Looking to grow your startup? “Growth hacking” is becoming a popular way to generate leads and sales, especially for cash-strapped startups. Although the name “growth hacking” may be new, the concepts behind growth hacking are well established. Marketers have been using metrics, creating targeted offers, and leveraging media exposure to grow their companies for years.
One thing, however, has changed – the tools. Now, even the most cash-strapped company can get ahold of some cheap (some even free) marketing tools and start a growth hacking campaign.
This article teaches you two things. First, we outline the two steps to take before you start growth hacking. Then, we discuss the actual techniques.
Two important steps to take before your growth hacking campaign
You should have a number of things in place before you run a growth hacking campaign. Obviously, you need a website, marketing materials, and tools to handle analytics.
You also need to determine the lifetime value of a customer – a key financial metric. And, lastly, you need an effective tool for collecting the email addresses from your site visitors.
Determine the lifetime value of a customer
Determining the lifetime value of your customers is crucial for implementing a successful growth hacking campaign. This step helps you avoid the potential scenario of spending more per customer than they are worth to you. That mistake burns cash quickly and puts you out of business.
Determining the average lifetime value of a customer can be somewhat straightforward if you have a history of making sales and if you keep the data (you should). But what happens if your company is a true startup and you have few sales? You have to make an educated guess – and adapt it as you collect data.
Start collecting email addresses
Many startups – and large companies – make the big mistake of not collecting the email addresses of their visitors.
So, they spend money to build a great website. They publish awesome content. They attract visitors. And then – they do nothing to communicate with visitors who did not buy.
What a waste of resources.
Your website should offer the prospective visitor something in exchange for their email address. This is how you build a prospect list that your company owns. This list is the cornerstone of an effective online growth hacking campaign.
I prefer to collect email addresses using a popup. Yes, I know popups can be annoying to some. But they produce good results, and the folks who sign up get access to excellent content. My favorite tool for collecting email addresses is SumoMe. It’s a great and easy-to-use tool and the company is super responsive. It also works well with WordPress and can be connected to MailChimp and GetResponse.
Let’s get hacking
The following six growth hacking techniques can work for most startups. Some only cost your time, while others can be expensive if mismanaged. But these six ideas are only a starting point. Get creative, improve, and be sure to mix them up. That’s how better growth hacks are created.
Hack #1: Blog regularly
The first long-term growth hack to do is to blog regularly. I know, everybody says you should blog. Most people try it for a month or two, get no results, and then quit.
It doesn’t work that way.
Blogging is a long play. And by long, I mean very long – a year or more. You have to come up with topics that interest your audience and then write about them effectively. Blogging is a lot harder than you think, and it takes time and resources. But the payoff can be substantial.
Blogging integrates well with building a mailing list. You can use your blog posts to attract prospective clients, who then subscribe to your list. At the same time, you can keep your mailing list updated about what’s happening at your company by sending them the latest posts.
Hack #2: Consider an AdWords campaign
I have read many growth hacking articles advocating AdWords. AdWords, and online advertisement in general, can be a great way to make sales. While this is true, there are two important caveats: AdWords can be expensive and hard to manage. My company spent a lot of money learning this expensive lesson.
This strategy can work well for certain niches or specific products, but it is hard to pull off for generic or very competitive terms. Learn about AdWords before you start, or hire a digital agency to do it for you. I hired a digital marketing agency and saved a lot of work.
Hack #3: Seek cross-referrals (e.g., local businesses – complementary businesses)
Getting clients through cross-referrals with other businesses is a time-tested way of growing your client base. However, you can use this strategy only if there are businesses that complement yours.
Consider approaching businesses that:
- Don’t compete against yours (obviously!)
- Target similar client-bases
- Offer solutions that are complementary to your offerings
Implementing this strategy can be difficult and time consuming. You have to spend time to find the right partnerships and establish a fair referral model.
However, the advantage of cross-referrals is that they can provide clients for a very long time. Here are some examples of how this strategy could be implemented:
- Small marketing agencies and a graphic designer
- Developers and user-interface experts
- Personal trainers and wearable technology companies (e.g., Fitbit)
Hack #4: Leverage other people’s audiences
This strategy combines hacks #1 and #3. Leveraging other people’s or company’s audiences is a great way to build your own brand. It works by partnering with another person (e.g., blogger) or company who also targets your audience but does not compete against your business. You then create content and an offer tailored to this audience.
For example, let’s assume your startup manufactures cool, wearable technology that helps you monitor your vital signs. Your company could partner with a well-known fitness blogger to write a piece about how their workout routines coupled with your technology can improve a person’s health. Ideally, you also create an offer or discount specifically for this audience.
Just like that – you gained great exposure, especially if the blogger is popular.
However, you have to handle this strategy carefully and tactfully. Otherwise, it can backfire badly. Here are some pointers:
Don’t expect any meaningful success unless you have something of value to offer.
- Build a solid content base on your site before launching this strategy.
- Develop relationships before asking the other party to introduce you to their audiences. By the way, if you are good enough, they will usually invite you.
- Consider inviting the other party to write for your site before you ask them if you can write for theirs. This approach allows you to provide value first.
Hack #5: Sell to government agencies
I am always surprised when I hear that startups and small businesses shy away from selling products and services to government agencies. Sure, it may not sound cool. I get that. But get this: government agencies buy billions of dollars’ worth of products and services every year, even during recessions. And they have a mandate to help small businesses.
This market can be competitive, especially if you sell commodity products (e.g., laptops). However, there are great opportunities for businesses of almost every kind. Unless you sell a unique service or product, the government probably buys it.
Perhaps the two main problems of working in this market are that it takes a while to ramp up sales and margins can be thin. Contrary to popular belief, government negotiators are skilled at getting generous discounts. Here is a resource that shows you how to find contracts and determine if government sales are right for your startup.
Hack #6: Create a hyper-focused offer
The last growth hacking technique is to create a hyper-focused offering. With this growth hack, you segment your potential client base using a very narrow focus (often ignored by other players). The idea is to develop a specific set of marketing tools aimed at this specific client base.
To use the previous example, let’s say that your startup sells wearable technology that helps you monitor your vital signs and it’s worn by sports enthusiasts. You could try to appeal to the market as a whole – but you would have a lot of stiff competition.
Instead, you could focus your marketing and sales on a subset of sports enthusiasts, such as soccer or volleyball players. This approach allows you to create a compelling marketing strategy that can be used to entice this specific segment to buy your product. Once you have become an expert in this niche and sold as much as you can to this narrow audience, move on to the next.
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