When you’re running a small business, you can’t just throw money at problems to make them go away.
You’ve got to be nimble and come up with clever solutions that won’t break the bank—and put you ahead of your competitors.
That’s particularly true when it comes to growth because it’s one of the thorniest challenges small businesses face. John Doherty, who’s spent a career studying and improving how companies can improve their growth marketing talked to a few business owners about the clever tricks they’re using to approach the issue.
Have at it, John!
Everyone in the technology world these days is obsessed with growth. And if you’re an entrepreneur or business owner like me then you are probably thinking about how to grow more and faster all the time.
A number of books exist on this topic and I recommend reading them. Check out David Cohen’s Do More Faster, Eric Ries’s classic The Lean Startup, Ben Horowitz’s The Hard Thing About Hard Things, or Tim Ferriss’s The Four Hour Work Week. I’ve read them all and they’ve all helped me be more successful than I otherwise would have been.
Sometimes I get tired of reading books by these guys who have already built and sold companies for tons of dollars.
While they’re inspiring and helpful, sometimes you need the perspective of those in a similar situation. When you’re in the thick of the struggle and trying to get your business to the next level, it’s helpful to glean insights from other entrepreneurs who are also in the thick of it and are trying new things.
To that end, I asked a bunch of entrepreneurs what they are currently doing to grow their startups or businesses (because after all, not every business is a startup). Here’s what they had to say.
Sujan’s answer to how he is growing ContentMarketer.io was fantastic:
I am currently using cold emails, content marketing, online courses, and retargeting.
Sujan is a very smart marketer. And concise.
Besides diversifying his business endeavors (he runs two SaaS businesses and does speaking and workshops), he’s also diversifying his growth tactics with a combination of old school (cold outreach) and new school (courses and retargeting) with a hybrid of the two (content) bridging the gap. This makes sense because both of his businesses are in the content marketing space.
When I reached out to Noah to find out how he is growing SumoMe, his answer was also pretty to the point:
To grow my business, I am currently 100% focused on hiring the best Sumos in the world.
Noah hits on something super important here. Much has been studied about the different marketing tactics that can be done to grow a company, but the reality is that there’s so much work involved in doing it right that it’s impossible for one person to do alone.
As they say, A players hire A players and B players hire C players.
Oftentimes, weak leaders will hire people who aren’t as good as they are because they feel threatened by people smarter than them. On the flip side, great leaders hire people who are smarter than them. They then set them free to run and do what’s needed to build a company.
KlientBoost is a paid acquisition agency, focusing mostly on AdWords. Their CEO, Jonathan Kane:
To grow my business, I am currently using the newer AdWords feature of Gmail Sponsored Promotions. By targeting Gmail users who are getting emails from my competitors, I can piggyback off their hard work by highlighting a low-threat offer that gets them to be part of my email list.
Sometimes these conversions lead directly and quick to clients (which is our end goal) and sometimes they’re consuming our content on a high frequency because we already know what they’re interested in.
Like re-targeting, it’s almost too good to be true. You can *literally* target your competitor’s leads by surfacing your own ads in their Gmail inbox.
It’s kind of not fair, but it’s also completely brilliant. I’m stealing this one for myself. There’s a great primer on it over here on MarketingLand as well.
Tom Harari, the CEO and founder of on-demand laundry delivery startup Cleanly in New York City told me:
To grow Cleanly’s customer base, we often focus on offline advertising such as subway, bus stop, and phone booth ads. Since we are an offline-to-online service, thinking outside of digital media helps us build a base in specific neighborhoods where we want to increase density.
This strategy is not one often seen by technology companies until they get quite large. However, it is extremely effective for Cleanly because they’re locally focused and can hyper-target their advertising to busy professionals.
Jesse and Magneti’s approach is a common one for large enterprise businesses, but one not often done by smaller companies:
We’ve been successful in using M&A to grow the team, the client base, and our overall footprint. In our industry, smaller firms are often interested in joining forces in an a truly integrated way. With the help of a creative banker, we’re able to grow the business, consolidate resources, and do it with a level of risk that we’re comfortable with as owners. We’ll continue to look for great companies that are looking to join the Magneti family.
M&A, if you have or can find the resources, is not often discussed as a way to grow small businesses. It’s more common for larger companies when they find a market that is very complementary to the one they already operate in. Acquiring the leader (or the second-place business that has a great team) is a great way into the market.
This is part of why I think Jesse’s strategy is so interesting, because they’re not a huge enterprise company but rather a small marketing agency using this tactic to grow.
Brandon Doyle is an entrepreneur and cofounder of Wallaroo Media. His strategy on growing his business?
I am currently running a Google Adwords campaign targeting Amazon Web Store to Shopify conversions. Amazon is closing down their Web Store program and a lot of their customers want to switch to Shopify. Since we are a certified Shopify Partner, we thought we’d capitalize on this opportunity. It’s going great so far.
Brandon’s execution here is super smart and one that not enough businesses take advantage of. He’s spotted an opportunity to help out businesses who are in a bind because their service of choice is shutting down. By running this campaign, he hits them as they are looking for alternatives.
It’s a brilliant move and hopefully gets you thinking about how you can take advantage of opportunities like this in the future.
Keith Bresee runs TheTraffic.ninja, a growth marketing firm. Growth for him means more clients. To grow his business, Keith takes a social approach.
I’ve grown my business to six figures in the last four months by hanging around where my ideal client would be and developing real relationships with them. Basically, attend and participate in Meetups and conventions.
As a digital marketer, I have often not given a second thought to the way people grew their businesses before the internet existed—they did it in real life and via word of mouth.
Keith’s strategy here, and his success with it, shows us that sometimes we have to get out from behind the computer and go talk to potential customers.
I’ve seen this strategy work myself when I’ve gone to Meetups and attended the right conferences. You have to be selective, as there can be a lot of “noise” with these events. But when you go to the right ones and meet the right people, you can grow your business quite effectively.
OK OK, I’ll tell you what I am currently doing to grow my own company, which connects great businesses with professional digital marketing consultants. Credo is still quite young. It really only began last fall. During that time the site’s revenue has grown from basically nothing to a few thousand per month, but I’m not stopping there.
To grow Credo I’m focusing on 4 things:
It feels weird to talk about product development as a growth lever, but in a SaaS business or marketplace it absolutely is. The more value you can provide to both sides of the business, the more word of mouth referrals you’ll gain. Those referrals are my best source of business at this point.
Of the 4 levers above, the one that’s showing great returns is Facebook re-marketing. By implementing Google Tag Manager and creating buckets of people on Facebook based on the pages they visit on my site, I can send them hyper-targeted advertising that’s proving to be very effective in bringing them back to the site at a low cost of acquisition.
The strategies shown above also serve a bigger goal—encouraging you to think outside the box! Had we just asked marketers how they are growing their business, we would have received different answers. But by interviewing entrepreneurs we see that there are many ways outside of standard marketing practices that can help grow your business.
Hopefully these real tactics and strategies from entrepreneurs growing their companies today have inspired you to get out there, try new things, and grow into a true powerhouse. Best of luck!
John Doherty is an entrepreneur and growth marketing coach/consultant based in San Francisco, California. He’s worked in-house and at agencies, consulting with startups and some of the largest companies in the world. In his personal life, he is married to Courtney and they love to adventure around the West Coast with their very large black labrador Butterbean at their sides.
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