Growing a company can be a challenge, especially if you are on a limited budget. Unlike big brands, your business probably does not have enough money to spend on expensive commercials or other advertising just to get your name out there.
While branding can be a good long-term strategy, many startups and small businesses prefer to focus on sales and marketing tactics that quickly increase their customer base. Since the majority of SMBs have a limited budget and resources, they have to be smart about how they spend their time and money.
So what can bootstrapped startups do to grow quickly and efficiently?
For many businesses, the answer is growth hacking.
What is growth hacking, exactly? And how can businesses use growth hacking to increase their customer base?
Growth hacking can be defined as the process of using experimentation to rapidly grow a business, usually with low-cost methods. Growth hacking is particularly popular with startups that have limited budgets and can tackle new ideas for growth quickly.
A growth hacker focuses on activities that grow the business and get customers. While a marketer may care more about things like conversion rates and branding, the primary focus that growth hackers are concerned with is growth.
What are some of the strategies that business can use to grow quickly? Let's take a look at some popular B2B growth hacking strategies.
One way to attract a large number of users who will spread awareness of your company and offerings is to offer a freemium version of your product.
An important aspect for making this tactic work is that the free version of your product or service must have a high perceived value from the end user. Being able to use an amazing product for free will encourage people to share your product with their friends and colleagues, as well as consider upgrading to a paid version when their budget allows.
While free trials and demos are popular, some companies implement a free price tier so people can try out their software or products for free. People who use the free version will still see your company’s branding, and their use will help more people learn about your products and services.
Some businesses that have achieved growth by offering a freemium version of their product include Eventbrite, Skype, and Dropbox. Free and reduced-price offerings won’t work for every company, but they do offer an excellent way to bring customers in and promote fast growth.
Content marketing is often considered a long-term growth strategy. Joe Pulizzi, the founder of Content Marketing Institute, says that it takes 15 to 17 months of consistent content creation to see monetization.
But smart growth hackers can use content marketing to grow faster. Content marketing can encompass a number of different methods, including:
The key is focus and consistency. Put out so much content on sites where your target audience already is to help introduce people to your company. For example, a company called Movoto took notice of tactics used by BuzzFeed and Upworthy and applied them to their real-estate blog. In just two years, Movoto grew their viewership from “2,000 to 18 million views per month.”
With blogging and content marketing, keep in mind that results will not be immediate. Your early efforts may not bring in much traffic, but it all adds up over time. However, content marketing generally costs less than traditional marketing while generating more qualified leads and buzz. Due to its high ROI, content marketing could be an excellent place to focus your growth hacking efforts.
Social media is an important content marketing tool but deserves its own mention when it comes to growth hacking. Social media sites attract large communities of people and your business may be able to reach the right audience by focusing on social media marketing.
Foundr was launched in 2013 by Nathan Chan and grew into a multimillion dollar company by focusing on Instagram as their primary growth channel. Chan's goal with Foundr was to inspire other entrepreneurs by interviewing highly successful business people, including Richard Branson, Seth Godin, and Ariana Huffington, as well as by providing other useful business content.
To build up an audience, Foundr focused on Instagram and grew their account to over 110,000 followers in just five months. They published inspiring quotes on their account and consistently posted four to five times a day. Their posts attracted their target audience and allowed people to discover the Foundr brand.
Another tactic Foundr used was to collaborate with other influencers on Instagram. They participated in shout-outs, which involved posting a quote and linking to another Instagram user’s account. In return, these other accounts would post a shout-out featuring Foundr and send visitors to Foundr's Instagram account.
The key to Foundr's social media success was consistency. By posting frequently and consistently on Instagram, as well as networking with other Instagram users, Foundr increased their Instagram following to over 1.5 million users and grew into a seven-figure business.
Another powerful strategy for growth hacking is to reach out to a community where your target users are already located — or build your own community.
Tinder is a dating app that was launched in late 2012. It grew to 10 million users by January 2014 and 40 million users by December 2014.
So how did Tinder grow so quickly, especially with fierce competition that was already firmly established in the market? It targeted a specific niche. Although online dating is available for all individuals, Tinder started out by focusing on college students, specifically those in sororities and fraternities.
Other companies have used the same strategy — reaching out to students involved in Greek life — and found their own success stories. To recruit new users, Tinder approached sorority members first. They sent a marketing executive to do a presentation and get members to install the app. Then they went to fraternities, showed members the app was already popular among their female counterparts, and earned more users.
Finding a highly segmented user base, starting growth efforts there, then expanding to more audiences is an excellent way to practice growth hacking. For Tinder, visiting college campuses across the country and getting people to install the app allowed them to grow quickly. Tinder's estimated worth is over $3 billion.
Viral marketing is the ultimate goal. It’s creative and engaging, and can be a great way to get a lot of exposure for your business. It can be a low-cost way to potentially reach a lot of potential customers. It’s also increasingly difficult to go viral and simultaneously have your campaign reach its intended results.
To engineer a viral marketing campaign, marketers first analyze other types of content that have gone viral and think about how they can create something similar. They also need to find the right distribution channels so that their content reaches the right target audience. Finally, they need to make sure their campaign can produce a positive outcome beyond simply going viral. After all, if your audience remembers your content, but not your company, going viral likely hasn’t boosted conversions or your bottom line.
One company that was able to achieve substantial growth through viral marketing is Blendtec, founded by Tom Dickson. The company produces powerful blenders, but needed to find a way to reach more customers.
George Wright, Blendtec's director of marketing and sales, says, “One day I walked by the lab, and Tom was testing some changes he'd made to the blender by shoving a 2x2 wood board into it.” He suggested that Tom upload videos of his product tests on YouTube to show people how powerful the blender was. Thus, the “Will It Blend” video series was born. Dickson uploaded videos of him using the blender on different items including a rake handle, a camcorder, and an iPhone. The videos went viral, and Blendtec's revenues grew to $40 million in 2006. The series continues to be popular and has accumulated over 285 million views on YouTube.
Going viral, when done well, is an excellent way to promote accelerated growth. But since it’s such a rare occasion, your best bet is to focus on the other strategies in this article.
Growth hacking isn't a step-by-step marketing plan that businesses can simply implement. It often requires creativity, the willingness to experiment, and the ability to adapt to changes quickly.
Before developing a marketing plan, get feedback on your product to make sure it’s what your customers want. Look for inspiration from other companies that have successfully used growth hacking and don't be afraid to experiment with your own ideas. Once you've found an idea that works, commit to it, be consistent, and growth will inevitably follow.