7 Essential Growth Hacks for Startups

So how exactly do startups with little to no budget for marketing seem to pop up almost overnight? That’s a common question and the answer seems to be… sales and marketing!

Sean Ellis, CEO of GrowthHackers, would say they are ‘growth-hacking’ while Shane Snow, author of Smartcuts, prefers the term ‘smart-cutting’.

Actually both of those are right since they mean the same thing, but let’s go with ‘growth hacking’ in this article because it’s a more widely used term.

Growth hacking is being talked about so much, because it is a huge factor in the success of many companies. 

Take Tinder, for example, who everyone has heard of. They went from 5,000 to nearly 15,000 users practically overnight. Product Hunt employed the same tactics, as did Airbnb, with the result that they’re both household names now.

There are many startups who grew their user base rapidly using growth hacking. 

Let’s take a look at the very best growth hacking strategies, concepts and tactics, to get more users to your website and drive more sales. 

Before we dive into that though, let’s do a refresh on the basics:

  1. What is Growth Hacking Exactly?

Growth hacking is the term to describe an experiment-driven tactic that figures out the best way of growing your business. 

This is typically a mixture of development, design, engineering, data, analytics, and marketing.

It’s called growth hacking because a hacker finds a fast and cheap but clever way of achieving growth, rather than doing things slowly and conventionally.

  1. What is a Growth Hacker?

This would be someone who thinks in original and innovative ways, someone who wants creative, cost-effective ways to make sure their business can acquire and retain long-term customers.

  1. What Can a Growth Hacker Do?

Growth hackers use various methods to achieve their business goals, and these can range from email or viral marketing to SEO, content marketing, reverse engineering or A/B testing.

Growth hackers tend to follow the formula “Product + Growth = Impact” because it works for pretty much any scenario.

  1. Why is Growth Hacking Such a Big Deal?

It goes without saying that if you have a business or website, you want to grow as quickly as possible and get as many users as you can and make as much money as possible!

OK, so now you have a good understanding of growth hacking, let’s move on to the strategies needed to go from zero to millions of users in just a few years, using proven growth hacking strategies. 

And yes, ‘a few years’ (or months if you’re lucky) is realistic. ‘Overnight’ (without a huge budget to begin with) is not!

Famous Growth Hacks Every Startup Should Use

  1. Create a Pre-Launch Email List

This is something you need to do to get customers. Cold sales emails can annoy or scare off potential customers, so instead you should add leads to a ‘pre-launch’ email list. 

Using this more gentle method, you can warm customers up to your product, getting them interested, before attempting to sell them anything.

Communication is crucial in conversions, so you need to reach out to potential buyers a week of more before your actual launch. 

Everyone has heard of Shopified, which has been a great success. Karl Schuckert & Chase Bowers tested pre-launch email ideas when introducing ShopifiedApp, the dropshipping sector of Shopified. 

Potential buyers were interested and therefore became ‘warmed up’ and receptive to the next email communications. 

An opt-in page was created and people could add themselves to the waiting list in order to be the first to know when the new app was ready. 

There was a sense of exclusivity and excitement with this approach, without any of the ‘hard sell’ that puts potential buyers off.

When new customers signed up, they were offered beta access before anyone else could get access to the site. Because of the excitement this stirred up, the campaign achieved 605 subscribers, and had 231 social media shares, all within the first 15 days of running the campaign.

  1. Community Events and Conferences – Be There!

30% of new companies won’t survive beyond 2 years, and that’s a fact. Regardless of how great your idea is, or how new and clever, the cold hard statistics show it is harder than you might think to get a foothold and succeed.

However, there are ways to attract customers, and one of those is to attend the best startup events. 

Learn from the best in the business, learn new facts about your niche market, make connections, and get inspired!

Go to as many community events, startup launches and conferences as you can! You have nothing to lose and you don’t know who you might meet there. These events can help you expose your business and make useful connections.

Are there no events, launches or conferences near where you are? Then host your own! Yes it’s scary but it’s actually not that hard. 

You will attract people who are genuinely interested in your product or service, and you just have to be friendly, professional and informative. 

If the idea of that terrifies you, maybe you have a friend or business partner who is way better at that kind of thing. But do put yourself out there – it’s a great way to be noticed!

  1. Launch on a Platform Like Product Hunt

Every single week – actually every single day!! – startups are launched. The huge number of new startups means most just don’t get seen. 

Launching on Product Hunt (or similar) gives you a much better chance of visibility.

You will be able to deliver your message to a fresh audience. Product Hunt is a real market leader and this platform allows you to present your concept or product to people all over the world, including journalists and innovators.

Have you heard of “I Lazy to Read”? This app’s creator, Zoe Chew, used Product Hunt to launch it, and as a result she got 1172 Product Hunt upvotes in 2 weeks plus 300 daily visitors! So yes, Product Hunt really does work.

  1. Reverse Engineering

Competitors? Ugh, who needs them? Well actually, if you start thinking of competitors as a learning tool rather than an obstacle, you can actually get ahead!

When you are mapping out your own marketing strategy, look at what your competitors have been doing and reserve-engineer it. Say they released a new ad campaign which resulted in more traffic, maybe you can apply a similar campaign. 

Maybe they made their user interface super-modern to attract a younger generation of customers, and, as a result, sales dropped off. You can learn from that what not to do (and save yourself some money!)

Use information about what your competitors have done to improve your own marketing strategy. If they did something that didn’t work, you know not to bother with that, and can instead devote time to another strategy, for example.

If they did something that had great results, then come up with something similar (not so similar it seems that you copied them!) Let yourself be inspired by your competitors, and take advantage of their research! 

5. Leverage Referral Marketing

Dropbox. Is this a company you are familiar with? Of course it is. Did you know they increased their signups by 60% by doing one simple thing though? 

Do you want to increase yours this much? Well, of course!

Dropbox had a clever marketing idea. They allowed users to refer a friend, and everyone who successfully referred a friend got more free storage space. The referred friend also got extra storage space.

It’s a super-simple concept and cost Dropbox very little, but it worked really well!

See if you can offer something really attractive to customers that doesn’t cost you much (or anything) but makes it worth their while to follow you, join your signup list or purchase from you.

6. Social Media Growth Hacking

You can’t market these days without using social media! Social media is a fantastic way to promote yourself and your business, get feedback and interact with key influencers in your industry.

It’s best to align your social media activities with the overall direction of your business growth, because it takes a while to build up an audience and develop social media content.

The first thing you should do is create a Facebook group for your brand. This is free to do and it’s where you are going to attract potential customers.

Make sure you offer your followers value so they don’t get bored and leave the group. Even those who are unfamiliar with your brand will stay in the Facebook group if you offer interesting, valuable content.

Make them smile, make them laugh, surprise them, wow them, just keep them entertained! Keep in mind the worst thing you can do here is to bore your audience.

There are hundreds of thousands of Facebook groups out there. Make sure yours is one worth being a member of. 

7. And…. Take Two!

So what do you do when your product just doesn’t seem to click with customers? Perhaps your first idea is to throw money into more marketing and promotion. But if it didn’t work the first time around, why would it work now?

Don’t throw good money after bad!

This is the time to take stock and dig a little deeper. Find out what is going on and see if you can reach an ‘aha moment’ and find a hidden gem of a promotion idea or a reason you aren’t getting customers.

Let’s look at Twitter as an example. Twitter is a huge success, and even the President himself is a daily user. 

But Twitter had some issues way back in the beginning.

The company got plenty of buzz back in 2009 when they were first starting up but they still didn’t have enough users. People signed up, tweeted a few times, then got bored and just vanished.

Instead of throwing more money into promotion and marketing, Twitter wanted to find out why people were happy to join but weren’t interested in staying around. 

After extensive user experience testing, they realized first-time users only tended to hang around if they followed at least 10 other Twitter accounts after signing up. 

If they only followed a few, or none at all, Twitter was boring for them! And they left!

Twitter used this information to restructure their platform and – boom! Look where they are today.

So, if you’re feeling demotivated because you’ve poured blood, sweat and tears (oh, and money) into promotion and marketing and you feel you aren’t getting anywhere, just take a breath and try again! 

Twitter was in your shoes just over 10 years ago. There is a solution for you too!

8. Make Friends with New Brands

Co-marketing and partnering with other brands is a great growth marketing strategy, if you want to create social media buzz and attract organic traffic to your website.

Co-marketing attracts news coverage and enhances the visibility of your products and/or services all over the world.

Let’s look at the Flipboard/Airbnb partnership. As you probably know, Flipboard is a news app and Airbnb is a house-sharing app. 

Each brand gains value from the other in the partnership. 

In this example, Airbnb users gain access to customized content from Flipboard to help them make informed decisions about booking Airbnb premises. 

Airbnb customers then create comments and reviews, which Flipboard users to attract their own audience. 

So it’s a win-win for both companies. Perfect!

9. Leverage Adjacent Markets

Adjacent markets are often confused with ‘white space opportunity’ but there is a difference. By ‘adjacent market’ I mean leveraging your existing business capabilities in a new market.

The trick is all about creating new values for customers using your core competencies. You are using your own skills rather than your products and/or services.

Ask yourself:

How big is your competition? 

How big is your opportunity in terms of profits and volumes?

Are you going to have to overcome any legal obstacles?

Think about your own skills and channels, and find new ways to use those skills rather than simply promoting your product and sitting back wait for customers to come.

Let’s look at an example: Nike – another world-famous brand. They decided to manufacture and sell mountaineering products. 

First they offered mountaineering activity footwear, and then once they had loyal customers they started producing apparel. 

Because they already had a lot of loyal customers, their apparel sector took off and became popular! Without the mountaineering activity footwear fans, they might not have had any success with the clothing.

10. Transparency Will Attract Customers

“Transparency is the new marketing,” says Neil Patel.

Do you agree with this? Actually it makes a lot of sense. It might sound counterintuitive but being transparent, open and honest can be very attractive to potential new customers.

Customers want to trust companies. They want to know what they are getting and they don’t want to be misled or, worse, lied to.

In 2013, the company Buffer published a blog post with the names and salaries of all their employees. This grabbed media attention and also doubled their job applications.

People loved this transparency and honesty!

Showing you have nothing to hide and that you are proud of your company’s offerings allows you to build trust and credulity with your customers.

You don’t have to dramatically reveal your salary but do be clear and honest about who you are and what your brand is!

11. Be Nice!

We’ve all been there. Emailing potential customers with offers of 25% OFF!!!! or LAST DAY TO SAVE!!!! and barely gotten any replies in return for all our hard work.

But wait a minute, what if you were offering the customer something instead of selling them something? Would that make the customers click? 

Well, would it make you click? Probably, yes!

Dropbox will sometimes increase your storage space for free, while SquareSpace might offer a strings-free extension on your free trial.

Why do they give this away for nothing? 

Well, sometimes being nice wins friends! Just like a random act of kindness can make your day, giving away something which doesn’t cost you anything (or very little) can attract and win you a loyal customer! 

           12. Want Press Opportunities? Try HARO

Helping a Reporter Out (or HARO) is a platform where you can display your expertise.

This isn’t a brand-building tool but it’s somewhere you can read journalists’ requests. Maybe you will find one that is relevant to your business.

Note: Reporters are busy people and they clearly detail what they want. So don’t waste their time (and yours) pitching anything they haven’t specifically asked about.

          13. Regular Reminders

Although your business is your life, it is only one of many companies as far as your customers are concerned.

Therefore it’s important to remind them every now and then about who you are and what you offer. 

Try a friendly automated reply to initial inquiry emails or a friendly newsletter once a month, for example.

Conclusion

So now you know more, not only about what growth hacking is, but how you can use specific tactics to promote your business and gain new customers. 

There are hundreds, probably thousands, of articles on how to expand your business. 

However, growth hacking is simply a fancy way of describing creative marketing, so whatever strategies work for you and your business – go for it! 

You never know. Get it right and your brand could be the next Twitter or Airbnb!