Some books you finish reading and you say, “Hmmm, that was interesting” and move on with your life.
Other books you highlight the crap out of, write down copious amounts of notes in the margins, and recommend to all your friends.
This post is full of the latter.
These books will teach you about running your own business, how to grow as an individual, and there are even a few jam-packed with inspiration. (A few of which you may have seen on the resources page.) You could easily read all of these in one year, and most of them are old enough for you to pick up for free at the library. I’ve read each of these books and I recommend that you do the following:
- Read them cover to cover.
- Use them as a reference throughout your life.
- Reach out to the authors to thank them for making your life better.
Below are the top 20 books that I consider “must-read” if you are looking to escape your cubicle, start working for yourself, or earn money online.
The Personal MBA by Josh Kaufman
I dropped five figures on a night-school MBA program while working full-time immediately after my undergraduate studies because my company fronted about 75% of the bill. If I were to do it all over again I may just have picked up The Personal MBA and used the time and money spent on an MBA to start a business instead. There are so many useful lessons and actionable pieces of advice you’ll be taking tons of notes when you read this book.
If you pick up just one book on this list, it should be this one. I even had the privilege to speak with Josh over Skype last week after he reached out to me through Expert Enough. He is already hard at work on another epic book (topic yet to be announced) and I’m excited to read that when it comes out too.
The Education of Millionaires by Michael Ellsberg
The Education of Millionaires is the most highlighted book on my Kindle. Michael set out to discover whether or not education has anything to do with success. He interviewed a lot of millionaires that either dropped out of college or never went, but have gone on to become the best in their field.
This book isn’t just filled with amazing behind the scenes stories from people that have become wildly successful in business though, Michael breaks down all the takeaways into excellent easy-to-understand lessons.
The Art of Non-Conformity by Chris Guillebeau
Chris is the one blogger that has been the most inspirational in my life. Heck, I bought the domain name PocketChanged.com and installed WordPress the night before I met him on his book tour just so I had a “blog” to tell him about.
This book doesn’t disappoint. The AONC lays out a framework to help you start living the life that you want. It also features a bunch of stories from people that are going against the grain and living unconventional lives. Pick this one up if you haven’t read it yet.
Book Yourself Solid by Michael Port
Whether you are a freelancer, business owner, or a service provider (meaning people pay you to do something for them) pick up and read Book Yourself Solid. The book lays out a simple system to follow for running all aspects of a one or multi person business successfully. The book covers everything from how to sell without being sleazy to a perfect system for increasing the amount of referrals you get.
I’m currently on my second time through this book and I’m picking up a ton of great actionable advice again. If you are struggling to really pin point what you want to do as an entrepreneur this book can help you narrow that down too.
The Thank You Economy by Gary Vaynerchuk
In this book Gary lays out a theory that money is not the most important currency online. Your riches can be measured in Thank You’s. The more people you directly help one-on-one online (whether that be through a simple reply on Twitter or an email) the more successful you will become. People want help and when you help them they will be your fan forever.
“It’s not the number of followers you have or “likes” you get, it’s the strength of the bond with your followers.” - Gary Vaynerchuk
Crush It! by Gary Vaynerchuk
If you need a swift motivational kick in the pants, pick up Crush It. Gary tells a bunch of stories of how getting to where you want to be in life is not about getting a lucky break or being born rich, it is about working hard.
Now is the time to start working towards where you want to be in life. Not tomorrow. Not next year. Now.
“The best marketing strategy ever: CARE.” – Gary Vaynerchuk
Career Renegade by Jonathan Fields
Once I started considering ditching the 9-5 grind I picked up both this book and the book by Pam Slim below. Jonathan lays out a plan for you to follow if you are looking to break out of the monotony of doing the same thing day-in and day-out.
This book is about the professional revolution that is taking place around the world. People are realizing that: You don’t need to do work you hate to make a living. You can do things you are passionate about and people will pay you to do it. Once you start to realize that this theory isn’t just a pipe dream people are trying to sell to you, your mind will open to all the opportunities available to you.
Uncertainty: Turning Fear into Fuel for Brilliance by Jonathan Fields
Jonathan’s follow-up to Career Renegade targets two specific issues that people have in life: Fear and Doubt. People resist doing what they want in life because these two words creep into their head whenever they are trying to do something new, risky, or scary.
Through a series of stories and themes, Jonathan shows you how to use what used to hold you back to propel you to higher levels of success than you ever imagined.
“One of the single greatest determinants of high-level success as an innovator or creator in any realm is the ability to manage and at times even seek out sustained high levels of uncertainty, bundled lovingly with risk of loss and exposure to criticism.” – Jonathan Fields
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
In one word: classic. Don’t let the phrase “win friends” make you think that this book is at all disingenuous. The tactics and strategies laid out by Dale in this book will make you more personable and just an all-around friendlier person.
“Everybody in the world is seeking happiness – and there is one sure way to find it. That is by controlling your thoughts. Happiness doesn’t depend on outward conditions. It depends on inner conditions.” – Dale Carnegie
Escape from Cubicle Nation by Pamela Slim
If you know you want to make the jump from desk jockey to entrepreneur read Escape from Cubicle Nation by Pam Slim. This book will help lead you through all of the essential exercises you’ll need to do mentally to prepare yourself for “the leap”. It also gives you incredible advice on how to actually make the transition. (Including things like self-paid insurance and benefits.)
I’ve had the privilege of seeing Pam’s coaching first hand at the World Domination Summit and she knows how to help people figure out exactly what their heart wants them to do. If you can afford it, hire her for one-on-one help.
Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez & Vicki Robin
I’ve written before about how I think this is the single best personal finance book available. It is less about the technical “dollars and cents” pieces of personal finance and more about the philosophy you should have towards earning and spending money.
Anyone at any financial point in their life could benefit from YMOYL. While there are other books that relate better to specific areas of personal finance (debt, investing, etc.), reading one book on finance is not how you become financially independent. For an all encompassing book for someone that really wants to tackle their finances, this would be my first recommendation.
Rework by 37 Signals
If you are in any position of power (i.e. you are in charge of anyone or anything), this book is the best book of business advice you can pick up. Written from the experiences of the small, agile software development company 37 Signals, this book is an absolute must-read for anyone looking to be or already is an entrepreneur.
There are so many great parts of this book that it is hard for me to pick just one quote, but this one has always stood out to me most.
“Don’t sit around and wait for someone else to make the change you want to see.” – 37 Signals
The Power of Less by Leo Babauta
You can’t expect to be able to break the confines and comforts of a 9 to 5 career if your life is a mess. You know what I mean: your schedule is jam-packed, your home is cluttered, and you just have too much of everything in your life.
The first and best step you can take towards creating a more meaningful life for yourself is to understand that your life needs less. Less stuff, less commitments, less everything. Leo lays out the best ways to limit yourself to the essential in both business and life in this book. I’ve read through it three times in the past couple years when I start to feel overwhelmed.
The Millionaire Fastlane by MJ Demarco
Ignore the potentially cheesy name or cover on this book. The Millionaire Fastlane has some really great advice. After talking briefly about how the sidewalk (living paycheck to paycheck) and slow lane (working a regular job till you retire) are not the best paths to take, MJ dives into how to create a business to earn wealth faster.
The second half of the book is where it really picks up. He lays out ways for you to determine whether or not the business idea you have is really worth a dime. It is a pretty quick read too.
The Lean Startup by Eric Ries
The concept of starting a company in Silicon Valley, getting angel investors to throw a ton of money your way, and selling your share of the company once it hits the jackpot is still a dream for many people. The trend now though is to create a company that is small, agile, and still ridiculously profitable.
In The Lean Startup, Eric dives into what makes these companies so successful without the size and capital of larger firms.
The key? Continuos innovation.
Trust Agents by Julien Smith & Chris Brogan
If you are looking to grow your presence online, pick up Trust Agents. In order for people to be interested in what you are saying enough to pay for what you are offering (or even give you their email address) they need to be able to trust you.
Without trust, no one is going to care about you. You need to build up that trust with other people, not tear it down in the heat of competition.
“We don’t need to make another team lose to win ourselves. There’s plenty of room.” – Trust Agents
The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss
While this book may have lead to false beliefs about quitting your job to be a location independent entrepreneur, it also started a significant movement of people saying goodbye to the status quo.
If you haven’t read this yet, read it now. Just realize that not everything in the book is right for you in every situation. Use it more as a field guide and reference it often.
(Note: This is one of the few books that I recommend people get in paperback form instead of digital. It reads more like a series of blog posts than it does a book, so you’ll want to be able to access certain parts quickly.)
Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi
Another book that I consider to be classic, Never Eat Alone turned the word networking into a word I don’t cringe for anymore. This book lays out a ton of great tactics for connecting with people and building real relationships with them. This is a must-read book if you are an introvert or don’t have a network of people you can turn to if you need help.
“You can be more successful in two months by becoming really interested in other people’s success than you can in two years trying to get other people interested in your own success.” – Keith Ferrazzi
Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? by Seth Godin
This book will not only help you when you go out on your own, it will help you become the “go-to employee” in your organization when it comes time for leadership roles, promotions, and raises. The foundation of this book is based on the fact that you need to stand out if you want to be successful. Be the unique linchpin of your organization and you won’t be the one shuffled out the door come layoff time.
“Being tall helps you become a star in basketball, but how many of us have a shot at playing in the NBA? It’s not about what you’re born with; it’s about what you do.” – Seth Godin
Tribes: We Need You To Lead Us by Seth Godin
Tribes is listed last, but it is possibly the best book in the list if you are looking to grow a following around yourself or your cause. Seth discusses the principle that you need to be interesting and different enough for people to want to follow you.
If you want to be successful in business you are going to need to build a tribe. This tribe must then consist of people that are ridiculously enthusiast about what you do.
(Think die-hard Apple fanboy enthusiasm.)
BONUS: Firms of Endearment by Rajendra Sisodia & David Wolfe
This one I haven’t read, but is next up on my list. This book was recommended to me by Jacob Sokol from Sensophy a few weeks ago. He sent me the notes he took while reading the book and about halfway through them I realized, “Damn, this is good stuff. I really need to read this book.”
It discusses how world-class companies (such as Southwest Airlines) profit year after year due to focusing mainly on both passion and purpose (and NOT on just merely being a business that makes money).
Even if you just read one or two of these books your mind could be opened to a new idea you hadn’t thought of before or possibly even a new direction to take your life or business in.
If you’ve read any of the above books I’d love to hear from you in the comments below what your biggest takeaways were.
Please share this post using the buttons below this post if you picked up a few new books to read. I really appreciate the help.