Are you a small business owner who is interested in adding some books to their must-read list? While there is certainly no shortage of reading material when it comes to the topic of running a business, deciding which ones to start with can be a bit overwhelming. Fortunately, we have a few suggestions to kick off your reading list. In episode #101, Elizabeth Larkin and Gene Marks share several of their favorite books for small business owners.

Executive Summary

0:22—Today’s Topic: What are Your Favorite Books for Small Business Owners?

1:24—Rather than attempting to multi-task, Deep Work by Cal Newport advocates focusing on a single assignment because doing so enables you to work more effectively.

4:40—The E-Myth by Michael Gerber stresses the importance of developing a business that can operate independently of you.

9:54—In Grit by Angela Duckworth, small business owners discover that passion and persistence are the primary factors in determining an individual’s overall success.

15:33— Robert Cialdini’s book, Influence, teaches business owners about the psychology of persuasion and negotiation, so that they can incorporate it into their work.

18:32—Business owners in need of inspiration should read Churchill, A Life by Martin Gilbert because it depicts all the obstacles that Winston Churchill had to overcome.

21:30—Gene discusses a new chat bot called Spot, which can be used to record all claims of sexual harassment.


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Elizabeth: This is Elizabeth Larkin. I’m here with Gene Marks and we’re back with another episode of the Small Biz Ahead Podcast. Welcome, Gene.

Gene: Welcome, Elizabeth. We’re happy to be here. I know were talking about books today.

Elizabeth: Yes. One of my favorite topics, dogs and books.

Gene: Yes. We’re going to talk business books, but-

Elizabeth: We’re going talk business books.

Gene: Boy, that’s all we should talk about other books. I’ve got a lot of other books to talk about, but this is fine.

Elizabeth: We should start another podcast, Gene.

Gene: I’m telling ya.

Elizabeth: What’s Gene watching and reading?

Gene: Yeah. I’m reading a good one now. But, okay.

Elizabeth: So, if you do want to hear about what Gene is watching and reading then listen to the end and we will discuss that, but in the next segment we’re going to talk about great books for small business owners to read to further their acumen in running their businesses or even in starting a business. We’ll be right back.

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QUESTION: What Are Your Favorite Go-To Books for Small Business Owners?

Elizabeth: Okay, I’m gonna jump in first with a book that I recently read that I loved. And it doesn’t really have anything to do with owning or running a business. It has to do with how you work. So again, the topic is what are your favorite go-to books for small business owners.

Gene: Good.

Elizabeth: This book is called, Deep Work by Cal Newport. If you’re not interested in reading it, I’m just gonna link to a podcast that he was on recently where they kinda summarize the book. It’s so good.

So, Cal’s thinking is that most people spend time in a state of frenetic shallowness, as he calls it. While you’re working. So, you’re like checking email, the phone’s ringing, you’re like scrolling through your phone, you’re talking to your co-worker, you’re doing an Excel spreadsheet, but you also have, like, Facebook open to see what’s happening on your business page. And when you do that you’re permanently reducing your capacity to perform deep work. And what deep work is, we’ve all experienced this, it’s in other words flow. It’s like when you’re sitting there … Gene, this probably happens to you when you’re writing in the morning. You just get into that state where you’re totally focused on what you’re doing. And, we don’t do that, that often.

It’s impossible to do it in my office as you’ve seen. We have like an open office space. But as a business owner, you’re working from home, or you’re in an office you might have your own office, so it will be easier to do this. And I loved it. He gives so many tips for getting over that, what he calls the state of frenetic shallowness. That really keeps you from being able to think about your business objectively and get big projects done.

And we talk about this all the time, that business owners are constantly in the weeds. They’re responding to emails, they’re in their CRM system, and then they switch to another task. I feel that, Gene, you’re a really good example of this because you really batch things.

Gene: I do.

Elizabeth: Like, if you’re in the CRM, you’re just in your CRM.

Gene: I do, yeah.

Elizabeth: If you’re just doing some strategic thinking, you’re doing strategic thinking.

Gene: Yeah, I mean, that’s exactly … I mean listen there are some books that can help you do that. There are therapies, there are classes that can help you do that. But it really is important to learn. You know, when you’re running a business, one of the biggest challenges that I have, and that most of my clients have, is where we’ve got a lot of balls in the air. And, it’s very easy to get distracted and it’s very easy to get pulled in different directions. And, you gotta get stuff done.

Elizabeth: So this book will really … Again it’s called Deep Work. And, we’ll link it in the show notes. It really explains why you want to get into that state and how to do it. And he has done a lot of studies. And he claims that being able to concentrate intensely is a skill that actually must be trained. You don’t just inherently have it. You actually have to, like, work that muscle a lot.

So, if you’re sitting here listening to this podcast episode and you’re updating an Excel spreadsheet, while also like checking your emails, this book is for you. So again, it’s Deep Work by Cal Newport. So that is book number one. Gene, what’s your book?

Gene: So, if we’re gonna keep talking about … Because I have a lot of books that I do want to share with you today. But, I’m gonna start with a really old school book when people talk about what is really, from a business stand point, particularly from a small business end. This book is called The E Myth by Michael Gerber. Have you ever heard of The E Myth?

Elizabeth: No.

Gene: Wow. That’s … The E Myth is an iconic book. It’s probably thirty years old at this point. Michael Gerber wrote it. It was a big, big best seller when he wrote it and it still continues to be big best seller. And, The E-Myth should be read by anybody looking to start a business, but more importantly should be read by anybody running an existing business because all the lessons in The E-Myth still are very, very relevant today. And, the lesson basically says this, is that when you’re running a business, you need to be running it so that it can run on its own.

Elizabeth: Without you.

Gene: Without you. And what Gerber gives like these examples of businesses that have done this well and businesses that have not done this well. For example, a McDonald’s franchise. Pretty much has … It has the processes, the policies, everything in place that even if a manager quits, you can insert another manager and thinks still run on. Right? You’ve got everything right there.

You should be able to as a business owner be able to remove yourself from your business, really for weeks at a time and still have the confidence that you’ve got an organizational structure …

Elizabeth: You would never do that.

Gene: My business is the opposite of the The E-Myth. And it’s true. And I recently re-read this book and I was saying to myself, like jeez, I’ve been running this business now for 24 years and I am just nowhere near where Gerber says that I should be.

Elizabeth: So what could you do differently?

Gene: So, it’s a really good question. Part of it’s psychologically. Like, I have to be ready psychologically to be more hands-off with my business.

Elizabeth: Do you think that’s because of your huge ego? Do you think only you can do it?

Gene: It is. It’s a little bit of micromanager. It’s a bit of an ego thing. It’s also a bit of a micromanagement thing. It’s also a bit of laziness thing because to really build … I would have to build an organization where I’m bringing on more people and giving them responsibilities and then having processes in place and having a team there.

Elizabeth: That’s the thing, the process is really difficult to sit down and think, okay, what’s actually the best way to do this.

Gene: Correct.

Elizabeth: And getting the right people in place to actually execute that.

Gene: And then dealing with the people. And dealing with … I’m gonna talk about another book about dealing with people. But this a … It’s something I look at it and I’m like, you know, I’m doing fine the way my business is right now. I can’t be bothered.

Elizabeth: You seem happy.

Gene: Yeah, I’m happy. It’s good. By the way, there’s nothing wrong with that either, right? But I’m just saying, the problem with my business is that if I go and get hit by a bus tomorrow, my business is worth nothing. I mean, we don’t have any processes in place. We don’t have any infrastructure. We don’t have any long-term … I mean I’ve generated cash from my business, which I’ve saved and that’s fine. But from a long-term value stand point, it’s not something somebody else could just take over and start running it.

Elizabeth: So, let’s say you wanted to do that, what would be your first step? Would you have to hire someone to do that?

Gene: I would. I would need to hire … I mean I have mostly contractors in my business and a few employees. So, I would have to start, first of all, turning some of those contractors into employees, for starters. I think I would have to have more brick and mortar. We have a virtual business. And, I think we have to turn it into something more brick and mortar. And then I would need to be hiring people out of more of a management level to work … Slowly. I mean one at a time. This would be like a five or ten year process to do.

Elizabeth: Yeah. You have Cory?

Gene: I know. Well, that’s true. And he is one of my employees and he is there and I agree with that. But, it’s just a different outlook that we have. It’s not a structured business, like Michael Gerber recommends in the The E-Myth. And, to me, I think his advice and his path and his observation about how to run a business, that is ultimately what your business should be. It should stand on its own, run on its own, and then be an asset that you can turn around and sell to somebody.

Elizabeth: It’s funny, I was just gonna say, could, like, a coffee shop do this? But, honestly, McDonald’s does it.

Gene: It does. Yeah, that’s exactly right. And, I think you know I was in New York City yesterday and I was at this diner, it was called Malibu Diner on 23rd Street. It was fantastic.

Elizabeth: Yep, I’ve been there.

Gene: Just great. And I was thinking, like, this diner, I know, I actually did a … I was looking at it. It’s just a coffee shop kind of diner in New York. It’s been around for decades, since like the 40s. You know it’s been around. And it’s had multiple management change over the time. But, if you go and buy a diner like that, there’s a diner with a brand, a location, a lease, employees are there, equipment is there, the menu’s there, the whatever. You’re pretty much picking it up. Now, obviously you can improve on it. But, that diner has value. Do you know what I mean? That is an asset that you can sell just as an operating entity. It is-

Elizabeth: They probably don’t own the building.

Gene: Yeah, but they hopefully … I don’t know what their situation is, but hopefully they have a lease or whatever. But they are … And they have a brand and they’re known in the community and they’re a great diner. This is just a perfect example of a little business, little coffee shop in New York, or whatever, that they followed the The E-Myth. You know, they have built an operation that is sustainable over a longer period of time and valuable. So, The E-Myth.

Elizabeth: Okay, moving on the book number three.

I really love this book. It’s called Grit by Angela Duckworth.

Gene: Oh, love that book.

Elizabeth: So, a lot of people operate under the myth that you’re just born talented and really talented people should just open businesses and because they are just talented business should just thrive.

And, you’re probably sitting there thinking, I don’t think that. But, honestly, we all kinda think that. Some people are just born, like, that way. But Angela Duckworth argues that the most successful business owners have grit. And grit is defined by passion and persistence. Now, I’m sure you see this-

Gene: I do.

Elizabeth: With your clients.

Gene: Now, grit has been … Angela Duckworth is a professor, I think she is at Penn. She might be-

Elizabeth: She’s a social scientist.

Gene: Social scientist. I think she is at Penn. But, this book was a big best seller and it was not as popular in the business world as a I thought it should be. It was more popular among educators. Because the idea was, why do some kids succeed while others fail in school or don’t get the same-

Elizabeth: People who are really smart, like, high IQ kids, like some of them end of being D or C students, when the ones who have lower IQs … I don’t even know if IQ is like a good-

Gene: It’s not. The best example I’d give is my sister, who, you know, I love dearly, but my sister, like me, you know, she’s above average intelligence. She’s a doctor. She’s a family doc in Philadelphia. She has a very thriving practice there. But, she’s not, like, believe me, she’s not, like, breaking any IQ records. Neither am I. But she is somebody … She went to Muhlenberg College and then she went to medical school after that and everything in her life she had to fight for. Like her grades were just on the borderline, you know, of getting in and she would have to go and interview and fight and write and yell and … And even in medical school the same thing and then even like … Because she had grit. She really did. She was like you know what, I’ve enough intelligence to at least get me on the field. But now, if I’m gonna get somewhere, I don’t have enough natural ability to hit home runs, I’ve got to figure out other ways that I can move ahead in my field of expertise. She has grit.

Elizabeth: You know that movie Rudy?

Gene: Yeah.

Elizabeth: Okay, so we … I feel like we might’ve talked … No I don’t think we-

Gene: No, we never talked about Rudy.

Elizabeth: Talked about it on the podcast.

I think when people hear grit, they think about Rudy and he, you know, he wanted to go to Notre Dame. I mean, everyone’s seen this movie, but I’m gonna recap it for the few people who haven’t. He wanted to go to Notre Dame and play football. He was like an average football player. He was a below average student, so he went to community college for two years. Then he transferred. And then he was a walk on. I think when people here grit, they think like, oh, I’m gonna have to pull a Rudy. Like he went to such crazy extremes. But it’s really not. And what Angela Duckworth talks about is, it’s just persistence. It’s just getting up and working at whatever your goal is. Even if it’s just a little bit everyday.

Gene: And here’s the reality of life, is that, even if you have grit, and you’ve got some level of intelligence, you never feel like you’re getting it all. You never, you know, get the ring or the prize or whatever.

Elizabeth: No one feels like a success.

Gene: No one feels like a success. Everybody has frustrations and everybody just feels like their not getting still where they want to get to. But it’s the people with grit that still keep pushing on, right, you know. And that is a big difference between, I think people that are successful business owners and entrepreneurs and people that just they blame others or they, you know, they just come up with excuses for stuff. People with grit get stuff done.

Elizabeth: Do you have … I’m putting you on the spot, but do you have any clients that you think, that’s just someone that had a lot of grit and that’s why their business is succeeding?

Gene: Yeah.

Elizabeth: Do you have any examples like that?

Gene: Yeah. So, I’ve one person come to mind. He’s a construction company. This guy is like he started his company right out of college and I’ve been working with him now I guess for about six or seven years. So, he’s like in his early 30s now. He started a house restoration business. So, he didn’t have, like, any capital, any whatever. But he loves working with his hands and wanted to be on his own when he graduated. Didn’t want to take a job somewhere else. And, what he did is, is he scraped up enough money to buy a house in West Philadelphia and fixed it up and restored it and flipped it and made some money from doing that. And from the profits he made he turned around and did more.

Now, it’s a young guy. He met a bunch of challenges along the way. People don’t want to lend a young kid money. People don’t wanna … How am I going to trust this guy to do whatever?

Elizabeth: And on real estate.

Gene: Yeah. And he’s had so many people … I mean he’s told me, you know, lie to him, cheat him, steal from him, employees that didn’t show up, and you know, supplies that didn’t work and whatever. But he just … And he’s built a business now. He has something like 25 employees now in this restoration business. He’s done really, really well at what he does. And he is just a perfect example. And again, nothing on him, but he didn’t go to some like Ivy League college. He wasn’t some academic genius with a high IQ. I meet a lot of people like that in life where they own businesses or they’re successful in companies that they’re like VP of Sales somewhere or VP of HR and you know, they went to a descent college or maybe not even college at all, but they just got to where they are because they came to work every day and they worked hard and they shared that grit.

Elizabeth: Okay, so that’s Angela Duckworth’s book Grit, which is our third recommendation.

So, Gene you have our fourth recommendation.

Gene: Yes. So, I love this. Another old school book, but you know what, these are books that they never, they pass the … We should do another podcast on our recommended books from, like, the past year.

Elizabeth: Okay.

Gene: That would be an interesting one to do. But, all time we’re talking about. This one book is called Influence. This like college year persuasion. Right?

Elizabeth: I read this book. I love this writer.

Gene: So, I’m gonna butcher this guy’s last name because-

Elizabeth: Cialdini.

Gene: Cialdini. Robert Cialdini. Right. It is the book to read if you want to learn more about negotiation because it is all about the psychology behind influences other people to do what you want to do. And, by the way, this goes, our whole lives are nothing but negotiation. I mean, you buy a sandwich, your negotiating for it, your raising kids, your dealing with people in life. It’s not just business, but as we all know in business, we’re negotiating all day long with all these different people.

Elizabeth: Now, do you use anything from this book on your kids?

Gene: So, I don’t really … I read the book, like, a couple of times, so I don’t know if I consciously am doing this, but, I’ve absorbed some of the things that he’s talking about. Listening techniques, in offering, you know, certain advice sort of techniques. He’s given … He talks about the different techniques of when you’re one on one negotiating and when you’re in a group as well. How to take control of a conversation. Certain words to use. I’d love to go into more detail about the book but not all the facts of it come to mind.

Elizabeth: You know, maybe we should, actually, because we had one of our writers was writing an eBook for us and I think it’s called Keep Your Customers Coming Back for More. And he interviewed Robert Cialdini for it and he got great insights from him. So maybe we should have that writer on and we can talk about-

Gene: I think that would be great. I think the other fun thing to do, Elizabeth, is that you and I should read this book and then come in and do a podcast together and share what we’ve learned. Like take some notes from the book. I could read this book 10 more times. I love it.

Elizabeth: It’s so good.

Gene: And then second, you know what I just read this book, again, Elizabeth, and here’s three things I took away from it. What are your three things? And I bet we can share some pretty good stuff.

Elizabeth: I loved this book so much. And the reason I read it is because I’m a long-time podcast listener. Back in maybe the mid 2000s, I actually downloaded a podcast that he was a guest on and if you’re not a book reader, which you know what, that’s fine, just search on YouTube for him. He does speaking engagements and he gives such good advice. And at the beginning of his speaking engagements, he says, “I’m gonna leave you with 10 key things.” And then at the end of it you actually remember what those ten key things are.

Gene: Yeah. He’s got like a PhD in social science as well or psychology, and he is, it’s Robert Cialdini is his name.

Elizabeth: Yes, we’ll put everything of course in the show notes. But, I really, really enjoyed that book. And, actually, I have a friend who just got their MBA and he read that. So, if you’re a business owner and you want to keep up with the MBAs, this is something they read and I think they had a whole class about it. Really interesting.

Gene: Okay, so I have one more book that I’ll leave you with here. It’s again, it’s another iconic book, but we’ve talked about business, business, business. One of my all time favorite books is called Churchill: A Life. It’s written by Martin Gilbert. And-

Elizabeth: Let me just pause right there.

Gene: Sure.

Elizabeth: I believe you have a dog named-

Gene: Oh, yeah. That’s true. Actually that didn’t even occur to me, which is really funny, but you’re right. We named our dog Churchill. Like, I’m a huge fan of Winston Churchill. We just saw The Darkest Hour.

Elizabeth: We’re gonna put a picture of Gene’s dog-

Gene: Called Churchill. Yes, you can see Churchill.

Elizabeth: In the show notes.

Gene: Yeah, live and in-person. But, Churchill: A Life is written by Martin … Excuse Simon Gilbert. It is, again, it’s a book that’s 30 40 years old. Gilbert wrote a series of books about Churchill during the 70s and 80s, that encompass not only from Churchill’s files but then a bunch of public records as well. And, then Churchill: A Life is the one volume that’s sort of the best of the entire series. He also wrote a whole bunch of books on World War II. So he was a very well known historian in England.

First of all, very easy to read. Very readable book. Because I can’t … It’s not dry in any case. Brings Churchill, really, to life. It puts so much into perspective of the challenges that the guy like this faced. A guy that over his entire life failed and failed and failed. I mean, was in and out of British government, was scorned, was, you know, brought back. He was the guy in winter when the Nazis Germany was growing and he was saying, you know, we need to be aware of this and nobody was listening to him. And then they brought him in and then all the challenges he had to face while leading his country through World War II. It’s not only inspirational, but it gives you a little bit of spark and energy as a business owner because clearly, hopefully, none of us face the kind of challenges that Churchill faced in his life, but frankly, it’s all relative and we all have our challenges in life. And, it really does put things into perspective. And, it gives you a little bit of inspirations. And this guy has faced Nazi Germany and that the darkest of days, I think I can face the supplier whose asking me to shave down two cents off a pound on that latest order. It just does put things into perspective.

Elizabeth: Watch out if you supply Gene with anything.

Gene: That’s right.

Elizabeth: Because he just read Churchill.

Gene: So, Churchill: A Life, it’s just excellent and it’s Martin Gilbert, is the name of the author and I highly recommend it.

Elizabeth: Okay. Great. We’re gonna be right back after a word from our sponsor with Gene’s Word of Brilliance.


Gene: This week’s Word of Brilliance is called Spot.

Spot is a free and new chat bots that I’ve become aware of and Elizabeth, you can Google this and find, I’ve written about this elsewhere, but there’s also stuff about this. This is a chat bot. And, a chat bot, everybody, is this. It’s not an application, per say. But it’s basically a website that you go to that uses artificial intelligence that asks you questions and depending on your answers, interprets those answers and asks you other questions. So it’s almost like talking to a human, it’s automation.

Elizabeth: Is this like a customer service thing? So you type in like, I didn’t receive my order.

Gene: Yeah, but this is something much, much more important to this. What this chat bot Spot focuses on are issues of harassment and discrimination in the workplace. Now, as a small business owner a lot of us can’t afford HR people or personnel directors, or whatever. And, obviously, these issues are very much, highly … You know, we’re all very aware about these issues right now and we need to make sure we’re taking the right steps to protect ourselves. That our employees are not subject to this stuff.

So, the problem with any incidence of harassment and discrimination in a work place is biased. Right. It’s she said, he said, he said, she said. It’s even the interpreter. If you take it to somebody, people interpret things in a different way. Was this incident truly harassment? Was it not? It’s an issue.

Spot aims to take that bias out of the equation because it’s a chat bot.

Elizabeth: Oh, smart.

Gene: So what it does is that if one of your employees feels that he or she was subject to a potential discrimination or harassment or whatever, if you go to Spot and you ask it, it will lead you through some questions and then you give answers, it will then … It’s not going to determine if harassment took place, but it will ask and respond to your questions and answers in a such a way that they believe is as unbiased as they can make it. To collect the information that they need and put it into the form of a report, that you can then print out and save and delete, obviously, if you don’t want to keep a permanent record, which can be used for human resources purposes and even for legal purposes as well if there’s anything, if it escalates that point.

So, it’s a very interesting little application. Right now it’s under development beta. But, it is free.

Elizabeth: Oh, it’s free. I was just gonna ask what the pricing structure is?

Gene: So, if you look it up and we should leave … Let’s find a link for it online. You can leave it where people can try it out. It’s a nice, unbiased way to gather the facts, in case there’s a potential incident of either harassment or discrimination.

Elizabeth: That’s great. I just need that in my life in general.

Gene: Yeah. Somebody that’s unbiased.

Elizabeth: We used to talk about what TV shows and what books we were reading at the top of the show and we stopped doing that because people were like, you know what we’re business owners, just get to the question, just get to the answer. So, I want to ask if you’re watching The Crown.

Gene: Watched both seasons. It was fantastic.

Elizabeth: Amazing, right?

Gene: Yes, absolutely amazing.

Elizabeth: I couldn’t stand John Lithgow as Churchill.

Gene: Oh no. I didn’t have that reaction. I thought it was great.

Elizabeth: I did not like his depiction of it.

Gene: Oh, wow.

Elizabeth: And, I was really happy he wasn’t in the second season.

Gene: Right, I disagree with you on that. I thought he did a really good job and I was-

Elizabeth: Really?

Gene: Yeah, tough play that character. Tough playing that character. But if you’re listening to this and you want to get … We try to tie this into small business or just running a business, listen, the issues and the challenges that Queen Elizabeth’s faced since she became queen in the 1950s are vast. And a lot of things we really know about her or appreciates. The Crown is not a soap opera. It is a historical drama. And it’s excellent.

Elizabeth: Yeah, it’s really good.

Gene: Excellent.

Elizabeth: The perfect rainy or snowy, like weekend binge watch.

Gene: You learn a lot. You learn a lot by watching it.

Elizabeth: Alright, we’ll be back in a couple days with our next episode, which we will be about the difference between a startup and a small business.

Gene: Yes.

Elizabeth: Thanks for tuning in.

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