When I co-founded a growth-marketing company with my partners, I came with a solid understanding of rapid growth, having worked at and for companies that had experienced explosive exponential growth in just a few short years. The key takeaway that I had was simply that growth is not luck, but a continuous exercise of creativity and problem-solving skills that leverage data to make the most optimal decisions.
Decisions like the aforementioned cannot be made without a proper growth plan. If you are blindly executing decisions and hoping for that magic moment in which you finally push the needle, the chances of finding success are slim at best.
Instead, if you take the time up-front to outline a clear strategy, lay out your expectations, your definition of success, and ultimately your growth goal, you will have taken a fundamental step in achieving your growth goals.
If you are a visionary, like me, you will have a beautiful idea of where you want to be, but you do not really have a clear idea of how you want to get there. And while that in and of itself is not great, it can easily be amended by drawing out your plan. The problem comes when you are to share that vision with others, your team, your investors, and perhaps even your alter-ego. Suddenly you will find yourself taking a punch to the gut, figuratively, as strangers to your vision they can completely destroy the vision you had and you will find yourself lost and wondering where it had all gone wrong.
Having a growth plan matters because it builds a framework on which you can always fall back in case you take a punch. At HK Digital we understand that plans can change, after all, “No plan survives contact with the enemy” which means if you are not being agile and aggressive in your approach, your greatest vision will turn into a nightmare. Then, why, you might ask me, would we even build a growth plan? Well…
Because if you do not have a plan at all, you will be like a bunch of barbarians flaying about as your charge into a well-organized and disciplined Roman legion that will tear you to shreds. And that is why having a growth plan matters because it establishes a framework for success. Your employees, your partners, your investors, and everyone else involved in your business will know where they are headed, they will know why they are in trenches fighting, and finally, they will know who to turn to when the battle is all over.
Let’s get started with the meat of the story, the plan itself.
Building out a growth plan is equally useful if you are just starting out, or if your business has already been around for a while. No matter your journey, there are always opportunities that lay ahead that will power your growth.
When writing the plan, understand that certain elements will be more useful than others, as each plan is unique to each individual business. If at any point you are stuck and are feeling lost or in need of guidance, feel free to reach out to us on our website or reach out to me directly.
You started your business with a certain idea of who you are and what you want to achieve. Oftentimes, this purpose will get lost in the process when you are out creating the business, taking care of all the paperwork, bringing in the right people, creating your website, and finally going live. To avoid this, it is important to define the purpose of your business long before you set out to do any of the above. When you know the purpose, you know which decisions you need to make to reach the said purpose.
When I was first introduced to the business world, I had the luck of having my father oversee my decision-making process, which allowed me to stay true to the purpose that I had laid out. He kept me “grounded”. When creating HK Digital we were again blessed with having a partner who contained our excitement and kept us focused. When you lack such an individual, it is even more important to define the purpose ahead of time, and consider that your rulebook from which you should not deviate.
Finally, this will allow you to outline all the key aspects of your business. How much money are you able to spend on acquiring a customer, what is your cash burn rate, and how your business will allow you to solve both.
I know that it is a mouthful but bear with me. The umbrella term “market research” is not relevant enough to your business. It is way too vague and leaves you with more problems than solutions. From experience, I find that mostly eCommerce businesses are guilty of this practice, after all, they operate on a global scale thanks to the internet, right? So, the whole world is their customer and they can sell to whomever they want. Wrong.
Say that you are building a business that focuses on high-end luxury pet food, this is already incredibly specific and then you receive a market research document that covers some of the world’s largest pet-food producers, you have effectively achieved null and void. Those companies are not your competitors (they are in the broadest of interpretations which is why I avoid the umbrella term). But they certainly are companies that you aspire to be. Instead, your research should have been focused on companies operating in your niche, those are your competitors. But don’t stop there.
Go further and ask questions regarding where your customers are based.
See, if you prepare your research well you will get a far better understanding of how to reach your customer base. Generic market research fails to answer this question, it is about as useful as me telling you that in order to sell pet food you should target pet owners. Most companies will default to a specific set of marketing channels that they have heard of, and heck most businesses that are starting out will follow this exact trajectory:
Naturally, not every business will end like that but if you start out like that, check out this Loom video I made to explain what is wrong with this process (if you feel personally attacked, well, good because that means you are learning a valuable lesson here).
The above is a concrete example of a super common practice, that completely fails to understand the customers that you are pursuing (unless of course, you started out your business to sell products to your parents in which case feel free to ignore me).
While I was working as a Growth Hacker for Skriware I started out by conducting solid market research to understand where the target audience for the product they were creating was hanging out. Instead of setting up shop and throwing online Ads at people, I instead sought out places with high traffic of parents and children and offered workshops to build awareness and a customer base for the product.
If you conduct proper market research and go out of your comfort zone, you will be able to find how to best reach your target market, often without having to spend a significant amount of money on advertising.
An instrumental part of any growth plan is a businesses ability to conduct tests, this so called testing framework forms the basis of any growth strategy. Understanding what and how to test formulates your ability to answer key-questions which then in turn can be translated into business success. Again, how and what you are going to test will vary per business, but in general if the prior sections of your growth plan have been successfully implemented this section will be more of a practical one, rather than one based on heavy brainstorming.
Your ability to test is dependent on a variety of items, with the most obvious one being your resources. Resources not only in the form of budget, but also including time, people and ability to gather and process data. Often I find that businesses are wanting and willing to test everything and anything, which fails the objective. Finding a testing-sweet-spot is difficult, which is why we specialize in building a unique testing framework for each business we work with. If you are testing too much or too little, you are burning resources that you could have easily allocated elsewhere, so how much is enough?
Statisticians be damned. Many of the tests you will run with your business will not be statistically relevant, meaning that in practice you would not be able to translate your test results to the general world, but that is not the point. The relevance is for your business. Building on our own example, we decided that testing items like our homepage/our CTAs/etc would not be a part of our first testing framework, while relevant, we also knew that to obtain any meaningful results for such a test we would need a ton of traffic first. At this early stage in our journey, this was simply unattainable, so we moved elsewhere. Note: we did configure the right events in GA/FB to start measuring this data.
Instead, we focused on our outbound sales funnel. We focused on the first thing that mattered, our email open rates. Our setup is quite simple:
1. Email Subject line: 2. Email Intro: 3. Email CTA: 4. Email Ending:
Arguably, we could have added more here, like the form. There’s an interesting article on this which you can read here.
The level of importance matters in the above setup, when building out our framework we know that the Subject line is the most important variable to focus on. It has the most significant impact on the open rate, so we prioritize that with our tests. Our first batch of emails were split in two batches, both with a different subject line, and both of a totally different nature. Keep in mind that your framework will form the nature of your future tests!
To build your own testing framework you can use our free blueprint to get a head start.
Armed with your framework you may feel ready to start executing your tests and propel your growth plan to the next level, however, you are still in need of a clear and important understanding of your own definition of success. A popular term for this is the so-called ‘North Star Metric’ or ‘NSM’ for short. I agree that in general every business has a single NSM that helps it reach exponential growth, the problem lies in finding it.
I have often had the pleasure of working with various financial institutions for whom the NSM was simply the number of people who had funded their account. While working for a SaaS invoicing solution I was eventually able to determine that their NSM was having a person send out their first invoice. It was in fact so relevant that more than 50% of users who had submitted their first invoice would continue to use the software for at least a year. The problem that you will face when looking for this NSM, is that you will often simply not have enough data (yet) to determine what this metric is.
Worry not though. We had the same problem when starting out with HK Digital, so instead of focusing solely on what our potential NSM could be, we instead opted to focus on metrics that were relevant to us at that point in the growth plan. Benchmarks, benchmarks and benchmarks. Understanding that in our industry the average open rate for emails was 10%, we took that as our baseline and we worked our way up from there. Any email template we sent out that failed to hit that mark, we ditched/improved on to ensure it would hit that metric. You should do the same for your business – take things one step at a time, and ensure you have a definition of success for every step.
When building out the growth plan for your business, it is important that you consider the why, the general market you are operating in, how you want to reach your customer base, your testing framework and finally, your own definition of success.
Understand that this is a step-by-step process and that it takes time, cutting corners in this business will most likely not get you ahead of the curve. Time and time again I have experienced entrepreneurs attempting to skyrocket their growth efforts by conducting random exercises, implementing what they think rather than what they know. This can kill your business. If it was an easy endeavor I would have had to have a totally different job and we would not exist. But here we are and here you are reading it, trying your best to make sense of what you read.
Look if there is one thing I want you to take-away from this article, it is the fact that you need patience to achieve success. You need a growth plan that makes sense from the ground up. And if life has taught me a lesson, it is that as a business owner, it is incredibly hard to stick to your guns, to ride out the storm and find greener pastures. Which is why we are here for you, we can help you achieve your growth, help build your growth plan and ensure you stick to it.