I want to start by saying that choosing only 10 books for female entrepreneurs for this blog post was difficult. I could recommend books all day long. In my opinion, there is a book that can help with most of the things that we struggle with when starting and growing our businesses BUT this doesn’t mean that any of us need to read all of them. This is a take what you need right now kind of blog post, not a list of required reading, so please don’t take it that way.
I also believe that when we read (or listen to) a book, we do just that – take what we need from it at the time. Each of us can read or listen to the same information and hear or take in different things.
We can also read the same book at different times in our lives and take completely different learnings from it. I think this is awesome – but then I do think that any excuse to read or reread something is awesome all by itself. I also think that the differences in what we all take from a book are what make book clubs so interesting.
Equally important is the fact that many different writers can write about the same message in completely different ways. So, if you want to read or learn more about a topic but the book that I’ve suggested below doesn’t sound like it’s for you, then get in touch and I can recommend something else that you might like instead.
This also means that if you want to write or talk about a topic don’t let it put you off if someone else is already talking about it – you’ll probably be speaking to different people and it’ll be just as valuable for them.
Why These Books Are Useful for Female Entrepreneurs in Particular
These book suggestions are aimed at some of the most common barriers to success that female entrepreneurs face here in the UK. Stacey has written a great blog post detailing these barriers and the research into them. I highly recommend reading her post because knowing that most of us are struggling with the same stuff as each other is valuable in and of itself.
Core Books for Female Entrepreneurs
These first few books have been invaluable to me as a woman trying to work out what I want to do with my business, and how on Earth to then do it. If I had a pound for every time I had recommended one of these books to a female entrepreneur, I wouldn’t be rich because I would have already spent it all on cake, but I would have had a lot of cake.
Playing Big by Tara Mohr
This is a book that all women would probably benefit from reading regardless of their business or career trajectory.
This book is all about helping each of us to individually understand how we, often unconsciously, make ourselves smaller for various reasons. An example of this is how we as women often put ourselves last to the point of not even recognising our own needs, which can have hugely detrimental impacts on our early-stage businesses.
One of the things I love about this book is that the ideas are broken down clearly, as are the suggested steps that we can take to change these things for ourselves. Somehow Tara Mohr makes the content of this book (and some feminist topics that can be anger-inducing) feel upbeat and not overwhelming.
Reading this book is going to be far more useful to you if you give yourself the gift of time to work through each of the exercises at the end of the chapters. The magic of this book is in the work you do for yourself as you read it.
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
A book that helps us to unpick the damage that the school system has done to our relationship with creativity.
Even if your business is not a directly and obviously creative one, I would still recommend this book to you. Creativity and innovation are important to all businesses in some way or another, and the mental health benefits of letting ourselves be creative (and to enjoy it) are invaluable. As entrepreneurs we all need to prioritise our own wellbeing more – our businesses really do rely on it.
Most of us have had our passion for play and creation driven out of us by the need to produce something ‘good’ or ‘valuable’ at all times. Elizabeth Gilbert walks the reader through the causes of this disconnect, the reasons why regaining these things for ourselves is important, and how we can begin to connect back to our own individual creative magic. I don’t know anyone who has regretted finding the time to read this book. It is also one of the few books I have read more than once.
And if Eat, Pray, Love (also by Elizabeth Gilbert) wasn’t your cup of tea don’t let that put you off reading this book. I read it after many years of ignoring recommendations for this very reason and it turns out I was completely wrong, they are very different books.
Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes
I’d highly recommend the audiobook for this one. Narrated by Shonda Rhimes herself it is a joy to listen to. Semi-biographical and part storytelling, this book describes how Shonda Rhimes was challenged into agreeing to more of life by one of her sisters and what happened as a consequence of that.
The book deals with many of the things that us women in business face and struggle with. It very humanly shows us that we are not alone in the fears and issues that we face and that we can simply stand up for ourselves at times (there is a great scene describing a PTA meeting and a strict home baked requirement that is probably worth reading the book for all by itself if you have children).
Be warned, there are a few spoilers from early seasons of Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and Private Practice to watch out for in the book, if you are planning to begin watching any of these anytime soon. If you haven’t watched them, I’d also recommend them, or anything else produced by Shondaland because Shonda Rhimes is a storyteller extraordinaire. Which is also why you should read this book.
The Mountain is You by Brianna Wiest
Personal development, growth, change, understanding ourselves better, however you want to phrase it, is a big part of starting and growing a business. Just how big a part surprises most of us.
This is a book that I wish had been written earlier so that I could have read it sooner. It is a book about recognising, understanding and changing our own self-sabotaging behaviours. Whilst there are many external barriers to our success as business owners there are also internal ones (often created as protection mechanisms in response to external factors, but internal nonetheless). This book is a guide through some of the internal things that we can learn to change and control ourselves.
I found some of this book hard to read personally, mostly where it talked about things I wasn’t ready to admit to myself, but it was worth the effort in the long run, in my opinion. I (and my business) are better off for having read this book.
‘Doing Business Differently’ Books for Female Entrepreneurs
The next three books are all about encouraging different perspectives, different ways of doing business, and the significant ROI (return on investment) of these things.
I’ve included these books because most of the women I know and have worked with want to create businesses that don’t entirely fit the profit-driven business-above-all-else way of doing things.
Many of us want businesses that also help others, that make our own lives better in some way, that actively avoid exploiting others in our supply chains and hiring practices, and that generally contribute to us being good ancestors.
Working out how to do this AND still make a decent profit can be difficult. It is also something that is often overlooked in more ‘traditional’ business books and training programmes, making it seem like more of a lofty and unrealistic ambition than it needs to be.
Personally, I fully believe that more businesses focusing on more than just profit is how the world will change for the better. As business owners, we often have more of a stake in society than we do as individual women. Choosing to use that power to make even the smallest change soon adds up, and it usually feels pretty amazing too.
Rebuild: How to Thrive in the New Kindness Economy by Mary Portas
The queen of the UK high street, Mary Portas looks at how consumer behaviour has changed and how businesses can shift to align with those changes. She takes a realistic look at what is and isn’t working anymore on a broad scale, and invites us to prioritise more than just profit in our businesses while explaining the financial benefits of doing so.
The case studies alone make this book worth a read. I personally love hearing about other business owners who have found a way to make their dreams work whilst changing their little (or not so little in some cases) parts of the world. It is worth mentioning that many of the business examples in the book are big ‘names’ that we are all likely to recognise, but don’t let this put you off.
The things that Mary writes about are just as applicable to businesses of all sizes – if we take the lesson from page 66 and start with small tweaks; “small steps that lead you down your own unique path to change”.
At the end of the day, we can all agree that most national and global systems aren’t really working for most people or for the planet itself right now, and whilst it is easy to feel powerless about this at times we, as women who have built businesses, are incredibly powerful, resourceful and can have a huge impact on the people and communities around us.
We just need to pick one small change at a time and learn to recognise and celebrate the changes and successes that we do have. Basically, we are all awesome and should try really hard to remember that….maybe if that’s ok and not too much trouble?!
Rebel Ideas by Matt Syed
This book was recommended to me during a training session on diversity given by Watch This Space, who I would highly recommend if you would like to broaden your own thinking and perspective in the context of your business. It was the most accessible take on the topic that I have ever come across.
The reason they recommend this book, in particular, is because the author, Matt Syed, had pulled together examples from big business of where an ignorance of other perspectives has led to significant problems for the companies later on. These examples showcase how companies that are household names have messed up, for example by not looking at something from a male AND female perspective and have therefore alienated half of their customer base by accident costing them millions.
Diversity is a much-used and often misused, word in business nowadays, meaning that the true value of having a more diverse way of thinking is often lost. Put simply, being able to understand and speak to more people gives you more options as a business owner. I’m a firm believer that most businesses are not meant to be for everyone anyway, but that doesn’t mean that we as small business owners shouldn’t learn to consider other perspectives – it supports our profitability and helps us to generate new ideas.
And if nothing else this book shows us that even big, well-established businesses get it wrong sometimes and that the people who work for them, who make mistakes probably feel silly and disheartened at times too – just like the rest of us humans!
Good is the New Cool: Market Like You Give a Damn by Afdel Aziz and Bobby Jones
This was one of the first books in the niche of “responsible” business that I read. I think it was suggested to me by the Amazon algorithm and I liked the cover, but I’m so glad that I read it.
It looks at the reasons why consumers no longer trust advertising and are increasingly demanding social responsibility. It shows case studies of real businesses that have shifted to answer the question; if the system is broken, how can we fix it? And it draws together some highlights of how companies and business owners can help broader sets of people, whilst still making money as sustainable, profitable enterprises.
If like me, you don’t love the idea of marketing yourself then I’d recommend this book. It gave me a different perspective on marketing and took a lot of the fear I had felt around it away.
Money Books for Female Entrepreneurs
Money, finance, funding, confidence around money, and risk aversion are high on the list of things that early-stage female entrepreneurs often find more challenging than male entrepreneurs at similar stages.
There are lots of money books out there, and many of those aimed at women seem to be written with a manifestation slant. Don’t get me wrong here, there is nothing wrong with that, but practical and accessible business money books that deal with the day-to-day realities of financial planning are also necessary, and few and far between.
For those of us who start our businesses with little or no experience in business finance, the entire topic can quickly seem overwhelming. I know many women who avoid their business finances until they absolutely have to look at them because of fear and lack of confidence. This in turn impacts how women access funding and finance for their businesses (have a look at Stacey’s blog post on this).
Put simply, giving ourselves the time and resources to slowly learn about business finance, in a way that is straightforward, genuinely related to our own situations, and that does not feel pressured, is likely to be valuable to us all.
Profit First by Mike Michalowicz
This book highlights that traditional accountancy is not necessarily going to work for all businesses, especially when those businesses are new. It suggests a practical and simple method of managing money that comes into your business that can be implemented from day one.
I recommend this book to women because many of us put off paying ourselves, prioritising other things, and working for free. In this respect, we treat ourselves worse than any other boss we have ever had has treated us.
It also discusses ways to deal with a lack of cash in the bank, an issue that most new businesses have. The pressure of which significantly hounds most new business owners, and is unsurprisingly often a contributing factor in people choosing to fold their businesses.
No money solution is going to work for all of us, and there are parts of this book that I just don’t agree with, but the fresh take on business finance in this one made me feel better about not living up to the ideals that some other business books (and ‘experts’) regularly talk about when it comes to money. It is worth a read if what is already out there has been making you feel disheartened.
The Financial Times Guide to Business Start Up by Sara Williams
This book is useful for far more than just business finance, but it is a fairly straightforward guide to the steps required to start a business in the UK. A ‘does exactly what it says on the tin’ kind of book.
It takes you through essential information on finance, tax, and law, as well as marketing, sales, and pricing. It has chapters on business plan writing, online advertising, and sustainable practices. It is heavily grounded in the kind of business theory and practice of “traditional” business, so not everything will be relevant or useful to all of us, but it is a great resource as a starting place for most business start-up things. It is also a great reference book to dip back into as your business grows.
Make sure that you get the most current edition of this one if you do read it. I initially read an edition that was fairly out of date and that suggested that websites might become important for many businesses in the future. In fact, now that I have written this blog post I’m going to order the latest edition (2021-2023) for myself which has updates to the how to fund your business section among other things.
Small Business Finance All-in-One for Dummies edited by Faith Glasgow
Although I’m not the biggest fan of the name of this series they are incredibly accessible and well-written books. They are useful to keep as a reference as your business grows.
The specific book that I am recommending here is the small business finance title, but this series also has books worth reading on lots of business topics including Using Xero, Setting up a Side Hustle, Grant Writing, Supply Chain Management, Social Media Marketing, Affiliate Marketing, Public Speaking, and Starting a Business on Etsy.
If you are ordering a book from this series make sure that you have the most recent edition as a lot of the technology in these books changes regularly, and make sure you get the edition for your country (i.e. UK Edition) because a lot of the content relates to local laws and regulations.
I personally like the Small Business Finance for Dummies book because the way that it walks you through basic bookkeeping and accounting is clear and simple. I have found it to be relevant to my previous (low!) level of knowledge and to my business model and goals as well.
There are sections on finding the money to start up, dealing with taxes, and paying employees, amongst others. Each of these books also has additional resources such as cheat sheets as well. But, as with any of these books, I don’t think that every part of it will be relevant to everyone.
Those are my must-read books for female entrepreneurs. Have you read any of them? Which books would you recommend for women in business?
*The link above is Claire’s affiliate link on Bookshop.org, an online bookshop with a mission to financially support local, independent bookshops and rival Amazon.*
Claire Collis is a digital education specialist and ghostwriter who works with entrepreneurs and small business owners, supporting them to create books and online courses as strategic pillars of their growing businesses. Through her mentoring and consultancy work she helps clients to share their stories, knowledge and expertise in ways that support their goals, their businesses and, in turn, those of their clients.