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The Best Business & Self Improvement Books

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Anyone who knows me knows I’m a voracious reader. Anything- from fiction to factitious- I’m all over it. I’m not sure what it is, but reading liberates me from my day and allows me to sink into a world that’s not my own – an escape of sorts. When I was young, my dad dragged me to book stores and I would sit in the children section for 3-4 hours at a time. Book after book, shelf after shelf, I read everything I could get my hands on.

Today, the habit remains. And one of my favorite type of book to read is anything business. From marketing, writing, sales and strategy, I love to soak up what others say outside of the photography industry. So here’s an overview of a few of my favorite business and creative books – books that impacted me deeply, even some of them to the point of inspiring me to change how I run my business.

Profit First by Michael Michalowicz

When I first started my business, I sheepishly admit, I sucked with money. Big Time. 

I spent. A lot. And then spent more. And I never kept track. Of Anything! Even times were tough and I was scraping by, I didn’t even count my pennies then. I just schlepped on month-to-month. It wasn’t the wisest strategy. The reason for. it? I had no strategy. When I read this book, it literally change the way I handle money. Michalowicz is brilliant because he gets that most business owners look at their bank accounts to see how much money they have, not their Quickbooks reports! Which one is more accurate? Yep, you guessed it. It’s your Quickbooks. But he gave me a strategy for continuing to use my bank account as my financial barometer. In other words, he gave me skills to keep using the same habits I had, just set up in a different way. This book is life changing because he teaches you to re-organize and change just a few small habits. And it makes a world of difference! I now save for taxes. Go figure! LOL. I also set aside the profit of my company, on purpose. Yay! Can you say hello, fancy vacation? Profit first. Then, taxes. Then expenses. If you are bad with money, this book will change the way you think about it, and it will give you skills to manage it in a way that doesn’t force you to become a pseudo-CPA.

Art & Fear by David Bayles & Ted Orland

If you’ve ever doubted your ability as a photographer or artist, this is the read for you. The authors take you on a journey of tackling the “blank canvas,” along with the mental torture your mind places on you when it comes to making art. An excerpt:

“Fear about art making falls into two families: fears about yourself, and fears about your reception by others. In a general way, fears about yourself prevent you from doing your best work, whiles fears about your reception by others prevent you from doing your own work.”

Tackling the concept of pretending to be an artist, to the myth of talent, expectations, perfectionism and annihilation, or the dreaded “dry spell” that some prolific artists hit — Bayles & Orland artfully dig deep into the psychology of making art. And help you understand why the mind loves to argue with you. Creating is the language of our souls and makes us vulnerable to who we are. Making art asks us to let our self-esteem be exposed to the world, and the authors beautifully script how to overcome this fear to make the best art you can possibly make. Brilliantly written, and a book to read over and over again.

Atomic Habits by James Clear

He who works the hardest, wins. I’ve said that my whole career. And while I believe it whole-heartedly, Clear breaks it down into why that’s the case, and what type of work breeds a win. The entire premise of the book is about how small, consistent habits foster and grow long-term positive results. Why is it so hard to complete small, daily habits regularly? They don’t offer the instant gratification our society has trained us to so desperately want. Bad habits yield instant, “positive” results. However, long-term, those bad habits are destructive and prevent your dreams from taking reality. Clear spends a large portion of the text giving you tactics to build small, consistent good habits that lead you to long-term, good-for-you results. A brilliant book with step-by-step, actionable content, you’ll be excited to get started on the small habits that don’t give instant results. You’ll learn to see the bigger, long-term picture in your life and your business. And you’ll know the work you are doing —while maybe not giving you instant results today—is building a foundation of greatness for your business, your personal life, your emotions and your soul. A great, inspiring read.

Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon 

Getting permission to be creative is a mental block. I never thought of myself as a creative until I read Steal Like An Artist. Kleon exposes creativity for what it really is – stealing. I know that sounds totally against the grain, but after reading this book, you’ll get it. All great ideas are just offshoots of old ones. Kleon explains that there’s a huge difference between copying and stealing. And he wants you to steal. He gives you permission to be an art thief. And it’s fabulous! Finally, I don’t have to think of something “completely unique” that no one else has EVER done before! Because everyone already has done it before! Just take an old idea and put your spin on it. Thats what it means to steal. Funny, charming and an easy read, Steal Like An Artist opens the door to permissible creativity. Creativity that’s natural and easy. 

The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment by Eckart Tolle

This book literally is changing the way I live. And that’s a big statement, I know. Having struggled with anxiety caused vertigo daily for over a year now, I’ve been grasping at anything that will heal me. When western medicine failed me, I was forced to go deep into myself and tackle my biggest enemy: my mind. Anxiety causes dizziness and dizziness causes anxiety. It is literally a vicious cycle. Tolle explains in beautiful clarity and detail why the mind prevents us from seeing and being our true selves. He asks the reader to “watch” their minds. After all, if you can say to yourself “I can’t live like this anymore,” then there must be two of you in there, right? One who is miserable, the mind. And one who can’t live like that anymore, your true being. Tolle asks you to take control of your conscious mind, by simply watching it without judgment, without criticism and without a need to change it. This observing separates you from your mind – as Tolle suggests, your mind is not really YOU. It’s your unconscious identity. It’s what you “think” you are. And when you release yourself from the power that the mind has to identify you, you allow a deeper more meaningful and joyful (the enlighten) self to awake. This simple task has allowed me to “be” more. To exist in the Now, the moment, and not agonize over the past or worry about the future. After all, the past and the future are simply concoctions of the mind. The only thing that truly exists is the Now. Philosophical, engaging, but simple and understandable, Tolle takes you on a journey deep inside yourself to face your negative emotions and thoughts. And it’s not scary. It’s enlightening, lifting and takes you to a place of unwavering peace. I simply loved this read. 

The Pumpkin Plan by Mike Michalowicz

If you haven’t figured it out already, I’ve pretty much read every book this author has written.  A top-of-his-class business mind, Michalowicz compared growing a business to growing prized pumpkins. What? You say. Yeah, I know. It seems like a stretch, but it’s genius. It makes the concept of focusing your energy into just a few key components of a business easy to understand because the analogy is so perfect. Most photographers are furiously grinding away in their businesses, taking any customer they can and shooting whatever comes their way. They end up burning the candle at both ends and having very little profit to show for it. The real focus should be on planting the right seeds, cultivating the right customers and weeding out the losers, growing a strong business foundation and nurturing the winning customers to keep them coming back. This book changed the way I see my customer service, and my ideal client. It allowed me to tunnel vision focus on her, and wouldn’t you know? That attracted so many more like her. Witty, charming and a brilliant analogy on business growth, The Pumpkin Plan is a must read for any photography business owner. It will make you think different.


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