Business ideas: Growth hacker

The Silicon Valley principle of growth hacking is gaining traction in the UK – opening freelance opportunities for tech-savvy marketers in 2015…

Introducing yourself as a ‘growth hacker’ may incur some rolled eyes, it’s a term that sounds a little, well, pretentious – and deliberately vague.

In fact, you’re unlikely to find a definitive definition for what growth hacking is. Sean Ellis (who originally coined the term) describes it as “a person whose true north is growth” but it’s also defined as “combining engineering, designing and marketing simultaneously in order to find optimal product-market fit” or as wrapping “messaging into the fabric of the lives and thoughts of users” – alongside a host of other definitions.

However you define the term, what’s clear is that the principles of growth hacking are extremely effective. A number of Silicon Valley giants from Dropbox to Twitter swear by growth hacking as the key to scaling up from zero to millions or hundreds of millions of users in just a few years.

And like many successful elements of Silicon Valley, the term ‘growth hacking’ and therefore demand for growth experts, is slowly filtering into the UK start-up scene.

According to the National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR), there are nearly 300,000 businesses in the UK’s digital economy – and this number continues to rise. What’s more, a decent percentage of these firms are looking to scale-up fast – and growth hackers are being hailed by a growing number of start-ups as key to achieving this.

So, if you’re a tech-savvy marketer looking for a new challenge in 2015, becoming a freelance growth hacker could offer an exciting opportunity for 2015…

Starting a growth hacker business: Why it’s a good business idea

Whilst growth hacking is most commonly associated with the US start-up giants of today, WhatsApp, Airbnb and Dropbox to name a few, we’re now seeing the term filter through to UK start-ups – with a number of businesses looking to recruit hackers over more traditional digital marketing roles. Work In Startups – a jobs platform where “start-ups meet rockstar employees”, has featured nearly 20 job posts for growth hackers in the last few months alone, from a range of emerging start-ups including e-commerce platform and Startups 100-listed Grabble, events discovery app Explovia and Kate Middleton’s brother’s marshmallow start-up boomf.

Although these listings were for full-time positions as opposed to contract-roles, it’s a great indicator of a rising demand. Furthermore, while currently the opportunities lie primarily with consumer internet companies, experts predict there’s the potential for the trend to eventually reach most marketing departments and agencies – with marketing teams increasingly talking about “road maps” as opposed to ads and budgets – so the market is only going to get bigger.

And it’s not surprising, Dropbox provides a great example of the potential of effective growth hacking. Sean Ellis launched Dropbox’s pioneering scheme that gave users up to 16GBs of free space for encouraging friends to sign-up, an incentive that saw Dropbox’s sign-up list explode by 600%.

There is also a growing support community for growth hackers. GrowthHackers.com, a community network in the US (established by Ellis and others) that encourages users to share “ethical online marketing techniques that drive effective, scalable and sustainable growth techniques” is extending its UK presence. The UK Twitter handle for the community now has 19,000 followers and an inaugural GrowthHackers conference took place in the UK late last year.

Growth hacker business opportunities

While the word hacker often refers to a software developer, being a programmer is not actually a prerequisite, although you will need to have a deep understanding of technology and how technology-based solutions (databases, APIs and related tools) can be used to grow a business and optimise conversions. An understanding of content marketing – how to create, curate and distribute valuable and relevant content is also key. Finally, of course, you must understand what it takes to accelerate a company’s growth.

If you’re currently working in a role where you feel you’re already utilising most of these skills, but have always wanted to be your own boss – becoming a growth hacker consultant represents a viable freelance opportunity for 2015.

Growing start-ups represent your best target market. Large companies may be able to have growth hackers in-house and full time – whereas for small, growing firms, hiring consultants is more feasible. It should also be rewarding freelancing for fast-growth firms on the cusp of success where you can make a real difference.

How much you can charge on an hourly basis really varies, the average rate for growth hackers on PeoplePerHour seems to be between £30-40 but there are also much lower rates. The key thing to consider is that you’ll need to be realistic with your pricing initially – as you begin to build up a portfolio and testimonials – you’ll be able to increase your rates. The good news is that the space is still fairly unsaturated – so competition remains fairly low. Listing yourself as a growth hacker could help you stand out against other, more ‘old school’ marketers, but bear in mind that it might be worth including other terms in any listings you post on freelance sites (such as digital marketer), while growth hacking gains more recognition.

Of course, eventually, you may find you’re getting too much work to manage on your own. In which case you could look at expanding to run a growth hacking consultancy firm, taking on other employees that you contract out.

Who else has started a growth hacker business?

Freelance growth hackers operate around the UK – so it’s hard to pinpoint exactly who’s going freelance right now. For a quick indication, a search for growth hackers on LinkedIn brings up 330 people (some freelance consultants and some permanent employees) and there are currently 524 members of the London Growth Hackers Meetup, over double the number of members compared to this time last year.

There are also a number of successful growth hacking agencies, such as London-based True Up. Claiming to be the “number one agency in London”, the firm has worked with an impressive list of clients including Regus, Wayra, Silicon Milkroundabout, Technology Will Save Us and Bizzby. The agency works with clients either on a project basis or on a monthly retainer, claiming that its “unmatched results” outstrip anything that could be achieved by hiring an internal member of staff.

Insider opinion

Liam Reynolds, founder of True Up, discusses the rising demand for growth hackers, sharing why it offers a rewarding and fun business opportunity:

“Growth Hacking is an amazing business opportunity for a number of reasons, not least because you can see almost instantly what positive impact you’re having on a business. A quick search on Work In Startups or Google Trends reveals exactly how popular it has become over the last 12 months as businesses want to make limited budgets work harder and harder. This has only been amplified with tales of how the likes of Facebook, Dropbox and Airbnb have used growth hacking techniques to become household names. Regardless of whether the term ‘growth hacking’ falls in or out of fashion, there will always be significant demand for someone who can really move the needle on growth.

“At True Up we’re also noticing that quite a few big brands are waking up to this alternative approach to digital marketing. It’s highly likely that growth hacking will become more mainstream over the next five years. So anyone who starts to develop a proven track record of growing a business will become extremely valuable and have great opportunities ahead of them.

“There’s also the fun aspect of growth hacking that’s highly rewarding. It covers a lot of different areas so one day it might be conversion rate optimisation, the next fusing email marketing with Facebook advertising. It’s never boring. The best growth hackers combine analytics and digital marketing with tech and psychology. These are four very different areas and they create a world of endless possibility and creativity when mashed together.”

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