Guerrilla Marketing (Houghton Mifflin, 1983) by Jay Conrad Levinson
Why it mattered: No author is better loved by entrepreneurs. Levinson's advice for low- and no-cost small-business marketing has been updated and expanded in three editions since the original. Dozens more books authored and co-authored by him apply the guerrilla approach to finance, sales and other functions.
The importance of Guerrilla Marketing lies in its practicality and frugality. Marketing as taught before Levinson emphasized techniques requiring resources beyond growing businesses' reach. Levinson looked past national broadcast campaigns to point out how to market with tools such as business cards, public relations and telephone hold recordings.
Why it still matters: Levinson's central lesson is that marketing opportunities are everywhere and don't have to cost a fortune. He opens your eyes so that, in addition to getting some specific marketing tricks, you're better prepared to invent your own. Anyone who reads a Guerrilla book comes away convinced that big ideas are worth more than big money. In that sense, Levinson is perhaps the ultimate entrepreneurial author.
What to ignore: If you pick up an old edition, you'll find lots of references to telemarketing and direct-mail campaigns and none to e-mail marketing or e-commerce. Marketing and business have changed a lot since 1983, something that Levinson's later books recognize by devoting attention to such modern issues as environmentalism, telecommuting and satellite communications.
Innovation and Entrepreneurship (HarperBusiness, 1985) by Peter Drucker
Why it mattered: Drucker was regarded as the top management thinker of the 20th century when he died in 2005 at age 95, at work on yet another book. His reputation was built mostly with titles other than Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and those were primarily about big companies, reflecting his early studies with General Motors. This title was the only one dealing specifically with entrepreneurship, but it did much to legitimize entrepreneurial styles of management when it came out.
Why it still matters:Innovation and Entrepreneurship proposes an approach to fostering innovation unlike any book that came before it. Among Drucker's most telling observations was that opportunity often lies in incongruity. When a process doesn't make sense or work for the benefit of customers, entrepreneurs who find and effectively present solutions will prosper, he found.
In addition to incongruity, Drucker identified six more sources of innovation, from demographic changes to the introduction of new knowledge, and outlined timeless business strategies based on speed, nichemanship and other attributes of entrepreneurial businesses.
What to ignore: Drucker was an outstanding writer, able to compellingly impart insights to a wide range of readers, but his observations are largely anecdotal. Today, business authors and analysts increasingly lean more on empirical data gathering and quantitative analysis for formulating their recommendations. Drucker is always clear, inspiring and thought provoking, but that doesn't mean his ideas will work for everyone.
The E-Myth (HarperBusiness, 1985) by Michael Gerber
Why it mattered: This small-business consultant's sharpest observation was that most business owners know a lot about producing whatever it is they sell, but a lot less about running the business. The publication and popularity of this book and Gerber's numerous titles that followed it caused countless business owners to reexamine what they were doing.
Gerber's mantra of "Work on your business, not in your business" powerfully refocuses the business owner's attention away from being what amounts to self-employed employees and toward figuring out how to make their small companies run better. Essentially, he advised systematizing as many jobs as possible through the use of manuals, policies and the like, until practically anyone could run the business as well as the founder.
Why it still matters: Especially in his later E-Myth Mastery, Gerber lays out an approach to systematizing a growing business unmatched in scope and sophistication. Growing a company much beyond the capabilities of its creator still requires skills beyond that of a technician. Gerber's work is the prime repository of that knowledge for businesses.
What to ignore: Focusing on growing a company using these highly intellectual techniques can lead entrepreneurs far from hands-on producing and creating, which in many cases is why they started a business. As with a lot of powerful ideas, you have to ask yourself where you really want to go before trying to apply this one.