Growth Hacking 101

Growth Hacking 101

Hacking your way to business success

By Vanessa Barlow

What Makes Start-up Marketing Different?

First things first, let’s deal with the buzzword. Growth hacking, for all its pretensions, simply means the marketing tactics used by start-ups. Or more specifically, the marketing tools and methods that work for start-ups versus those used by established businesses and larger corporations.

While the term growth hacking may be new to you, it should come as no surprise that there are key differences between start-up and major business marketing. After all, start-ups deal with uncertain budgets, new customer bases and expectations of rapid growth.

Whilst on the corporation side resources are greater, projections longer and processes well established. So let’s leave the high-budget, well-resourced world of corporate marketing behind and look at how to growth hack.

Set Goals and Track Them

Defining and tracking specific goals can break the spiral of scattered marketing. Delve beyond the grow, grow, grow goals of any start-up and focus on the aspects your marketing can actually deliver. For example, if you’re embarking on an email campaign – a flexible, inexpensive marketing channel often employed by growth hackers – set and record the results you’re looking for before you begin.

You can then use analytics to accurately track your campaign to clearly compare what you wanted with what you actually got. Not only can you take this goal setting and tracking insight to your investors to validate your marketing spend, but more vitally to growth hacking, you can learn from it.

Use it to see if you’re goals are realistic, or whether you’re setting something unachievable (remember the aim is to be focused, not far reaching).

Use it to compare the goals that were achieved with those missed to identify any patterns and solutions. Use it to rapidly refine your marketing strategy, while building up a bank of data for future planning and progress reviews.

Creative Growth
Creative Growth: Marketing creativity can be the key to unlocking your business's full potential

Get Creative

What your start-up may lack in funding you can make up for with creativity. After all, you’re at the beginning full of fresh ideas, energy and drive, right? When looking for creative ways to make your marketing spend go further, digital marketing is ideal. It offers a huge range of tools for growth hacking and is truly accessible.

For example, you could blog about your service or product either on your own site or through guest blog posts. You can then simultaneously enjoy the SEO benefit of increased links while demonstrating your knowledge in particular fields. Infographics are brilliantly shareable and again, show the knowledge and authority of your start-up on a particular subject. If you’re a recruitment agency you could create an infographic about different day rates, or if you’re a financier you could create one on getting a loan. Make it useful, surprising or funny and people will want to share it, further increasing your brand visibility.

If you really need to demonstrate your authority, then online guides and white papers offer great value for money. Yes you may need to commission an expert or copy-editor to help write them, but this expense will be offset by the visibility and kudos it brings your brand. For example, if you’re a start-up marketing agency and a new Google algorithm is launched, you could publish a paper on how to adapt to it. This will demonstrate that you’re up-to-date and knowledgeable and encourage new clients to come to you for more in-depth work.


One of the best things about growth-hacking versus corporate marketing is the fact you don’t have to answer to a lengthy, long-established sign off process. You may be your whole marketing team and therefore free to make your own calls about marketing strategy and respond rapidly to change. So be bold and as the decision maker experiment with your marketing.

We’ve already covered setting goals and using analytics to track them, so take a similar approach here. When you think of a new strategy pitch your hypothesis, either as a written record or to stakeholders if required, then use analytics and data to track its success.

Remember, learning is at the heart of growth hacking, so review why you achieved your goal or the cause of any shortfall. You’ll then have a firm foundation for your experimentation that’s fully accountable, so even failings earn their spend as you’ll be proving the marketing strategies that don’t work for your start-up. It’s vital, however, to still be realistic with your experiments.

Boldness doesn’t mean throwing money at something regardless. At the planning stage look in detail at your funds and resources and predict how long you could keep your new marketing strategy going if it’s a success. After all, there’s no point in trying something only to find you don’t have the resources to implement it.

Growth Hack Your Workforce

Growth hacking is all about coming up with new ideas and quickly putting them in place so you need to be able to rapidly scale your workforce. Freelancers are a great way to do this as you can engage them on a daily basis, quickly ending their contract when they’re no longer needed.

They also bring their own experience to the table and may have ideas that will help with the implementation of your marketing strategies. The freelance approach also means you can continue to take advantage of being a one-person or small marketing team and the freedom this affords. Freelancers can be brought in to fulfil very specific projects and implementations, and unless you want them included, don’t need to be part of the wider company bureaucracy.

So get hacking. Set focused goals, experiment with ideas and back up your new endeavours with detailed analytics and data.