5 Must-Have Books for Small Businesses and Entrepreneurs

Whether you are a seasoned pro or just getting started with introducing a new concept to the market, these books have some timely and time-honored tips.

Susie AlmaneihSome things don’t change when it comes to getting a new product into the world.  But if social media and technology have taught us anything, it’s that innovation depends on blunders, accidents, big mistakes and relentless resilience.  These titles have some interesting points to add to the conversation about what it means to strike out on your own, what it takes to let an idea thrive and how to derive personal satisfaction from the startup process itself.

4 Hour Work Week  by Timothy Ferriss has become a household name for a few reasons.  He stops at nothing when testing an idea, even going as far as testing it on himself (nick-naming himself “the human guinea pig”).  This book put Ferriss on the map because he introduces a few concepts that can be very instructive, like “questioning your assumptions” and “minimum effective dose.”  He’s part self-help, part fitness instructor, part competitive tango dancer, and part Buddhist nerd who really enjoys learning new things.  This read can plant many motivating seeds in the fertile ground of risk and reward.

The Daily Entrepreneur: 33 Success Habits for Small Business Owners, Freelancers and Aspiring 9-to-5 Escape Artists  by S.J Scott & Rebecca Livermore.  

The subtitlespeaks for itself.  Corporate hierarchical culture is giving way to a more level playing field, a more experimental attitude towards productivity and a more reasonable work-life balance.  “Successful entrepreneurs aren’t always the ones with the most talent.  They face the same challenges that you and I face.  What sets them apart is their solid foundation of habits and daily routines.”  The authors take a look at some of the daily, automated and ritualized actions that contribute to success in small business.

The $100 Startup: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future  by Chris Guillebeau discusses the concept of the microbusiness, the recent revolution at the ground floor where individuals with unique talents are learning how to build their dream jobs, or in the author’s words, “crafting a life of independence and purpose.”  He argues that big capital is not necessarily the best recipe for success, and his suggestions are fresh and outside the box.

Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future  by Ashlee Vance. What does the tech giant and visionary have to teach you about small business?  Well, the founder of PayPal nearly went bust trying to get that idea off the ground– while he was still in college.  Since then, he has successfully launched the most sought after electric vehicle and the concomitant infrastructure to propagate this new model of power, and now he is working on colonizing space.  Musk had great ambition, but he also surrounded himself with great minds and kept his contribution to human betterment squarely in front of him.  This is a great inspirational read because despite the size of his accomplishments, he is also very self reflective and critical in his analysis.  Vance is also a talented and interesting writer so she keeps the narrative bouncing along.

The Lean Startup  by Eric Ries examines the triumphs and tribulations of the best and the worst launches, trying to get behind the scenes and debunk the modern Horatio Alger story of the hard work and perseverance that enables a couple guys in a garage to change the world.  Ries takes a hard look at failure and just what can be gleaned from it, but more importantly, he spells out a step-by-step process for developing an idea as a way of condensing the concept for maximum impact.  This one really encourages the reader to rethink some of the presupposed processes in creating a startup.

If you are sitting at your desk dreaming of the big win, it may be time to turn to the literature for some energizing guidance.  Sometimes, according to these examples, the most outrageous ideas make it, and regular people can make some remarkable choices that change their lives and the market.  It’s not a coincidence that the way these thinkers define success by the quality of their experiences in bringing a new invention into the world, not by the success of the product itself.  So if we study the masters, we also may be able to achieve the personal exhilaration that comes from creating a new solution.

The 21st Century Woman: Educating and Encouraging the Next Generation in Leadership Roles

Supporting women in higher education is critical for the workforce and the culture.

Women are making profound strides moving into positions of power, and by virtue of this shift, sectors like tech, management and policy are changing at a fundamental level.  For every one man that graduates from college this year, three women will graduate. Our daughters will be running their own companies, many of them maybe as early as high school age if the current trends continue.

Susie Almaneih

Meredith Perry, CEO of uBeam

Take Meredith Perry, 25, the founder and CEO of uBeam, a wireless charging solution that converts electricity into ultrasound to charge remote devices.  Or there is Tiffany Pham, who is 27 and founded MOGUL, a content-driven platform for women to connect professionally.  While women are still outnumbered by men in the tech field, it’s worth noting that more young women are taking charge of their own projects and building their own companies.

This new influence has started to transform the former stiff shirt and tie of the corporate world.  Women are often credited with bringing a more collaborative approach to their work that empowers the people around them, rather than the old competitive model.  They value good work instead of long hours and they actively listen, which makes them great bosses.

How do we help the next generation of girls and women think of themselves as leaders, innovators and contributors?

One assumption that needs reexamining is the idea that girls are simply not interested in these pursuits.  A recent study on fourth graders indicated that boys’ and girls’ interest in science and math is about the same, but the girls’ engagement starts to drop off sharply once they reach eighth grade.  In other words, the notion that science is a man’s department starts to interfere with that interest.

Bias toward boys in the STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) areas is still very much a factor.  In sex-segregated classes, boys are rewarded for critical thinking and analysis much more than girls.  But what researchers are finding is that when girls are actively encouraged, boys also benefit.

Another thing we can do is to start young.  Girls have traditionally been pushed away from trucks and gears and coaxed toward the Barbies.  And there’s nothing wrong with a little dress up, but by examining the early models we impress upon, our girls can have a huge impact on their aptitudes and sense of self.

Forward thinking designers, Alice Brooks and Bettina Chen founded Roominate, a company that creates toys designed to encourage girls toward spatial development, architecture and design. By getting girls involved at the age when play is the primary tool of learning, we can spark their interest in technical construction and design.

Math and science are relatively new frontiers for women.  While the gap is closing, the U.S. lags behind in developing the next wave of hard science professionals.  Young women, up until very recently, never even considered going into botany, biology, chemistry, physics or engineering.  High schools, colleges and universities are working to make up that gap by actively supporting women in these fields.  And it appears to be working, too; according to a recent study conducted by Pew Research Center, half of the women graduating from a four-year college in 2011 credited their education with their personal and professional development, where only 37% of men saw their college education as a growth opportunity.

Susie AlmaneihHaving positive role models inside and outside the classroom is a crucial piece for inviting girls into these roles.  Girls need concrete examples of successful women in leadership.  Rather than touting the exceptions to the rules, the Amelia Earharts and the Marie Curies, girls need to see real-life examples of everyday women out there innovating, organizing and evolving the workplace.  This also means having confident teachers who mirror inquiry, skill and achievement.

In fact, the White House Council on Girls and Women is actively pushing for STEM education because as women move into these fields that require higher education, the research shows that the income gap between women and men decreases. “If we’re going to out-innovate and out-educate the rest of the world, then we have to open doors to everyone,” said First Lady Michelle Obama, “We need all hands on deck. And that means clearing hurdles for women and girls as they navigate careers in science, technology, engineering and math.”

We have an incredible opportunity to harness the energies and passions of the next generation, and one way to do this is to foster a proactive approach in educating our girls.  Driving this relatively untapped source of talent not only contributes to the health of the workforce and the country’s competitive edge, it also sets our young women up for better quality of life.

References:

  1. http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/07/the-end-of-men/308135/
  2. http://www.livescience.com/7349-top-5-myths-girls-math-science.html
  3. http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2011/08/17/women-see-value-and-benefits-of-college-men-lag-on-both-fronts-survey-finds/
  4. https://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/ostp/women

Taking the Reigns

susie almaneih entrepreneur You’ve taken the reigns of your future and decided to join the ranks of the entrepreneur. With so much freedom afforded to you by owning your own business, you’re only limited by the goals you set, and the drive you use to achieve them. However, this much room can be daunting to some. Here are a few lessons applicable to any business looking to get off the ground.

Its important when starting your own business to be certain of the passions you’d like to persue. This is more than a hobby, it’s your future, and will hopefully be until the day you choose to retire. Realistically look at what you’ve chosen to do, and be sure that it’s something you’re prepared to do, day in and day out. When you’ve truly found your passion, be sure it’s something marketable. You’re looking to start a business, and while you may be passionate about a great many things, you’d like that desire to ideally lead to revenue.

After devising your business, you’re going to need a marketing plan. In the world of social media marketing and email outreach, it’s important to know how to get the public’s attention. Design an approach for various platforms to maximize visibility. Without a social media presence, you may as well be invisible in this digital age.

With outreach comes feedback, and that alone is worth its weight in gold. Take any analytics and responses to your company seriously. Track how your various approaches are received by the general public and build upon that data. This information can mean the difference between success and failure for a small company. If the resources are available to you, attempting a small-scale launch of your business model can further illustrate areas that may need improvement.

With the shell of your company constructed, you need a team that’s willing and capable to move it forward. As an entrepreneur, you have the luxury of stocking your own roster of like-minded individuals. Choose only the best minds capable of fulfilling your vision. In doing so, you build a strong foundation to support your business, and your dream.Susie Almaneih business leader sticky notes

When you’ve settled on a business model and team, it’s time to devote yourself completely to your cause. Though your journey on the road of entrepreneurship is far from over, you’ve now leapt over the hurdles that so often snag most. You have a clear vision, an organized business, and a team that shares your goals. As you grow alongside your company, remember that while it may be your responsibility, it’s also your success. Own your dream, and never let your fear of the present dim a bright future.

The Upside of Failure

One needs not indulge in the words of Thomas Edison or Bill Gates to confirm that failure is not the mutually exclusive opposite of success. Failure is very much part and parcel of success, just as crawling and falling are the first and necessary steps to walking. While it is an unfair blanket statement to say no success was ever achieved without prior failures, it is fair, and even conducive to understand that no failure stands without the inherent potential for learning and improvement.

Elizabeth Gilbert, a once unpublished author, in her TED talk viewable here, constructs an argument based off of personal experience that success and failure are concerns external to, and thus irrelevant to, true achievement. While she may agree that failure is the intuitive launchpad to great innovation—showing what works by revealing what doesn’t—she places real emphasis on intrinsic passion, arguing that the consequences of an action (such as critical opinion for a work of art) do not matter to an individual who is sure of his goal, something Gilbert calls a “home.”

Facing intimidating competition in the realm of publishing, specifically from the recent release of “Eat, Pray, Love” in spite of its unfavorable succès d’estime, Gilbert considered giving up, dropping out of the race to moving to the country to pursue a different career path. For the first six years of her dedication to publishing a novel of which she was proud, she was rejected without pause. What kept her going was her belief. After being rejected, Gilbert always returned back to writing. She explains “I loved writing more than I hated failing at writing, which is to say that I loved writing more than I loved my own ego, which is ultimately to say that I loved writing more than I loved myself.” She later adds that writing is her “home,” or her sense of self. She adds “your home is that thing to which you can dedicate your energies with such singular devotion that the ultimate results become inconsequential.”

After watching “Eat, Pray, Love” Gilbert said she found herself associating with the failing artist. She says this resonance is what showed her the connection between “great failure and the way we experience great success.” In her own words, “Failure catapults you abruptly… into the blinding darkness of disappointment.” “Success,” she adds, “catapults you just as abruptly…into the equaling blinding glare of fame and recognition and praise.” What she argues is the importance of either’s influence on the subconscious. Both failure and success are external evaluations of more personal, internalized goals.Gilbert realized, a true passion remains untouched by opinions and critique—good and bad. After her first book was published, and failed, Gilbert was relieved by an unexpected feeling; she felt “bulletproof.” She felt what anybody feels after completing a task that once seemed impossible. She grew stronger than her obstacles, she grew past her defeats, and she broke through—now, able to call herself an author. What’s more is her initial success pushed her to continue writing, no longer fearful of extrinsic concerns such as failure or success. She writes for herself, and that is why she is successful.