Every successful startup (or large business for that matter) is doing growth hacking. They may call it that, or they may call it something different. But one thing is certain – they are doing it. That is one of the reasons why they are successful.
The only rule of growth hacking
In growth hacking, there is only one rule:
Test, measure, and improve.
Growth hacking works only if you have an experimenter’s mindset. Growth hacking is about using the tools in the next section to run marketing experiments. Nothing is very stable. Everything is changing as you look for better results. Each marketing experiment provides valuable metrics such as:
- Number of leads
- Conversions (from lead to customer)
- Sales volume
- Etc., etc.
Keep testing and measuring until you see improvements. And if it is working, don’t stop – but don’t stagnate. Test to see just how high your sales can go.
Eight growth hacks
The tools that I have listed in this section are just that – tools. Use them as such to your advantage and to achieve an objective. The tools are generic enough that they should work for most businesses, and some will work for all businesses.
Don’t try to use all the tools at once. You will get overwhelmed and fail. Each tool you use requires careful consideration and planning – that takes time. Choose one or two to start. And then keep testing until you find the tools that work best for your startup.
If a tool is not producing decent results, modify your experiment and run it again. However, if you are not able to get decent results after some tests, it means you are using the wrong tool. Discard it and move on. Look for the tools that will work for you.
Growth Hack #1: Make it easy to do business with you
Perhaps the most important growth hack you can implement for your business is to make sure that you are easy to do business with.
I know that sounds obvious, but it’s a pervasive problem. Every company I know of has it. My own included. 🙂
As a buyer of products and services, how many times have you have been frustrated because a vendor was hard to buy from? For whatever reason, they made you do all these things before you could get the product/service you wanted.
Perhaps you had to fill out endless forms. Or maybe the company’s salespeople were hard to reach or non-responsive. Perhaps you had to listen to a forced sales pitch, even though you were ready to buy. Or…or…well, you get the gist. You wanted to buy, but the company put up roadblocks.
The problem is that, when the roadblocks work, the company loses prospective clients – unnecessarily. That’s money down the drain.
Obviously, companies are not putting up the roadblocks and losing sales on purpose. Some “roadblocks” are legitimate processes that must be followed. Others just follow convention, tradition, or – my favorite – “general industry wisdom.”
Here’s one example from my own experience. Yes, I am as guilty as anyone when it comes to this roadblock. In my industry (corporate funding), we ask clients to fill out an application and send us their information before we can move forward. However, many prospective clients complain about having to fill out a two-page application. They say it is long and that it asks for some silly things.
Our first thought was, why complain about a two-page application? What’s the big deal? It’s a big deal if you are losing prospective clients.
If customers complain – you have to listen. And we did listen. We looked at our application and compared it to others in the industry. It looked exactly the same. So, what was the problem?
So then I looked at it from the perspective of a customer. Then the light bulb inside my head turned on. Why are we asking for:
- The client’s attorney? Who has one nowadays?
- The name of their CPA?
- The name of their banker? (Really? My banker is an ATM and a different bank teller every day)
- And the list goes on.
Did we really need that information to process an application and provide a proposal? Sure, the information was nice to have. But we didn’t need it. More importantly, the length of the application seemed to be intimidating some clients.
Bottom line? We created a new, shorter application – and saw our conversions increase. It cost very little to make the change and it had an impact on our revenues. I cringe when I think of all the prospective clients we lost due to the old application. Here’s more about this little experiment in my previous post, “How I Found my First Customers and Grew my Company.”
Growth Hack #2: Start a blog and blog regularly
Nearly every growth hack article suggests that you should start a blog. I know. The truth is that blogs can help you develop and grow an audience – if done correctly.
Few people do them correctly, and most corporate blogs suck. They are full of useless information and sit there unread.
This article won’t discuss all the specifics that go into launching a blog and keeping it relevant. But I will give you one important piece of advice. Your blog should have a singular purpose: to answer questions that your prospective clients have. Read that last sentence again.
Look at the interactions that you and your employees have with your customers. Are there questions that clients keep asking? If so, write an article that answers the question thoroughly. Write articles to answer each and every question that a prospective client could have.
Before long you will have a valuable resource of articles. Start directing your clients to your blog, and be sure to mention it in your mailing list (see growth hack #4).
Growth Hack #3: Leverage other people’s audiences
Think of a business or industry that targets your clients but does not compete against you. Develop a partnership with them. Create content that is specific to this new audience and deliver it through a new business partner. The content could be a short article that is published in your business partner’s blog or newsletter.
However, you don’t have to limit yourself to articles. There are other options. For example, I have given presentations at industry associations. The presentation was specifically catered to their members and was well received.
This is a great way to gain an audience and grow your business. Keep in mind that there is a right way to ask for permission to share your content with another business’s audience:
- Develop good content first – have content that is worth sharing
- Find the prospective partner and ask respectfully if you could partner with them
- Offer to introduce them to your audience as well. This relationship has to be a two-way street
Growth Hack #4: Build your own mailing list
Make a concerted effort to get the information of every prospective client that you come into contact with. Get it when they visit your store, office, or website. Then ask them for permission to keep them informed about your business and new offers.
Now you have a mailing list. Develop good content and offers and send it to your list regularly. But be careful about contacting them too often – otherwise, they will opt out of your list. Treat the list like gold and give it the care it deserves. Lastly, never send them junk mail or useless offers.
Growth Hack #5: Partner with complementary businesses
Another strategy is to partner with complementary businesses and create joint offers. This works well when there is an overlap in the client base between the businesses. The idea is to create an offer that is valuable to your partner’s customers. Discounts and extra services/products usually work well.
Developing this strategy takes time and effort. You need to find businesses that:
- Have a client base similar to yours – but –
- Don’t compete with you – and –
- Are good enough to partner with
Some simple examples of this strategy include partnerships between creative agencies and freelance designers, gyms, personal trainers, and so on.
Growth Hack #6: Consider AdWords and Bing Ads
Two popular options that are always mentioned in most growth hacking articles are Google Adwords and Bing Ads. While these options can work well, they are tough to pull off. They can also be expensive.
However, they offer two big advantages:
- Access to a huge customer base
- The ability to create multiple experiments easily
Before you consider AdWords, find out the lifetime value of your customers. There are several ways to calculate this value – some of which can be very complex.
I use a simple formula to get a rough estimate of a similar metric. I call it the “lifetime profit per customer.” It’s not perfect, but it works well enough. You need to know three numbers:
- Average revenue per client
- Average acquisition cost per client
- Average for “all other costs” per client (all other costs to deliver the product/service)
Subtract the average acquisition cost per client and the average for all other costs per client from the average revenue per client. If the number is positive, you are generating a profit. If the number is negative, you are incurring a loss.
These numbers are important because AdWords and Bing let you experiment and manage your acquisition cost. You can start testing AdWords and Bing ads effectively to determine if they are working profitably for you – or not.
Remember that with Adwords and Bing ads, your cost of acquisition is: the average AdWords cost per lead x the average number of leads it takes to make a sale.
One word of advice. The online ad marketplace is very dynamic. Keep a close eye on your daily costs and calculate profits regularly. If you start to lose money – stop the ads ASAP. Otherwise, costs can creep up and kill your business model in days.
Growth Hack #7: Build a hyper-focused offer
One of my favorite techniques is to build a hyper-focused offer that targets a specific market or industry. Then offer that targeted service to that specific niche market. It sounds simple, but it requires some work and industry know-how.
Here’s an example of how this can be done.
Let’s say Gary and Susan co-own a marketing company. Like most marketing companies, they claim that they can help companies in almost any industry. Sure, this strategy can work, but it has some problems – they are just like everybody else who makes that same claim.
However, Gary worked in a medical office before starting his business with Susan. He is aware of the issues that doctors face when promoting the practices. Gary’s experience can be leveraged and turned into a product or offer.
Why not create an offer specifically targeted to medical offices? Or go even deeper and create an offer designed to help a specific type of doctor (e.g., internist, neurologist, etc.). The narrower your niche, the fewer competitors you will find.
This strategy can be very effective and grow your business quickly. Just make sure to focus on an industry that you know well and that you can offer solutions to.
Growth Hack #8: Sell to government agencies
The biggest purchaser of goods and services in the country is the US government. They buy products and services in almost every industry – and do so year round. They also buy in good times and during recessions. More importantly, they always pay their invoices.
Bottom line? The US government can be a great customer. And the same goes for state governments and many city governments. Many companies have grown from being a small company to being a large business solely on their government sales.
Keep in mind that there is a lot of competition in this space. But the government has programs designed to help small businesses succeed. This gives you a fair chance.
The biggest challenge of working government contracts is that you must know their procedures and follow them to the letter. It’s hard at first, but eventually you get the gist. Finding contracts is actually relatively easy, since they are all listed online. In fact, the whole process is online.
Another advantage of government sales is that there are also a number of companies that specialize in this marketplace will help you finance your government contracts. That means that you can focus on large orders to grow your business.