Business Books You Should Be Reading in 2016

Let’s cover a few core business books you should be reading in 2016…

On the last episode of Nathan’s Bookshelf, we got a taste of my more esoteric, literary, and poetic interests, with a dash of business books.

This time around, the focus is mostly on business books.

I’m a firm ongoing learner, who believes that people should always be improving their job skills and life skills.

I look at it like this: in a college course, they will typically have you read 1-3 books on a given topic…which are, by the way, often theoretical, abstract, and not practically useful.

So if you read a book a week, what kind of education are you giving yourself?

Anyways, enough pontificating.

books-933293_1920Here’s what I’ve been reading this past year:

  • No B.S. Ruthless Management of People and Profits – Dan Kennedy’s non-politically correct guide to managing staff in your business. He makes a lot of fascinating points, in my opinion, but beware: ruthless means ruthless.
  • Making Them Believe – Another Dan Kennedy book, written with Chip Kessler. This book covers the life and the marketing takeaways of John Brinkley, a man who surgically implanted goat testicles as a cure for impotence.
  • Scaling Up – This book, by Verne Harnish, is a must-have for any business that experiences – or wants to experience – super-fast growth.
  • Ca$hvertising – This book is an epic guide to advertising. Copywriters and advertising professionals will probably know much of the material covered herein, but it’s still a good reference book. For those who aren’t immersed in advertising and marketing and want to learn more, it’s a must-have.
  • The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Getting Your Shit Together – John Carlton’s first book (I think) is a must-have for anyone – and I mean anyone – who wants to improve their business skills. Most people probably haven’t heard of him, but he’s a killer copywriter who can teach you much about sales, young padawan. When linking to the book, I discovered that he has another book out, Simple Success Secrets No One Told You About, which I immediately downloaded … even though I haven’t read it yet, I recommend you do the same … that’s how good this guy is.
  • The Boron Letters – Gary Halbert has been called the world’s greatest copywriter. This book is a series of letters written by Halbert to his son, which cover everything from copywriting to marketing to life advice. A must-have for any business bookshelf.
  • Don’t Wear a Cowboy Hat Unless You Are a Cowboy… – Robert Bly is another one of the world’s most famous copywriters. He’s written dozens of books and his copywriting portfolio covers the gamut. Every businessperson should have at least a few of his books on their bookshelf.
  • The 48 Laws of Power – Robert Greene’s classic is another must-have for any business person – and any other person who wants to be successful in life and relationships.
  • Fanatical Prospecting – Jeb Blount knows how to sell. Like many of the authors listed here, he is an “old-school” salesperson who doesn’t spout the New Age nonsense that you see everywhere else online … which is often designed to steer you clear of prospecting, direct marketing, and sales.
  • New Sales. Simplified.  – Mike Weinberg, who did the foreward to Fanatical Prospecting, writes another great book on prospecting and new business development – that is, bringing new business in the door as opposed to harvesting the same clients and customers over and over. It’s geared towards the sales professional, but you should read it. It will clear many of the New Sales Age cobwebs out of your thinking.

There are plenty more books on my bookshelf from the past year, including many I haven’t gotten to yet.

But these are the business books that stand out.

What most of these books have in common is that the authors truly understand sales.

As I mentioned, many of today’s marketing and sales professionals subscribe to New Age beliefs: prospecting is dead, cold calling is dead, inbound marketing should replace outbound marketing, and so on.

The authors mentioned here contradict these false teachings and stand like a torch against the darkness.

In fact, when it really comes down to it, when you really think about it, and when you really dive deeply into your business, it’s clear that sales, prospecting, and new business development are the bottom line.

And the Only Skill You Need in Life Is…

Nothing left to chance - Business StrategyPersuasion.

The ability to sell.

As the marketing mastermind Dan Kennedy has pointed out, many of the the coolest and most successful CEOs aren’t MBAs. They come from a sales background.

These are the guys that can generate fortunes from the skin of their teeth – or, more likely, the words that come out of their mouths.

All good salespeople and marketers know that the key to selling is persuasion. Books like the popular Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion cover this concept in detail. And most of the dozens of business books on my bookshelf expand on this concept ad infinitum.

And as Michael Gerber points out in his classic book, the E-Myth Revisited, most small business people aren’t business people.

A person good at making lemonade doesn’t necessarily understand the fundamentals of hiring, firing, managing, accounting, marketing, and sales.

Writing vs. Copywriting vs. Content

Take writing.

Since I work as a writer, I’m intimately familiar with this field, the people who work in it, and the people who hire from it.

There’s a wide spectrum of talent, skills, and knowledge that may or may not be possessed by someone who labels him or herself a “writer.”

When viewed from a commercial perspective, I tend to categorize writers into 3 types:


These creative types like to write fiction, poetry, plays, and so on.

The primary drive is artistic self-expression, creativity, literature, and so on. This type of writing doesn’t pay well, so sometimes they end up writing for businesses.

I think that’s quite often a bad thing for businesses and the commercial writing industry. Wordsmiths don’t necessarily know how to sell, persuade, or communicate value. They will often work for a pittance – driving down prices and expectations for the writing industry – and they can’t necessarily copywrite.

The result is that some businesses develop misconceptions over what copywriting is and the value that it adds to their bottom lines.

But hey writers, it’s our own fault…

So stop doing it…

Instead, learn how to persuade and triple your income today


Copywriters are salespeople.

They aren’t necessarily poetically inspired and they don’t necessarily have the ability to create beautiful flowery passages that make you all warm and fuzzy inside…but it doesn’t matter. That’s not the point of copywriting.

Copywriters possess the one skill that everyone needs in a capitalist society: persuasion.

Well, usually…

There are problems within the copywriting world. Different camps within the copywriting world have different perspectives on what copywriting is and should be. And people charge rates that range from bottom-of-the-barrel to off-the-charts. And every copywriter brings different skills to the table.

But they all call themselves “copywriters,” so this field is also all over the map…

Content Writers

Content isn’t king – it’s “words on a page.”

This type of “writing” is new. It grew out of the trenches of the internet marketing world…out of the need to satisfy the search engines. From that, we’ve seen the rise of content marketing and the proliferation of gross phrases like “content consumption,” which spread like mind-eating viruses.

Literally, content means stuff that fills up other stuff.

I don’t like this word. It’s sterile and meaningless.

Content doesn’t persuade. It doesn’t inform. It’s passive, like data – it’s just there and does nothing but take up space.

Content writers write generic SEO content that is usually designed to get the attention of the search engines. This type of “writing” usually just requires the ability to write a complete sentence with keywords. Or write about a topic in English, as opposed to ESL.

Cheap “content” pays nothing and means nothing to your customers.

Instead, focus on information that matters and stories that mean something. Not content that takes up space and communicates that you are the same as everyone else.

And add some freaking energy and sell something.

Telling vs. Selling

A while ago I coined the phrase, “Copy sells and content tells.” It’s a short but mostly accurate description of the difference between “words on a page” and sales copy.

And this difference between telling and selling highlights a huge problem in the business world: most advertising sucks. It tells when it should sell. It’s passive instead of active.

There are reasons for this:

People don’t know how to advertise and sell properly. I had to teach myself how to sell and persuade. And it took time and effort. But once I did, my entire view of the business world changed.

Most advertising, marketing, and sales are, as mentioned, passive.

Social media marketing, for instance, is passive. You gain followers and likes and wait for stuff to happen.

Direct mail is active. You test, evaluate, test, evaluate, hold yourself accountable, and keep doing it until it explodes.

lemonade-stand-656399_1280An ad that says, “Asheville lemonade” is passive but typical.

An ad that says, “Asheville’s first – and only – totally organic, sustainable, home-made, hand-crafted, farm-to-face, fresh-squeezed lemonade stand brings you mouth-watering, tear-jerking lemon flavors found ONLY in nature.

For a limited time only, for only 25 cents, you can buy a 16 oz. ice-cold glass of Asheville’s most sought-after lemonade. Order NOW while supplies last! Satisfaction 100% guaranteed or your money back!

We only have 10 lemons left! Call _____ to quench your thirst, support your local community — and brace your taste buds folks…because your mouth will never be the same.”

Anyway. Off the cuff, but you get the idea.

Unfortunately, ads of the first type predominate. And people try stuff once and say “this type of marketing doesn’t work” and they go back to making less money.

People are scared to go balls-to-the-wall. It’s safer to avoid bad words. It’s safer to stay politically correct and comfortable. It’s safer not to make a ripple and to use passive marketing techniques that generate questionable returns based on vanity metrics than it is to make ripples by trying to influence people.

After all, if you make a splash then you might make enemies.

But you might also make some money. John Carlton’s most famous ad talked about a one-legged golfer. And his other top-grossing ads used scary three-letter words like “sex.”

Successful applauding executives sitting at the tableThe fact is, selling and persuasion means you actually have to persuade people. Actively. Assertively. Even aggressively.

It’s kind of like picking up girls or getting dates. You have to actually do something to get results.

And it’s like improving your career. Many people think that they are entitled to a raise or promotion because they’ve done the same job well for however many years. If anything, you’ve simply proven that you don’t have the initiative and drive to get noticed, grow, and add more value to a business…

While mainstream education teaches you to study hard, do what others tell you, be politically correct, and get your A, that’s actually the opposite of what it takes to succeed in life.

You can’t just wait for a promotion…you have to take it.


There are two types of people in the world: entrepreneurs and employees.

Which are you?