15 Inspiring Books Every Freelancer and Small Business Owner Should Read

Not all books are created equally, and if you’ve fallen into the trap of less-than-stellar business advice or motivational literature, then you probably find it difficult to trust at least a few of the titles that you’ve seen online or at the bookstore.

Inspiration from reading

The following books aren’t your average get-rich-quick schemes, nor do they offer cheap, unsubstantiated advice. Instead, you’ll find books with valuable marketing strategies, proven ways to adjust your thinking patterns, and some great inspiration that is sure to help you improve your business.

1. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey

7 Habits of Highly Effective People </figure>

Whether you’re a freelancer or small business owner, every entrepreneur needs to give The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People a read. Published in 1990, it was hailed as one of the most groundbreaking business books ever published, has sold over 25 million copies in 40 languages worldwide, and is still as relevant today.

In this book, Covey teaches you how to achieve that all-important work-life balance by showing you how to shift your perception of the world. If you’re struggling to think more positively, increase your productivity, and start living more of your life outside of work, you can start to create new, positive habits by getting the book.

2. How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie

How to Win Friends and Influence People </figure>

Published in 1936, this book is a classic that has helped countless people around the world. As you may have gathered from the title, How to Win Friends & Influence People teaches you people skills. However, it’s not just basic people skills, but skills that allow you to take leadership roles or to encourage excitement among a group of people.

More importantly, it teaches you how to connect without coming across as manipulative, overly eager or off-putting. Everyone, from the freelancer who wants to impress clients to the small business owner who worries about ruffling their employees’ feathers, can benefit from Carnegie’s wisdom.

3. The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss

The 4-Hour Workweek </figure>

At first glance, The 4-Hour Work Week seems to offer impossible promises of leisure and luxury. However, this book is definitely not a get-rich-quick scheme it and truly does have the potential to change your life. Whether you’re already self-employed or wishing you could leave the 9-to-5 grind, Ferriss shows you how to take control of your life. You’ll also find useful insights on our increasingly mobile lifestyles.

Some of the delicious topics included in this step-by-step guide are:

  • How to eliminate 50% of your work in 48 hours using the principles of a forgotten Italian economist
  • How to trade a long-haul career for short work bursts and frequent “mini-retirements”
  • More than 50 practical tips and case studies from readers (including families) who have doubled income, overcome common sticking points, and reinvented themselves using the original book as a starting point
  • Real-world templates you can copy for eliminating e-mail, negotiating with bosses and clients, or getting a private chef for less than $8 a meal

4. Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson

Rework </figure>

Seth Godin’s Amazon review says it best: “This book will make you uncomfortable.” Rework takes all the assumptions that you’ve made about business and completely destroys them. Fried and Hansson show you how to run a business without being chained to your desk and without endless hours of meetings, paperwork, and other trivial tasks. In other words, you’ll need to cut back on the bureaucracy in order to be an efficient, agile business in the modern marketplace.

This book isn’t just for small business owners, either. Anyone who is interested in becoming more productive or getting more exposure for your business, not to mention learning a whole lot of inspiring and provocative tips and ideas, can benefit from reading this book.

5. Creative, Inc. by Meg Mateo and Joy Deangdeelert Cho

Creative, Inc. </figure>

It seems like everyone wants to be an entrepreneur these days, and if you’re a writer, photographer, illustrator or any kind of creative, then you’ve already got a great, marketable skill. However, your business doesn’t start and end with that skill. You’ll need to navigate tricky things like legal issues, building a portfolio, and attracting clients—all the things that creative people tend to hate doing.

The authors of Creative, Inc. show you how to both start and grow a successful business doing just what you love. This book will provide you with some valuable information, which includes a chapter on getting the word out about your brand, getting paid, finding an agent, and balancing work and personal life. It also contains many interviews with successful freelancers throughout.

6. The Zen of Social Media Marketing by Shama Hyder Kabani

Zen of Social Media Marketing </figure>

Social media is a global phenomenon, one that your business needs to take advantage of if you want to be competitive in today’s marketplace. You might think that you can learn everything you need to know about social media marketing online, but the problem is, how do you know which resources are valid and which are misleading?

The Zen of Social Media Marketing is a well-researched guide that shows you everything you need to know, from the basics of how social media advertising works to more advanced tactics and techniques like group-buying sites, SEO, and targeted marketing.

7. Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill

Think and Grow Rich </figure>

When you need to take a break from reading about various business strategies, check out Napoleon Hill’s book on personal development. Originally published in 1937, this book is widely acclaimed as one of the best pieces of motivational literature ever written. And it’s not just about financial success; the author teaches a philosophy that can be applied to any area of your life.

Think and Grow Rich teaches you how to “negotiate your way through life with harmony and understanding.” Hill uses famous examples such as Henry Ford and Andrew Carnegie to illustrate his philosophy. Moreover, the most recent edition of this book comes with modern-day advice and anecdotes of more current successful business giants like Bill Gates and Dave Thomas.

8. Book Yourself Solid by Michael Port

Book Yourself Solid </figure>

The subtitle is: The Fastest, Easiest, and Most Reliable System for Getting More Clients than You Can Handle Even if You Hate Marketing and Selling, which sums up this book perfectly. For so many of us, self-promotion is the most difficult part of doing business as a freelancer or small business owner.

Port shows you how to market yourself and your business like a seasoned professional with a large variety of suggestions, from social media strategies to tips for networking. Unlike many other similar books, this one offers realistic and actionable guidance (even if you’re an introvert!) that makes it easy to grow your business.

9. Out of the Crisis by W. Edwards Deming
Out of the Crisis

When a business is doing poorly, it’s the management, not the employees, that are to blame. At least, that’s what W. Edwards Deming teaches in this best-selling book. Deming is known as the father of quality control and Out of the Crisis gives you the most comprehensive set of insights into how poor management practices can wreak company-wide havoc on both quality and productivity.

Insights aren’t enough to fix the problem, of course, which is why this book also delves into the solutions you need to improve your company’s management and its vital systems. Deming uses his famous 14 Points for Management principles that, if you follow, will allow you to run a more effective and successful business.

10. The E-Myth Revisited by Michael E. Gerber

The E-Myth Revisited </figure>

One of Gerber’s core beliefs is that entrepreneurs, who are basically people with great ideas, don’t always make the best businesspeople. You see, even though you may have an idea for the next big thing, it’s too easy to fall prey to the many myths and pieces of bad advice circulating about how to run a small business.

The problem is so prevalent that, according to Gerber, 40% of small businesses fail before reaching the end of their first year. He has seen that small business owners who fail tend to demonstrate similar characteristics among themselves, while those who succeed also share the same qualities as each other. To help you avoid belonging to the first group, The E-Myth Revisited walks you through each step you’ll need to take as you build a solid business that endures well beyond that first, fragile year.

11. Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek

Start with Why </figure>

Author Sinek based this book on his studies of the world’s greatest leaders. He found that the people he studied—which include modern-day businessmen like Steve Jobs and historical figures such as Martin Luther King Jr. and the Wright Brothers—all had several characteristics in common: they have all communicated, acted, and thought in the exact same ways. Furthermore, they all had an inherent desire to constantly ask “why” which allowed them to achieve great things.

Using these lessons, Start with Why shows you what it takes to become an inspiring leader. You may also be interested in his TED Talk on the same subject.

12. The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work by Shawn Achor

Happiness Advantage </figure>

Which comes first, happiness or success? Many people would argue that happiness follows success, but Harvard University researcher Shawn Achor has learned that it’s the other way around. Happiness, not hard work, is the key to success. After working with Fortune 500 executives from all over the world, Achor pieced together seven principles that can help all of us become happier and thus more successful.

The best part about this book is that after The Happiness Advantage shows you how positive thinking boosts creativity, energy, and productivity, it then shows you how to become a positive thinker. And, unlike so many of those bottom-shelf self-help books, Achor’s work is backed up by years of psychological and neurological research from experts around the globe.

13. The Success Principles: How to Get from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be by Jack Canfield

The Success Principles </figure>

This isn’t a book specifically for business people so much as it is for people who want to achieve success in any area of their lives. Do you want to become a millionaire, or would you simply like to shed a few extra pounds? Either way, Canfield, one of the creators of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, outlines 64 principles that successful people use to reach their goals.

Plus, in a refreshing twist, the stories told in this book aren’t all about high-ranking executives, celebrities or other world-class talents. You’ll also find plenty of stories about ordinary people achieving extraordinary things using these principles.

14. Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook: How to Tell Your Story in a Noisy Social World by Gary Vaynerchuk

Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook </figure>

The title says it all: social media is noisy, and one of the biggest things holding many entrepreneurs and business owners back is the fact that they’re getting lost among all that noise. What many fail to realize is that social marketing isn’t as simple as a one-two punch across all platforms. Each social media platform requires a different “winning combination” in order to get your message across.

In this book, social media expert and author Vaynerchuk shares what he’s learned about effective social media marketing. If you’re wondering how to connect with your audience rather than simply jab, jab, jab, right hook and hope that you hit your target, you’ll definitely want to pick up this book.

15. Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath

Switch: How to Change Things </figure>

Whether you’re changing habits in your lifestyle or in your business, we can all agree: change is never much fun. Authors Chip and Dan Heath say that this is because your brain is actually at war with itself. Even though your rational brain wants to make a change, your emotional brain tempts you into taking the change-free route, a familiar and well-trodden path.

Switch shows you how to overcome your emotional brain, and it does so by using clever narratives to illustrate decades of psychological and sociological research. When you’re ready to overhaul your business, get this book and learn how to make the coming changes easier.

Although there are many more great books out there, this reading list will certainly get you started. Within each of these books, you’ll find the inspiration, tactics, and psychology or science behind it that you need to take your venture—large or small—to the next level.