A Small Business Guide to Growth Hacking

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A small business guide to growth hacking

Every business has to start somewhere, whether a Silicon Valley tech start-up coding from a garage or a local store selling to its first customers. 2021 was a record year for new companies, with Census Bureau data reporting nearly 5.4 million new establishments. Yet one in 12 go on to close, many as a result of low sales. Founders know they need to grow their organization in order to survive, but how can they achieve this in today’s highly competitive commercial environment?

The term ‘growth hacking’ was first used by Sean Ellis in 2010, who was responsible for scaling some of Silicon Valley’s best-known ventures, including Dropbox and Eventbrite. For ambitious startups, it can be a challenge to scale their operations. Still, Ellis argues that businesses should actively employ people whose sole focus is to scale operations quickly and effectively.

Many of these ‘growth hackers’ have found success with creative and experimental marketing strategies which aim to generate hype around the business and quickly build a solid customer base. However, this shouldn’t come at the expense of conventional marketing strategies. The Small Business Association advises that companies worth less than $5m invest around 8% of their revenue in promoting themselves to achieve growth.

While this might seem daunting, there is plenty that businesses can learn from companies that have hacked their way to rapid growth. That’s why OnDeck has created a Small Business Guide to Growth Hacking, with real-life examples to help your organization adopt more creative marketing and level up.

How to Hack the Marketing Funnel for Business Growth

So how does a business ‘hack’ its way to meaningful growth? Adopting bold strategies can seem daunting at first, but they can help your business quickly reach a wider audience. The main advantage many startups have on their side is their marketing can be far more agile than a large organization with established processes, meaning they can quickly pursue other tactics if one fails to generate growth.

While many successful strategies are experimental in nature, they still require an understanding of how it targets various stages of the marketing funnel. Many growth hackers use the ‘Pirate Funnel’ and will aim to target at least one core aim. These are:

  • Awareness — How many people a business reaches.
  • Acquisition — How many people visit your website or storefront.
  • Activation — How many people engage with your business.
  • Retention — How many people come back and deal with your business again.
  • Revenue — When people start paying for your products and services.
  • Referral — How many people tell others about your business.

When growth hackers are looking for ways to scale their business, they will identify and target at least one of these areas, in contrast to an integrated marketing strategy that focuses on all stages of the funnel. To better understand how growth hacking can help your business, we’ve created this helpful guide with seven proven strategies to help your organization unlock its potential.

Infographic tips for small business growth

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Growth Hack Smart — Don’t Overlook Company Reputation

While growth hacking might seem like a powerful way to fast-track growth for your business, it is important to be aware of its limitations and where it can quickly become unethical. For example, mayonnaise startup brand Hampton Creek illegally duped investors by using an undercover team of contractors to buy their products and artificially create demand. Once labeled ‘the next Steve Jobs,’ Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes defrauded doctors, investors and patients by falsifying the results of its blood-testing services, which were the hottest property in Silicon Valley at one point.

The ‘fake-it-till-you-make-it’ culture is an obvious pitfall to avoid when growth hacking. In any industry, a bad reputation cannot be reconciled with any amount of clever marketing. Online search experts Moz found that 67% of consumers are influenced by reviews, and businesses can quickly lose business if bad reviews start appearing online. Maintaining transparency throughout all aspects of your organization can create a more honest relationship with your customers and build affinity more effectively.

It’s also important to not overlook the importance of relationship building at the expense of a growth hacking strategy. Take the time to develop connections with suppliers, customers, associates and other contacts you’ll meet in business development, setting out to build authentic and trusting partnerships.

With this in mind, growth hacking is still a powerful tool in a marketer’s arsenal to generate leads and create new revenue in a short space of time. The techniques can be fun and innovative and lead to long-lasting connections with your customers.


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