We’ve all heard the gloomy statistic: As many as 95 percent of startups are doomed to fail. While this percentage may fluctuate by industry, I think we can all agree the odds are pretty dismal across the board.
These failure rates makes sense when you consider that traditional marketing tactics—which play a major role in business growth—are often prohibitively expensive for companies that are just starting up.
So what are cash-strapped businesses to do?
I’ll tell you: They should utilize growth hacking.
Growth hacking bridges the gap between the need for effective marketing and a lack of financial resources by using creative strategies to drive growth. While the practice varies depending on individual businesses and their needs, the following growth hacking strategies can assist virtually any business. The best part? They’re totally free.
1. Fill your site with social proof.
I’d wager every person in the country has had a negative experience with a company, whether in the form of bad customer service or because a product doesn’t live up to its hype. As a result, customers are increasingly less willing to take companies at their words.
Social proof plays a major role in alleviating this skepticism by reassuring customers that a company’s products or services will actually live up to its claims. Thus, one of the best ways to increase conversions is to pack your site with social proof in the form of testimonials, case studies, customer statistics, and/or the logos of big-name clients, partners, or media outlets that have covered your brand. Together, these tacit or direct endorsements will help reduce customers’ resistance to pulling out their credit cards.
2. Engage brand advocates.
Advocacy marketing is one of the most effective growth strategies currently in existence—and it doesn’t have to cost you a penny. All it takes is the time required to identify potential brand advocates on social media, develop relationships with enthusiastic customers, and deliver exceptional customer service. (You might also consider offering advocates special perks.) In return, you’ll be rewarded with free word-of-mouth marketing that has social proof baked right into it.
Take a look at the example of e-commerce mattress company WinkBeds, which grew from selling three mattresses per week to more than 300 a month almost entirely as a result of word-of-mouth marketing. Custom business signage maker ShieldCo also attributes much of its growth to the advocacy of satisfied customers. I share these two examples because they demonstrate how companies of different sizes and in wildly different industries can benefit from the same principle: Enthusiastic customers are one of the greatest growth hacking tools around.
3. Establish an incentives-based referral program.
Referral programs are most effective when paired with brand advocacy, but they’ll provide value no matter what. The idea is to provide your existing customers an incentive to encourage new customers to purchase your products or services or otherwise engage with your brand.
These incentives can take many forms. Dropbox offers extra storage space; Uber offers free rides; retail companies give out reward points or product discounts. As Dropbox discovered, these programs are most effective when you offer incentives to both the referrer and the person being referred. In its earlier days, the company promised an extra 500MB of free storage space when both parties signed up. In response, the service grew its user base by more than 60 percent in a remarkably short time period.
4. Repurpose old content.
Creating content is a labor-intensive endeavor. So why not maximize that content by using it in as many ways as possible? For instance, blog posts can be repurposed into slideshares, videos, or podcasts; social media chats can be repurposed for an FAQ page; and so on.
This saves you time and money because you’re not constantly creating new content from scratch. It also allows you to appeal to potential and existing customers on a diverse array of platforms. By meeting customers where they are and sharing content in ways that resonate with them, you can increase traffic to your site, grow email sign-ups, and ultimately boost sales.
5. Use email autoresponders to develop your sales funnel.
When done well, autoresponders can boost your sales at all hours of the day and night without you doing any work (beyond the initial investment of time and energy required to create the autoresponders). They’re most effective for guiding prospective or returning customers through the various stages of your sales funnel.
For best results, tailor your autoresponders by segment, establish a personal and friendly tone, utilize email marketing best practices, and provide content that offers real value to whomever receives your emails. You might address questions that customers have at various stages in the sales funnel, highlight product features and how-tos, share buying guides and customer testimonials, and so on.
Providing useful content in your autoresponders will help build customer trust and loyalty, increase new conversions, and inspire current customers to become repeat buyers.
6. Hack another platform.
Integrating with another business can be a hugely effective way to boost your growth, especially if your business is still relatively small and you’re able to capitalize on the brand recognition of a larger company. The trick is to partner with a brand that has a target demographic that overlaps with your own.
YouTube famously put this strategy to good use when it enabled Myspace to embed its videos for free. (This was back in 2005, when MySpace had a whopping 25 million users.) In exchange, the young video platform was able to convert a large percentage of MySpace’s users. This growth hacking strategy played a pivotal role in YouTube’s eventual rise to internet stardom. PayPal and eBay are another classic example of brand integration.
Of course, these strategies are only going to be effective when your business is selling something that’s actually worth buying. Before utilizing any marketing or growth hacking tools, assess whether your product, service, and business model truly provides value to your customers. Only then will these growth hacking strategies spur the conversions you’re hoping for.