Best Small Business Books

Welcome to the first annual list of Best Small Business Books, here at Small Business Trends.

The year 2008 was a banner year for business books, and we had a lot to choose from.  So making choices was very hard.

Each book on this list was chosen because it was fresh and remarkable in some way.  Also we tended toward books that offer practical advice for entrepreneurs and those running small businesses that you can implement right away.  Each book can help you get and keep profitable customers, and be a better, more successful business owner.

Not every book came out in 2008 — a couple were published or revised in 2007, but were getting a great deal of buzz and interest in 2008 and so were included.

Groundswell - best small business book1. GROUNDSWELL People are talking about companies and their products all over the Web … it’s a groundswell of activity.  Written by two Forrester analysts and based on actual research with real companies of all sizes, this book introduces you to the world of social media and online communities.

  • Why Read This Book: Social Media isn’t going away. This book shows you how to weed through the morass of social media tools using a 4-step process to build a social media strategy for your business.
  • Key Take-Away: Start a blog and build a customer community around your product or service.

7 Triggers to Yes - Best Small Business Book 2. 7 TRIGGERS TO YES By far, THE most practical book on the subject on sales and marketing influence and persuasion. What makes this book stand out from others on the subject is its simple, applicable practicality for the small business owner. Review of 7 Tiggers to Yes.

  • Why Read This Book: Russell Granger shows you how to apply the “triggers” in exercises that you can implement today to help you get what you want in your next meeting. Talk about immediate gratification.
  • Key Take-Away: Use the 7-Triggers Form to prepare for your next presentation.


Neromarketing - Best Small Business Book3. NEUROMARKETING The subtitle of this book reads, “Understanding the Buy Buttons in Your Customer’s Brain.”  And that’s what this book explores, showing us how the right sales and marketing messages can bring a response from that part of the brain that decides to buy.

  • Why Read This Book: You will understand how the brain makes decisions and how you can focus your designs and messages to get customers to pick you.
  • Key Take-Away: Use vivid and contrasting examples in your marketing, like before and after shots. Tell an emotional story with the most important points at the beginning. Keep reasons to buy tangible and easy to grasp (a twelve-year-old should “get it”).

Illusions of Entrepreneurship - Best Small Business Book4. ILLUSIONS OF ENTREPRENEURSHIP Be prepared for lots of things you thought you knew about entrepreneurship to be debunked.  Read a review of Illusions of Entrepreneurship.

  • Why Read This Book: Professor Scott Shane shows with hard data what it means to be a successful entrepreneur.
  • Key Take-Away: In an odd way this book is encouraging because it demonstrates that starting a business is hard work, and startups take time to grow.  You may be right on track and doing better than you think, compared with others.

Buyology - Best Small Business Book5. BUYOLOGY Martin Lindstrom commissions one of the largest studies of what turns us on about particular products and marketing messages – and the results are surprising. Using MRI scanners to record brain activity, the study measures which products and ad messages evoke the most favorable response. For instance, you’ll learn why fear-based anti-smoking messages make smokers want to smoke more, not less. A fun and insightful read.  Read a review of Buyology.

  • Why Read This Book: You will learn how to make ads and brand campaigns more effective.
  • Key Take-Away: It’s the emotions and colors that are tied to your brand experience that remind buyers of you.

Reality Check - Best Small Business Book6. REALITY CHECK Hilarious, in-your-face business advice. Guy Kawasaki uses his engaging style to call out every moose on every boardroom table and then some. You won’t be able to stop yourself from flipping chapter to chapter to see what hysterical idiosyncrasy of entrepreneurship he’ll tear into next – and what you’ll learn from the process. Read a review of Reality Check.  Another review here.

  • Why Read This Book: You can use this book as a sort of true-to-business encyclopedia. Got a difficult boss or client? Turn to the difficult boss chapter and get Guy’s insights.
  • Key Take-Away: Don’t ask for funding if you don’t already have customers. Another favorite is Guy’s 10-20-30 presentation rule; 10 slides, 20 minutes and 30-point type.

Back of the Napkin - Best Small Business Book7. BACK OF THE NAPKIN If you’re going to spend your meetings doodling, then you might as well use those doodles to solve real problems. This is an incredibly useful book for anyone that has to present complex persuasive information.

  • Why Read This Book: This book will make you a more creative problem solver.
  • Key Take-Away: The next time you have to communicate something – take the time to draw it out. You will get insights AND intrigue your audience.

Rub My Tummy - Best Small Business Book8. RUB MY TUMMY AND IT’S A DEALA completely different business book, this is a collection of cartoons by Andertoons designed to make you laugh at yourself and your entrepreneurial or corporate circumstance. Use the cartoons to inspire your next meeting or get a message through with a smile. Read a review of Rub My Tummy.

  • Why Read This Book: It will make you smile.
  • Key Take-Away: You can use cartoons on your business cards or commission them for client presentations, to get your point across with humor.

Made to Stick - Best Small Business Book9. MADE TO STICK Why is it that some stories (like the juicy ones) go viral while your latest product launch stagnates? The Heath Brothers (Chip and Dan)  give you the 6-step method on how to construct your own story or marketing message so that it will spread.

  • Why Read This Book: It outlines the six elements that make stories viral.
  • Key Take Away: Make your stories as visual and descriptive and emotionally charged as possible to make them memorable.

Toilet Paper Entrepreneur - Best Small Business Book10. TOILET PAPER ENTREPRENEURMike Michalowicz tells it like it is. This is the no BS guide to taking that idea and actually putting some action behind it. It’s written as if he’s right there in the room with you – not pulling any punches.  Read a review of The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur.

  • Why Read This Book: You will feel better about your entrepreneurial prospects when you see how many creative low-cost resources are out there.
  • Key Take-Away: Mike’s 3-Sheet plan gets you inspired and focused to build, grow and manage your business right away.

Complexity Crisis - Best Small Business Book11. COMPLEXITY CRISIS Just walk through any supermarket and you’ll see an incredible proliferation of products. What you may not realize is that with all that choice comes more complexity. And the more complexity there is, the more cost there is.  (Our bonus pick.)  Review of Complexity Crisis here.

  • Why Read This Book: You will see the tell-tale signs of complexity that can bleed your profits dry — and how to eliminate complexity.
  • Key Take-Away: John Mariotti (previous CEO of Huffy and Rubbermaid Office Products) shows you where and how to recognize when complexity is hiding in your financial statement. If you’re not an accounting wiz – this is worth every page.

Now – what do you think?  Feel free to nominate your own choice in the comments section, and answer both points:  (1) Why read the book, and (2) Key take-away for a small business owner or entrepreneur.  (And compare to our Reader’s Choice List of Best Business Books.)

* * * * *

Ivana Taylor About the Author: Ivana Taylor is CEO of Third Force, a strategic firm that helps small businesses get and keep their ideal customer.  She’s the co-author of the book “Excel for Marketing Managers” and proprietor of DIYMarketers, a  site for in-house marketers.  Her blog is Strategy Stew.


Ivana Taylor Ivana Taylor is the Book Editor for Small Business Trends. She is responsible for directing the site’s book review program and manages the team of professional book reviewers. She also spearheads the annual Small Business Book Awards. Ivana publishes DIYMarketers, where she shares daily do-it-yourself marketing tips, and is co-author of "Excel for Marketing Managers."

25 Reactions
  1. Nice list Ivana. Glad to see Reality Check, one of my personal favorites.

    I will nominate another book: Tim Berry’s Plan as You Go Business Plan.

    (1) Why read the book: You learn from the master.

    (2) Key take-away for a small business owner or entrepreneur: It helped us narrow down some initiatives to the few that matter. It gets your focus clarified.

  2. Buyology sounds like an interesting read for sure. I’m going to be checking that one out the next time I’m at the book store.

    I’d like to suggest John Assaraf’s book: The Answer

    1.) Why read the book: Because you will learn the true value of positive thinking and what it can do for yourself and your business.

    2.) Key take-away: The tips and advice contained within the book really do work and your goals can truly be achieved by implementing the practices into your life.

  3. Definitely going to add these to my GoodReads. Thanks for the great list!

  4. Katie Langston - Small Business Marketing Wizard

    Hey Ivana, thank you so much for the list!! I’ll be heading over to Amazon to pick ’em up!

  5. Thanks, Walt and Chris, for your suggestions. Good ones!

  6. Great list, Ivana. I’d like to add an additional plug for Groundswell. I’ve made it recommended reading for all of the small businesses i work with. It’s a great way for them to start to wrap their heads around the major new media-fueled socioeconomic shift that’s going on – and what it might mean for their businesses.

  7. Ms. Taylor;

    I would like to nominate, MY little BLACK BOOK TO SUCCESS.

    This book identifies core areas for businesses to increase their success rates and offer proven blueprints for small to medium sized business in operations, sales and marketing, human resources, and accounting departments and present hands-on, ready to implement strategies to increase the success rates of the reader’s small and mid-sized businesses.

    Top Reasons Why I Nominated MY little BLACK BOOK TO SUCCESS

    This Book Provides Any And All Readers With Answers To Be Successful In This Downward Economy!

    There Is At Least One Take Away That Readers, No Matter Their Demographics, Can And Will Receive By Utilizing This Book To Change Their Life And Career/Business.

    This Book Covers Four Key Areas That Readers Want And Need To Know About.

    This Book Is Very Unique, No Business System Before Has Shown Readers How To Run Their Business Like A Hotel To Increase Their Success Rates.

    This Book Is Very User Friendly For Readers (they do not need to be in the business world very long or have a higher education to understand it), With Easy To Understand Examples And Analogies.

    This Book Can Impact Readers Life Today, Their Future And The Solution Driven Action Plans Found In Them, Can Be Implemented That Very Day After Receiving Them.

  8. Great list, Ivana! I’ve read #7 and #9, heard of #6 and #10, have just ordered #3 and #5, and recommended #1 to a few people that could really use it. Thanks again for a great post.

  9. Good list.

    Although not published in 2008 the best one i read in 2008 has to be The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, really fascinating stuff, really makes you think.

    What is your favourite business book of all time??

  10. Ivana, you have made it very easy to choose which books to read with this list and also the reviews you did last year.


  11. Martin Lindeskog


    Great reading list. Thanks for including my review review of Illusions of Entrepreneurship.

    Tom Marquardt: Thanks for your email. I haven’t had time to read your e-book.

  12. This looks like a great list with just the right amount of summary and “personal take”. You reiterate a number of recommendations I’ve seen in the past. I just can’t figure out how people find the time to read actual books. Maybe everyone does more flying than me. Or maybe I need to subscribe to fewer blogs. 🙂

  13. Great list; I’ll be busy reading the next month. I’d like to add a book I read late in 2008, How to Wow by Frances Cole Jones. It’s a book on how to present yourself and your ideas.

    Why read this book: A good writer. She provides ideas on what works, what doesn’t and why. Effective communication is not only the message but also the medium (you).

    Key take away: It provides you with some key, do-able strategies on presenting, persuading and perfecting.

  14. Great article! Thanks for taking the time to summarize. happy New Year!

  15. Frederic Abramson

    Excellent article! I especially liked how you it is written… very similar to Inc.’s. However, in my opinion, the best business book of 2008 was Breakthrough Company by Keith McFarland

  16. @Walt – OH I love Tim Berry’s Plan as you go – stay tuned for more on that one.

    Thanks everyone for all the suggestions – I’m taking note and will get them (if only to feed that biz book addiction)


  17. Great List! “Ready, Fire, Aim!” by Michael Masterson is Also a great book published in 2008.

    Main takeaway: It’s all about the selling!

  18. Good to see I was already planning to order most of these anyways. Pity the Aussie dollar is going down though – used to be such as good deal for me to buy books over Amazon.

  19. 7 TRIGGERS TO YES. I vote it as #1 but that is my list. Good job.

  20. Good list Ivana!

    Here are my additional nominations to the best book list

  21. Buyology sounds like an interesting read for sure. I’m going to be checking that one out the next time I’m at the book store.

    I’d like to suggest John Assaraf’s book: The Answer

    1.) Why read the book: Because you will learn the true value of positive thinking and what it can do for yourself and your business.

    2.) Key take-away: The tips and advice contained within the book really do work and your goals can truly be achieved by implementing the practices into your life.

  22. Customs Service and other agencies to prevent illegal shipments from coming into the country. ,

  23. I just want to be in control of those days. ,

  24. I am looking for an indepth book on starting and running a small business from an “operational” perspective. A “how to” for setting up functional areas such as: customer service, manufacturing, inventory, office personal and management, procurement and logistics….

    Thanks in advance for any help you recommend,


  25. I have been looking for a simple business start up book, has anyone read 42 Business For Under 100 Dollars by James Timothy White?

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