately shared real-life experiences that were far more valuable to me than books that merely spout theories. I loved reading the ups/downs and final successes."
Ms. Haislip is a writer in Chatham, N.J. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
heir top picks.
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