Why read business books?
Small business management can be a lonely place. Your employees or freelancers have people to turn to if they need advice or inputs. They can speak with co-workers or, at the very least, you. But your role as the captain of the ship can feel like a lonely place. The buck stops with you for decisions that are made in your business. So why read business books, and what are the alternatives?
Finding accountability partners, mastermind groups or mutually beneficial networks can help address the problem. But in terms of building wider perspectives on what works in business, and specifically what might work for you in yours, it's important to keep learning. There are ways to do that. You can pay for online training, find good resources through blogs like this, or develop a regular business book reading habit.
Devoting time to relax and read (or listen - see below) is a good habit to develop. Reading business books can open your mind to finding new inspiration or ideas. This can lead to great outcomes for you and your business. Best of all, it's cost- and time-effective. Win-win-win ???.
But, if you're not a regular business book reader, you probably have questions. So I've prepared this article to answer common questions business owners have around reading business books. When you're done, check out our article 'Which business books to read in 2021' for where to start. OK, let's get into it...
Table of Contents
Why read business books?
Books can inspire us, help us to develop valuable business strategies and be a source of inspiration to try different things. For the price of a just a few takeout coffees, you're getting the life's experiences of a business experts in their field. That kind of expertise would cost a fortune one-to-one. Pound-for-pound, investing in your business education via a well-thumbed book collection is one of the highest ROI activities you can commit to as a business owner.
In a world where a lot of business education is expensive, or doesn't encourage you to stop, contemplate and consider, taking a few hours out of your working week or weekend to enjoy and learn from a good business book is a powerful habit to develop.
Does reading business books help?
Reading or listening to a book is a very personal experience. When you're immersed in their book or listening to the author on audiobook, you're one-to-one with them, and with the time and headspace to reflect on each passage or chapter and how that benefits your business.
Even if you learn just one new thing per book that benefits part of your business by 1%, those marginal gains all add up over the course of the years.
By contrast to reading a fiction book, to get the most out of reading a business book, consider highlighting passages or making a few notes or thoughts in the margin as you go. It makes it a lot easier to come back to sections. By way of a summary of those notes, write page references and a word or two in the inside cover so it's easy to find the valuable parts again. Give yourself permission to ignore everything your parents or teachers told you about writing in books.
This serves two purposes: it helps you to process what you're learning from the book in the context of your own business, and; the practice of writing a few notes helps you to remember what you've learned so that you can apply it afterwards, whether immediately or even years down the line.
If you'd rather keep all your notes in one place, consider buying a nice journal just for recording book notes, or - if you're like me and prefer to keep things digitally - use a Notes app on your phone that also syncs to your other devices (e.g. Notes for iOS / MacOS, or Google Docs / Google Keep).
How many business books should you read a year?
How many books you read really comes down to a personal preference. One business book per month is a decent target. I've heard of business owners who'll plough through a book a week, but my personal perspective on that is that you don't get enough time to reflect on and consider each book's content and insights in the context of your business.
Some people are 'book lovers', others find it harder to pick up a book for enjoyment or relaxation. If you don't enjoy the process of reading a book, then consider listening to the audio version of the book. Services like Audible and Libro make it easy for you to listen to books in full on your phone, tablet, laptop or even via a smart TV.
Importantly, you should remember that you're not at school any more. You don't have an assignment to hand in. If you don't like the book, or don't feel it's going to benefit you from around twenty pages in (or about half an hour of listening), then you're not going to end up in detention for not finishing it. If it's not going to benefit you, then ditch the book. Your time is your most valuable commodity - don't waste it. I don't listen in full to- or read cover-to-cover all the books I buy. I've got better at choosing books that I think I'll get value from, but even still, I complete only about two-thirds of the books I start.
Where to buy business books
It's easy to say 'go buy your books on Amazon' and get them delivered next day with services like Amazon Prime. But if you can buy from independent book stores wherever you are able to, then you're directly helping fellow small business owners to earn a living; to feed and clothe their families, to contribute to the fabric of your town centre and to continue to trade.
Fantastic as the next-day-delivery service from Amazon is, Amazon's market-leading position is part-funded by paying almost zero corporation tax for its UK operations, despite the company's high profits. Make your own moral choice on that one.
I try to buy physical books from local independent bookstores but Amazon gets my money for audiobooks via Audible because I haven't found a service that comes close to the availability of audiobooks on that service. Bookshop.org is a wonderful online store that supports independent bookstores in its co-operative and - where availability allows -all the links on our 'Which business books to read in 2021' post are to Bookshop's service, which pays a minimum of 10% of every purchase to local bookstores. You can even choose your own local indie on their site to buy from.
How to read business books
When it comes to reading your business books you have three main options: paper version, e-reader or audiobook.
Paperbacks: The advantage of the paper version is that you can make notes and scribbles and easily put physical bookmarks on specific pages. The disadvantage is that you have to physically carry the book with you to remember those notes.
E-readers: The advantage of e-readers like Kindle or Kobo are that you can carry an entire collection with you. You can bookmark and add notes to passages, but it can be a bit of a faff to find them again. People tend to be e-reader fans or not. I've bought books that have had offers on Kindle versions in the past, and have some of my favourites on there as additional copies, but overall I tend to prefer the ease of recording notes on paper editions to e-reader.
Audiobooks: The advantage of audiobook services like Audible or Libro is that you can listen to books as you do other things - as you walk, run, drive or cook. The disadvantage is that bookmarking and recording notes means you have to stop, track back a bit in the playback and remember specifically where the passage was that you want to bookmark. You have to really pay attention as you listen, making note-making as you drive, run or cook virtually impossible! Additionally, to see your notes you have to have the audiobook on your device and go back into the specific book to see them.
On balance, however, my personal preference is to listen to audiobooks. It fits best with my daily routines, listening as I take my morning walk and before I go to sleep at bedtime. I've got a 24 book per year subscription with Audible. This costs £110 per year, working out at just £4.58 / book. I occasionally buy paperback versions of my most noteworthy listens or of books I want to read that aren't available as audiobooks.
Where you read (or listen) and how you want to take notes will be the two biggest drivers of the format you buy your books, so give consideration that works best for you to turn business book reading into a regular habit.
Why read business books: a wrap-up
Running a business can be a lonely, challenging place with few places to find new insights or inspiration when you're responsible for the direction and outcomes. But developing the positive habit of regularly reading or listening to business books gives your brain time to contemplate and process alternative business perspectives or ideas. Put this in the mix with what you learn from working with clients and contact with other business owners and it's a cost- and time-effective way of developing yourself and your business.
Want an idea of where to start? Check out our post 'Which business books to read in 2021' for 12 great small business management, productivity, small business marketing and systemisation books to get you started.
Are you a regular book reader? Or do you find reading books a challenge? If you have questions I haven't answered in the article, then let me know. Let's start a conversation in the comments below and explore the topic further.