April 25, 2022

The Best Reading List for Books on Buying and Operating Businesses in 2022

The Best Reading List for Books on Buying and Operating Businesses in 2022

The search process involves many skill sets, from sales & negotiation, to finding good businesses and doing your due diligence on them, to operations & strategic planning, plus leadership & management. This reading list below compiles some of the top recommendations by searchers, EtA enthusiasts and SMB operators for books across many of those topics that they found helpful when buying and operating a business.

The books are sorted into five categories:

  • Searching and Acquisition Basics
  • Deals, Negotiating & Due Diligence
  • Operations & Management
  • From the Seller’s Perspective
  • Search Fund Challenges

Search and Acquisition Basics

Stanford Search Fund Primer

Download from Stanford

Stanford University CES Search Fund Data 2020

By Peter Kelly, Sara Heston

Download from Stanford

HBR Guide to Buying a Small Business

By Royce Yudkoff, Richard S. Ruback

Notable review: “Excellent, practical advice, for anyone considering entrepreneurship through acquisition. This book really resonated with me personally. It offers guidance and a realistic road map to purchasing a small business. I have read many business books over the years, but there is a large gap between reading business books and taking action based on what you just read - this book has pushed me across that gap to where I am currently taking action and putting to use principles from the book. I'm appreciative to Rick and Royce for making content available to those at the Harvard Business School available to everyone who is interested in learning more about ETA.”

Buy from Amazon

The Evolution of Entrepreneurship through Acquisition from Chicago Booth

By Josh Dennis, Erick Lasec

PDF from Chicago Booth

Buy Then Build: How Acquisition Entrepreneurs Outsmart the Startup Game

By Walker Deibel

Notable review: “Walker does an amazing job of documenting all the steps, but also helping you navigate the landmines that litter the landscape as you consider becoming a business owner. His details cover self-assessments, working with business brokers and "deal flow," building projections and forecasts, drafting a Letter of Intent, conducting Due Diligence, closing the deal, and running your new business in the first 90 days. I've done all of these things, but I never called it Acquisition Entrepreneurship. And I never documented the process.”

Buy from Amazon

Buyout: The Insider's Guide to Buying Your Own Company

By Rick Rickertsen, E Gunther Robert

Notable review: “The book I go back to over and over when I have an issue during search is "Buyout: The Insider's Guide to Buying Your Own Company". I usually find an answer to an issue. The book deals with deals that are a lot bigger than search deals, but the fundamentals are the same.”

Buy from Amazon

Search Funds & Entrepreneurial Acquisitions: The Roadmap for Buying a Business and Leading it to the Next Level

By Jan Simon

Notable review: “Jan has written a comprehensive and definitive guide to search funds. This excellent book is a must-read for anybody thinking about purchasing a small business to operate and grow. The book is packed with useful tools and frameworks. Jan has methodically explored all the steps to source, acquire, finance, and grow a small business. Additionally, Jan offers step-by-step guidance on making the journey happen and increasing the probability of success. Finally, the book has real-life examples that provide models and inspiration to aspiring entrepreneurs. This wonderful book is a super addition to search fund literature and should be in every search funder’s library.”

Buy from Amazon

Buying A Business That Makes You Rich: Toss Your Job Not The Dice

By John Martinka

Notable review: “The author has of this book has more than 20 years of experience as a business buyer advocate, helping executives to abandon the corporate world to enjoy the freedoms of business ownership. In this book you will read about being smart when purchasing a business, including ways to avoiding overpaying and knowing the right questions to ask throughout the process. It offers smart methodologies and practical insights without overwhelming the reader with what can be a complex undertaking.”

Buy from Amazon

How to Prepare Yourself and Find the Right Business to Buy: You Can’t Buy It If You Can’t Find It

By Ted J. Leverette

Notable review: “VERY worthwhile book. It reinforced, and then added to the reasons why I’m pursuing the business search journey. It also opened my eyes to the fact that my seller outreach strategy is likely flawed. This insight allowed me to pursue the necessary corrections to increase my chances of making a connection. Thank you for sharing these insights.”

Buy from Amazon

IESE International Search Funds: Selected Observations

By Lenka Kolarova, Peter Kelly, Antonia Davila, and Rob Johnson


Deals, Negotiating & Due Diligence

Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It

By Christopher Voss, Tahl Raz

Notable review: “My bona fides: I have professionally negotiated for over thirty years. Do it daily. I've taken approximately 20 hours of graduate study in negotiation and conflict resolution. I occasionally lecture on the subject.

This is one of the two best books anyone can read on negotiation. The other is Cialdini's famous, "Influence: The Art and Science of Persuasion." While there are many good books on the subject, I can't think of any others that are as complete and useful as these.

Remember that negotiation is a practice. You will be best aided by these books by taking a chapter at a time and practice the ideas and techniques. Practice them on your family, on your colleagues and on your friends. (Forget pets. Dogs are too obliging and cats too indifferent.)”

Buy from Amazon

Negotiation Genius: How to Overcome Obstacles and Achieve Brilliant Results at the Bargaining Table and Beyond

By Deepak Malhotra

Notable review: “I love this book. I bought it for a few friends too. Every chapter wasn't relevant for me. It's more of a textbook for different types of negotiation situations. I was looking to negotiate a job offer. But the principles apply. I was able to take the information I learned and apply it to the job-offer situation and many others after. It takes the mystery and some stress out of negotiation. It teaches you to be patient and that there's a lot of research you can do. It's not just salesmanship and charisma. Plus, the book was a good read, entertaining in parts, for a business book.”

Buy from Amazon

How to Buy a Business without Being Had: Successfully Negotiating the Purchase of a Small Business

By Jack Gibson

Notable review: “This is an excellent book. I often get to talk to people who are looking to buy a business and I always recommend that they get this book, read it and use it as part of their buying process. It is well written and clearly communicates all of the essentials of buying a business. It is straight forward and a great purchase if you are just thinking of buying a business. I gave it 5 stars because I didn't have an option to give it 6.”

Buy from Amazon

Here's The Deal: Everything You Wish a Lawyer Would Tell You About Buying a Small Business

By Joel Ankney

Notable review: “This book is easy to read and understand, yet covering topics that before seemed confusing. I am more confident now than ever in making the right decision and also in the negotiation process. I recently denied an equity acquisition deal that I was initially excited about, but so glad I did. From what I learned in this book, I knew to ask the previous owner key questions that would have costs me thousands after the fact. It was a bad deal, wrapped in a good package. Although my lawyer would have been involved eventually, I felt confident during the beginning stages all by myself, and this book..which also saved money.”

Buy from Amazon

A Practical Guide to Buying a Business: Locating a Business, Performing Due Diligence, Valuing the Enterprise, Raising Funds, and Closing the Deal

By Robert J. Chalfin

Notable review: “Chalfin takes the lessons one would not normally learn in a textbook (i.e. real life, practical learnings which can only be gained through a life of success in investing in and advising businesses), and presents the content in this easy to read guide. This is a must read for anyone looking to buy or sell a business, including entrepreneurs, owners and professional service providers. Highly recommended.”

Buy from Amazon

Operations & Management

Built to Sell: Creating a Business That Can Thrive Without You

By John Warrillow

Notable review: “Built to Sell is incredibly practical and well laid out. The storytelling format makes the concepts much easier to remember and apply. Lots of useful tips and information here! I highly recommend it for entrepreneurs and business owners even if you aren't planning to sell your business. It's still great advice for how to structure and operate. Great read!!”

Buy from Amazon

Measure What Matters: How Google, Bono, and the Gates Foundation Rock the World with OKRs

By John Doerr

Notable review: “As a long time management scholar (34 years in academia) I have to say that this is one of the best books on management I have ever read. A great deal of nonsense and hype has been written about organizational leadership. But Doerr gets right to the core issue--given that you have useful ideas, how do you actually get them implemented? He goes into enormous detail about the use of the OKR's (Objectives and Key Results) which he introduced to Google. He gives numerous examples of how they should be used to achieve success.

Many case studies are described but the key point is that Doerr is not a one, narrow technique (hey, goals are good) guru. Rather he induces a set of principles that should be followed in the use of OKR's if success is to be attained. He first learned of this method at Intel and then shared his idea with more than 50 companies.”

Buy from Amazon

The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers

By Ben Horowitz

Notable review: “This book is written from the perspective of a CEO who's been to hell and back. You may not always agree with his ideas but they are always grounded in reality, as opposed to the abstract theory of most other management books. As a four-time CEO myself I found myself thinking repeatedly "I wish I'd learned this lesson earlier in my career..." and agreeing with most of Horowitz's conclusions. While some of the language and nearly all of the sports analogies passed me by, I enjoyed the simplicity and clarity of the text itself.”

Buy from Amazon

The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done

By Peter F. Drucker

Notable review: “During a search, transaction or the first 100 days, there are a million things to do and it is impossible to do it all. Thus the focus of the CEO has to be on prioritization and as the title reads, getting the right things done. Written in 1967, at a time when computers were first making their way into supporting executive decision-making - everything in the book remains completely relevant. Timeless, practical wisdom for executives. My biggest takeaway was being very conscious of how I was spending my time. Ensuring alignment between what I thought was important and how I was actually filling the hours/days on the calendar.”

Buy from Amazon

The Outsiders: Eight Unconventional CEOs and Their Radically Rational Blueprint for Success

By William N. Thorndike

Notable review: “The Outsiders is a must read for anyone interested in value creation (which is everyone tagged with investment decision-making) especially finance professionals and business leaders. So much is written about value generation through operating optimization but not nearly enough about capital allocation.

Thorndike provides a very readable and insightful view of eight individuals that excelled. Most well-read business professionals have familiarity with many of the highlighted business leaders but Thorndike offers a view that is unique. He draws linkages not only by citing commonality in the business decisions of these leaders but offers other more personal insights that complete the picture and render the analysis far more entertaining than other similar works.”

Buy from Amazon

Islands of Profit in a Sea of Red Ink: Why 40 Percent of Your Business Is Unprofitable and How to Fix It

By Jonathan Byrnes

Notable review: "Most business books you read and think, interesting. There are a very select few that send your brain into overdrive and immediately set you energetically on an inspired path of change. "Islands of Profit in a Sea of Red Ink" is the latter and I could not recommend it more strongly.

I've read a number of Byrnes' articles over the years and could only describe his insights as focused, clear and amazingly useful in a practical, this is going to profoundly help me today and everyday way.”

Buy from Amazon

The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It

By Michael E. Gerber

Notable review: “This is a great book to understand the problematic mindset of a lot of small business owners who you might be buying companies from. Great business book and written in a narrative style that makes it a page-turner. Key insight is that only well thought-out systems can scale. Sounds trite perhaps, but the number of owner/CEOs who don't get this idea continues to surprise me. Don't work "in" the business; work "on" the business.”

Buy from Amazon

Entrepreneurial Finance, Third Edition: Finance and Business Strategies for the Serious Entrepreneur

by Steven Rogers, Roza Makonnen

Notable review: “I would recommend it to anyone running a business or is interested in business. This book is explained in such detail that the novice can understand it. Finance is not my strong suit, so having this book has helped me so much to understand the financial statements, cash flow, etc. Great book, great job to the writer!”

Buy from Amazon

From the Seller’s Perspective

The Messy Marketplace: Selling Your Business in a World of Imperfect Buyers

By Brent Beshore

Notable review: “Beshore has written an informative, concise and sometimes humorous guide to the complex process of marketing and selling your business. Building a great business is always the first step, but the insight offered here as to how to market and package your business to maximize value is invaluable. You can tell Beshore is writing from experience and the scars he has earned are transformed into practical, usable advice. If you are considering the sale of your business, this book is an absolutely superb investment.”

Buy from Amazon

Finish Big: How Great Entrepreneurs Exit Their Companies on Top

By Bo Burlingham

Notable review: “Hundreds of books have been published for the aspiring entrepreneur who wants to start a business. At the same time, very few books pay attention to where the startup company wants to eventually be, or having an exit strategy that is literal, graceful, and planned out well in advance.

Beginning with the end in mind is the emphasis of author and small business expert Bo Burlingham, in his latest book, “Finish Big”. Several years ago, Burlingham wrote the indispensable business bible, “Small Giants” that chronicled successful companies that chose to make their business great instead of big.”

Buy from Amazon

Search Fund Challenges

Search Funds: Death and the Afterlife

By Benjamin Kessler

PDF from Jim Stein Sharpe

On the Nature of a Search Fund Not Working Out as Planned

By Ryan Leibowitz, A. J. Wasserstein, Mark Agnew, Brian O’Connor

PDF from Yale

Have a book you’d like to recommend for this list? Comment below and we’ll add it to our list as we update!

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