Way to grow: 4 vital skills for 2017 [Opinion]

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With 2017 around the corner, it’s time to learn a new set of strategies, sharpen your skill-sets, and get ready for the challenges ahead.

One of these areas is marketing, which can differentiate your startup from the others, so to help you achieve that these are my top four essential entrepreneurial skills that you need to learn for 2017.

1. Become a ‘growth hacker’

If you’re looking to scale-up in 2017, you will need to build a growth hacking framework.

Growth hacking refers to marketing strategies that help you grow your business, and is more about the mindset than techniques or tools. A marketer follows a playbook, while growth hackers focus on experimenting with strategies that get results but may not fit into a set marketing method.

The best way to visualize a growth hacking framework is to imagine a three-layered sponge cake.

The first layer represents your business model, focusing on validating it with prospective customers and pivoting if necessary.

The second layer of the growth hacking cake represents market intelligence and the voice of customers - or understanding your customer’s persona and the market trends.

The third layer of the sponge cake is all about actionable techniques and strategies like landing page optimization, A/B testing, and conversion rate optimization.

The secret behind successful growth hackers is that they bake the cake step by step. If you just focus on implementing the latest digital marketing strategies you might not get the best possible result, but if you pay attention to all three layers, you’ll break through.

2. Get into content marketing

This is the art of engaging customers with epic content.

According to World Wide Web Size, as of November 2016 the indexed Internet contained at least 4.77 billion pages. That means, to grow your business in 2017, you must compete with a ton of competitors.

Fortunately, not many Middle East startups are contributing to those pages, yet.

You have to understand your customer and what they’re interested in; after that you can focus on crafting high quality pieces and sharing them with the right customer segment.

One of the biggest mistakes that many entrepreneurs make is that that they allocate their resources to generate high quantity content in both text and visual formats. I call that approach ‘Publish-and-Pray’, where the focus is on content creation rather than impact.

The secret behind successful content marketing is to produce high quality content on topics your customers are passionate about, and will read and share, and promote it.

3. Build ‘white-hat’ links

While content marketing and content creation is a great strategy for 2017, it will bring little value if you overlook the significance of ‘content promotion’.

Sharing your content on your own social media will only get you so far. That’s where white hat link building comes in, also known as organic growth hacking techniques. These are not paid marketing strategies that generate immediate results.

Black hat and grey hat content marketing refers to illegal and unethical strategies such as spamming blog comments, article-spinning, stealing articles and publishing it somewhere else to promote your content and get backlinks. Today, Google’s algorithm detect and penalize websites that use these strategies, and using black hat  search engine optimization (SEO) techniques may even get you your website de-indexed from search results.

White hat SEO strategies involve guest posting, broken link building and others considered as adding value to the community. For instance, when you create an article for a website, publish it as a guest post and include very useful links, it provides high value to the host website and its readers, and it also helps you get better exposure.

4. Deploy the influencers

As an entrepreneur, it’s vital to leverage non-paid marketing strategies such as earned media to reduce your marketing costs and increase your engagement rate. That’s where influencer marketing comes to play.

The categories of influencers are not limited to TV celebrities anymore; an influencer can be anyone with the power to influence or impact customer’s decisions. The recent US election clearly show that social media enthusiasts, bloggers, and brand ambassadors had more influence that many mainstream news outlets.

If you wish to leverage on earned media, you need to identify the right influencer for your niche and start building relationships. You might talk to journalists, bloggers, celebrities, Youtubers, webmasters, politicians, or social media enthusiasts.

The secret behind successful influencer marketing is patience and building strong relationships. Influencers are not like an ATM machine to withdraw credit from: you’ll certainly fail if you just pitch them with your business model, or ask for a feature in an authoritative magazine, or send an email to their followers and promote you.

It takes time to build relationship and you must also prove to them that you can add value to their business.

The factor that differentiates successful entrepreneurs from ordinary ones is emphasizing rapid growth, but perfecting your product and building a comprehensive solution isn’t always the right method to scale your business.

Instead, understanding the Middle East market and addressing local customers’ needs through different strategies will be the best way to grow in 2017.

Feature image via Pexels.

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