Article by Allie Cooper

Every year, more new business books come out than anyone could possibly keep track of. It is important every year to sift through the pile and identify the books that can offer real insight and constructive value to small business owners.

This year though, that process may be more important than ever — particularly for small business owners. We didn't do well thanks to the events of 2020 (and to some extent 2021 so far), but suffice it to say they left small business owners in precarious positions. Man had to slow down or halt operations last year, and will have to manage with smaller budgets, fewer resources, and in some cases entirely new circumstances in 2021 and into the future.

These are significant challenges, but they don’t have to be crippling. And in some cases, the right book just might be of significant assistance.

These would be some of the best books for small business owners we’d recommend for you this year.


Compassionate Leadership, by Manley Hopkinson

In discussions of leadership in business given recent events, empathy has been a fairly common topic. Even last summer in fact, at the height of the pandemic, empathetic business leadership was talked about as a strategy that could be employed to help employees feel safe and comfortable — without feeling pressured.

The same concept remains important as we inch closer to the end of the pandemic though, because as mentioned conditions are still very challenging for small businesses. And therefore Compassionate Leadership is our first recommendation. The premise of this book is essentially that leaders need to learn to inspire and motivate teams, rather than just make demands of them. It is about how to instill a sense of self-worth in employees, and generate a sense of meaning and purpose in them. It’s a clear, helpful, exceptional book, and one that has never been more relevant for small business owners. Managing teams during and after the pandemic requires this kind of consideration and compassion. Done correctly this brand of leadership can help a company rebound stronger than it was before.


Data Science For Business: What You Need To Know About Data Mining And Data-Analytic Thinking, by Foster Provost and Tom Fawcett

Data science has been a red-hot concept in big business for a while now, and in recent years it has taken root in smaller businesses as well. This is partly thanks to greater availability of relevant technologies. It is also thanks to a rise in the number of students training both in person and online to enter the field. Recent numbers concerning business data analytics courses suggest that the jobs in the field will grow by as much as 25% over the course of the current decade (Maryville University). This makes it crystal clear that more and more businesses are hiring data professionals.

For this reason alone there’s something to be said for small business owners reading up on the subject. It’s a simple matter of staying competitive. At the same time though, the aforementioned challenges of the 2021 small business climate necessitate a greater emphasis on data — which can be an affordable means of maximizing resources and generating business. This excellent book by Foster Provost and Tom Fawcett will essentially teach a business owner just how data leads to these benefits. It’s a clear and thorough overview of a field on the rise, and one that can be put to practical use very efficiently.


Work Together Anywhere, by Lisette Sutherland and K. Janine-Nelson

This is actually a book we posted about as part of a bigger look at the best work-from-home books not long ago. For the most part, these books were meant to be handy resources for freelance workers, or even for those contributing to their companies from remote locations. But this book in particular is useful for small business owners in 2021 as well.

This is because all indications are that remote work will endure, and a lot of companies — including smaller businesses — will need to be managed under these unusual conditions for at least a little while longer. This means business owners and team leaders need to have an understanding of how best to navigate those conditions, and that’s just what this book provides, for team members and leaders alike.


You Are What You Risk: The New Art And Science Of Navigating An Uncertain World, by Michele Wucker

The books above cover concepts that were already important for businesses, but which became more so during the pandemic. Compassionate leadership, an undersigning of data science, and an ability to manage remote teams would all have come in handy five years ago; they’re simply more essential now.

Our last selection, You Are What You Risk, is a little bit different in that it’s a new book that came out after the pandemic, and is in some respects perfectly timely for our new reality. It is not a book explicitly aimed at business culture or leaders, but rather one that takes a sweeping, detailed, and often surprising look at how we consider risk — and how our different outlooks in this respect can impact success. It isn’t aimed at a single solution, and it isn’t merely a suggestion that leaders should always take more risks. But it does provide some bold, fascinating, and ultimately productive ways to approach new challenges and changing situations with regard to risk assessment. For a small business owner dealing with so much change in 2021, it can serve as an immensely helpful conversation.

These four titles represent some of our favorite books for small business owners in 2021. They’re all interesting and relevant reads for entrepreneurs, and each one can help a small business owner to navigate the difficult circumstances of 2021 and the near future.