Growth hacks for startups

Startup founders lead busy lives. Developing a product, checking the product-market fit, considering how best to attract finance, and bringing the product to market can all be part of a day’s work. Still, even with hours dedicated to the new venture, it can take years for the business to take off. Growth hacks can provide shortcuts that accelerate the development of a business.

But how do growth hacks work, and which hacks are the most promising for your startup? In this post, we look at strategies that help your business drive growth in marketing, sales, customer success, and talent development.

What growth hacking means

There is no need to overthink the concept of growth hacking. Growth hacking is simply an umbrella term for any business strategies and tactics that are solely focused on growth. The majority of growth hacking strategies can be realized on small budgets. They show results in a short space of time.

As a strategy, growth hacking tends to be most beneficial for startups and early-stage companies that need to attract customers or users quickly. The term itself was coined in 2010 by Sam Ellis, a founder himself.

Who is your growth hacker?

Who can be a growth hacker? Anyone, really. Depending on the size of a startup’s team, the founders are often also growth hackers. However, as the team starts to grow even slightly, appointing a dedicated growth person can make a difference.

A “Head of Growth” can keep their entire focus on identifying growth hacks for the business and trying them out. The principle of trial and error is another characteristic of growth hacking. Some of the most successful techniques allow startups to try one approach, assess it, and change their approach if the initial attempt was unsuccessful.

Which areas of your business can be growth hacked?

Put simply, you can hack more or less every aspect of your business that requires growth. Digital marketing may be the best-known area for growth hacking, but founders have far more opportunities. For this blog post, we are going to concentrate on growth hacking examples from four areas:

  • Marketing
  • Sales
  • Customer success
  • Talent development

Growth hacking your marketing approach

1. Social media marketing

Social media channels are among the most powerful tools available to growth hackers. Even with the most limited budget, it is possible to build a social media community around your product or service and start building excitement before a launch.

The key to effective, successful social media growth hacking is matching channels and audiences. Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and LinkedIn all attract very different users. If you are looking to attract an audience for a B2B service, LinkedIn is your channel of choice. Facebook and Instagram attract different age groups. Depending on your target audience, one may work better for you than the other.

2. Email marketing

Email marketing is almost a veteran digital marketing tactic. Despite its age, this type of marketing has not lost any of its impact.

How can you use email marketing for growth hacking? By starting to build email lists even before your product or service is ready to launch. Email marketing allows you to put your information directly in the inbox of potential users. In that respect, email marketing communications are much more intimate and personal than many alternatives.

By building a contact list early, you ensure that you can reach a large audience as soon as your product or service is ready to launch.

3. Influencer marketing

Influencer marketing allows you to enlist others to help drive your marketing. It is a powerful way to use people who are trusted within a community to build your audience and extend your reach.

Like social media marketing, successful influencer marketing depends on finding a good match between your brand and the influencer’s audience. It is easy to judge influencers simply on the number of followers they attract but follower numbers alone cannot give you the full picture.

Especially if you are developing a niche product or service, it is often more beneficial to prioritize audience fit – or product-market fit – over follower numbers. One hundred highly engaged and interested followers can grow your startup better than a disinterested audience of 100,000.

Growth hacking your sales

1. Optimize landing pages

Countless startups utilize eCommerce but do not optimize their approach. If your goal is to drive product sales through specific landing pages, make sure those pages match the advert users clicked on. They should look the same, present a matching offer, and keep purchases simple.

All those suggestions may sound obvious, but too many founders lose business simply by disrupting the sales journey. Optimizing landing pages and adverts can help take care of sales for you without adding to your sales team’s workload.

2. Automate the sales process

Sales is all about personal relationships, correct? Yes and no. Personal relationships matter but getting the most out of them is difficult without backing up the process with software. Software not only helps retain, filter, and process information. It can also automate follow-up emails and free your sales team’s time for tasks that require human input.

Automating sales is not about taking away the personal touch. Instead, the point is to minimize time spent on mundane, repetitive tasks that can be completed by software.

3. Leverage existing customers for referrals

Happy customers are your strongest salesforce. Turning customers into salespeople and generating referrals works best with a relevant incentive.

A few years ago, Dropbox demonstrated this approach impressively. Existing users were given a referral link. When another user signed up through the link, the initial user received more storage space. The strategy helped Dropbox grow its customer base exponentially at the cost of server space.

Some customers will be happy to refer other users without an incentive, but offering one can make the difference between growing by a few dozen users or several thousand.

Growth hacking your customer success


1. Ask your customers' opinions

The initial phase of a startup is often a time when founders are closest to their customers. Still, many founders miss out on the opportunity to simply talk to their first customers. Asking your customers what their thoughts are about early versions of your product or service can accelerate your development massively. It is also the simplest way to test whether you are on the right track in your development.

Even negative initial customer feedback is highly valuable. The sooner you receive this feedback, the quicker you can change course. Positive feedback, on the other hand, helps founders identify which benefits and features of their product they should focus on.

2. Focus on loyalty

Most business owners know that it is harder and more costly to attract new customers than to retain existing users. Loyal users or customers tend to generate a higher lifetime value for a brand than one-off customers or users.

Whilst startups in the very early stages will be focused on customer acquisition, it is equally important to start thinking about long-term loyalty as soon as possible. Some companies make the mistake of directing all their attention toward customer acquisition. As a result, existing customers may feel like they are second-best.

Customers who do not feel valued, are unlikely to continue using software or making a second purchase. Those who feel valued, on the other hand, will not only generate lifetime value. They will also contribute to word-of-mouth marketing and sales.

3. Offer value

We have already touched on valuing customers above. Another aspect of driving customer success is to approach customers with a value proposition. No matter if you’re looking to grow a user base, drive sales of an upgrade, or encourage referrals, having something valuable to offer is the key to ensuring customer success.

How can you make sure that what you are offering is valuable to your customers? Simply ask them what their pain points are and deliver a solution.

Growth hacking your talent acquisition

1. Build a talent pipeline

Few startups grow in a linear fashion. Instead, early-stage businesses tend to go through a phase where one or more founders take care of everything. Once the business gains momentum, the company suddenly needs to expand its team to service customer demand.

If you delay looking for talent until the moment your startup grows, you delay your company’s growth. Creating a talent pipeline means you have access to top talent right when you need it. How does it work? Building a talent pipeline means creating and fostering relationships with people that may be interested in joining your team.

Even though your startup may not yet be ready to hire, there is nothing wrong with browsing CVs on LinkedIn, for example, and connecting to high potentials. You can even make an informal approach to find out whether someone is interested in changing jobs. This early approach allows your HR specialist time to vet potential candidates. By the time you are ready to hire, the process is faster and smoother.

2. Separate non-negotiables from nice-to-haves

Most job adverts contain a long list of “desirable qualities” companies are looking for. In most cases, not all of the qualities listed are absolutely necessary for a person to succeed in a job. However, they may encourage more applicants who meet some of the criteria but not all of them.

Distinguishing between qualifications and skills that are non-negotiable and those that are nice to have can help recruiters and candidates save time. Listing must-have criteria clearly can limit the number of applications you have to consider, saving you time and helping you find the right candidate sooner.

3. Tailor job adverts to potential candidates

When you are developing marketing messages, you tailor your language to potential customers. Applying the same approach to talent attraction can help startups reach the right candidates fast.

Talent acquisition is a two-way street. Startups are looking for the right team members. At the same time, candidates are trying to work out whether your startup is the right place for them to further their careers.

Senior managers may not be too worried about company culture. On the other hand, someone starting at a junior level and looking to build a career over years or decades will be looking more closely at the type of culture the company values highly.

During the coronavirus pandemic, millions of professionals started working from home or remotely. After a transition period, many of them enjoyed the flexibility their new work routine offered. If your startup is able to support remote or hybrid working, mentioning that in an advert can help you attract more suitable candidates.

Developing a growth mindset

There is a reason that traditional business schools rarely offer growth hacking training. Growth hacking is less of a discipline and more of a mindset. Successful growth hackers put growth potential at the center of all their decisions.

Rather than asking “will this strategy work”, they ask whether the approach will drive startup growth. Growth hackers are not afraid to try something new and learn from successes as well as failures. Not every growth hack will deliver for every business. However, because growth hacking approaches are cost-effective and quick to deploy, it is just as easy to change methods.

Successful growth hacking can make the difference between a startup developing into an early-stage company or faltering. Few startups have the capital to follow a traditional marketing approach. Instead, founders need to think out of the box to stretch their funds and maximize the company’s potential.

That is where growth hacking offers the perfect approach. Remember, not every growth hack is appropriate for every business. Saying that do not be afraid to try something new. Looking at your company’s bank account will soon reveal whether your hack is working or not.

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