Online or Flatline: The Small Business Owner's Guide to Digital Marketing

Online or Flatline: The Small Business Owner's Guide to Digital Marketing

by Nick Choat


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Digital marketing is a daunting task for many small business owners. It often seems intimidating and complicated, and the benefits are not easily measured, but without it, many businesses die out. In Online or Flatline , Nick Choat offers compelling reasons to get your business online and easy-to-use tools to make it possible:

  • How to set up an attractive webpage
  • How to prioritize your social media efforts
  • How to use review feedback to interact with customers
  • How to optimize your ability to be found on Google
  • How to combine traditional and digital advertising, and much more

Online or Flatline gives small business owners an easy-to-follow, affordable guide and a strong plan of action for creating a successful and valuable online presence.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781945449017
Publisher: Elevate Publishing
Publication date: 02/21/2017
Pages: 104
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x (d)

About the Author

Nick Choat spent several years as a Vice President at The Walt Disney Company, most recently as the VP of Big Data Analytics and Digital Advertising Technology. He now runs several franchises, where he has adapted his digital marketing prowess to small businesses, and serves as the Chief Digital Officer of Pine Lake Advisory Service.

Read an Excerpt

Online or Flatline

The Small Business Owner's Guide to Digital Marketing

By Nick Choat

Elevate Publishing

Copyright © 2016 Nick Choat
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-945449-02-4



The objective of this section is to provide you a solid grounding in the evolution of digital technology. You'll need a historical context behind the growing influence of technology on business, and you'll also need to gain an understanding as to why consumers now expect to interact with businesses because of this digital upheaval.

I'm going to focus this discussion around digital technologies that have true merit, not just technologies that are cool. The next whiz-bang social media platform might be interesting, but it also might be of no business value. I'll frame this discussion around the generational changes because those patterns ultimately inform our current state.

This high degree of digital change can be stressful, but with some quick instruction and background, any anxiety you might harbor will be reduced significantly. And while you may never be anxiety free, let's get to the point where we reduce your stress enough so that you no longer fear taking the first step.

A Digital Technology History Lesson

Thousands of digital technologies (or more) have been developed over the past few decades. Very few exist today either because they are obsolete or because they never should have existed in the first place. When is the last time you used a floppy disk? What ever happened to Myspace? Does anyone still use a modem? This digital history lesson will describe only those technologies that have had a lasting impact on businesses and our personal life.

Thousands of more technologies will be developed during the upcoming decades. Some of those will be fleeting and disappear; some will make a lasting impact.

'While I will discuss how to think strategically about using digital for your business later in the book, you first must learn to respect the past, acknowledge that digital change will continue in the future, but then focus your energies on today. In other words, what can you implement today and why?

I've tried to illustrate with the diagram to the right those digital technologies that have influenced businesses and consumers. Also take note that the rapid pace of change only continues.

Do you remember mainframe computers, or "big iron"? Mainframe computers are very large, centrally managed computers that I describe as being "hidden behind the curtain." Mainframe computers have been used in industry and government for many decades and continue to be used to this day. The functions they perform of payroll processing or census calculations, while boring, are essential for commerce and government operations. Unless of course you work for one of the very large corporations or government agencies that utilize these computers, we as consumers have almost no exposure to these large machines. Unlike some of the more modern technologies, mainframes didn't influence consumer behavior. Mainframes did, however, pave the way for those more modern technologies to exist.

The next generation of digital change was the introduction of personal computing (PC), which I consider digital "for the people." For the first time, consumers and small businesses had access to digital solutions. Personal computing brought digital technology out from behind the curtain and dropped it smack dab on your desk. The first PCs were pretty humble devices by today's standards. Back then, you could do things such as play games, maybe create a spreadsheet to balance your checkbook, or have a digital way to store your recipes. Eventually, software developers started to create new applications that increased the value of that expensive piece of hardware you only used to play Pong. Along with being a technology "for the people," the pace of change was fueled by software, not hardware, for the first time. That's why modern-day PCs and laptops still exist.

The next seismic digital shift was the digital generation that connected all of us. The Internet, which is the technology that powers the World Wide Web, was created several decades ago, mostly for military and academic research purposes. The Internet came out of the labs with the introduction of personal computing, and the World Wide Web was born. The World Wide Web enabled ecommerce companies to exist. Do you remember when only sold books? Do you remember when thought it was a great idea to let you buy dog food over the Web and have it shipped to your home? Do you remember when this company named Google didn't exist? The World Wide Web generated a lot of innovation — 'along with some general craziness. The end result, however, was that all businesses and consumers had the ability to connect to a larger body of technology.

Next came the always-connected generation. The original cell phones were just a portable and untethered way to make phone calls. This was truly cool, but when some smart people combined phone calls with the connectivity of the World Wide Web, they created smartphones and tablet devices. You now have digitally fueled individuals who have computing power at their fingertips and available to them anywhere. As consumers today, we are carrying more digital horsepower in our pockets than most businesses had available even 20 or 30 years ago.

Our final strategic stop on this digital history lesson is social media. Social media is a very broad classification of digital capability where consumers, and now businesses, can interact with each other socially. Notable company names like Facebook and Twitter dominate this space. Many business owners have expressed to me that they don't get the point of social media for business purposes. But before you completely dismiss social media, let me explain how social media platforms have become so dominant.

First, people enjoy using social media platforms like Facebook. Likewise, social media platforms aren't hidden behind the curtain and are available to all businesses and consumers. Finally, these social media platforms are optimized for mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets, which enable us to be "social on the go."

Social media platforms are truly strategic. Why then is it that social media is so misunderstood, especially by business owners? Business owners are generally not stupid people. Why then have the "light bulbs" not been turned on? The answer oftentimes is driven by generational differences and caused by a lack of good examples that illustrate true business value.

The Dawn of the Digital Generation

Starting back in the 1960s, several researchers studied how new technologies, or innovations in general, have been adopted by society. While these adoption models are perfectly fine, they are a touch academic and not very practical for day-to-day decision-making. So, at the risk of oversimplifying digital adoption, I would like to suggest a more direct and practical model.

As I discussed in the prior chapter, our society has experienced multiple insertions of strategic technologies into our business and personal lives. When I think about those technologies and their inception, I can identify several patterns.

First and foremost, digital adoption is not related to personal capabilities. Were all relatively smart people. Digital adoption, instead, is driven by two factors that all of us can control and influence.

The first factor is a generational exposure factor that results in comfort. Every generation has been exposed to a set of technologies. If, for example, someone was born in the 21st century, he's been heavily exposed to the World Wide Web and mobile device. So, understandably, that generation is very comfortable using that technology.

Someone born in the 1940s has been exposed to those same technologies but only recently. That person born in the 1940s will not be as comfortable because he or she didn't grow up being surrounded by those technologies. Are those born in the 1940s capable of learning that technology? Absolutely, assuming they believe they can overcome the natural discomfort.

Value understanding is the second factor driving comfort. Just being exposed to a digital solution isn't sufficient. For example, I've been exposed to Twitter, but I have yet to understand how it could support either my personal or business needs. A person who truly adopts a digital solution has a pretty accurate understanding of why one should use that technology. I consider this factor the motivation to use a technology. I don't intend to launch you down this trail of trying all technologies until you find something that works, however. Instead, I intend to jump-start your value understanding by giving you specific recommendations to guide you on this journey.

To summarize: digital adoption = comfort (belief) + value understanding (motivation). If, for example, you want to use Facebook for your business, you first need to believe you can learn the tool, and second, you need to be motivated to learn because of the expected value you will receive.

Here's one of my life lessons to make this point. I'm not going to give my age, but you could safely assume that I haven't been surrounded by social media my whole life.

Before I became a Sport Clips owner, I was the worst with Facebook. I would make maybe one or two posts per year, so my personal Facebook page was, and still is, pretty bland and boring.

After becoming a Sport Clips owner, I quickly realized that haircuts are very personal. For 20 minutes once a month or so, our customers let another person touch their hair. After that haircut, the person reenters the world with a new haircut that all acquaintances will be exposed to for the next 30 days. I'm rarely in the store, so I can't physically talk to each and every customer to hear the feedback. I have learned, however, that I can communicate to the customers through Face- book and have experimented with many approaches. I posted the "corporate" type of content with limited results. However, when I spoke to my Facebook audience as a human, folks responded. Humans care for other humans, which a business can't. So just show your human side, and you'll be surprised by what happens. Believe me, this stuff isn't complicated.

I went from a person who was awful with Facebook to a person who is now better than awful. Was this transition frustrating? Making mistakes is never fun. Was I fearful during this transition? You better believe I was. Knowing what I know now, would I have done things differently? The answer to that question is absolutely not. Even with my technology background, frustration and anxiety are unfortunately necessary to learn and master these solutions. To be successful, you need to be patient and accept that this is normal.

Regardless of your generation, you too can learn and prosper with these newer digital solutions.

What's All the Fuss over the Millennial Generation?

There's a lot of chatter around the millennial generation. There also seems to be a lot of angst around how to service their needs as consumers. Oddly enough, I've been around long enough to recognize there's always angst when an older generation tries to understand a newer generation. It's time to get over the angst and accept the fact that you just need to understand how to service their needs. It's no different than trying to understand the needs of the 65-plus age group.

Here's the digital truth about millennials. They've been exposed to technologies their whole life, which means that things like mobile devices and social media come very naturally to them. Because of this comfort, they expect to have their needs satisfied with that same set of technologies. If you as a business owner choose not to use those technologies, you run the serious risk of not having millennials as your customers.

The millennials are just a more extreme example of a target market with strong digital needs. I'm convinced, though, that the digital needs of all target markets are increasing. If you remember our history lesson, this transition is very consistent with early generations of technologies.

Remember the secret formula and all will be well: digital adoption = comfort (belief) + value understanding (motivation).



Throughout the course of my career, and even today, I continue to encounter folks who are apprehensive about technology. You hear comments such as, "I'm not a techie," which I trust is true to some degree. It's human nature to be apprehensive of new things. I feel strongly, however, that this apprehension is self-induced and that everyone can learn.

When presented with the next new technical "thing," you have two choices: either fly away from the solution or fight the apprehension gene and try something new. With the first option, you'll remain in your current state, and if you're a business owner, your business will not advance, grow, or remain relevant. With the second option, your business will be able to harvest these new benefits.

Human nature is hard to overcome. It's especially hard to overcome if you don't have guidance on how to move into this new future. This chapter is intended to be that first nudge that you can use to resist and fight off your inherent apprehension. All I need from you is an open mind and a willingness to learn.

Universal Truth: Technology Is Based on Evolution, Not Invention

I'm going out on a limb to make a point. There has never been, in the history of computing technologies, anything that was ever invented. Invention is that aha moment when something didn't exist yesterday but does now. Has there been innovation? Absolutely! Have we ever witnessed innovation that fundamentally changed our lives and our businesses? You better believe it! Innovation, however, isn't invention. Innovation is a constant and continual state of evolution. Trying things and learning from successes and failures.

This illustration is so true:


As an example, Facebook did not create the social concept. Humans have been social from the beginning of time. Facebook has just provided another venue for being social, but it will never replace face-to-face social activity. What Facebook has accomplished is a means to amplify our ability to be social, or give us "social at scale." Now when we speak in Facebook, all of our friends can listen and participate. Whether you like or even use Facebook isn't the point. What Facebook has built is a new mechanism for anyone to reach a large social audience with very little extra effort. Facebook is a great example of innovation built on a timeless concept called "social."

As another example, consider the iPhone. The iPhone was introduced to the world at a specific time. But there wasn't any one person or team of people who woke up one morning and decided they wanted to build this wonderful device.

The iPhone started with an Apple product introduced in the 1980s called the Newton. The Newton was Appl e's version of a Personal Digital Assistant (PDA). A PDA was a digital device to manage things such as your task list, your address book, and your calendar. All of these capabilities were very cool and still exist in the current version of the iPhone.

It's been almost 30 years since the birth of the Newton. Apple didn't sit idly by during this period. The company introduced another device to store and play your digital music called the iPod. Apple, being a smart and innovative company, then combined the Newton with the iPod and combined that yet again with the ability to make a phone call (which Apple didn't invent either). Voilà! You now have a device called an iPhone. Because Appl e is a truly smart company, it succeeded by layering existing capability into its product in an innovative manner. This is a classic example of innovation, not invention.

Small Business Marketing Should Be All Digital-WRONG!

The 1990s was the heyday of the dot-com generation. During that time, the business climate was frothy around e-commerce businesses. While consultants like at Ernst & Young weren't the only folks fueling this frothy existence, we did contribute to the craziness. I remember attending these mega-meetings where the e-commerce "gurus" made blanket statements such as "this is a new economy" and "forget everything you know about business because all the rules have changed." I have to believe most of my fellow consultants deeply believed that this was crap, but no one would admit this in fear that we may have been the ones who "didn't get it."

As this played out, everyone started to realize that the "forget everything you know about business" craziness proved to be ridiculous. The e-commerce generation, however, did introduce new ways to engage customers and sell products. But when the dust settled, business was conducted as it had been for a long time.

When I reflect back on my career as the "digital guy," I feel good about my skills and accomplishments. I like to think I added strong value to the companies I worked for. Today those skills are important to me as a small business owner, but I needed that gentle nudge, or maybe not so gentle, to help me have a more balanced perspective on success as a small business owner.


Excerpted from Online or Flatline by Nick Choat. Copyright © 2016 Nick Choat. Excerpted by permission of Elevate Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

Chapter 1 Why is Digital Impacting your Business? 17

Chapter 2 What's Old is New and What's New is Old 27

Chapter 3 Marketing in This Ever- Changing World 39

Chapter 4 A Digital Strategy for your Long-Term Survival 45

Chapter 5 Digital tools to acquire customers 49

Chapter 6 Digital Tools to Retain Your Customers 73

Chapter 7 How to Get Started 79

About the Author 87

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“Finally, a common-sense, down-to-earth digital and social marketing guide for the rest of us.”
Eric Freeman
Former Executive of the Walt Disney Company

“Great book, simple and practical. It defines the real challenges for companies in the digital world.”
Rogerio Brecha
CEO, Innovative Management Consulting, Brazil

" Online or Flatline distills everything down into cost effective and digestible ways to drive customers. I’d recommend this book to any small business that needs more customers.”
Martin Wilson
CEO and Chief Marketing Officer, Positive Performance Inc.

"As a strategic management consultant, I have seen companies of all shapes and sizes try to master the constantly evolving digital marketplace. This book provides practical tools that can transform and elevate any small business."
Shelley Holm
Founder & Managing Director, Forum Solutions

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Online or Flatline: The Small Business Owner's Guide to Digital Marketing 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Mirth88 More than 1 year ago
4/5 This was a very simple explanation for those who have next to no idea about digital marketing. As a recent business student graduate, I found it a good outline refresher with good humor thrown in to keep the pages turning. I would recommend this book for those who have no idea about digital marketing as a beginner's crash course and then I would recommend something else to really get into the subject once they were made comfortable with the references mentioned in the book. I really enjoyed this book.
bookwomen37 More than 1 year ago
This book is a good starting point for a small business owner to market their business online. A lot of the information here is very basic and has tasks you can do yourself. The book is well written with clear easy to follow steps. I like it that he is not advising small businesses to use expensive options. He also recognizes that most business owner's do want to spend their entire work day on social media so he offers solutions for time management. If you are a small business owner who is looking for ways to increase your online footprint this book will help you.
Mirth88 More than 1 year ago
4/5 This was a very simple explanation for those who have next to no idea about digital marketing. As a recent business student graduate, I found it a good outline refresher with good humor thrown in to keep the pages turning. I would recommend this book for those who have no idea about digital marketing as a beginner's crash course and then I would recommend something else to really get into the subject once they were made comfortable with the references mentioned in the book. I really enjoyed this book.