Top Growth Hacking Strategies for Marketing Your Small Business Startup

How do you transition from the startup phase of your small business to the growth phase? That is the question that faces many founders, and it rarely has an easy answer. What works for one business may not always work for another, even in the same industry. Spending too long trying to generate growth can deplete your capital and leave you with a rapidly shrinking runway and little time to change course.

The sooner you trigger growth, the sooner you can be confident that you have solid ground underneath your feet. Growth can ultimately become somewhat self-sustaining with the right steps, freeing up time and energy to devote to expanding the scope of the company’s operations. Growth lets you leave the startup phase behind, saying goodbye to shoestring operations and opening the door to accomplish more daily. It can attract fresh investments, too.

Sounds great but kicking off a growth stage is easier said than done. There are many challenges facing startups trying to trigger growth: a crowded marketplace with heavy competition, shorter attention spans, budgetary challenges and more all mean that you might face an uphill battle for a while. So how can you set yourself up for success?

Growth hacking strategies could be the answer you need.

Growth Hacking? What?

Hold on — let’s back up. What are we even talking about when we say growth hacking? You can easily be forgiven for never having heard the term before because it is not much older than a decade at this point. First coined in 2010, “growth hacking” refers to a wide array of strategies and approaches to business that aim to generate as much growth as fast as possible.

In other words, this process involves looking for opportunities that, with the right approach, could help you to catapult your business to the next stage and drum up lots of attention in a short time. Best of all, the fundamental point of hacking your growth is that it shouldn’t be expensive. Growth hacks are often methods and techniques you can execute even with an anemic and constrained budgeting for marketing your new business.

The timescale for growth hacking matters, too. A strategy requires a long-term plan. A hack aims to generate results on a shorter time scale—since you may not have much time to work with anyway. Growth hackers don’t have years to wait for a strategy to pay off—they need help now.

Consider how Dropbox managed to scale to millions of users in less than two years: they offered free storage space for referrals and social media account connections. The company gained valuable user data, buzz and brand recognition, and most importantly, huge user growth — all from a simple hack that did not require a massive additional expense on top of existing infrastructure. Done right, hacks are one of the most potent tools a startup can use.

Growth Hacking? Do I Need To?

Growth hacking matters, but it isn’t a silver bullet. You can’t guarantee success, and you can’t be certain that any one hack will provide an overnight transformation for your business. However, because of its low cost, growth hacking is a relatively low-risk program to embark on compared to other marketing strategies. So, do you absolutely need a growth hacking program in your small business?

Not always. There are many companies that achieve stability early on and attain a steady, reliable growth rate. As the old saying goes, “don’t fix what isn’t broken.” When is a growth hacking strategy the right choice? Let’s look at a few of the key scenarios when you should say “yes” to a more innovative approach:

  • You have a unique product or value to offer and want to spread the word quickly.
  • Your business exists in a highly competitive space, and you need a way to effectively showcase how and why you’re different from other players in your industry.
  • You’re depleting your available runway at an unsustainable pace, and growth will be the key to finding some important breathing room.
  • Your growth has remained stagnant for weeks or months, or you have even seen a decline in engagement or users.
  • You’re engaging in a “pivot” of your business model, and you need to re-establish your brand identity and business story to push the new approach.

Growth hacking doesn’t always mean you’re running a struggling startup. It has many benefits, too, from shoring up brand personas to potentially drumming up highly valuable word-of-mouth advertising. Of course, there’s nothing stopping you from exploring new marketing angles when all you want is to give your business its best chance for success, regardless of your current situation.

The Top X Growth Hacks You Should Know

OK, so you know what growth hacking is now, and you know when and why you might want to explore innovative strategies. What are some real-world growth hacks you could actually consider? There are many options out there — some work best on their own, and sometimes multiple techniques deployed together will yield the best results. Finding the right fit is up to you. What options do you have?

1. Make Effective Use of Referral Marketing

PayPal, Dropbox, Gmail — the internet is full of success stories surrounding aggressive referral marketing. What does this term even mean? In referral marketing, you encourage your existing users to refer more users to the service. When they do, they receive a bonus and usually, so too does the person who completed the referral. It can be cash, storage space, or a product, but the important thing is that the reward should motivate people to want to share your brand as much as possible. Done right, it grows your awareness faster than many direct marketing approaches.

2. Email Marketing Is Far From Over

Building an email list — or turning to services that can help you make connections — is essential for any business, but it’s especially critical for startups. Use your email list as a way to drum up pre-release buzz. An email-focused marketing campaign can build up anticipation in the run-up to your big new reveal, letting you hit the ground running at launch.

3. Create or Attend Community Outreach Events

Sometimes growth hacking is more about what you learn than what you do. By attending events in your industry, such as trade shows, seminars, and expos, you can establish your startup’s presence and network with established players. These events allow you to learn from the success of others, and who knows? You might even have a big brainwave during the event. Hosting events can also bring attention to your brand, even in a more local capacity. Remember, users, are users no matter where you find them.

4. Better Yet, Build Your Own Community

Amassing a social following through savvy posting, viral content and more could be the hack you need. When you build up a community space for people interested in what you offer, you enlist the members of that community to market your startup. Just look at how many brands online host their own branded Discord servers where people can gather to talk about the business’s products and related topics or just chat in general. Fostering a community that becomes self-sustaining can lead to a broader audience and more opportunities to recognize growth.

5. Explore Pivoting to Related Markets

Sometimes the idea that you started out with just isn’t strong enough to sustain a business on its own, but you’ve still created the infrastructure for success. Are there other markets that you might pivot towards? Although a drastic step for a growth hack, ask yourself this: what if real success lies in providing better value to an adjacent market? Explore how what you offer might benefit other groups you did not target at first.

6. Watch for Your Competition’s Mistakes

It’s not hard to keep an eye on what your competition does, so why not see what works for them and what doesn’t? If you’re struggling to gain traction, look at how competitors message. What generates the most engagement for them? Use these insights to inform your next moves. Simultaneously, watch for signs that say your competition has run into trouble, too—then look for ways to capitalize on those missteps.

7. Start Content Marketing Right Now

Are you pushing a product that requires audience education? Without resources that explain who you are and why you’re worth someone’s time, growth will be hard to find. That’s why you should develop and invest in a robust content marketing strategy right now. Combined with smart SEO techniques, you can start putting your brand out there in front of people to establish it as a resource of valuable, accurate information. Along the way, you can educate them about your products too, and collect important user data like emails from interested readers.

8. Conduct Outreach and Write Guest Blogs

Content marketing can go beyond publishing and promoting your blog. What if you present yourself as a source of important insight? Guest blogging lets you do just that. Not only is it easy to find many websites that accept guest articles (Forbes is a popular example these days), but guest blogging gives you a chance to touch on many topics in your industry. Let others see you as an industry thought leader, and they might just turn to your business for help.

9. Find an Effective Influencer in Your Industry

Sometimes, you need someone else who can speak effectively about your brand. Influencers aren’t always the best strategy, as you may just pick an influencer who doesn’t have much reach at all. However, if you can find someone who can consistently and effectively reach an audience that aligns with your goals, you can start driving more qualified traffic to your sites.

10. Invest in Video Content

Viral videos in the business space don’t just happen, they come from a clear understanding of what the audience really wants to see. Consider the humorous videos that vaulted Dollar Shave Club to prominence. They weren’t flashy or full of CGI, just humor that lampooned the state of their industry. See if you can find a way to convert your message effectively to video.

11. Keep Your Finger on the Pulse of Upcoming Trends

What’s hot on TikTok? What are the latest trends on Twitter? If you can stay ahead of the curve, you can invest in marketing that capitalizes on upcoming trends. When you can achieve hyper-relevance by turning around materials that hit on trends right as they peak, you can grab the attention of those most motivated to find out more in the moment.

12. Cultivate Social Proof

User reviews and feedback are potent tools you can use to hack your growth. That doesn’t mean faking reviews to look good, though. Instead, incentivize new and existing customers to leave reviews and share their thoughts. Ask for photos and videos of users enjoying your products, and leverage these in advertising. Tons of people conduct research online before buying anything, so make sure they see what others already think of you.

13. Run Contests and Giveaways

Everybody loves free stuff, and everybody loves to win things. Why not put together contests that your brand can run? Even if you’re only giving away branded swag, you’ll still be making an impression, and running contests is a great way to generate traffic from users who might not otherwise interact with your brand.

14. Buck the Trends and Say “No” to Conformity

Many businesses have found success by positioning themselves as outliers in their industry. From adding sass and attitude into marketing to legitimately disrupting an existing industry paradigm, you’ll have to assess whether this is the right personality for your startup. The bomb-throwers and rabble-rousers know one thing: “there’s no such thing as bad publicity”.

15. Stir Up Some Controversy in Your Space

Ask tough questions about your industry, and don’t be afraid of negative feedback — just don’t be a force for negativity. Going negative isn’t inherently bad; in fact, it can sometimes drive more engagement simply because it makes people curious as to what all the fuss is about. When you need to put eyes on your brand and start bringing in growth opportunities, stirring up a conversation with a hot take could be the push your brand needs to gain momentum.

Finding the Right Path for Your Startup Today

From gaining community recognition to relying on traditional tools such as email marketing, “growth hacks” come in many forms. Which one will be the best fit for your small business startup? That’s up to you. You’ll need to investigate, experiment, analyze, and adapt to give your startup the best chance of achieving growth fast.

Remember, not every small business needs to aggressively pursue growth hacking strategies. However, even when you aren’t looking for explosive opportunities, studying growth hacks can provide key insights that could contribute to a better way of running your business. Take a step back and consider what strategies you could start exploring today.

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Author: Ryan Mendenhall
Ryan is a veteran of the digital marketing industry with over 15 years experience helping small businesses and entrepreneurs successfully navigate their way through the digital marketing landscape. Ryan is also an.... read more
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