There is a painful amount of terrible advice in the Growth Hacking space. It annoys me to see entrepreneurs wasting so much of their time on strategies that only work in extremely niche cases, or methods which have zero chance of scaling into anything that will affect a company’s’ bottom line, particularly if they’re a startup with no money or money running out in the next three-six months. Most growth hacks can move the needle pretty fast, but no one wants to give those away. So here’s a cheat sheet anyone can use to find/use growth hacks literally today. Feel free to ignore my advice, of course.

1. Growth Hacking is a successor to (black hat) SEO. By that I mean there are white hat (ethical) strategies that can work (e.g. Uber’s refer a friend and you both get credit) and black hat strategies (like the “sharing economy” site that spammed thousands of ads on Craigslist to get early traction, the social network that texted and emailed your entire phone book when you downloaded it, and the social news site which started with hundreds of fake user accounts. You can find all three easily enough with a bit of Googling, if interested). Also, the best growth hacks are kept secret by a tiny segment of people who make money through affiliates (more on that later) and running marketing agencies with seemingly magic results. You won’t be able to find them.

2. It’s virtually impossible to hire good growth hackers. They can make thousands of dollars every day from affiliates, controlling thousands of fake accounts or websites to send a tiny trickle of traffic from each one of them. In aggregate, this adds up to a TONNE of traffic/revenue/users. Which, naturally adds up to a tonne of money. So most will never need to join a startup for a comparatively small monthly wage.

As such, you need to learn how to growth hack yourself. You’ll have to hire someone eventually, but having solid knowledge will reduce the amount they can bullshit you.

3. Disregard basically everything you read on blogs about Growth Hacking. Ditto if you wanted to find out how to do Content marketing, social media, or SEO. It’s 49% people who have no idea what they’re talking about, and 49% those who do know, but don’t give away any of their key secrets. (About 2% can be useful, but it’s probably a bad use of your time to try and find it).

4. Forums and secret groups are where the real gold is if you want to be a growth hacker. Jump into a time machine and step back into the 1990’s, when people would converse on message boards that look horrible (by today’s standards), and be certain that no-one is using their real names. Because these sites are hidden away from the public and look so off-putting, the real growth hackers can converse and share secrets/knowledge in peace (they never share the niches/products/services they’re working on, but the methods can be applied to lots of different products, and by helping each other, all ships rise with the tide). Some of these boards you have to pay to be on to keep the n00bs (amateurs who are new to Growth Hacking) from hijacking the threads with questions they could solve with a simple google search. Many of these private forums are worth paying for. Finding the right ones, of course, will require some testing.

5. Buying traffic is for losers when you’re starting out. There are so many ways to get free traffic. If you can’t get any, you aren’t fit to be a growth hacker. Having said that, you will need a budget to try out tools, software, e-books, memberships etc. to find growth hacks out of the box. Some will work, some won’t. that’s the game we’re in. Trial and error. Some of these are known as “zero day” hacks — They are loopholes that will eventually get found and plugged by Google/the social networks etc. So make hay while the sun is shining, kids.

6. Get comfortable being uncomfortable. The higher the risk, the higher the return. It gets easier with time.

7. Aggression is the precursor to success. It runs through every high-achieving business for the last 100+ years. Growth Hacking is just a new channel for an old emotion. As my Secret Sauce co-author famously said: “Organic growth is almost always a complete lie.” It’s in everyone’s interests for companies not to reveal the tactics they used going from zero to one.

8. (Caveat) Growth Hacking can’t save a bad product. Even worse, the amount of traffic/users/revenue growth hacks can bring in for virtually any awful product/service can convince investors/founders/employees that everything is going well, until it isn’t. Use Net promoter score and try and get 40% or more of people you survey about your product to say they would be “very disappointed” if the product went away. (Hat tip Sean Ellis for that one).

9. Don’t worry too much about how your site looks, the placement of the buttons etc. until you have some traffic. Many a startup have spent weeks on the perfect layout, design, and user experience, only to have no idea how to get traffic to try the site out. Once you have the traffic coming in, it’s real easy to tweak and change things to improve your conversion rates. When you don’t have the traffic, it is IMPOSSIBLE to be successful.

10. Once the word gets out about a growth hack, the clock starts ticking. Influencer networks used to be the cost effective way to reach millions of people easily, by paying teenagers who suddenly found themselves with more eyeballs than most television channels. Once the genie was out of the bottle though, agencies rushed in, prices went up, and people with 5,000 followers started charging $50 to put an Instagram post on their profile for four hours (lol). Influencer marketing is still just about better than more traditional forms of online advertising, but two years ago was an absolute steal.

11. Always be on the lookout for the next channel/avenue/source. By the time Forbes or Buzzfeed is doing exposes on how kids on Snapchat/Vine/Periscope are earning big bucks as they have thousands of followers, it’s already too late. Whether building the channels yourself or paying others for their reach, being first is everything.

12. Growth hacks don’t have to be online. My friends at events app Dojo printed out letters saying “We all quit our jobs to start this startup. If you like going out in London please download our app”, stuck them in envelopes, and stood in a train station every morning for three weeks handing them to everyone on their way to work, presuming they may want somewhere to go out after.

They got thousands of downloads, met partners and investors, and accidentally found their perfect audience: they had presumed hipsters would be into what they were doing, and in fact found city boys working in finance, who were flush for cash and had no idea where to go out in London, loved it. This 45 minutes it took each morning was time they would have otherwise spent drinking coffee. Find out where your target audience hangs out, and how you can you get in front of them. [LinkedIn / Vin Clancy]