Ever try to break your own personal record for running a mile?
I’ve been working on it, and it’s not easy. It’s tempting to think that moderate jogging alone will do the trick—that you’ll get faster simply because you’re consistent. But when it comes to specific goals—in fitness or in the world of business—you’ll need to be a little more proactive than mere consistency.
Enter “growth hacking.”
In the world of marketing your business, it’s not always about what you’re doing wrong—it’s about what you’re not doing right. Growth hacking means relentless experimentation in the pursuit of your goals—and if you get the right tips on growth hacking, you might just be able to do it yourself.
First Things First: Defining Growth Hacking
Be honest: “growth hacking” sounds more like an unfortunate ailment than it does an effective marketing strategy. The truth is, growth hacking means nothing more than trial and error in finding the most effective solutions for marketing your small business from the ground up. It’s about “hacking” the world of marketing and focusing only on those strategies with maximum impact.
And lest you think growth hacking is all about tactics, keep this quote in mind from PR expert Ryan Holiday: “Growth-hacking is more of a mindset than a toolkit.”
In other words, growth hacking means laser focus, combined with the relentless pursuit of marketing knowledge.
Tip #1: Set Your ‘True North’ for Growth
The term “growth hacking” became popular thanks to Sean Ellis in 2010, who said that “a growth hacker is a person whose truth north is growth.”
It’s that simple.
Why is this important? Because it means growth hacking is different than marketing. Marketing is looking for an ROI—new business to justify the expense. Growth hacking is about building up your small business into something more sustainable, more powerful, and more profitable. That means setting your compass for the “true north” of growth, where every decision made is focused to that end.
Tip #2: You’re Never Too Big—Or Too Small—To Be Thinking Growth
“Facebook has a growth team and they have a billion users.”
So says Blake Commagere, founder of MediaSpike. What does it mean, exactly? Although you, as a small business, might not precisely be the same size of Facebook, it shows that there’s really no business that shouldn’t think about growth. You should think about growth of revenue if you’re a small business. If you’re a large business, you should think about growth of infrastructure—or growth in general.
Tip #3: The Best Results Come from Objectivity
According to Steve Wozniak, one of the critical minds behind Apple computers, objectivity is the key to real growth. Entrepreneurs and small business owners should see more than just what they want to see—they should see a business and its market for what it really is.
Think about how many delusional entrepreneurs you’ve seen rolling through a TV show like “Shark Tank.” These same small business owners would spare themselves a lot of pain and a lot of rejection if they only realized that their idea didn’t have legs or if their niche was already saturated. Instead, they live up to the true definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a new result.
Tip #4: Why Over What
What are you doing to improve your small business? That question might not be as important as asking why. According to Brian Balfour, former VP of Growth at Hubspot, asking why you’re improving a certain area is the first step to effective growth hacking.
“Why” is important because it cuts down to the objective reality of your business. Why do you want to improve one aspect of it over another? What’s really important to you? Asking these fundamental questions cuts through all the nonsense we as entrepreneurs tend to tell ourselves and gets right to the point.
Tip #5: Trial and Error Works Sometimes
It’s true that growth hacking is all about ruthless efficiency. But sometimes, you’ve got nothing else to do but to throw solutions at a wall and see what sticks.
Thomas Edison once said that he didn’t fail 10,000 times—he simply found 10,000 ways that don’t work. This is an attitude shift rather than a specific tip, but that shift makes all the difference. Use failure as a learning opportunity and you’ll always come back stronger for the next tactic. It’s less about individual tactics than it is a willingness to try new things, even if it means failing.
Tip #6: Think Like an Engineer, But Don’t Necessarily Be One
Gagan Biyani, co-founder of Udemy, expressed the opinion that definitions of growth hacking can be restrictive. Rather than believing that a good growth hacker was the kind of person who codes every day, Biyani said “I don’t believe growth hackers must be engineers.”
But it’s always helpful to think like one.
Engineers are laser-focused on a certain outcome—for example, how a system can function in the real world. Every little decision affects the whole. That’s what separates good growth hacking from marketing—understanding how each small decision you make in your business will affect the whole. Think like an engineer and you’re more likely to see the progress you need.
Tip #7: Be Relentless
Finally, remember that while growth hackers are always looking to think outside the box, that’s no excuse to be scatter-brained. If you really believe in the growth potential of one avenue for your small business, don’t give up on it the second one tiny bit doesn’t work. Be relentless in your pursuit of growth, whether that means adapting and overcoming obstacles or switching strategies entirely. As you read earlier, this is about attitude, nit specific tactics.
If you can let go of the tactics and understand the mindset necessary to growth hack, you’ll stand a much better chance at improving the prospects of your small business. The only question is, what step comes next?