7 proven ways to growth hack a small business

Looking to give your business a boost?

Then you may have heard of growth hacking, a marketing strategy that's all about driving rapid growth.

In their most recent study, the researchers from small business financier OnDeck will give you the full lowdown on growth hacking, telling you exactly what it is, how to use it to grow your business, and what rookie mistakes to avoid.

They also added real-world examples with actionable tips to guide you through the process. So whether you're a startup or an established business, this comprehensive guide to growth hacking has got you covered.

Get ready to unlock the secrets of explosive business growth!

What is growth hacking?

Growth hacking is a marketing approach that focuses on achieving rapid and sustained growth for a business. The goal is to optimize each stage of the customer journey to maximize the number of people who become paying customers. It's about experimenting with different marketing strategies and using data-driven insights to find the most effective ways to grow a business as fast as possible, making it an ideal tool for smaller firms and disruptors looking to penetrate highly-competitive markets.

How does growth hacking work?

Some of the most common digital marketing tools and tactics used in growth hacking include social media, search engine optimization (SEO,) email marketing, and conversion rate optimization (CRO.) By leveraging these tools and strategies, businesses can target their audience, generate leads, and drive more sales.

But there's more to it than that.

Growth hacking is unique because it often involves unconventional and creative marketing tactics, like referral programs, viral marketing campaigns, user-generated content, and exclusive launches that offer an excellent return on investment.

Growth hacking success stories

Here's a look at some of the most successful growth hack campaigns:


Dropbox encouraged users to refer their friends by offering extra storage space for each successful referral. It helped Dropbox grow its user base from a few hundred thousand to 4million in less than a year and a half.


In its early days, Airbnb leveraged the popularity of Craigslist by creating a tool allowing Airbnb hosts to automatically post their listings on Craigslist. The new tool put the name Airbnb in front of millions of more eyeballs and was super cheap to build and manage.


Wendy's burger chain, which has turned social media growth hacking into an art form, spotted this question on its Twitter page from a young student called Carter Wilkerson: "I'm broke, but a man needs his nuggets. How many retweets does it take to get some free ones?" Wendy's replied, "18 Million."

Carter didn't reach that 18 million target. But his - and Wendy's - Tweet was still shared over 1 million times, and the story was picked up by several major news outlets across the world. Carter also got some free nuggets.


Hotmail added a simple message to the bottom of every email sent through its service, encouraging recipients to sign up for their free email service. This growth hack meant that every email sent by a Hotmail user became an opportunity to bring in a new customer. Super simple but super effective. An example of growth hacking at its very best.

Growth hacking stats

In the 2018 GrowthHackers survey, more than 7 out of 10 respondents reported that their growth hacking efforts had increased business revenue.

A McKinsey study found that companies with high growth rates are more likely to use digital marketing techniques like SEO, email marketing, and social media.

In a study of startup success factors, CB Insights found that a strong growth hack marketing strategy was a key driver of success for startups.

7 ways to growth hack your business

  1. Use word of mouth to spread the word and raise brand awareness.
  2. Start a regular blog to inform, engage, and push your brand up the search engine rankings. Half of consumers say they've purchased a product after reading a blog.
  3. Run influencer campaigns on rapidly growing social media platforms, like TikTok. The influencer industry generates $16billion per year.
  4. Directly target your ideal customers via email marketing campaigns. Growth hackers love targeted email marketing campaigns, where every $1 spent can generate over $30 in revenue.
  5. Turn customers into brand advocates and promoters by running user-generated content campaigns. Go viral and reach millions of customers with a single hashtag.
  6. Integrate AI chatbots to automate repetitive, time-consuming, and mundane admin tasks, freeing up your human workers to do more meaningful and rewarding work.
  7. Launch a double-sided referral program that rewards the referrer and their friend. Everybody wins, so everybody shares. This growth hack helped PayPal sign up 100,000 users in its first month.

4 things NOT to do when running your first growth marketing campaign

Growth hacking is a high-risk, high-reward strategy. But you can boost your odds of success by avoiding these 4 rookie mistakes.
  1. Don't start growth hacking without a plan and strategy in place first.
  2. Don't copy other growth hacking campaigns. Instead, focus on what would work for your business and customers.
  3. Don't focus all your growth hacking efforts on one area.
  4. Don't ignore costs. Keep a close eye on all expenses, ensuring a good ROI for every dollar spent.
Like any marketing approach, growth hacking requires careful planning, execution, and ongoing optimization. But by using the right strategies and tactics, small businesses can achieve explosive growth and establish themselves as major players in their industry.

Take a look at the infographic below for more insights on small business growth hacking.

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