If you’re reading this post, you’re probably looking for a silver-bullet.
You’re probably looking for “the secret to success.”
I know I am.
I look for it everyday on the web.
Even though we all know there isn’t some magic factoid I (or anyone else) could share with you that will solve your business problems, I believe the information in this post can point you in the right direction and help you stack the odds of business success in your favor.
Let’s talk about how to maximize the likelihood of your business success on the web.
Growth Hacking: Marketing for the 21st Century
Have you heard of growth hacking?
Wikipedia defines it as a process of rapid experimentation across marketing channels and product development to identify the most effective, efficient ways to grow a business.
Sean Ellis coined this term in the midst of helping DropBox, LogMeIn, and other tech startups achieve lightning-fast growth in their user-base.
So what is growth hacking all about?
Growth hackers typically focus on low-cost or free alternatives to traditional marketing to acquire more users or customers using a high-speed, data-driven, multi-disciplinary approach.
Ellis goes into much more detail about growth hacking in his book, Hacking Growth.*
I HIGHLY recommend it to anyone interested in starting their own web business.
But for the purpose of this blog post, let’s run through a couple of examples of growth hacking so you get a better sense of what it is.
One of the most famous examples of growth hacking is when Airbnb used Craigslist to achieve massive growth quickly.
It’s hard to imagine, but Airbnb wasn’t always so successful.
In fact, they had significant trouble gaining users when they first started.
How did they fix this?
It wasn’t with tradition ads.
Instead, they reverse engineered how Craigslist was built to enable Airbnb listings to automatically list on Craigslist as well.
Once they did this, they began receiving massive referral traffic from Craigslist which gave their user-base the critical mass to grow organically from there. (source)
Dropbox achieved a similar explosion of growth when it offered free cloud storage space to current users and their friends when their friends signed up for DropBox.
Though obvious in retrospect and common practice now, this viral marketing technique enabled DropBox to grow exponentially at an extremely low marginal cost.
Several famous startups used growth hacking techniques to achieve their success and many famous tech companies continue to use growth hacking to increase their user base including Facebook, Instagram, Yelp, Twitter, and more.
What’s apparent in these examples is that growth hacking works.
What isn’t apparent and is often unmentioned is the fact that successful growth hacking typically flows out of countless failed experiments.
It’s not as if these companies immediately came up with a sure-fire way to grow, executed the tactic, and experienced success.
Instead, their success was the sum total of countless trials and errors enabling them to run better and better experiments that ultimately resulted in growth.
As Sean Ellis says, growth hacking is a numbers game.
So how do you apply growth hacking techniques to your own business?
We’ll explore that in the next section.
Setting Up Growth Engines
Growth hacking is critical for the bootstrapping entrepreneur or solopreneur with a shoestring budget.
Because you don’t have a massive marketing budget that you can use to grow your business.
Plus, traditional marketing efforts aren’t as effective as they once were.
A recent McKinsey study of public software businesses showed zero correlation between the business’ marketing investment and its growth rate, (source)
Over 80 million people use some sort of ad-blocking software, (source)
And the price of internet ads is skyrocketing as more businesses get on the web and use the same paid advertising outlets.
These facts don’t mean that paid web advertising is worthless.
They simply indicate that it can only be one piece of a multi-dimensional growth strategy.
Ideally, this growth strategy is comprised of multiple growth engines.
What’s a growth engine?
Pieter at GrowthCasts.co defines it as: any system designed to generate predictable, scalable and repeatable growth out of a given channel.
Here are just a handful of the many growth engines available and examples of people using them successfully:
- Organic Google search traffic (SEO) (Brian Dean with Backlinko)
- Paid Google ads (Adwords) (Tim Ferriss with his nutritional supplement company)
- Organic Pinterest traffic (Michelle Schroeder-Gardner with makingsenseofcents.com)
- Paid Pinterest ads (Ezra with smartmarketer.com)
- Organic Facebook page (Neil Patel with nutritionsecrets.com)
- Paid Facebook ads (Growthcasts)
- Organic Instagram profile (Matt Tsai with @goldenretrievers)
- Paid Instagram ads (Michael Kors)
- Viral Referral (Dropbox)
- Affiliate (Mike Geary with the Truth about Abs)
You’ll notice from this list that there are usually paid and organic options for each growth engine.
I recommend starting with an organic growth engine before experimenting with its paid counterpart.
But ultimately, the best choice for your first growth engine depends on your niche and web business type.
For instance, several female personal finance bloggers have achieved insane growth when focusing on organic Pinterest traffic as a growth engine,
Pieter with growthcasts recommends paid Facebook ads if you’re selling a product to consumers,
And Neil Patel and Brian Dean have had extraordinary success using organic Google search traffic selling their web marketing services to businesses.
Again, the proper growth channel depends on your business niche and type.
So which engine should you choose?
Try to find a profitable competitor in your niche and figure out which organic growth engine brought them the most scalable growth.
It’s likely you could have success with it as well.
But before you begin working on your first growth engine, you need to have a few other things figured out.
Read on to find out what those things are.
Where Growth Engines Fit in the Puzzle of Success
The world of internet marketing is extremely noisy.
There are countless “ultimate guides,” and “top 10 lists,” for anything you want to accomplish on the web.
And while these posts have their place, they can lead to confusion if you lack a growth objectives for your web business.
Because almost everything I see on the web regarding internet marketing has to do with tactics, not objectives, strategies, or goals.
What’s the difference?
Here’s how Forbes magazine contributor Mikal Belicove differentiates these terms:
- A goal is a broad primary outcome.
- A strategy is the approach you take to achieve a goal.
- An objective is a measurable step you take to achieve a strategy.
- A tactic is a tool you use in pursuing an objective associated with a strategy.
Here’s an example of how these goals, strategies, objectives, and tactics (GSOT for short) could break down for me with this blog:
- My goal: have an internet business that enables me to be time and location independent
- My strategy: monetize my blog through affiliate sales and selling my own products
- My objective: use organic search traffic (SEO) to drive sales (this is where you define your growth engine)
- My tactic: The Skyscraper Technique and the Pinterest Backlink Mining Technique
The web contains a dizzying array of tactics.
And it’s helpful to know what tactics are available.
But if you aren’t careful, you can easily make the mistake I did of jumping from objective to objective and tactic to tactic as you become aware of the different objectives and tactics available.
Instead, I recommend focusing on one objective (growth engine) and even one tactic at a time.
I’ll show you in the next section.
Focus: The Key to Growth Engine and Web Business Success
Countless entrepreneurs discuss the importance of focus.
John Lee Dumas, one of my favorite entrepreneurs, even created the acronym F.O.C.U.S which stands for Follow One Course Until Successful. (source)
This is exactly what he did with his podcast, Entrepreneur on Fire, where he recorded a podcast every single day for nine months straight without making a dime.
Now he makes six figures a month!
It’s not just entrepreneurs who recommend focusing on one thing at a time.
Studies clearly show that people are horrible at multitasking.
In fact, it takes an average of 15 minutes to re-orient ourselves to a primary task after a distraction like checking email.
We simply can’t multitask well and we shouldn’t try.
Likewise, you should try to limit multitasking as much as possible in your business.
So establish one goal, one strategy, one objective, and one tactic, and give them every ounce of effort you can for a pre-defined amount of time.
Ignore the noise.
Ignore the other goals, strategies, objectives, and tactics.
Commit to your GSOT.
Then see what happens.
Check out the next section to learn how to execute your GSOT.
Goals Vs Systems: How to Actually Achieve Success
Maybe now you’ve defined your GSOT and you’re ready to get started with your growth engine.
Step 1 is to forget about your goal.
James Clear highlights 3 critical problems with goals:
- They reduce current happiness by implying that you aren’t good enough till you reach your goal.
- They are actually at odds with long-term progress – like training for a marathon, you’ll probably lose the drive to practice running after you complete the marathon.
- They suggest you can control the future.
Investor and entrepreneur James Altucher also has problems with goals that he discusses in the video below:
If you focus on the goal, you will become impatient and will probably quit before success can happen.
So what do you do if you don’t focus on goals?
You fall in love with the process, the system, the strategies, objectives, and tactics, the setting up of growth engines, because this is what you will be doing every day.
And if you don’t love what you do every day, you need to find what you do love doing every day and do that.
But when you fall in love with the process, you maximize your odds of success.
In short, the secret to making your web business profitable is to define your GSOT, forget about your goal, and focus on one strategy, objective, and tactic at a time.
When you’ve mastered that tactic for your given objective and strategy, move to the next tactic.
And once you’ve exhausted all tactics, choose a new objective.
If you work up the GSOT totem pole in this way focusing on one thing at a time, you will be following in the path of several great entrepreneurs and will maximize your odds of internet business success.
What do you think is the secret to internet business success?
I’d love to hear about it in the comments!