Some of our biggest wins have come from (ethically) leveraging the hard work that others have already done.
I know, I know.
I know exactly how that title sounds. And how it makes me sound.
But I hope you’ll hear me out, as the underlying concept isn’t nearly as nefarious (or parasitic) as it may seem.
One of the biggest challenges of building a startup from scratch is simply the amount of work that lies in front of you. It’s not all complicated, but there’s a lot of it. And one of the biggest killers of young startups is simply an inability to tackle all of the work that needs to be done before the money runs out.
In the constant debate between “working hard” and “working smart,” startups don’t have a choice: you have to do both, or you’ll fail.
A couple of years ago, Gary Vaynerchuk said it better than I can:
To win, you’ll need to work insanely hard, and insanely smart.
Working smart is about getting the biggest possible return for every minute of work that you put in. And part of doing that is putting work that’s already been done by others to work for you.
First, a Note on Doing This Right
Several of the tactics I share in this post involve building relationships with other businesses before you can leverage their work.
Real relationships are not transactional, and sending cold pitches to hard-working entrepreneurs asking if you can leech off of their hard work is, 99% of the time, going to get you exactly what you deserve: nothing.
It takes a lot of work to build relationships, and it takes work to put yourself in a position where you can leverage other people’s work.
But I promise you – and I’ll show you below – that it’s worth it.
5 Ways We’ve Leveraged Other People’s Work to Grow Our Business
1) Promoting Our Blog Posts
When we first launched this blog, we had a small handful of subscribers. A few hundred at most.
And to be honest, it was a ragtag bunch of email addresses that we had collected through various announcements and press releases over the years; they weren’t exactly the type of readers who would dependably become customers down the line.
And yet 24 hours after launching our blog, we had more than 1,000 new subscribers sign up.
Five weeks later, we hit 5,000 subscribers.
Through the power of leveraging the hard work that others had done to build their own audiences.
Nearly a month before we launched the blog, we began building a list of influencers who we wanted to build relationships with.
We looked for people who would not only have the type of audience we wanted, but those who could personally get value out of our content.
Then, we began engaging with them.
We left thoughtful, conversation-provoking comments on their blog posts.
We shared their content.
We did things that would be valuable to them wherever we could.
Later, once they knew we existed and saw us as contributors, we sent them a small ask:
Notice that we didn’t send them the post; we asked if we could send it to them. This is a technique we learned from Derek Halpern, and immediately set us apart from the hundreds of others shoving content in the influencers’ faces.
We showed them that we respected their time and expertise, and as a result, more than 85% of the people who received that email said yes.
After we sent them our first post, we got a lot of great feedback, from invaluable tips to improve our content, to encouragement that we were onto something:
As soon as we launched the blog, we asked each of these influencers, many of whom were now invested in our success, having spent time reading and giving feedback, to share the first post. By this point, most of these people, who we’d done a lot of work to offer value to, were more than happy to help us out.
This gave us huge exposure to audiences that these influencers had spent many years working to build, and in turn channeled tens of thousands of unique visitors – and thousands of subscribers – to our blog.
2) Guest Blogging
We haven’t just leveraged other people’s audiences for our own blog posts.
We’ve also gotten massive value leveraging the audience-building work other businesses have done by getting our content published on their blogs.
We applied many of the same principles from our own blog launch: building relationships with influential bloggers, engaging in their communities, adding value however we could.
And then, when we felt we had something valuable to share with their audience, we sent them a simple ask:
That specific pitch turned into this post on the power of storytelling, which was shared more than 5,000 times in the days and weeks that followed.
All in all, this strategy has gotten us exposure to more than 1 million readers who might have otherwise missed Groove entirely.
3) Releasing an API
Software companies with developer API’s spend a lot of time and money promoting their partner integrations.
That’s because open API’s are a fantastic way to let others do some of the work of making your product more valuable.
When we released the Groove API, we made it easy for other companies to build integrations that make Groove more valuable to their customers. These integrations also help put Groove in front of entire new audiences on an exponential scale.
— Beanstalk (@beanstalkapp)
From the other side, we’ve also gotten thousands of trial signups from users that found us in our partners’ integration directories; another great way to leverage someone else’s hard work.
4) Adding Value for Our Customers Through Other People’s Work
Leveraging other people’s work doesn’t necessarily need to be directly related to your product or your blog.
The only “litmus test” we’ve used to determine whether to pursue partnerships is simple: does this effort bring value to our customers/subscribers, our partners and our business?
A great example of that is our Small Business Stack, where we offer $20,000+ in free or deeply discounted SaaS software to startups and small businesses.
In essence, we’re leveraging the hard work that dozens of other companies have done to build valuable products for small businesses, and we’re offering the results of that work to our own audience.
Our app partners get helpful exposure, our audience gets access to awesome products, and we get thousands of new subscribers and heaps of goodwill in the startup community.
5) Participating in Events
Events are one of the most difficult, time-consuming things to organize. The logistics are often complex, there are thousands of moving pieces, and a ridiculous amount of planning that needs to go on behind the scenes.
But when they go well, events can deliver a lot of value for audiences, and for the individuals and businesses who are there to engage with those audiences.
Participating in events – doing talks and workshops – is a great way to leverage the work that the event organizer has done to engage with interested people.
While this is a new channel that we’re dipping our toes into, we’ve actually got one coming up today that I’d encourage you all to check out:
Unbounce is hosting an all-day online event today for International Conversion Rate Optimization Day, and our head of marketing, Len, will be doing a Google Hangout that covers how to get early traction for your startup, alongside Tommy Walker from Shopify, Morgan Brown from Qualaroo and Lance Jones from Flow.
I’ll be there, and I hope to see you there as well.
I’m also hoping that we’ll learn things that will help us better leverage events in the future.
How to Apply This to Your Business
The power of leveraging other people’s work is compounding. The more effectively you do it, the more opportunities will open up for you.
As you grow your profile through channels like blogging, guest blogging and building high-visibility partnerships, you’ll begin to see opportunities come your way that let you leverage other people’s work that require very little work on your own part. Opportunities like interviews, quotes in news stories and blog posts, and speaking requests. These have been another great channel for raising awareness about Groove.
But as you can see, this isn’t a one-sided strategy. Everybody involved needs to win.
It’s not a quick hack, either. It takes a lot of work.
But leveraging other people’s work means helping them win, while scoring your own big wins in the process.
And that’s one of the smartest ways to work.