Growth Hacking for Small Business

  •    digital marketer and writer in New York. She specializes in social media, web development, and publishing. Say hello in 140 characters @melissajohill.

Startups love growth hacking. The principles and tactics employed by growth hackers have forever altered the landscape of online business. Your business may not be a startup by strict definition, but there's no reason you can't benefit from growth hacking strategies to increase your own bottom line and expand your market reach. Let's take a look at what growth hacking is, at the very basic level, and how it can benefit your small business.

What the heck is growth hacking?

Startup advisor and entrepreneur Sean Ellis first coined the phrase “growth hacking" back in 2010. Ellis discovered that new businesses, lacking the infrastructure to benefit from more traditional marketing strategies, needed a strong focus on growth — so instead of looking for marketers, Ellis put out a call for “growth hackers."

Growth hacking emphasizes user adoption, brand awareness and recognition, and audience reception and interaction. Growth hackers spend their time coming up with clever, tech-savvy ways to grow their user base.

How does it work?

To over simplify things, growth hackers work their magic by focusing on processes — either simplifying and streamlining or disrupting and attention-grabbing. Using growth as a guiding principle, Ellis helped transform Dropbox from another relatively unknown web app to a company worth over 4 billion dollars.

A common tactic that growth hackers employ (that helped Dropbox significantly), is incentivizing signup. Initially Dropbox users were offered free space in exchange for referrals. This created a viral sign up that dramatically increased the company's user base. Take a look at your sign-up process. How might you gently encourage visitors to become part of your tribe?

Growth hackers listen deeply to users — via social media and personal interactions — and then custom-tailor their efforts in response to that feedback. Knowing your customers, knowing your product and finding the clearest route of bringing the two together is the ultimate goal of growth. Which means you might need to set up systems to analyze your site visitors, survey your existing customers or reach out via your various social channels (online and don't forget — in real life!).

This could be as simple as setting up Google Analytics to see how your visitors are viewing your site (and then making small tweaks to modify that behavior). Or as complicated as creating a beta-testing, think-tank or rewards program, where select customers are given special exclusive benefits in exchange for their opinions on your marketing efforts or offerings.

Beyond adoption, you'll typically find viral content, user experience, design, email messaging and unexpected integrations and partnerships as part of the whole growth marketing bag of tricks. For small businesses, you may only have time and energy to focus on a singular channel. Pick something you know you can do well with the least amount of effort — say, setting up email opt-ins and drip campaigns, and see how far you can go.

And it works for products as well as services. In 2013, Beyonce surprised the world by releasing her album in secret—and on her own terms. Defying expectation, a growth hacking tactic, helped the mega-star sell half a million albums in a single day and avoid the rigamarole of the press circuit and fan circus.

Burger Revolution in Ontario is a restaurant that growth hacked their unexpected social media success.

The company posted a picture of the ‪#‎burgerrev‬ ‪#comment of the #day ‪#‎bestfansEVAR‬ — which is simply a photo of a sticky note that a customer left on their wall. Customers loved seeing their notes featured and left testimonials which Burger Revolution turned into an unending stream of content and clout. And who would have guessed that a local burger joint could rack up 37k hungry fans on Facebook?

Burger Revolution Facebook Post

Be your own hacker

There are numerous resources out there for entrepreneurs and businesses interested in learning more about the ideas behind growth hacking. These short(er) posts will help you get a good handle on the basic concepts:

And finally, growth hackers aren't afraid to try new things. They come up with ideas, implement them quickly, analyze the results and move on. Even if your first efforts fail, the basic principles and ideas behind the growth mindset can only benefit a growing business. And if your hacks work, the potential for success is nearly limitless.