The best books on small business marketing

Who am I?

I'm a writer and consultant on marketing and creating online courses. I’m obsessed with “cracking the marketing code.” Ever since I saw firsthand what a huge impact even small marketing changes could have on a business's success I’ve been determined to figure out what the really big impact but low workload changes are. I’ve written about some of them in my book Email Persuasion and I share others in my blogs and videos.


I wrote...

Email Persuasion: Captivate and Engage Your Audience, Build Authority and Generate More Sales With Email

By Ian Brodie,

Book cover of Email Persuasion: Captivate and Engage Your Audience, Build Authority and Generate More Sales With Email

What is my book about?

Email Persuasion is the definitive guide to engaging your audience, building authority, and getting more sales with email marketing. Described as a “results getting tour de force” and “inspiring but practical” it will take you step by step from getting subscribers to nurturing relationships to winning new clients.

Email Persuasion was created for small businesses and sole practitioners. It’s written in clear and straightforward language and includes real-world tips that will elevate your results from email marketing whether you’re a beginner or an advanced-level marketer.

The books I picked & why

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Duct Tape Marketing The World's Most Practical Small Business Marketing Guide

By John Jantsch,

Book cover of Duct Tape Marketing  The World's Most Practical Small Business Marketing Guide

Why this book?

Duct Tape Marketing is probably the best “if you could only have one book” guide to marketing for small businesses. Written by a guy who’s been “in the trenches” working with small businesses on their marketing for over two decades, it’s practical and actionable and keeps you firmly focused on what’s really important to succeed, not on “flavor of the month” tactics.

It’s a great book for non-marketing people. And it very much focuses on setting up systems and processes so we get consistent results from our marketing. In other words, the boring stuff we tend to avoid but that actually makes the most difference!


Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works

By A.G. Lafley, Roger L. Martin,

Book cover of Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works

Why this book?

This is the story of how P&G does marketing, written by their most successful CEO. Now, of course, P&G is hardly a small business. But they’re one of the most successful marketing businesses of all time, and their rigorous, analytical approach is something that all small businesses can learn from.

It’s based around the simple idea of deciding “where to play” and “how to win”. But that simple idea enabled Lafley to double P&G’s sales, quadruple its profits, and increase its market value by more than $100 billion in just ten years. If we can achieve a tiny fraction of what he achieved we’ll have done well.


Confessions of an Advertising Man

By David Ogilvy,

Book cover of Confessions of an Advertising Man

Why this book?

Ogilvy was a true force of nature and perhaps the original “mad men” prototype. This book is part autobiography and part guide to his philosophy of advertising. Reading it, you’ll laugh, you learn a lot, and you’ll wonder how on earth he got away with half the things he did.

I’ve included this book in the list as a kind of “light interlude” to the other, denser books. But nonetheless it contains great insights that are as true today as when Ogilvy penned this 50 years ago.


How to Write Sales Letters That Sell

By Drayton Bird,

Book cover of How to Write Sales Letters That Sell

Why this book?

David Ogilvy said, “Drayton Bird knows more about direct marketing than anyone in the world,” and you can see why he said it in this book.

At some point in your marketing you need to get your potential customers to become paying customers. To actually part with their hard-earned cash. This book is a masterclass on how to do that in print – either on your website or in letters, adverts, brochures, or flyers. Bird’s writing has that amazing quality of charm, of being able to get you to buy without feeling you’ve been sold to. The book shows you how to get something similar yourself and is chock full of examples to learn from.


Captivology: The Science of Capturing People's Attention

By Ben Parr,

Book cover of Captivology: The Science of Capturing People's Attention

Why this book?

Of all the marketing challenges facing us today, the biggest by far is the immensely difficult task of getting and keeping the attention of our target customers in a ridiculously noisy world.

Captivology isn’t necessarily a marketing book per se. But it’s the best guide to the art and the science of capturing attention. It shows you what gets people to take notice of something, to pay it deeper attention, and then to keep coming back and devoting time to it. You can apply these lessons across all your marketing and of all the marketing ideas and concepts I’ve come across in the last decade, this one has had the deepest and most positive impact on me and the results in my business.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in attention, organizational change, and marketing?

5,810 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about attention, organizational change, and marketing.

Attention Explore 8 books about attention
Organizational Change Explore 22 books about organizational change
Marketing Explore 81 books about marketing

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Difficult Conversations, Think and Grow Rich, and Thinking, Fast and Slow if you like this list.