Books: Online or Flatline by Nick Choat

Full disclosure: I was sent a copy of this book via some review group that I assume the author hired to, er, get reviews for his book. The reason I requested a review copy was that I hoped the book would have some insight for me as a self-published author. I mean, being a self-published author is like running a small business in many ways. However, I can't say this book had much for me.

This book is so short it's almost a thick pamphlet. That said, one could praise it for being concise? I will say I enjoy Choat's conversational tone. The book is inviting. Perhaps Choat realizes some people—and this book really seems geared at older businesspeople—are a little afraid of the online world, at least when it comes to marketing. So he tries with his tone to make it all less scary.

That said, this book is very basic, too. It's for extreme beginners. This book is a toe dip, not a jump-in-and-swim. And some of the information is not exactly true. In particular, Choat goes on for a bit about "Google for Business" which isn't a thing as far as I can tell. He writes:
One platform, Google for Business (formerly G+), stands out from this crowd for the simple reason that Google owns the platform. The original G+ struggled to capture social hearts and minds like Facebook. So Google . . . repositioned G+ to be a tool for small businesses instead of a social tool for the masses. Now they call it Google for Business.
He goes on to say that this "Google for Business" works against business owners who don't have a profile with them. As best I can tell, none of this is true. First off, I think Choat may mean Google My Business, which is an online directory that businesses can post a profile on. However, Google+ (or G+) still exists as a social platform as well. And I've never heard of anyone suffering for not having a Google My Business profile. If your SEO is working, you'll come up in search results regardless.

While Choat discusses at length the things he considers necessary for small business success (a Web site being #1, which, duh), most of his examples are anecdotal. There aren't hard numbers here, or even much data to back up his words. He mentions things he's done for his haircut franchise but doesn't say what his results were. Sure, he did some Facebook ads, but can he tell us how many new customers came in from those? Apparently not. When talking about the need to have your business listed in online directories, he writes: "While I don't have hard data, intuitively I believe that 10-20 percent of your digitally acquired new customers will come through these platforms." Intuitively? Does he have a reason for this intuition, or is it a gut feeling?

On the plus side, Choat is correct is telling small-business owners to beware predators who will milk them. Vet any "service providers" and be sure to figure out how much you can do on your own and for yourself. While a lot of what Choat recommends—and he really is only covering the bare basics here—takes time, much of it shouldn't cost any money. Choat is right to tell readers that they should only hire experts (and make sure they're experts!) as a last resort if/when they can't do something themselves.

He's also on point when telling readers to start with one and then build. Don't try to do Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. all at once. Get a Web site set up, then a Facebook page. Let that ride for a while before adding another component. There's nothing more overwhelming than too many social media outlets to manage.

Finally, as an editor I found numerous punctuation problems that distracted me from the text. I also have to marvel at the $12.99 barcode considering the book is only 100 pages long. (Goodreads thinks it's 124, but the copy I received is 104 pages. Maybe I'm missing a few? But my pages are numbered consecutively, so . . .)

In short, this book is a modest stepping stone to a much wider digital world. It's a starting point, but one that beginning online marketers will quickly outgrow. Many readers will soon find themselves in search of broader and more in-depth information. This book is equivalent to water wings; readers may benefit more from a lifejacket.

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