The Ultimate Cheat Sheet for Aspiring Growth Hackers
13 Tips and Mistakes to Guide Your Growth
There is a painful amount of terrible advice in the Growth Hacking space. It annoys me to see entrepreneurs wasting so much of their time on strategies that only work in extremely niche cases, or methods which have zero chance of scaling into anything that will affect a company’s’ bottom line, particularly if they’re a startup with no money or money running out in the next 3–6 months.
Most growth hacks can move the needle pretty fast, but no one wants to give those away. So here’s a cheat sheet anyone can use to find and use growth hacks today. Feel free to ignore it, of course!
1. Growth Hacking is a successor to (black hat) SEO.
By that I mean there are white hat (ethical) strategies that can work, like Uber’s refer-a-friend program, and black hat strategies — like the “sharing economy” site that spammed thousands of ads on Craigslist to get early traction, the social network that texted and emailed your entire phone book when you downloaded it, and the social news site which started with hundreds of fake user accounts.
You can find all three easily enough with a bit of Googling, if interested.
Here’s the catch: the best growth hacks are kept secret by a tiny segment of people who make money through affiliates (more on that later) and running marketing agencies with seemingly magic results. You won’t be able to find them.
2. It’s virtually impossible to hire good growth hackers.
They can make thousands of dollars every day from affiliates, controlling thousands of fake accounts or websites to send a tiny trickle of traffic from each one of them.
In aggregate, this adds up to a TON of traffic/revenue/users… which, naturally adds up to a ton of money. So most will never need to join a startup for a comparatively small monthly wage.
3. As such, you need to learn how to growth hack yourself.
You’ll have to hire someone eventually, but having solid knowledge will reduce the amount they can bullshit you.
4. Disregard basically everything you read on blogs about Growth Hacking.
Ditto if you wanted to find out how to do content marketing, social media, or SEO. It’s 49% people who have no idea what they’re talking about, and 49% those who do know — but don’t give away any of their key secrets.
About 2% can be useful, but it’s probably a bad use of your time to try and find it.
5. Forums and secret groups are where the real gold is if you want to be a growth hacker.
Jump into a time machine and step back into the 1990’s, when people would converse on message boards that look horrible (by today’s standards), and be certain that no one is using their real names.
Because these sites are hidden away from the public and look so off-putting, the real growth hackers can converse and share secrets& knowledge in peace. They never share the niches/products/services they’re working on, but the methods can be applied to lots of different products, and by helping each other, all ships rise with the tide.
Some of these boards will cost you to keep the n00bs (amateurs who are new to Growth Hacking) from hijacking the threads with questions they could solve with a simple Google search. Many of these private forums are worth paying for. Finding the right ones, of course, will require some testing.
6. Buying traffic is for losers when you’re starting out.
There are so many ways to get free traffic. If you can’t get any, you aren’t fit to be a growth hacker. Having said that, you will need a budget to try out tools, software, e-books, memberships, etc. to find growth hacks out of the box.
Some will work, some won’t. That’s the game we’re in. Trial and error. Some of these are known as “zero day” hacks: they are loopholes that will eventually get found and plugged by Google or the social networks.
So make hay while the sun is shining, kids.
7. Get comfortable being uncomfortable.
The higher the risk, the higher the return. It gets easier with time.
8. Aggression is the precursor to success.
It runs through every high-achieving business for the last 100+ years. Growth Hacking is just a new channel for an old emotion. As my Secret Sauce co-author famously said: “Organic growth is almost always a complete lie.”
It’s in everyone’s interests for companies not to reveal the tactics they used going from zero to one.
9. One catch: Growth Hacking can’t save a bad product.
Even worse, the amount of traffic/users/revenue growth hacks can bring in for virtually any awful product/service can convince investors/founders/employees that everything is going well, until it isn’t.
Use Net promoter score and try and get 40% or more of people you survey about your product to say they would be “very disappointed” if the product went away. Hat tip Sean Ellis for that one.
10. Don’t worry too much about how your site looks, the placement of the buttons, or anything else until you have some traffic.
Many a startup have spent weeks on the perfect layout, design, and user experience, only to have no idea how to get traffic to try the site out. Once you have the traffic coming in, it’s real easy to tweak and change things to improve your conversion rates.
When you don’t have the traffic, it is IMPOSSIBLE to be successful.
11. Once the word gets out about a growth hack, the clock starts ticking.
Influencer networks used to be the cost effective way to reach millions of people easily, by paying teenagers who suddenly found themselves with more eyeballs than most television channels. Once the genie was out of the bottle though, agencies rushed in, prices went up, and people with 5,000 followers started charging $50 to put an Instagram post on their profile for four hours (lol).
Influencer marketing is still just about better than more traditional forms of online advertising, but two years ago was an absolute steal.
12. Always be on the lookout for the next channel/avenue/source.
By the time Forbes or Buzzfeed is doing exposes on how kids on Snapchat/Vine/Periscope are earning big bucks as they have thousands of followers, it’s already too late. Whether building the channels yourself or paying others for their reach, being first is everything.
13. Growth hacks don’t have to be online.
My friends at events like App Dojo printed out letters saying “We all quit our jobs to start this startup. If you like going out in London please download our app,” stuck them in envelopes, and stood in a train station every morning for three weeks handing them to everyone on their way to work, presuming they may want somewhere to go out after.
They got thousands of downloads, met partners and investors, and accidentally found their perfect audience: they had presumed hipsters would be into what they were doing, and in fact found city boys working in finance who were flush for cash and had no idea where to go out in London loved it.
The 45 minutes it took each morning was time they would have otherwise spent drinking coffee. Find out where your target audience hangs out, and how you can you get in front of them.
We’re halfway through, so here are some questions you might want answered:
1. Won’t I feel a bit awkward doing this?
Yes, you will. Being an entrepreneur is more than just sharing “hustle” memes on Instagram and Facebook and drinking the free beer at a noisy co-working space. If you’re not prepared to make yourself uncomfortable, go and do another job. There are plenty out there.
2. Do I have to do this?
No. If you have a war chest of money, you may be able to spend your way to profitability. People tend to this through Facebook ads, where there’s still a massive opportunity. This is, of course, very hard to do right. And you’re losing money, which never feels good.
3. How do I know any of this is true?
You don’t. Everything I’m saying is, ideally, meant to point you in the right direction and give you enough tools/ideas to find your own strategies for growth, and to realize the potential the internet has to grow your startup/business.
Once we’ve shown you the basics, you could and should be applying it to new channels in ways no one has thought of before to get the best results.
If you’re an events app, why not take a photo of you with a sign saying “Download our app and find a great date spot” and right swipe/heart everyone on all the major dating apps and sites? It’s your target audience, who will soon need a place to go out. Those damn things have millions of users every day, and no one thinks to use them in this way.
Caveat: tread lightly, for obvious reasons. That was meant as an example only, not an idea for you to actually do. Besides, I love using dating apps, so don’t ruin them, ha!
4. I don’t think this will work.
Why shouldn’t I use traditional marketing methods? Growth Hacking isn’t a replacement of traditional marketing methods, it’s best use case is at the very start, when you have no idea where to get your first customers/users, (and dare I say it, you don’t have a brand to ruin).
Once you have revenue coming in (or investment $$$) you can start to use paid and more traditional methods (even Facebook have ended up doing ads in train stations, you might have noticed) in order to scale.
Growth Hacking takes you from just you and a laptop with an idea (like every other kid trying to make it in the startup game) to a player in the game, doing real things with real people. As the old saying goes, the first time you receive money online is LITERALLY MAGIC. You are doing all of this for that feeling. Let Growth Hacking try and help you get to that feeling faster. The traditional methods will always be there.
5. I still don’t think this will work.
The only way to know is to try. Start small with some zero risk hacks on Twitter and Instagram (the best places to get attention/clicks for free in a very short space of time) and then work out to the bolder moves. Or don’t. Growth Hacking doesn’t have to be risky. Plenty of companies use very mild hacks alongside traditional methods.
6. I still don’t… We get it.
At some point you’re going to have push past your old momentum and ways of doing things. Chances are, your old ways haven’t got you to where you want to be anyway.
7. Where do I start?
Everything starts with the user. Identifying them, what they want, where they hang out, what platforms they use. Get this wrong and nothing else will work.
8. Which is the best growth hack?
One which doesn’t exist yet, you find, and keep all to yourself. It could be on a new channel, or a new way of reaching people on an existing channel. If you want to share it with me, that would be cool also!
9. What are the biggest mistakes I could make in Growth Hacking?
Breaking the law, and not being aggressive enough. Aggression doesn’t just mean reaching out to people, it can be in aggressively optimizing what you’re doing and your conversion funnel, aggressively finding new channels to test.
Also, remember that classic line from Jurassic Park before you do anything which your gut is telling you IS A VERY BAD IDEA: “You spent so much time wondering whether you could, you never stopped to realize whether you should.”
10. What do I do once I have traffic?
Nail the following: who your ideal users are, (and which group of users to sidestep to next if you reach a saturation point), how your site looks/feels, perfect user on-boarding and great first week experience, build a great referral program, and automated or semi-automated systems to reduce churn.
I ain’t even gonna talk about revenue and business model, you should have that covered!
11. What else can be growth hacked?
Virtually everything, particularly anything that involves the internet, so… online dating, becoming internet famous (which can often lead to real-life fame), or getting a job — for instance — are all made immeasurably easier using Growth Hacking tactics.
12. What makes you so sure?
Outside of the hundreds of stories from virtually every successful internet company ever I’ve ever met/read about, it has taken me from being on welfare/benefits 3 years ago to launch two websites that got over a million visitors a month, get into the Techstars accelerator, start a successful agency, and travel the world giving talks. It continues to change my life every day.
13. Any final pieces of advice for anyone who would want to start Growth Hacking today?
Twitter and Instagram are, in my opinion, the best platforms for day one Growth Hacking. So much can be done for zero budget, and the returns are so instant that you’ll feel inspired to try other platforms/techniques. Get in touch and let me know how you do!