Books that have helped my business and changed my life

I am a big believer in investing in personal and professional development, and I am not exaggerating when I say some books have not only changed my business but how I view and run my life. If you also possess a growth mindset and want to up your game, these are the titles that have revolutionised my life and that I hope will have a positive influence on yours too.

There are many things I have picked up by reading books that I would never have worked out by myself. Often, it’s wasn’t the practical information within the book that made the difference, it was how that information changed my mindset and the way I viewed seemingly impossible challenges.

As I have seen the power of ongoing learning in my own life and business, I actively work to instil a business-owner mindset in the trainees of my DIY VA course. I want them to be able to own their decisions, manage clients and move their business in the direction they want without hesitation or worry.

Because setting up a business is pretty easy, it’s confidently running it that’s the tricky part!

If you’re not careful, you can end up feeling trapped with zero boundaries and taking any work that comes your way. So, to enable my trainees to achieve a confident mindset as quickly as possible, I run several activities in their private group, including a Business Book Club.

Some of the books below are titles that I have assigned them in the past, but the majority are simply books that have made an impact on me personally and are not necessarily what I would consider a business book.

These books have changed my life.

The Success Principles – Jack Canfield

I’m such a fan of this book that I once dedicated an entire blog post to it. Lent to me by a friend in 2008 after tearfully complaining that I felt stuck in life, I raced through and then set up my business within a week of finishing it.

I then lent it to another friend who opened a second retail shop within a month!

While it’s a bit dated and over-sentimental in places (and my British low-cheese threshold meant I had to skip the ‘come as you want to be party’), it’s wonderfully inspiring and incredible things seem to happen to people when they read it.

Written by the author of Chicken Soup for the Soul, this book contains many messages that helped to shape my values and clarify what I want my life to look like. I still apply the concepts I learned, and I can honestly say that reading it changed the course of my life forever.

In fact, this website wouldn’t even exist if I hadn’t read it, so you see my point!

Be a Free Range Human – Marianne Cantwell

This book inspired my location-independent business model. Marianne’s brand (like my own) is dedicated to helping women break out of the corporate cage so they can find freedom and work where and how they want to.

I remember reading this book while lying on the grass during a work break at the Green Man Festival and a whole new world opening up to me. I’d already been a VA for a few years and, while I didn’t make any drastic changes at that point, looking back, it was this book that planted the seeds of possibility in my mind.

I remember reading the real-life case studies and thinking “I want a life like that.”

I was so surprised and happy when I re-read the book a few years later and realised that I now did have a life like that! I wasn’t even too sure how it happened, but I know my journey started when I discovered that lives where work and travel co-existed and were possible.

Essentialism – Greg McKeown

This book had a HUGE impact on me when I first read it, and I value the concept so much that I re-read it every year and use it to make all of the decisions in my life. Particularly the big ones.

As an example, I actually pulled out of buying a house in Italy with friends because I realised that it contradicted my goal of wanting fewer things to do in my life, not more.

With the subtitle ‘the disciplined pursuit of less,’ this book’s premise is ‘less but better’ and shows you how to curate your life and live by design rather than default. It’s a productivity book but one that focuses on doing the right things instead of doing everything.

I regularly recommend this book to friends, and I also tell my trainees to read it. I even ripped out one of the pages so I could see it every day and remind myself of the differences between Essentialist and non-Essentialist ways of thinking.

And I’ve never done that with any other book – ever!

The 4-Hour Work Week – Tim Ferriss

I was initially deterred from reading this famous book because the title sounded like nonsense. But when I finally did, I was surprised that many ideas, such as applying the Pareto Principle and Parkinson’s Law, supercharged my productivity and enabled me to apply metrics to my life and business that I hadn’t considered before.

These metrics turned out to stand the test of time and, because I have used them successfully for many years now, I added elements of them to the six-month business audit in my DIY VA course so my trainees could benefit from them as well.

While the first section of the book didn’t particularly apply to me as I already had a location-independent business, several aspects have made a difference to the way I run it, where I focus my marketing activities, and how I evaluate success.

Don’t be put off by the clickbait title (you can’t really just work 4 hours a week) because, while it’s not necessarily aimed at service-based businesses like ours, it provides some useful insights into how to solve problems by looking at them (and life) differently.

How to be F*cking Awesome – Dan Meredith

Dan Meredith is the honest friend who isn’t afraid to tell you to sort your sh*t out, get over yourself and get on with it. Sweary as a sailor on shore-leave and a style that won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, I personally love his straightforward approach.

He points out that you’re overweight because you ate those biscuits, you’re skint because you haven’t saved and you hate your job because you still work there instead of being brave and making other plans for yourself. He makes you accountable for the actions you take and to see that your life is the way it is now because of the actions you made (or failed to make) in the past.

The great thing about this harsh yet accurate observation is that, by default, you can see that the actions you take now will change how you will be in the future. While his approach is rather blunt, he comes across as friendly and relatable in the book.

Much of what he says reflects how I also feel about life.

We don’t have as much of it as we think we do and that it’s far too short to live it in fear or for other people.

Girl, Stop Apologising – Rachel Hollis

Many women have been brought up to prioritise other people’s needs and to define themselves as a wife, mother, daughter, employee first instead of looking at who they are and what they want.

In this wonderfully inspiring book, Rachel shows women how to stop talking themselves out of their dreams and how to adopt healthy behaviours and skills that enable them to believe in themselves and achieve the things they want in life.

My trainees were absolutely crazy about this book!

Self-belief and confidence are things I continually see my audience struggle with (I’d never even heard of ‘mummy guilt’ until I read this book and…. wow, women sure do like to beat themselves up) and I think you’ll get a lot from it.

If I had my way, I’d give a copy to every woman in the world.

Refuse to Choose – Barbara Sher

his book was recommended by a career coach friend many years ago during an exasperated discussion about how I was interested in so many things that I didn’t know which ones I should keep as hobbies and which one to choose as a career.

He had correctly guessed that I had a ‘Scanner Personality’ which actually appears to be a common trait in people who want to be Virtual Assistants because Scanners need a life of variety or they feel suffocated.

There are many types of Scanner, but commonalities include hating the idea of settling on one career path, having so many ideas and interests they often freeze with indecision or the habit of starting things but never finishing them.

Discovering I was a (plate-spinning, cyclical) Scanner was like being diagnosed and reading this book – which shows you that you’re not a freak and that you can do everything you want without going insane – was life-changing.

The Daily Stoic

While this isn’t a business book, it’s a vital part of my morning routine and applying the principles helps me to manage frustrating or challenging situations better.

Stoicism is about understanding that events aren’t in themselves good or bad, it is only how we view them that makes them so. But it’s so easy to forget this and be thrown off kilter by an incident or something someone says.

I started learning how to exercise stoicism a while back because I don’t want to live my life this way. To ensure I maintain the momentum, I keep the book on my kitchen counter and each morning after I do my back exercises, I read the day’s entry while waiting for the kettle to boil.

That’s right. This book is so important to me that I read it before I have my morning coffee!

I’m still a work in progress, but I’ve definitely seen positive changes in the way I view external events, and I know stoicism is the right choice for me. I also have the Kindle version, so I never miss a day.


In the many years since I set up my own business, I’ve learned that mindset is everything – if you can control how you think and how you view things, you can control your life.

What’s interesting is that, while many dedicated, ‘proper’ business and marketing books have undoubtedly helped to improve my business, it’s the non-business ones in subjects such as psychology and philosophy that have made the biggest difference. And this is because they enabled me to understand other people as well as myself.

What really delights me, though is that the knowledge and insights I gain from reading these types of books not only improve my business, but they cannot fail to improve my life as well. Because I don’t differentiate or compartmentalise my life in that way.

I simply have one (wild and precious and way too short) life filled with different activities.

Over to you. These books have made a big difference to my life but which books (business or otherwise) have made a difference to yours?

* Please note that there are affiliate links on this page which means I may receive a small fee if you decide to buy the book. Please note that my reputation is extremely important to me and I only recommend products that I personally love.



Feel The Fear and Do it Anyway by Susan Jeffers. I read it in my twenties and have tried to live by the principles ever since! Looking forward to reading your list.

Barbs Freedman

Barbara Sher’s Refuse to Choose is on my bookshelf – am a Scanner too.

Thanks for the list Jo – The Success Principals has just been delivered! Looking forward to reading all 451 pages!

Next on my list will be Essentialism – very curious to read this.

Marina Turion

I am actually reading the Free Range Human book at the moment. It is facinating!


Refuse to choose … yes I think I have a scanner personality, maybe this is why I procrastinate so much … I’ve started more businesses than Richard Branson then get bored, give up and don’t see anything through… I like variety and the thought of being stuck doing the same thing terrifies me! I shall look forward to reading this, thank you ❤️ Ps I’ve only bought the domain name for my website hence the link not working

Geniece Brown

Hi Joanne, “The Wealthy Freelancer” looks to be a great next read for me. I’m currently finishing Ramit Sethi’s “I Will Teach You to Be Rich” and recently ordered Lewis Howes’ “The School of Greatness” so those two will be my last reads for the year.

Putting “The Wealthy Freelancer” on my book ordering list for January 2016. I’ll let know once I get it and any valuable nuggets I get from it. Thanks for the list!!


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