As a small business owner, you don’t have access to the massive marketing dollars that the big guys do. Therefore, you’ve got to make sure that every dollar you do have to invest in growing your business is being put to good use.

But, a small budget shouldn’t be (and isn’t) a hindrance to business success. In fact, many of the most well-known tech startups to date grew to millions of customers while spending little to no money. Starting off, they were operating with very similar budgets to your small business.

How did these tech companies achieve such tremendous traction without bleeding cash? Two words: growth hacking.

Adopting the overall methodology of growth hacking and hiring a true “growth hacker” to figure out their path to success is what helped AirBnB, Dropbox and others become household names.

So, what is a growth hacker?

Taking to Quora for the answer, here’s what we find:

Mattan Griffel, Founder and CEO of One Month, notes first that “A hacker is someone who is more concerned with achieving an objective than following a prescribed process. In other words, hackers care more about what needs to get done than how it should get done. As a result, hackers often come up with innovative ways to get things done.”

Keeping that in mind, Griffel goes on to explain that “A growth hacker is a hacker whose objective is to grow the number of users for a specific product. While lots of people consider user growth to be a marketing function, this assumes that there’s only one way to get users (namely, marketing). But this isn’t true. In fact, more and more over the last few years we’ve seen new products grow from zero to millions of users with little to no marketing at all.”

In short, a growth hacker isn’t necessarily a marketing maven. They’re concerned with one thing and one thing only: growing a business. The means in which they do this varies company by company and product by product.

Traditionally speaking, a growth hacker is often as adept in coding as they are marketing. They are highly analytical and almost always web-focused. If you aren’t a web-based company, an internet growth hacker is probably not the best match. Instead, hire someone whose sole job is to focus on your company’s growth, combining traditional marketing channels with less-traditional opportunities.

It’s like you’re creating a new job description: growth hacker for small businesses.

Where Should a Small Business Growth Hacker Focus?

1. Perfecting Your Product

One of the first rules of growth hacking is having a product that’s worth talking about. As Paul Graham and his Y Combinator team like to say:  “Make something people want.”

Don’t guess they want it. Don’t assume they want it. And don’t fail to recognize that tastes and trends change over time.  

For example, if you own a restaurant, have your growth hacker sit down with your customers or potential customers to see what really motivates them to spend their hard-earned dollars at a restaurant. Find out what they love about your business and what you could to improve.

Next, your hacker needs to focus on how your product can really differentiate itself. Is there a niche you can grow to fill? Is there something so spectacular you can add to your menu or service-offering that it instantly gets people talking? Barclay Prime, a restaurant in Philadelphia, added a $100 Philly Cheesesteak to their menu, which quickly got people talking when it launched, and to this day is what the restaurant is known for.

No matter what type of business you’re in, there’s a way for you to find your own story, while at the same time, giving people something they want.

2. Rethinking Your Market

Your growth hacker needs to take a look at how you are currently reaching customers.

What IS working? For those channels that have been successful in acquiring new business, what can you do to increase the success rate or replicate them?

What ISN’T working? Is there a way to change the execution of these channels and see a difference? Or is it time to cut them all together?

What HAVEN’T you tried? Some of the most successful companies to date got where they were because they saw an opportunity no one else did. For example, when the highway system was built in the 1950’s, McDonald’s recognized that placing their restaurants at exits would fill a unique need for these new highway drivers. And think about how many McDonalds line the highways today!

You want to find someone who can assess and improve your current channels while also identifying new channels for your business to try.

3. Including the Whole Team

Although it’s important to have someone to lead your growth initiative, it will be most effective if everyone in your company is on board.

Sit down with your whole team and let them know that every interaction they have with customers should be an opportunity to ask questions, identify room to improve and a chance to learn more about enhancing your current channels and identifying new places where your ideal customers might be hanging out. If everyone is helping to capture this information, you’ll be able to make more educated growth decisions down the road.

Maybe you don’t have the need or capital to hire someone to head growth for your company, or perhaps you’re worried that adding too much growth to your company could deplete your profits. For the latter, a business loan can help get you through a high-growth period. For the former, in lieu of adding to your team, adopt the growth mentality yourself and help bring your current team on board.

It’s hard to nail down a guaranteed path to growth. But, making it a priority for your business and creating a clear action path to achieve your goals is a great place to start.

What has been your most successful “growth hack” to date?

About the Author(s)

Meredith Wood

Meredith Wood is the Editor-in-Chief at Fundera, an online marketplace for small business loans that matches business owners with the best funding providers for their business. Meredith is a resident Finance Advisor on American Express OPEN Forum and an avid business writer.

Editor-in-Chief, Fundera