Here are the five most useful business books for my small business that I’ve read in the last year.

Never Eat Alone – Keith Ferrazzi and Tahl Raz
An excellent guide on how to build long-term mutually beneficial relationships with customers and other businesspeople.

Plan As You Go Business Plan – Tim Ferry
Most people write a business plan, then it just gathers dust. That’s because the approach is all wrong. Ferry’s book transforms it into a living document that actually has daily meaning and guidance for your business.

Ready! Fire! Aim! – Michael Masterson
A detailed guide for growing your business at each stage, whether it’s a one-man startup or a thousand employee corporation.

Buyology – Martin Lindstrom
A fantastic discussion of what elements work in marketing at the ground level – how to choose colors and words for your business, for example.

Groundswell – Charlene Li
A thorough guide for how emerging social technologies (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) can help your business, no matter what that business is.

A well-written business book is often packed to the brim with great ideas for small businesspeople, but keeping up with the reading can be expensive. Most small businesspeople (myself included) love having a thought-provoking book on the bedside table, but I’d rather invest my money in my business, thank you very much.

Here’s the kicker, though: I was able to read all five of these books for just pennies. I didn’t have to go to Amazon or the local bookstore and spend $20 on a copy (though I do sometimes buy great reads when I’m a bit impatient). Instead, I just used a bit of patience and a few great resources and the books eventually found their way into my hands.

First, I used the local library. Sure, it seems like an overly simple thing, but it works. Your local library can get you almost any book you want, provided you’re willing to wait a little bit. Just submit your request if the book isn’t on the shelves – they’ll find it by inter-library loan or put you on a waiting list. Many libraries let you do this online in just a few minutes from home, notifying you by email when your book arrives.

Second, I used online book swapping. Again, this can easily be done from your home computer. Just sign up for a service like PaperBackSwap, create a “wish list” of the business books you want to read, and list the ones you have you’re willing to trade. If someone requests a book you have, just send it out via media mail for $2. I obtained my own copies of many of the above books using this service.

Third, I swapped books with local businesspeople. If I finish a book, I’ll ask around my local acquaintances and look for someone to swap with. Obviously, some books I want to keep for long-term reference, but many books are great for reading once and passing on.

In the end, the key is to get the ideas in your head with as little resource allocation as possible. That way, you can use the resources in actually putting those great ideas into action.