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And Then What?

A friend of mine recently went through a spiritual program designed to help him figure out his relationship with the universe and everything in it. In phase one, he was supposed to just do things — anything that came into his head — and see what happened. This phase came naturally to him.

But in phase two, he was supposed to identify goals, and only take actions that moved him towards those goals. This did not come so naturally to him. So I got in the habit, whenever he would say “Hey, we could…” or “Do you wanna do…”, of responding with, “And then what?”

I’ve found it to be a relatively powerful question. “And then what?” What are we trying to accomplish here? What’s the goal? And will this actually help?

The Russian Railroad Problem

Or: How NOT to Prevent a Revolution
I remember in high school history class, learning about Russia’s attempts to industrialize in the late 19th century.

See, for years, a nation’s prestige had been measured by how much territory that nation controlled. Which means that Russia had this thing licked — they had more territory than anyone.

Then one morning in the mid-to-late 1800s, they woke up, and realized that prestige wasn’t measured in territory anymore – it was measured in industrial capacity, number of factories, GDP, and the like. Which meant that, rather than the most powerful country in Eurasia, they were suddenly horribly pathetic.

So they looked at what other industrial countries were doing, and they learned that everyone was building railroads. And they decided that they should build a railroad, too.

They didn’t study factories. They didn’t look at what had made the US a crazy-entrepreneurial land of the insanely wealthy. They didn’t work to increase their manufacturing capability.

They built railroads.

Needless to say, this didn’t get them as far as they’d hoped. Dissatisfaction with the government’s solution led (at least indirectly) to the Russian Revolution, the rise of Communism, the Cold War, Etc.

Which is a pretty impressive list of things that could have been prevented if someone had stopped to say “Hey guys? So.. we build railroads.. and then what?”

Modern Day Russian Railroads

Or: How This Relates to Small Business Marketing

“We really need to start a blog” … and then what?
“I created a Twitter account!” … and then what?
“We’re going to give away an iPad; we should be able to get 8,000 likes!” … and then what?

You see, none of these are bad strategies. If you have a need to communicate things to prospective customers on a regular basis, a blog is a great tool. If your customers are on Twitter, it can be a great way to listen to their opinions and needs. If you have a plan that will convert 8000 likes into 800 sales, then by all means go for it.

But all too often, small business owners take them to be goals. And they’re terrible goals. (This is in large part the fault of the marketing industry. Too often marketing “experts” say things like “Oh, you HAVE to be on Facebook” as if it were an important end all on its own. It’s not.)

You should be on Facebook if there’s a way that being on Facebook is likely to help you achieve something important, like making money. If not, then you should spend your time doing things that will make you money. The fact that someone successful is using Twitter doesn’t necessarily mean that Twitter causes success.

Phase 3: Profit!

Or: The Hidden Russian Railroad Problem
Fans of South Park will immediately recognize that I’m talking about the business plan of the underpant gnomes:
Phase 1: Collect Underpands.  Phase 2: ?  Phase 3: Profit!

See, the gnomes have an answer to “And then what”… or at least they think they do. Phase one is to collect underpants, phase three is profit. But as the episode goes on, it gradually becomes clear that no one knows what phase two is. How do you get from underpants to profit?

This is actually the Russian Railroad problem in disguise. The Russians, after all, had their plan:
Phase 1: Railroads.
Phase 2: ?
Phase 3: Prestige.

The trick is how you get from what you have now to what you want later.

You don’t have to have every step mapped out in detail, but you must have some general idea how to get from your first step to where you want to be.

What’s your ‘then what’?

Look at your current marketing. Which aspects have a good answer to the “…and then what?” question? Which parts are you only doing because someone said you “should”?

And the next time someone tells you that you have to get your business on Pinterest, feel free to ask them, “And then what?”

Amanda Ramsay is writing a book to help small business owners figure out how all their marketing fits together, so they can answer crucial questions like this. You can sign up for updates by email, or get more information on the project.