How to Find Growth Channels for Your Startup

In this article, we’re going to walk you through exactly how to find some new growth channels for your startup. Over the last decade, I’ve led growth at a couple of different startups from pre-revenue to post revenue, to several million dollars in revenue. So overall, these are just some personal experiences that I’ve had as well as some tips and tricks that might be useful for you.

Step #1: Acknowledge that growth is hard

So the first thing I would tell you is that it’s really important for you to acknowledge right up front that growth is hard. It’s something that is going to be difficult, and it’s going to require testing. If you don’t set realistic expectations in terms of different growth channels, right out of the gate, then you’re going to be coming up across a situation where you’re going to really struggle to find the actual channel that works well for you.

In the growth world, I’m always recommending this to folks because too often than not, people are trying to come up with a magic bullet or a new audience place, which doesn’t really ultimately matter for getting growth unlocked for their particular organization.

So what I mean by this is if, for example, you’re selling a sales enablement tool. Well, what you want to think about is what are some sales conferences that people are going to, or where do the best sales managers or VPs of sales go to to hang out? What I like to tell folks is go where the fish actually are. Why are you reinventing the wheel? Too often than not, I think when it comes to growth in general, people try to come up with such an innovative idea that it’s just too out there versus where they actually should be focusing their efforts. So first things first write down exactly where your customers are hanging out.

Step #2: Bucket your customers into your ideal customer profiles

From here, once you have those written out, what you’re going to do is you’re going to bucket your customers into your ideal customer profiles. So this is the part where you’re going to think about your average customer and the goal here is for you to identify who are the two to four most commonly served customers in our business. Or in the case where you’re pre-revenue, who are the two to four customer types that we really want to serve most in the next few years.

When you’re doing this, you’re going to want to think about what their desires are, what their budgets are, who the key decision makers are, or who they might be looking to impress are. Essentially, what you’re trying to do is just figure out what are the motivations behind these different prospects. So expanding on that example of a selling a sales enablement tool, what I’m thinking about are who are the new managers that we might be selling to versus the experience to VPs of sales or chief revenue officers.

Step #3: Hang out with your ideal customer profile

From here, where are you going to do next is you’re going to go hang out with your ideal customer profile. I can’t emphasize this enough. If you’re not doing customer development in the early stages of identifying your growth channels, then you’re doing yourself a great disservice.

Sometimes people approach growth at startups from the standpoint of, well, we think they’re going to do this, and we haven’t talked to any of our customers about this, but we have an inclination, and so we’re just going to go ahead and do it. That is not the way to approach it, especially when you’re trying to identify the best channels for your organization.

Step #4: Know what they care about

So now it’s all about connecting the dots. If for example, there is a professional association where you can sit in on a few meetings or just get to know some of the key people in those organizations so you can understand more about what their needs are that is the ultimate goal here in this stage when it comes to identifying growth channels.

Ultimately, the reality is that if you cannot speak to what your prospect cares about in such a vivid way, that they feel like you’re inside their head, then you haven’t done enough customer development, and you need to go back to the drawing board of talking to more folks.

A lot of times this is especially applicable advise for early stage startups, that still validating their idea. They’re working through product market fit, and they’re just kind of throwing stuff out there for who they think they’re serving, but they’re not actually talking to enough customers to know whether or not their customers care about what they’re creating.

So this is really important in the process where you’re pre-product market fit or even the stages where you’re in early product market fit, where it’s not really crystal clear exactly the value that you’re going to provide to your prospects. Remember people ultimately pay for products or services because they fundamentally make their lives easier.

The most important thing when it comes to identifying growth

At this point in time, once you’ve done your customer development, identify your growth channels, all about brainstorming ideas that have leveraged.

This is a really important takeaway here. And what I want you to think about is how can you talk to a lot of your ideal customer profile or engage with a lot of them with just one key action. If for example, that’s cold email, what you’re going to identify is what is the personalized email approach I can take to reach out to a hundred sales managers if I’m selling the sales managers.

Or maybe in your customer development, you’ve realized that all these associations have really good attendance in terms of their membership basis, and that what you can do is you can offer some live events.

What would you want to think about in that situation is how can you create small group environments of at least 30 or so folks so that you can do one presentation as opposed to doing 30 presentations with 30 different folks. Another example is maybe you’re going old school and you’re going to do direct mailers as your growth channel. In this situation, what you might do is you might want to design an experiment for how you can get batches of addresses that you can send a hundred mailers out at once as opposed to just 20 or 30.

Ultimately the takeaway here is you want to think about growth ideas that are going to have leveraged for you and your team. In most situations, early stage startups are working with small growth teams. Ultimately, what that means for you and your team is that every idea that you’re really trying to test and validate needs to be a force multiplier. You cannot be thinking in just individuals singles. It’s not something where you’re just trying to get more individual calls done every single week with prospects.

Instead, you’re trying to think about more scalable ways to actually get in front of the right customers. So what’s a recent example of this. Well, I noticed when I was first joining my most recent company, that a lot of people were hanging out in Facebook groups and that they loved hanging out here. They were posting every single day in these Facebook groups about all the things they were doing with other people that shared similar job titles to our ideal customer profile.

So what I noticed was that these Facebook groups weren’t creating real genuine moments of community building in terms of having live events for these folks to go hang out with each other. So what I did was I tested out live events in which we would have these small group environments where people can meet and greet with all different folks from all across the nation who shared similar work to them in their day to day.

So what we started to do was we put together some live workshops where we would feature somebody from the community and talk about some sort of topic that all these people would care about. And then we’d have a question and answer section where they’d be able to interact and hear from others in terms of learnings on that particular topic.

The reason why that’s so powerful is because we took something that was becoming purely digital in format in terms of typing down exactly what was going on in the Facebook groups and turn it into something that was more human. We allowed humans to connect with one another, and that ultimately became a big growth channel for us last year because these live events would become hangout situations for all of our prospects.

And from there, our prospects get really warm and fuzzy feelings about us as a brand, because we are the people that are always giving them some great opportunities to connect with other peers in their space. So sometimes we would do direct sales pitches on our product or service, but other times we wouldn’t need to do that at all.

And the reason why is because ultimately we were the curator for the event. So regardless of whether or not they were thinking about our product or service today, they’re going to ultimately turn to us when they actually needed to solve the problem that our product solves. So the next time that you’re going about your typical day, trying to identify growth channels, what I want you to really focus on is what gives you leverage?

In the example, I just shared, we’re able to host an event and have hundreds of our ideal customers in the same room at the same time, with the same use of the one hour slot. And that’s really powerful because it allows our small growth team to continue to drive impact and get more leads for our business.

What you can also think about is as you’re going about your typical day to day, how do other businesses use ideas with leverage? For example, you’re going to Costco you, what you might realize is that the samples are an idea that gives leverage. There’s one employee that’s giving samples to 20 plus people at a time which effectively expands out their funnel than if they were to have individual meetings with every single person that wants to sample that product. So that is a leverageable idea that you see right there.

The biggest mistake people make

One of the biggest mistakes I think people make when it comes to finding growth channels for their startup is they try to do too many things at once and they don’t actually focus on aligning the channel that they have in mind with their core market and what resonates with their market. Sometimes it’s not about reinventing the wheel. It’s literally about looking at what’s going on in your space and how can you 10X that experience.

I knew that those live events were going to work because of A: the Facebook groups, but also because we had some competitors that were doing some general live events. But when I watched the replays of those competitors, they were all boring events that had no engagement with the audience. It was just somebody speaking at an audience, kind of like a really bad classroom experience where your teacher just lectures you and then tells you to go do your homework.

And so if you can think about ways that you can connect to the needs and desires of your prospects, and then create these engaging experiences that don’t just sell your product or service, but they sell a collective experience, well then you’re going to have yourself a great growth channel.

The other thing that we’re not going to be able to dig really into it today is just make sure that you’re testing enough different ideas. As long as you’re executing on testing one to three different growth channel ideas every few weeks or so, you’re ultimately going to get to your major breakthrough, which is then going to serve as the basis for a foundational building block of your growth engine.

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