13 Short Business Lessons from 13 Long Business Books

The life of an entrepreneur is hard. I’m not saying other jobs are easy. However, making a living as an entrepreneur, not to mention a serial entrepreneur, demands solid effort and consistent hustle. 

If you constantly think about starting a business or if you already run one. You’re probably feeling lost, unappreciated, hesitant, all the time. Constantly worrying that despite your inhuman efforts, one day your small business will collapse in ashes and others will make fun of you.

But don’t get too upset and don’t lose your goddamn mind. People around the world are going through similar, if not exactly the same thoughts, concerns, struggles, and setbacks about running or starting a small business.

To get you started if you’re a beginner, and to keep you moving forward, if you already have an established business, I’ve put together this blog post that reveals the key insights from 13 of the best business books.

If you’re an entrepreneur, or if you dream of becoming one, here you’ll find everything you need to know about starting and maintaining a small business.

13 Short Business Lessons from 13 Long Business Books

1. If You’re Not Saying “HELL YEAH!”, Say “No”

from Anything You Want by Derek Sivers

Setting up a small business is tiresome. But actually running it and doing your best to scale it so it can support your desired lifestyle is even more exhausting. If you don’t absolutely adore what you do, you‘ll inevitably fail. That’s why it’s so important to do work that feels important to you.

Derek Sivers says it best in the book Anything You Want, “If you’re not saying “HELL YEAH!” about something, say “no.”

So, when you’re planning and researching your future business, make sure that what you do feels freaking awesome. If the idea is kind of cool, OK-ish, then say no. When you say no to most of the ideas you’ll eventually find a business model that fits your personality best. And that’s what you really want. Ignore everything until you find something that makes you scream “HELL YEAH!”

2. Think About Your Life 5 Years From Now

from Will it Fly? By Pat Flynn

You won’t get far if you think that starting a business revolves around hiring people, purchasing nice equipment and/or writing CEO in your Twitter bio.

Unfortunately, a lot of folks do exactly the above-mentioned. They start “something” just to call themselves entrepreneurs. That’s why more than 30% of small businesses file bankruptcy in the first 2 years. (That’s why I think it’s so important to support small businesses and online creators).

If you want to succeed, however, you need to strategize and test beforehand.

In the book Will it Fly?, Pay Flynn suggests something really handy – to run a test. He calls it the Airport test.

The idea here is to think about your life 5 years from now. To imagine that everything in your life is going great. After that to ask yourself, “What have I done to have this awesome life?”

Am I running a hot dog stand? Did I create an app? An online forum? Or am I selling socks online?

Think about it.

What kind of business you can start today that can operate, be profitable after 5 years and at the same time still feel awesome?

3. Sell Services, Not Products

from Subscribed by Tien Tzuo

People nowadays don’t want to own stuff. They want the benefits the product has to offer but not the actual product. Or as Tien Tzulo writes in his book, “They want the ride, not the car.”

And it kind of makes sense. Since everything in the world requires maintenance, the more stuff you own, the more time you’ll have to spend taking care of these things. In contrast, if you have fewer items, you’ll have more free time at your disposal.

So, the lesson here is simple: focus on creating services that substitute the features (or just one feature) of a physical product and charge for that on a regular basis.

Uber is a great example here. They give you easy access to various transportation methods and they remove the burden of owning a vehicle.

4. Focus on Vertical Progress

from Zero to One by Peter Thiel & Blake Masters

Progress in business can be categorized in the following two states:

  • Horizontal: You basically copy an already existing business model to sell your own stuff. For example, you create an online shop to sell socks.
  • Vertical: You find new ways to do old things. Think of Facebook or Uber. Such business models are game-changers. Obviously, it’s harder to come up with a vertical business model, but if you do think of something, you’ll surely dominate that particular market.

The question here is: How to come up with a vertical business idea?

Use tech. If you can automate things we regularly do to save people some time, you’ll have a valuable proposition which you can sell to others.

5. Don’t Ask People Whether Your Business Is a Good Idea

from The Mom Test by Rob Fitzpatrick

Don’t try to convince anyone of anything. If you have a business idea, don’t mention it to people. Work backward.

Let’s say you have an idea about a new workout app. Instead of saying that you’re going to create a new application for workout sessions, ask people what is stopping them from exercising regularly in general.

There are hundreds of apps out there. Yours will hardly make a difference if you simply do what everyone else is doing. But if you can inspire others to train more often, probably you’ll have yourself a winning business idea. 

So, don’t go telling everyone that you’re going to be an entrepreneur. If you’re serious about starting a business, you need to understand the real problems of your potential customers. And you can do this only by asking the right questions, not boasting that you’re going to build an app.

6. Google Your Name

from Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? by Seth Godin

Type your name in Google. What’s appearing? Do you like what you see?

If not, what can you do to change this?

The best part of living in the 21st century is that you get to become what you regularly share. If cat videos and food selfies are your regular shares, then people will think of you as an average user of the internet. No harm there but also zero benefits.

However, if you spend some time creating something useful and of high-quality, and then you do it again, and then again, you’ll soon have an audience of people asking you to do more.

But not only that. People will now associate your name with something creative. And there is always business in that direction. You just need to figure out what you can regularly share that will be both useful to others and exciting for you.

7. It’s OK If It’s Not Perfect

from Rework by Jason Fried & David Hansson

While smartphone companies spend hundreds of millions to come up with a new flashy design, you can get away if your product is not flawless from the get-go.

According to recent research, nearly half of the entrepreneurs starting businesses need more than a year to move from idea to action. 

A whole freaking year just to start!

But it shouldn’t be like that.

You don’t have to learn everything in order to start a business and create a product. You don’t even need a product. Just start. You might lack skills and confidence initially, but it’s way better to take action than to sit around and never come out of the planning stage.

Or as the saying goes, “Fail fast, learn quickly and move forward.”

8. Be Very Specific About What You’re Going to Do

from This is Marketing by Seth Godin

As the entrepreneurial movement progresses, more and more people are launching their own products and swear they’re going to make the world a better place. And while this all noble and stuff, if you enter the market without a clear goal and you haven’t specified the group of people you want to serve, you’re bound to fail.

See, you can’t please everyone. Even massive businesses like Amazon and Google have been criticized and hated by a lot of people, and that’s cool. They don’t mind. Neither should you.

Since you don’t have enough time and money to build a brand for everyone, build a brand for a well-defined group of people. 

Be specific when you’re planning what to start. Be very specific.

9. There Are Only 5-Steps to Business Success

from Principles: Life and Work by Ray Dalio

I know you want to hear that. That starting a business is easy peasy lemon squeezy and that you, too, can become location independent nomad so you can update your Instagram with pictures of exotic places and half-nude selfies while drinking cocktails.

Unfortunately, living the laptop lifestyle is not that easy.

Running a business is a lot harder than what everyone else is saying online. It might even take you years to see some results. But I’m not going to ruin your afternoon. Here’s a 5-step process for becoming an insanely rich internet person:

  1. Set goals. They will point you in the right direction.
  2. Write a business plan that will help you achieve these goals.
  3. Accurately diagnose the problems you encounter along the way.
  4. Come up with a plan that will help you get around the problems you encounter.
  5. Implement these new strategies.

That’s it.

Now, make sure you don’t skip steps and you regularly update your plan so you can stay on track.

10. Set Shorter Deadlines

from The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss

Tasks tend to consume the time we, ourselves, set for completion. If you give yourself 5 days to complete a task it will take your 5 days. That’s why it’s important to set shorter deadlines.

If you want to reach a place where you only work 4 hours a week, like the famous internet guru Tim Ferris, you need to allow yourself less time for what you have to do. This will keep you focused and fixated on the most important things in your business.

11. Protect Your Time

from It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work by David Hansson and Jason Fried

Twenty four hours.

That’s how much time you have at your disposal every single day.

When you subtract the time you need to sleep, eat, commute, and mow the lawn, you’re left with around 12 free hours to work both on your side hustle and on your regular job.

Your small business relies on these few hours during the day to thrive. If you constantly distract yourself with pointless chats online and venting on Twitter, you won’t do anything productive.

Protect your time as if your life depends on it. Don’t let unimportant tasks consume even tiny slices of your time. Make sure that when you’re working on your business, you‘re fully concentrated. This way you’ll squeeze the maximum out of each day.

12. People Don’t Really Care, Just Run Your Company

from The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz

Running a business is far from easy. Software brakes. People quit. Customers are not satisfied. But nobody really cares. If you’re the CEO of the company and if you want to stay in business, whining or complaining won’t help. You need to face the problems that will surely come and also solve them.

You see, people don’t quite care about your emotions. Especially in the business world. To keep going, except for capital and profit, you also need mental toughness. The discipline to make important decisions when times are hard.

13. You Create Your Own Opportunities

from Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance

Can you become the next Elon Musk?

No. No, you can’t.

Can you start a small business and finally live life on your own terms?


Saying “I can’t do this” or “this won’t work” are excuses. If you really want something, you need to find a way to get it. It’s up to you to create your desired lifestyle.

And while this sounds like a cheesy you-can-do-it-all pep talk, there’s nothing magical about becoming successful. Since Elon Musk was able to create the biggest space exploration company of our time in just a few years with no rocket science background, then starting your small shop and quitting your day job should be a no-brainer. Yes, it will require a lot of work, but it’s definitely possible.

Bonus: Stay Small On Purpose

from Company of One by Paul Jarvis.

The life of the small business owner isn’t easy. You have to be smart, self-motivated, and capable of making the most out of every opportunity.

And when you’re grinding that hard, you start dreaming about hiring more people. “When I have more people I can scale this thing and make it the next Amazon,” you often tell yourself.

But when your new employees took over and new orders start piling, the work you were trying to previously escape is now tripled. Yes, you’re probably doing less of the things that bothered you and you’re probably making more profit but you start to lose sight. Eventually, things might slip and you might end up doing something you hate.

While aiming big and scaling your small business is often what most entrepreneurs desire, it’s not always the best approach. It’s often better to stay small, frugal, flexible.

This way you can keep your sanity and make sure that what you’re doing is aligned with your beliefs of the world.

Some Closing Thoughts

Starting and later maintaining a small business is a tough, time-consuming process. That’s one of the two reasons a lot of small companies don’t get past the 2-year mark.

Wondering about the other reason?

Overcomplicating things.

We either think that we should please everyone or we think that we should figure out all the details before we begin our entrepreneurial journey.

Stop doing that. 

Get over the idea that you should know everything before you start your own small business. Launch today and figure out things as you go. Don’t let uncertainty slow you down.

Running a business yourself? I’d love to hear your story. Make sure to add your comment below:

Share with others: