Having worked with hundreds of startups over the past 4 years, the single biggest challenge they have had is growing their business.
When listening to their pitches and reading their business plans the most common growth strategy is “social media” — i.e. “Yeah we are going to go viral and have a huge following worldwide”.
“How are you actually going to do that?” is the follow up question that is rarely answered well.
In this blog I’m going to (in an Irish context) show you 6 proven growth (traction) strategies as well as outlining an answer to my question above.
1. Word of Mouth (WOM)
Word of mouth is a very powerful traction channel. All of the other channels feed straight back into this channel. If you nail this, you have succeeded.
Though it’s difficult to get off the ground with this channel, it can also be the cheapest. Brands like Facebook, AirBnB, Uber and the more recent Revolut have acquired millions of customers from this channel.
Research shows that 92% of consumers believe suggestions from friends and families more than advertising. If you can get to the point where consumers are actually promoting your product without receiving any benefit, you have successfully started WOM.
Beyond that 88% of consumers trust online reviews/recommendations from unknown people as much as from friends and family. BUT yet only 33% of businesses actively collect reviews.
To achieve WOM you need to nail these 5 things:
1. Have a product or service that provides an amazing customer experience.
2. Incentivise users to generate content about you (via competitions, create unique hashtags, promotions/discounts etc).
3. Create a referral programme.
4. Push reviews and recommendations hard!
5. Build a community of engaged users.
Here are some interesting articles around WOM marketing:
Publicity is one of the oldest and longest proven strategies for obtaining customers. Before the internet was born this was a much harder channel to use as the newspapers had all the power and could pick and choose between thousands of startups. Nowadays with the tech boom we are blessed with free content available at any time, which in turn has made this channel more accessible.
For example, in Ireland we have hundreds of news outlets that produce free content on a daily basis. In the startup world we have websites such as Irish Tech News, Silicon Republic, Think Business, Startups, BizPlus and Digital Times. Simply type in Irish startups into Google and you will find pages upon pages of news outlets dedicated to this industry.
By promoting your business through these outlets, you will build trust while marketing your product at the same time. People who normally may not encounter your business will recognise your brand over time, which can snowball into a WOM effect.
News outlets make their revenue from advertising so they are delighted to hear about interesting new startups. If you have a compelling story to tell, then they are more than happy to write about you. Make sure to hook them in with some of your recent milestones/achievements.
Focus on the smaller sites first. Building relationships is critical in getting any decent publicity.
Following this if your story is really unique, you may get picked up by newspapers nationwide. Then reach out to Tech Crunch, Forbes, etc for more worldwide recognition. Izzy Wheels were one of the recent Irish Startups featured on Forbes 30 under 30.
3. Competitions, Accelerator Programmes & Awards
Ireland is one of the best countries in the world to start your business. It’s incredible the amount of support we have access to, so much so that there are 170 different government supports available to startups and small businesses in Ireland.
But it’s not the money that is the most value for those awards/competitions and accelerator programmes. It’s the recognition and contacts that are most valuable. There are key to successfully growing and maintaining your business.
Many startups apply for the famous Y Combinator, even if they have raised huge rounds of investment already. As it’s that publicity and credibility that provides an extra traction channel.
Here are just a handful of the competitions for startups in Ireland. Intertrade Ireland Seedcorn Competition has a cash prize of €100,000, NDRC Business Plan Competition have cash prizes totaling €35,000. Local Enterprise Office (LEO) have Ireland’s best young entrepreneur award where €15,000 is given to a winner in each county. Google’s Adopt-A-Startup and the National Startup Awards are some of the other awards/programmes available to startups. Successful applicants receive €30,000 on entry in DCU Ryan Academy’s Propeller. Invest NI’s Propel dishes out £15,000 to the successful entrepreneurs and Cork’s UCC Ignite offers an equity free €5000 in additional to the training and mentoring given. Social Entrepreneurs Ireland have an excellent Awards Programme where each participant is given €40,000 in funding. This is a more socially focused accelerator which gives an incredible opportunity to social entrepreneurs.
As well as that, in programmes like New Frontiers Phase I & II, the participants can get up to €15,000 and Enterprise Ireland’s Competitive Start Fund award is €50,000. UCD Nova’s Startup Stars offer excellent an opportunities to aspiring young UCD entrepreneurs and companies such as Huckletree also offer programmes like their Alpha Programme to help startups get off the ground running. On a virtual level Idea2Scale have a global accelerator that you can attend from the comfort of your own home!
Y Combinator have recently opened an online school (free) too which is well worth applying for.
Find out more on what is available to Irish Startups in the links below:
4. Social Media
Investors are sick of hearing of unplanned social media campaigns that are going to “make us go viral”.
Now one of the most popular and accessible traction channels, social media is more difficult to master than it seems. In this day and age it’s essential to have social media pages, but getting traction on them is very difficult. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn are the biggest social media channels but there are tons more to utilise also. Here are good strategies I have witnessed in some of the channels over the years:
Step 1 — Look for a page that has 100,000+ likes that is relevant to your industry.
Step 2 — Contact page owner and ask to buy. Usually this can range from €100 — €2,000. One I have seen first hand, a startup pay €500 for a page with 250,000 likes which they then switched to their company’s name which built the profile of the startup massively. Be careful though as this is a vanity metric rather than a customer metric.
Step 3 — Manage properly. Twice weekly posts (use images and videos for best engagement). Setting up groups and committees really can spark interest and growth in your company. Also go to all of your friends and get them to send invites to all of their contacts to like your new page (If they’re your friends they will allow you to do it.)
Step 1 — You can’t really buy someone’s page as the content won’t be relevant unless you get very lucky. Start by setting up your own page and posting 15 relevant photos so not to look like a new member.
Step 2 — Follow up to 80 pages/people on day one and increase by 10–20 each day until you reach a maximum of 500 per day. If you go beyond this your account may be flagged for spam and may get blocked by Instagram.
Step 3 — Search hashtags of relevant industry e.g. #marathon if you are creating a product for runners. Follow accounts who use that hashtag and like their photos. You will get a follow back from between 25–35% of these users.
Step 4 — Continue to post daily photos/stories and don’t push sales, put motivational quotes and pictures. People engage better when they aren’t being ‘sold anything’.
Learn more about how to grow your following here:
5. Creating Content
People connect with real and honest content. Think of the last time you went to a business’ social media page. When you see a company interacting with their fans, it builds trust and shows that there are real people behind the company.
People buy into people, not companies. You need to create relationships with your customers and the only way to do that is to connect with them, not sell to them.
Showing your customers that you empathise with their problems is critical. Luckily there are many great ways to do that now that we have so many marketing channels. Blogging is an effective way to do so. Maybe you have an interesting story about why you started this business, a huge majority of successful entrepreneurs created their startup to solve a problem they faced themselves, especially social entrepreneurs.
Great articles with content tools here:
This is an under-leveraged traction channel and accounts for more than $2 billion in retail sales annually. Simply put, affiliates are people and/or companies who will advertise/promote your product or service and get a commission of a sale.
There are many excellent affiliate programmes out there to look to for advice on how best to utilize them. Groupon is one of the most famous. It’s an expensive option however as they take up to 50% of the revenue and the items are heavily discounted already. Amazon take between 1%-10% (changed from 4–8.5% in 2017) depending on the sales volume.
Targeted blogs and influencers are another option. You need to look for your niche area and reach out to influencers or bloggers. You may need to give them a sampler of your product for free and then if they like your product, you can negotiate terms and conditions.
The first move may be to source a good niche influencer or blogger. You can do that by simply searching google for blogs related to your niche, or you can use tools to help you find the right blogs, such as Tomoson and Buzzsumo. Look for things like, social media following, quality content, photography and engagement.
The simple, easiest way to find affiliates is to reach out to your current customers. These are the people who care most about your product or service, which in turn makes them the ideal affiliates.
Find out more here:
If you want to explore more on Growth then I’d advise reading these three books and links.
1. Traction by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares -The best book on out there on understanding how to acquire customers. Step by step guide, very practical. In this book, the author outlines 19 traction channels to utilize. Strongly recommended reading.
2. Hacking Growth by Sean Ellis and Morgan Browne -Excellent book detailing how to properly ‘Growth Hack’.
3. Blitzscaling by Reid Hoffman and Chris Yeh -Another brilliant read from the co-founder of LinkedIn which is full of case studies from super successful startups.
And lastly, an essential link for b2b growth: 99 b2b saas growth hacks
Wishing you all success in your entrepreneurship journey!
If this blog was of interest to you, then you may find this blog of benefit too:
Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com.