In high school, our English teachers often assigned us novels that were "good for us" (translation--if as adults we wanted to sound halfway educated at cocktail parties, we'd need to have a passing knowledge of these books). To ensure that we actually had read them, our teachers required us to write a report that summarized each book's key points. Given the course load we were carrying, Cliff Notes--a purchasable outline of a novel considered by many English teachers to be one small step above cheating--saved us a lot of homework hours.

We have as much of an appreciation for good literature as the next educated adult. We have to admit, though, that other than being able to intelligently discuss the latest film remake of a Jane Austen novel, we've found very little use for those novels we read back then. We wish that our high-school reading assignments included books that were not just good for our minds, but also practical for our lives. With that in mind, we decided to tell you about a book that we feel should be included on the "essential reading" list for any woman thinking of embarking upon an entrepreneurial venture: Smart Women and Small Business. As homage to our English teachers of years past, here's a book report you can actually use!

Title: Smart Women and Small Business: How to Make the Leap from Corporate Careers to the Right Small Enterprise

The one-sentence summary: "A woman's guide to small business written by a woman who's been there."

Why it's useful: Packed with detailed information, practical tips and wise advice, this book goes beyond the typical definition of entrepreneurship and outlines options other than starting a company from scratch.

About the author: As a small-business consultant and former small business owner herself, author Ginny Wilmerding has been in the trenches on both sides of the entrepreneurial divide.

Key ideas from the book:

  1. When it comes to entrepreneurial ventures, women follow their passions but men follow the money.

    The author reports that women tend to have more complex motives for starting a business than men. We often have a higher purpose in mind, whether it's about doing good or creating a more enjoyable lifestyle. Men tend to be much more pragmatic when it comes to entrepreneurial ventures; oftentimes their primary reason for starting a business is wealth creation. The author warns us that our lack of focus on this piece of the entrepreneurial puzzle can cause us to get stuck in a business that barely meets our financial needs, so she encourages us to give ourselves permission to care about making money (we like this advice!).

  2. Women should know that they can express their passion through a business they didn't start.

    Building upon the practical vision of wealth creation, the author points out a very important point for women to remember--a business must provide you the income you need or you'll lose your passion for it. Before risking everything on starting your own business, she recommends exploring whether you can join a similar business or improve someone else's existing concept.

  3. Buying a business is oftentimes more affordable than starting one.

    The author points out that if you consider the financial costs of lost income plus the start-up capital you'll need to launch your business, you may find that a down-payment on an existing business is cheaper than starting one from scratch. She advises running the numbers to compare both scenarios in addition to considering other options for entering the small business world such as buying into a franchise or working in direct selling.

  4. Working hard, providing top-quality products and having happy customers does not necessarily equal a successful business.

    Women tend to think that the same qualities that bring professional success within a corporate environment--hard work, high quality standards and happy clients--automatically translate into having a successful business. The author points out that when it comes to having a successful small business there's more to the equation! We must focus on knowing business survival basics (i.e. healthy cash flow) in order to build a sustainable and profitable company.

To learn more beyond our Cliff Notes-style book report, you can get more information at www.smartwomen-smallbusiness.com . We recommend that you do, since we found Smart Women and Small Business to be the kind of book that every woman with entrepreneurial aspirations should have on her bookshelf!