Our Must-Read Business Books for Designing a Stand-Out Brand

must read business books

There are a lot of business books out there, and about a bazillion must-read business books lists telling you the top 50 business books of the year. 

But seriously- 50? 

Who has time for that?

We know you don’t- you’re too busy running your business.

So we’ve simplified this for you down to just five. These are the five must-read business books that we recommend every small business not only read but implement. Implementation is the key!

We love these must-read business books so much because they don’t just give good advice. The information inside each is actionable, and we’ve seen great results not only with our own business, but with our clients.

Hint- the first three books are a huge part of working with us. We’ll walk you through the entire process of setting up your brand in a way that’s different, clear, and irresistible. So if you want to skip those, book a call with us and we can take care of all that for you!

Otherwise, read on and figure out which book your business needs the most!

The Must-Read Business Book for Standing Out: Zag by Marty Neumier







The Book in a Nutshell

Before your brand has any design work done or marketing campaigns put into place, it needs a solid brand strategy. 

Zag walks you through a proven set of checkpoints for your brand so you know your focus, develop a radical differentiation plan, and establish a clear set of ways to communicate this difference to your audience.

Trust us, you’re going to leave this mighty little book with tons of ideas for your brand. By the time you’re done implementing you’ll be like, “Competition- what competition?”

How This Book Will Help You Design a Stand-Out Brand

That’s exactly what this book is all about- figuring out a road map for designing a brand that stands out. When other brands zig, zag.

Zag walks you through exercises that will develop your brand’s differentiation plan in a way that is completely different from the competition and communicate your difference in ways that will reach your customers. Couple this with Fascination and Building a StoryBrand– forget about it! Brand magic!

The process outlined in Zag is the basis for the brand strategy work we do with our own clients- this is where all the brand breakthroughs always happen!

The Must-Read Business Book for Establishing Your Messaging: Building a StoryBrand by Donald Miller

building a storybrand must read business books

The Book in a Nutshell

People love a good story. It’s why we ignore our phones for at least two hours in a movie theater.

And there’s a certain storytelling pattern, The Hero’s Journey, that’s been around for thousands of years (we’re talking Homer old- The Odyssey Homer, not the Simpson Homer). This pattern was dissected for the first time in Joseph Campbell’s 1949 book The Hero with a Thousand Faces. This same structure has been used countless times in Hollywood, from Star Wars to Legally Blonde and Back to the Future.

Building a StoryBrand takes this time-tested pattern and applies it to brand messaging. By using this framework, you’ll create a set of clear brand messages that tells your brand’s story in a way that sets up your customers as the hero in their life- and your brand is the solution.

Of all the must-read business books, this is the one that will make your story clear and relevant to your customers.

How This Book Will Help You Design a Stand-Out Brand

So many brands have muddled messaging.

And that’s never a good look. 

And with people now having the attention span of a goldfish (about 8 seconds or less) you’ve got little to no time to get people to pay attention to you.

You’ll be ignored if your brand message doesn’t make sense immediately.

So a vital ingredient (but not the only ingredient by any means) to standing out is to have a clear set of brand messages that you can repeat on the reg. Because without clarity, you’re just noise.

This book will walk you through how to create your core messages and gives you a free online tool to keep your brand’s story organized.

The Must-Read Business Book for Determining Your Secret Sauce: Fascinate by Sally Hogshead

fascinate must read business books

The Book in a Nutshell

The subtitle of Fascinate is “How to Make Your Brand Impossible to Resist.” 

This book goes beyond making your brand interesting and sets out a framework for making your brand irresistible. The goal is to create a brand that taps into your customers’ emotional responses and create a brand connection that defies logical reasoning. 

This is done by determining your brand’s main Advantage (there’s even an online quiz of course):

  1. Innovation
  2. Passion
  3. Power
  4. Prestige
  5. Trust
  6. Mystique
  7. Alert

From there you’ll discover ways to implement your Advantage into ways that create a unique, fascinating brand that leaves your customers spellbound. But be careful- this book’s pretty magical. Only use it for good, please!

How This Book Will Help You Design a Stand-Out Brand

So you’ve read and implemented Building a StoryBrand and your messaging is clear. But chances are, if you’re not a born copywriter and/or haven’t given much thought to building your actual brand (that feeling people get from your business), your messaging probably sounds pretty vanilla.

Vanilla’s great- if you’ve got a huge budget to market. Because then all you have to do is spread that message over and over again until people finally pay attention to your vanilla business. You’ll want to look into Google ads, and Facebook ads, and Instagram ads, and maybe some sponsorship spots on podcasts. If you’ve got the money- all eyes on you!

If you have the biggest budget in your industry or have celebrity/influencer power, your brand can afford to be boring.

Case in point- StoryBrand (I know, I know- but we’re going there). The brand is pretty vanilla. I don’t get a warm fuzzy feeling of love and emotion that reaches down into my soul when I think of StoryBrand. Not when compared to brands I find desirable beyond measure, like Fender Guitars, Mini Cooper, and Gucci.

So how do they do it? Major ad spend and the celebrity power of Donald Miller.

But if you don’t have the budget or the celebrity power, you need to be the most fascinating brand in the industry.

Yes, your messaging needs to be clear, but if you have a brand without soul, nobody will be fascinated with that clear messaging.

Fascinate will guide you through the process of determining your brand’s Advantage and how to build an action plan to implement your Advantage to create a brand that’s fascinating.

When implemented well, clear messaging combined with your Fascination Advantage will make your brand stand out in ways the competition just can’t compete with.

The Must-Read Business Book for Productivity: Free to Focus by Michael Hyatt

free to focus must read business books

The Book in a Nutshell

We’re pretty sure we can speak for you and say you’ve got a hell of a lot going on with both your business and your life. That’s where this book is a lifesaver.

Split into three acts, Free to Focus walks you through a systemized process where you will:

  1. Stop and determine what you want (out of life and business) and evaluate your current condition.
  2. Cut out those things don’t help you achieve what you want by determining what to eliminate, automate, and delegate (with systems on how to accomplish each).
  3. Act by creating an ideal week, prioritizing tasks, and establish routines for reducing disruptions.

We use this framework along with Hyatt’s Full Focus Planner (affiliate link). Combined, it’s the productivity system that allows us to get more done without putting in more hours.

How This Book Will Help You Design a Stand-Out Brand

One thing about running a business that won’t make you stand out is acting like a hot mess.

When you don’t have systems in place, roles delegated and hired out (even to freelancers), you will get overwhelmed.

Even if you’re a solopreneur, you need to figure out what to focus on, what to automate, what to delegate, and what to eliminate completely or your brand experience will suffer.

Think of this book as a proactive approach to creating a premium brand experience for your customers. 

They won’t necessarily know the systems are in place, but the experience will be top-notch and that means happy customers. 

And happy customers are repeat customers. 

Happy customers are referring customers. 

Happy customers make you stand out!

The Must-Read Business Book For Pricing: The Win Without Pitching Manifesto by Blair Enns

the win without pitching manifesto must read business books

The Book in a Nutshell

If you think about it, the idea of “the pitch” is pretty old-school. And I don’t know about you, but we’re not going to create a pitch that gives away our secrets without getting paid a cent. That’s insanity, and you shouldn’t be doing that either.

The Win Without Pitching Manifesto, which is probably one of the quickest and most inspiring reads on pricing you’ll find, lays down a set of business practices for creatives so you can price and sell your services without doing more work.

Blair Enns walks you through how to get paid to determine solutions before any design/creative work is done, how to talk money with inquiries, how to build expertise, and how to basically charge more for the work you do for others.

Of our must-read business books, this is the one that has helped us create steps to land more sales.

How This Book Will Help You Design a Stand-Out Brand

The thing about being a stand-out brand is, even if you get plenty of inquiries or possible investors or sponsorships lined up, if you don’t know how to price, how to talk money and how to make sales, you aren’t going to make that cheddar.

And a brand without funds won’t be a brand for long.

A brand without funds won’t be able to reinvest into the business to keep developing a plan to stand out in more ways.

And we’re pretty sure you don’t want your brand to stand out because you’re throwing a great going-out-of-business sale. So the point is- make that money!

And if you want to dig even deeper into the teachings of Blair Enns (because this book is pretty small), we also recommend Pricing Creativity which goes deeper into pricing and the sales process.

Any Particular Order?

Well, it really depends on where your business is at and what you strategically need next. Here’s some recommendations…

If you struggle with knowing how to clearly communicate what you do read Building a StoryBrand by Donald Miller (and check out our resource page too).

If you’re looking for ways to make your business irresistible and are willing to put in the brain power to implement, read Fascination by Sally Hogshead.

If you want to radically differentiate your business from your competition read Zag by Marty Neumeier.

If you just don’t know how to price, how to sell clients on your pricing, and how to talk money with clients, read The Win Without Pitching Manifesto by Blair Enns.

And if you’re looking to boost your productivity and get more done in less time (either by yourself or with a team), read Free to Focus by Michael Hyatt.

But the trick is one word- implement! All of these must-read business books are action-oriented; that’s why we dig them so much. Pick one book, read, implement, and repeat. 

Where will your business be starting? Drop us a comment and hold yourself accountable for designing a stand-out brand!

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Gold Sheep is a creative studio based in Southern California specializing in brand design, digital illustration, and custom letterforms that tell stories, grow fandoms, and celebrate music, mystery, and the magic of pop culture.