The biggest problem most businesses have is getting more customers.
Business owners believe that if they could just find that one magic growth tactic, their business would be set.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of them will never find that tactic.
And while they’re searching for that magic bullet, they’re passing up on smaller, unscalable tactics that could be getting them a consistent stream of new traffic.
The confusion mainly comes from misinterpretation of the concept of growth hacking:
The only real condition to growth hacking is prioritizing customer/user growth above all else.
However, too many marketers seem to believe that growth hacking must involve rapid, viral growth that makes or breaks the company.
Sometimes, maximizing your growth potential means focusing on unscalable tactics. They cost more per acquisition but deliver customers when other tactics are failing.
These are best applied early on in a business, when scalable tactics (advertising, really high quality viral video campaigns, etc.) are not realistic.
I’m going to share 6 unscalable tactics that are often very effective for young businesses looking to grow. Probably, not all of them will apply to your business, but you should be able to identify at least a few you can try.
1. Trialists rarely leave for no reason
It makes me want to bang my head against my desk.
Some marketers are so focused on getting new customers that they don’t realize that what happens after a signup or purchase is the most important factor behind growth.
Growth comes from creating a product that is as close to the needs and wants of your customers as possible.
You can’t create that kind of a product going on intuition, without any actual customer feedback.
No feedback is feedback: If someone signs up for a demo or a trial or purchases something from you, that tells you something.
It tells you that:
- They need a solution to a problem you’re trying to solve.
- They like the sound and/or look of your product.
But if a customer stops using your product right after they start using it (particularly for software products), that’s your feedback.
Their problem didn’t just disappear. What happened is they concluded that your product couldn’t help them sufficiently.
What’s the point of getting new customers if you barely retain any of them?
On top of that, you need to absolutely thrill customers if you want them to recommend you to others.
The solution? Get feedback: As long as you collect email addressed when people sign up, you can contact them.
If a large portion of your new signups are disappearing on you, personally send them an email and find out how your product fell short.
The customer is still in “pain” because they haven’t solved their problem, which makes them pretty receptive to outreach.
It’s not scalable to email every single new customer you get, but this type of feedback is how you’ll make your customers love your product. You could even survey a fraction of your customers and still get really valuable feedback.
You can also preemptively get feedback by sending your customers a welcome email, asking them how they found you and what they’re hoping your product can do for them.
Here’s how Groove did it with great success:
Try something similar, and you’ll get a high response rate with great feedback.
2. Don’t be afraid to sell one-on-one at first
I’ve started many companies at this point, and believe me, they weren’t all successes at first.
It’s a huge job to start a business from scratch. Getting customers is just one area, but it is indeed very difficult since you don’t have your perfect product yet or any word of mouth in most cases.
Sometimes, you can throw money at advertising and get your growth off the ground.
Sometimes you can’t. Whether it’s because of your budget or because of your product, advertising isn’t always a great option.
An option that I recommend is to have one-on-one conversations with your potential customers.
Where do you find them?
- Sites like Reddit
- LinkedIn, Facebook, and other social media sites
- Friends in real life
Let me give you an example. Say you’re selling a website builder. You could spend time on the startups and entrepreneur subreddits, forums such as Warrior Forum, and many groups on LinkedIn and Facebook.
It will take time, but you’ll come across questions and conversations like this one I pulled from Reddit:
Someone was looking for a website builder with search functionality.
Then, you can send the user a message. Something like this:
Hey, I saw that you were trying to create a search based website. I actually have a lot of experience with that sort of thing and even built a website builder for that specific reason.
I’d be happy to answer any questions you have about it. Just send me your email address, and we can hop on Skype or Slack or have a quick email chat.
Note that everything in this message is about how you can help them, and not the other way around.
It’s much easier to sell to someone when you have their full attention during a chat, and especially when you’re actually providing them with additional help and guidance.
3. Make customers come back with a little extra effort
Like I said above, the customer experience after they try or purchase something is what leads them to become return customers and to start talking about your product to others.
One way you could make sure they end their experience on a high note, which will encourage them to talk about your business and come back, is with a handwritten thank-you note.
Unless your customers are very young, handwritten letters are typically perceived as a caring, personal gesture.
For example, this is a simple card that a Jawbone customer received:
When the recipient of the note posted the above photo on Twitter, this one tweet resulted in over 100 shares (at the time of writing).
While a card will take you a few minutes to write and send (if you batch them), it will return much more to you if do it well.
Could this be scaled? If you have thousands of customers, it’ll be hard to write a real letter to each of them.
Ideally, you don’t want to be writing the same thing to each customer. So, while this is an option, it’s not quite as good as writing your own letters.
4. Trade your product for something more valuable
I mentioned it earlier: it’s tough to get customers for a new product with no customer base.
People want to see that others have had a good experience with something before buying it themselves.
Translated to marketing, this is social proof, primarily seen in the form of testimonials and case studies.
Both can provide assurance to potential customers considering buying from you and often have a large impact on conversion rates.
You have to give to get: Great testimonials or case studies are worth several times the cost of your product.
One option, early on, is to give away your product or service in return for a testimonial or case study.
The hard part is finding a way to actually get this offer in front of people.
It will depend on your product.
For some, you can simply make a forum post or Reddit thread and offer a few samples of your product (say 5-10) to any users willing to give you feedback. You can get their emails and go into more details later.
If that’s not an option, you need to be more creative:
- Offer it to anyone who contacts you with questions about the product.
- Install live chat on your website, and offer products to anyone who engages.
- Actively reach out to customers if possible (say you sell a product for bloggers)
Most people are pretty receptive to trying something for free.
Once you’ve invested in these testimonials or case studies, you need to make sure they’re effective. Luckily, I’ve written about it in the past:
- A Step-by-Step Guide to Generating Clients by Writing Case Studies
- How to Receive Great Testimonials
- How to Effectively Use Testimonials
5. Have a broad market? Consider stickers…
I’ve mentioned Reddit a few times in this post as well as many of my other posts. Reddit is now one of the largest sites in the world.
Do you want to know how Reddit got off the ground?
In 2005, the two co-founders got $12,000 from Y Combinator.
That’s $12,000 for the whole business, so not a ton to go around. They were left with $500 for a marketing budget.
They promptly spent that $500 on stickers of their alien mascot:
They plastered them in public everywhere they could and handed out the rest at events or to random people on the street.
Soon after, stickers started showing up on social media and other websites, and people learned about Reddit. The picture above is of Wil Wheaton in the background of a sticker.
I love this idea because you’ll always stand out. Just make sure that your site or product is identified on the sticker and that it ends up in view of the people you’re trying to target.
The Reddit stickers worked out well because they were placed on bus stations and buildings on college campuses. Reddit had a pretty broad audience, even at the start, but primarily focused on young, tech-savvy users (college students).
You don’t necessarily have to use stickers. You could try:
- Backpack or luggage tags
- T-shirts or hats
- Glow sticks
6. Get out and speak
Speaking at events comes with a lot of benefits.
For one, it may lead to direct payment, which alone is highly rewarding.
But when you’re first starting out, the biggest benefit is having an audience in front of you.
Most crowds consist of customers and peers (other businesses in your industry).
As a speaker, you position yourself as an expert—an expert with whom many people in the audience will want to do business.
If you have something to sell to those businesses, you’ll almost always make some sales. More importantly, you can find ways to work together.
For example, a real estate agent could partner up with a home decorator. The home decorator could touch up houses for sale and leave business cards or pamphlets for people the agent shows the houses to.
The agent gets a better looking house to sell, and the decorator gets more customers. Win-win.
Where do you start if you want to speak at conferences? Unfortunately, you can’t just jump in and speak at the biggest ones in your industry.
You’re starting from the bottom, and you need to start with whatever experience you can get.
Focus on getting experience first so you can leverage it later to get speaking opportunities at bigger events. If you can get customers from these first few speaking gigs as well, that’s just a great bonus.
To find a list of conferences actively looking for speakers, Google “(industry) conferences speaker proposal”:
Put in some decent effort into your proposals, and you’ll get at least a few chances to speak.
Here are some quick tips on how to increase your chances of being invited to speak:
- Stick to the requirements – Different conferences want to know different things about their speakers. Always read all the details they provide, and try to describe yourself according to them.
- Don’t be a generalist – Never submit a proposal and call yourself something like a “marketing expert.” Instead, pick a specific area, e.g., “influencer marketing expert.”
- Your bio leaves a mark – You’ll get a chance to submit a bio most of the time. Put emphasis on your most impressive professional accomplishments.
- Talk specifics – Part of a proposal is a topic you could speak about and a short description. Try to think of something unique that the audience would love. That way, no other speaker could fill your spot.
Apply to several conferences at the same time because they can take a little while to get back to you.
Scalable growth is sexy, but it’s not always possible.
If your business is still struggling for customers, don’t be afraid to use unscalable marketing tactics.
I’ve shown you 6 in this post, so you should be able to get working on at least one right away.
If you have any experience with unscalable growth tactics, I’d love it if you shared your creative ideas in a comment below.