In this age of information, we have everything we need to start a new business, create a website, or set up a budget right at our fingertips—Google is a powerful tool. But sometimes you need a deep dive into the topic to truly understand the scope of what’s required from every angle—that’s when we turn to books. In our new series, Turning a Page, we ask successful people to share their go-to tomes that helped transform their business. Whether you listen to them or need to physically flip the pages (and write notes or underline the text like us!), there is so much power in self-educating. Ready to turn a page in your career? These books will help take you there.
There are plenty of successful founders who don’t have MBAs or were college dropouts. Building a successful company takes grit, hard work, and determination, oh, and a serious love for what you do—and some are saying you don’t even need a college degree anymore. But the good news is we live in the age of information, so when you don’t know something, Google is your best friend. Or we like to go old school and turn to ye old books. It’s one of the easiest ways to self-educate and train yourself in an unknown area. As an entrepreneur, you have to be scrappy and in the early stages there really isn’t a lot of spare cash to go around—a lot of big companies started with little to no money. Until your business is at a point where you can afford to hire staff, you have to take on that work and wear multiple hats.
Money is one area where you need to be especially savvy. Get familiar with a P&L and make sure you’re not racking up debt that you can’t pay back quickly. If this is a sticky point for you, too then don’t stress, we got you. We asked 13 successful business owners to share the best finance books they’ve read and the financial lessons they learned.
Read on to find out and add them to your Amazon (or Audible) cart, stat.
The Book: On My Own Two Feet: A Modern Girl’s Guide to Personal Finance by Sharon Kedar
The Financial Lesson: “The book is written by my identical twin sister who is also married to my business partner Greg! Sharon is absolutely amazing, as is her book, which has had multiple printings and helped improve the lives of thousands of women. The best advice I got from the book was:
1. Financial freedom allows for powerful life choices. The strength of our finances impacts the jobs we choose and in some cases the relationships we stay in.
2. Save 10% of my money for the long term no matter what. The book talks about how that’s possible on a $30,000 salary and a $300,000 salary. It’s a state of mind that gets you there.
3. Having money in the bank is the ultimate freedom for when life changes—which it always does. And making choices from a position of financial strength is a power play. Own your finances own your life.
Book: The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau.
The Financial Lesson: “I read this book last year around the time I was starting to work on Bee & Kin. This book gives real examples, specifically documenting 50 individual entrepreneurs and how much money each of them started their business with and what they needed along the way to stay up and running.
“These examples show that you don’t need a crazy investment to start a business that you are passionate about. All you need is an idea that provides real value to someone else. The two main themes he discusses throughout this book are freedom and value. Freedom is what we're all looking for and value is the way to achieve it.”
The Financial Lesson: “Right now we are in the middle of fund raising and growing. The book that really changed everything for us was Secrets of Sand Hill Road by Scott Kupor. While there really is no one-size-fits-all roadmap for fundraising there are critical ways to position and sell yourself that this book helps illuminate. It has helped me and Eliza roadmap our future and strategize our raise/milestones accordingly.
“For leadership and how to get through high growth in your business, I absolutely love Co-Active Leadership by Karen Kimsey-House. This was a transformational body of work that allowed myself and my co-founder Eliza to understand our strengths and how to rely on others during a high-growth moment.”
The Book: An Economist Walks Into A Brothel by Allison Schrager
The Financial Lesson: “For anyone looking to make a change in their life, specifically career or as an entrepreneur, should read An Economist Walks Into A Brothel by Allison Schrager. My father, an entrepreneur himself, gave me this book and told me it would be relevant to my life in many ways. He was right! It’s about how we behave with risk and what assessment patterns we tend to fall into. The book shares how to gain financially, when to risk, when to remain in balance and when to push harder, risking more for a bigger outcomes through proper mindful thinking about risk behavior.
“Often we don’t realize what is truly at stake or what we ultimately want out of a ‘big risk.’ Career defining moments, decisions to start a business or how to plan for retirement are all important risk-based decisions. Defining goals financially and life balance is a must. I’ve applied this book to many areas of my life, specifically with Beautiac, my new start-up, and how we maneuver the company as we traverse the traction gap into a saturated beauty market. Learning how to properly assess risk is a valuable new tool in my toolkit.”
Photo: Tristan Kallas
The Book: Cold Hard Truth by Kevin O’Leary
The Financial Lesson: I’m a big Kevin O’Leary fan. I’d always stumbled upon his articles in Inc. and Entrepreneur. Every time I would read one of them, his philosophy just made sense to me on so many levels. When I wanted to pick up a book last summer, I immediately sought out more of his writing. The Cold Hard Truth details his life and offers a dose of the actual cold hard truth. Kevin highlights numerous methods to run a successful business.
“The best advice I gleaned was to know your numbers, how you spend your money, how you use credit, what your margins are, and if you’re spending money to make money. When you first get into business, you’re wearing multiple hats. For my partner and I, we were doing everything from bookkeeping and invoicing clients to payroll. As your company scales, you move responsibilities. However, it’s important not to lose sight of the numbers. Driving this home made me realize I need to painfully stay on top of the numbers.
“He also draws a clear distinction when it comes to business, I’m not making friends; I’m making money. Although that sounds harsh, it’s something crucial you must learn early on. You can’t make decisions based on if you might hurt someone’s feelings, or if you really like them outside of work. This is something I learned and continue to remind myself and our executives of.”
The Book: The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness by Dave Ramsey
The Financial Lesson: “I worked in mortgage banking for 15 years in the corporate B2B sector before becoming an entrepreneur. I oversaw large banks and independent mortgage companies, generating in excess of $15 billion in revenue. Throughout this time frame I learned a deep understanding of each client's business model, sales plan, performance, risk, debt leverage and cash flow. I took this knowledge and applied it to my business financial plan when creating PREP Your Skin. As a bonus, my husband is a certified financial planner and together we planned for the business years before the idea or the company was started. The company, PREP Your Skin, is self-funded and carries no debt.
“For personal finances I recommend The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness by Dave Ramsey. I've helped several women get their personal finances straightened out with this book, along with my personal tips and experiences. Start with your personal finances and once you have those organized and in a good place, then you can focus on your business financial plan.
Book: Lean Startup by Eric Riles
The Financial Lesson: “This book really drove home the importance of and framework for fast, iterative product releases. This has enabled us to not only learn and improve continuously but also save money by not over investing in features before understanding if consumers really value them.”
Photo: Cory Hultquist
The Book: The Richest Man in Babylon by George S. Clason
The Financial Lesson: “My favorite quote from the entire book is: ‘Advice is one thing that is freely given away, but watch that you take only what is worth having. He who takes advice about his savings from one who is inexperienced in such matters, shall pay with his savings for proving the falsity of their opinions’.”
The book was written a long time ago, so some of the language is a bit archaic. He is saying be careful whom you take advice from, take advice from those who have what you want, those who are smart with their own money, because you might end up just like them. In this day and age, the overabundance of information we have at our fingertips is actually incredibly overwhelming. Learning to decipher whom to take advice from is key to building a strong foundation for any business owner as taking advice from the wrong person/source can be financially detrimental to a business.”
The Book: Double Double by Cameron Herald
The Financial Lesson: “This book has been one of my go-to’s during start-up mode. I used it in my first business as a way to have a clear vision and to double the business—during that time we grew it to our first million. Now in starting up our stationery and lifestyle brand Printfresh, I’ve gone back to using the system in the book. It gives a great outline of efficient meetings you should have, ways to maximize your time off (and that of your employees for better work/life balance), tracking KPI’s (key performance indicators) and creating a dashboard to share with the team of how we are doing with our metrics.
“When I was first starting out I didn’t know what to track or why but taking the time to figure out what moved the needle was incredibly important. It helped us understand how many calls we needed to make to schedule sales appointments, how many sales appointments we needed to hit our sales goals, and more. By gathering data and reviewing it on a weekly basis it’s a lot easier to take some of the emotions out of the equation and focus on the facts and if we are tracking for success.
“These days we fill out a dashboard weekly and share it at our weekly meetings and the team can view it from anywhere through Google spreadsheets. I love that I can be sitting on the beach somewhere but still know how things are going at a glance.”
Photo: Lindsay Brown
The Book: Shoe Dog by Phil Knight
The Financial Lesson: “Many business and financial books I’ve read about entrepreneurs follow a common, and I believe misleading, storyline. It goes like this: A sharp entrepreneur gets a world-changing idea, develops a clear business strategy, recruits a team of people, and together they rocket to fame and riches. No one ever talks about the climb, the brutal challenges in building something from nothing and most importantly, the financial stress that comes with it all.
“Shoe Dog, Phil Knight’s memoir about creating Nike (though not a pure financial management book), is a refreshingly honest reminder of what the path to business success really looks like. It’s a messy, perilous, and chaotic journey riddled with mistakes, endless struggles, personal and financial sacrifice. He was an accountant by training and skillfully demonstrated how to be scrappy in building a business—he paid only $35 to design the Nike swoosh and plowed every dime made in sales back into growing the business in the most strategic way possible.
“This is the real deal and something I practice with J E M M A as well. In this day and age, it is easy to think that what defines a successful business is how big you look on the outside and that includes having a really large team, fancy office and very expensive branding efforts. But in reality, is that a business that will stand the test of time or a business that will run out of cash in five years? As Phil Knight has shown us, it really has to be about being frugal, spending wisely to sustain yourself long enough to outlast everybody else and truly win.”
The Book: Entrepreneurial Finance by Steven Rogers
The Financial Lesson: “I went to an Amex OPEN event for female entrepreneurs and attended one of Steven Rogers' (a Northwestern MBA professor) breakout session and I thought he was incredibly intelligent, interesting, and passionate about entrepreneurship. He mentioned that he had written a book and wrote it in a more casual manner (he literally said ‘I write it in the way in which I speak to you all in person’) and immediately I felt as though I had a lot more to learn from him and purchased the book later that day.
“I wasn't ready to raise money at the time (this was in 2014) and learned a lot about debt financing from the book, specifically regarding SBA loans. We've taken 3 SBA loans to date, which really bridged the gap for us between constantly reinvesting our own profits and being ready to raise our first round of funding. The SBA loans helped us fund our build-outs for new store openings and grow faster than just reinvesting our profits would allow. I also learned a lot about raising institutional funding, (which was on a long-horizon) and it was extremely helpful to know the basics of raising money, including everything from the basic lingo to the pros and cons of taking on an equity partner.
“The biggest takeaway from Rogers' book was that raising money is most certainly not the only option while you're growing a business, which the buzz in the marketplace often suggests. SBA loans have allowed us to grow our business and maintain 100% of our equity until we felt as thought it was truly time to raise money and find a strategic equity partner to provide advice and expertise, rather than just capital.”
The Book: Building a Storybrand by Donald Miller
The Financial Lesson: “This book was a game-changer for Cali'flour Foods. I truly believe that when we made the conscious decision to make our customers the hero, our business boomed in e-commerce. This book focuses on building relationships that laid a strong foundation for us both internally and externally. We focused on the customer and our ‘why’ and the finances took care of themselves. We did exactly what the book said in regards to clarifying our message so that the customers will listen, and boy did they. Our sales skyrocketed in 2017 and have continued to grow ever since.”
The Book: Principles by Ray Dalio
The Financial Lesson: “This book has helped me the most as an entrepreneur. It’s full of helpful guidelines in building and running your business, and Ray's view on money is particularly helpful. Numbers are important, numbers are information but they are not objective. What is most important is the application of those numbers, the insights behind them and how (and when) you let them guide you.”