This is part seven in my blog post series “From 0 to 10,000 customers”, documenting everything I did to grow my first eCommerce business. If you’re new here, take a look at the whole series or start with Part 1: How I started my eCommerce business.


I have to confess that this is the post I have been looking forward to writing least.

  • It’s not because I can’t teach you about marketing (oh boy, can I teach you a lot about marketing).
  • It’s not because I want to withhold my secrets and sell you a course.

It’s because I was one of the worst marketers the internet had ever seen for the first 12 months of  Trefiel.

I was bad. I was bad, bad, bad.

I knew nothing about marketing when I started the company. The only selling I had ever done was on a street stall in Canterbury, UK.

This is essentially what I was selling. If you want real-life marketing advice and experience, selling tattoos on a tourist town street is a good place to start.

I sold $8 paint-on tattoos to tourists who passed through the town. It was summer, they had cash to spend and it wasn’t a difficult sell.

Looking at Trefiel and the product we had, it wasn’t a difficult sell either. But I struggled selling it.

I wasted so much time and money on tasks that didn’t matter or didn’t convert.

But you know what?

For someone who had no marketing or business experience, Trefiel was the perfect business to jump-start a new career. Throw myself in the deep end. Sink or swim.

There’s no better way to develop a foundation in whatever it is you want to do.

So this post is real-life marketing advice from someone who knew nothing three years ago. Quite literally.

Should you learn business & marketing theory?

Some will argue I would have been more effective if I had a degree in marketing or business before starting. It’s a good point.

At the very least, I could have spent more time learning the theory behind marketing and business in my own time. But I didn’t see the value in studying theories on how marketing works.

Instead, I chose to get my hands dirty and learn it myself.

If I had of chosen to study marketing or business before starting, I’d be where most of my friends who studied are. Fresh out of university, no practical experience and trying to apply their $40,000 degree in the real world.

Instead, I’m one business, 10,000 customers and 4 years of real-business experience in.

Marketing theory is nice and fluffy, but it’s not tangible. Growing an audience and selling product is different to what they teach at University.

Looking back on my decision, I still think I could have spent even 1% more time understanding how marketing works.

I wasted so much time (the first 6 months of Trefiel) getting my hands dirty… but in all the wrong places.

I’m a creative through and through. I thought that by being creative and story-telling my brand, I could sell a tonne of product.

I was wrong.

Storytelling has a part to play in building a successful business, but it’s not the backbone of a successful business. Sales are.

We all talk about social media being the “thief of joy” because we compare ourselves to others on it.

I also think it’s a “thief of truth”.

As a new business owner looking in, you’d think that Frank Body’s Instagram was the reason for its success.

Frank Body's instagram might make you think it's all fluffy cats and cute photos, but that's not how they make their money. It's one aspect of their entire business strategy. That's real-life marketing advice.

How could it not be?

You look at their feed. You look at their imagery. You read their copy. Their ascent to dizzying heights must be because of those attributes.

Don’t get me wrong, it played a part.

But Frank Body not only had a team of highly-trained individuals running it, it was a well-oiled sales machine, positioned perfectly in a market that was ready to explode.

Branding has a very specific part to play and it’s not in direct sales.

I didn’t know this when I started Trefiel.

How do you market a new business?

We had this great product which I now needed to figure out how to sell. Naturally, I made every mistake in the book.

  • I created storytelling campaigns that built our brand equity but did nothing to sell the product.
  • I spent hours shooting Instagram content that had nothing to do with our product.
  • I created blog posts that didn’t mention our product once.
  • I did everything I could to NOT sell our product.

The truth is, how you market a new business is by selling your damn product, in as many places as you can, with as many methods as you can.

Looking back on this as the person, marketing and business owner I am, is difficult to swallow. I’m grateful that Trefiel was as successful as it was.

I credit this to:

  • My business partner’s acumen;
  • The team we built; and
  • My focus and commitment to only doing what moved the needle (in the end).

If you can get your focus right, you will be light years ahead of other business owners who start in the same place as you.

Business owner = business caretaker.

But… it’s not all bad news for the start of Trefiel.

Using influencer marketing to generate sales

In the first post, I spoke about one of our friends selling teeth whitening kits with influencer marketing.

This friend had inspired my business partner and myself to find a product to sell.

From there, Trefiel began.

We wanted to find a way to make influencer marketing work for our business and product. Although I was wasting time on our “branding”, I was also doing something worthwhile too.

I was reaching out to and managing hundreds of micro and macro influencers.

In my influencer marketing post, I talked about the mechanics of influencer marketing –

  • How to find influencers to promote your brand;
  • How to reach out to influencers;
  • How to manage your influencers;
  • How to deal with “no-posts” from influencers;
  • How to track the results of your influencers;
  • How to scale your influencer marketing to see success;
  • Plus a 17-page guide on using influencer marketing for your business.

But I didn’t talk about the strategy behind how we used influencers to grow Trefiel from 0 to 10,000 customers.

Trefiel’s influencer marketing strategy

One of the challenges we had to overcome was our customers not understanding our product. The concept of Korean beauty was still new at this point. Face masks hadn’t cut into the mass Australian market.

That’s what we tried to do with Trefiel’s product.

To do that, we needed to find influencers who affected the popular culture of Australia. We also had to build credibility.

To create that credibility, we decided to seed product into as many influencer feeds as we could. The idea was to give our product and company the appearance that it was “everywhere”.

It worked really well.

Combined with our macro influencer strategy to generate sales for the business, influencer marketing grew Trefiel enormously.

How micro influencers can establish a business

Whenever I share the impact of influencers on our business, the first question I’m asked is “how do you ask them”?

The beauty industry and community is immense. It wasn’t difficult for us to find influencers who were happy to accept product as payment. Most of them wanted to build credibility as beauty influencers themselves.

We helped them do that by gifting them our product.

The micro-influencers played an interesting role in getting Trefiel off the ground. They made the company seem bigger than it was and we had our online audience telling us “I’m seeing you all over Instagram”.

Even people in-person were saying it to us, so we knew it was working.

The cost of this strategy was what made it so effective for our company.

  • Trefiel’s COG were low; and
  • Our product shape and weight meant we could send out masks without a lot of expense.

Some of the micro-influencers generated sales. Most didn’t.

It didn’t matter because they pushed our name out and built our bank of user-generated content. We used these images and testimonials on –

  • Organic platforms like Instagram; and
  • Paid advertising on Facebook.

It also gave us credibility when outreaching and negotiating with macro influencers. They were the influencers who had a resounding impact on our business and helped us go to the next level.

Adding in macro influencers to your marketing strategy

We worked with a handful of large influencers (followings over 500k), on many platforms.

What I learnt was influencer marketing can be difficult to scale for niche products. The fit has to be right in order for the product to sell.

We spent (read: wasted) a lot of money trying influencers who didn’t look like our customers. We hoped that the more influencers we booked, the more product we would sell.

It didn’t work.

Unless you have a very broadly liked or wanted product (like a teeth-whitening kit), I don’t think it’s possible. The more niche your product is, the more specific your influencers need to be.

As a niche product business, we did well finding three influencers who sold product with their sponsored posts. If you’re a niche product business, I’d aim for the same.

Building long-term partnerships with your influencers

Influencers want to build their own business more than they want to build yours. If a competing brand comes to them and offers a higher fee than what you pay, they often kick you out. Even if you’ve been working with them for years.

So, how do you make sure that doesn’t happen to you?

You have to find ways to partner with your influencers if you want to keep working with them.

Help an influencer build their business while at the same time building yours. If you do, you’ll have a better chance of continuing the working relationship long-term.

  • They won’t stay for a regular sponsored post salary from you.
  • They can do so much more with their time, content and platform.
  • They could start their own company doing what you do.

We did not invest into doing this and it is one of my greatest regrets from Trefiel.

We had three influencers who had fantastic results for the company. We did not organise one long-term partnership with any of them.

That was a missed opportunity, but it’s a mistake I wouldn’t make again.

I hope you won’t either.

Take these relationships and the results they achieve for your company seriously.

If something is working well, focus on it. Make it better. Expand the strategy.

Focusing on what works in your marketing strategy

At the beginning of your business, you want to throw as many ideas as you can think of against the wall to see if they stick. This is one of the most exciting parts of a business because you don’t know what’s going to work.

The initial testing phase should bring forward 1-2 strategies that result in sales.

When you see these emerge, it’s important to knuckle down and “crack them”, so to speak.

Once you’ve done that, it’s your job as the business owner to create new opportunities for growth. But so often I see my friends and clients make the mistake of keeping a channel and managing it.

Once a task or channel is manageable and systemised, you need to delegate it.

  • Hire a professional who knows the channel and can run it autonomously; or
  • Hire someone who wants to get into the industry and is willing to work and learn.

Regardless of your decision, diversification has to be a number one priority for you. Which is why once you delegate, you need to start working on another channel.

Diversifying your marketing channels & income streams

Having a marketing channel work for your business is great. But what if that channel falls over or stops converting?

If your business is reliant on one channel for your entire revenue, you are a in dangerous position. If anything happens to that channel, your business could collapse.

You need to diversify your income… and that’s exactly what we did with Trefiel once we had cracked influencer marketing.

The next channel we decided to go after was Facebook Ads, which is probably no surprise to any of you. Every person on the internet is talking about the power of Facebook Ads and what it’s done for their business.

That’s because it’s one of the best advertising tools we have in existence.

We kept our advertising in-house with Trefiel. But since closing Trefiel, I’ve found what I believe to be one of the best Facebook Ads agencies in Australia.

Meet Hugh Rees from Expose Media

I’ve seen my friend’s businesses go from $300k per year to $1m per year with Expose Media. I’ve seen my client’s businesses transform with their help.

More than that, it’s the service and pricing structure that they offer to eCommerce businesses that makes me feel excited. I wish I had of known them when I started Trefiel in 2015. They know their stuff.

I’m incredibly excited to have Hugh Rees, the founder of Expose Media, as the first guest in this month’s post.

I asked Hugh to show you how Facebook Ads can help you take your business from where it is to a successful, profitable business.

Take it away Hugh!

This channel has a huge role to play in any business – service, eCommerce or otherwise. You need to take it seriously while it’s still cheap.

If I could have Trefiel again, I would do Facebook Ads first then influencer marketing. I see so much potential in Facebook Ads, as far as scale and what opportunities there are.

When you’re looking at what your main channel should be-

  1. Pick one which has a huge amount of potential; and
  2. Invest as much as you can afford to into that.

That’s what I wish I had done with Trefiel, but it’s what I do with all my businesses now.

Now you know the two main channels which we leveraged to take Trefiel from 0 to 10,000 customers. But they weren’t the only ones we used.

Using giveaway campaigns as part of your strategy

I was obsessed with storytelling and branding the company so that people would flock to us. In the beginning, I sucked at doing this. By the end, I had become quite a bit better at doing this.

The main mistake I made and I see a lot of other consultants and business owners make is believing crazy, creative ideas will convert with a new business.

I like to call these “wouldn’t it be cool” ideas because that always seems to be the start of my sentence when I talk about them.

I shouldn’t say that they won’t convert.

It’s more a case of they won’t unless you have a strategic backbone built into your campaign.

Storytelling has to have a sales strategy behind it to convert. The more incentive you give to your customers, the more likely it is the campaign will be successful.

Building these incentives into our marketing campaigns was the key to changing my terrible results. Once I did, our campaigns generated tens of thousands of dollars of revenue.

The platform we used to create giveaway marketing campaigns was Gleam.io. Using Gleam, we gave away huge prizes like:

  • Holidays to Bali;
  • Subscriptions to our Pamper Club; and
  • Luxury weekends away.

Having played such a big role in Trefiel’s marketing success, I had to ask Stuart McKeown, the Co-Founder of Gleam, to be a part of this series.

He’s going to teach you how to use Gleam to grow your small business.

The main reason I love Gleam’s software is how adaptable the software is.

Using the tool, we gained:

  • More than 100 social media reviews;
  • Thousands of emails;
  • Double our Snapchat following;
  • Insight into how our customer’s used our product (helping us run better, more profitable email marketing campaigns);
  • A user base of our Chat Bot; and
  • Tens of thousands of dollars in a 30 day period.

You can achieve almost any business goal with Gleam.

I would use it a hundred times over if I had Trefiel again (or if I started another eCommerce business).

Want to learn more about Gleam.io?

I have a few places to point you.

  1. I was featured on the Gleam.io blog to talk about how I used Gleam to increase customer retention.
  2. I documented how I used Gleam to triple my client’s sales.

If you’re looking for one tip for a successful campaign, here it is –

The most powerful entry method you can include in your marketing campaign using Gleam is questions.

The more you know and understand about your customers, the better a business you can build.

The answers we received from our customers helped us –

  • Structure our email marketing campaigns to make them better timed and more profitable;
  • Understand where we could improve our service or add to our offering; and
  • Change our tone and vocabulary, building a business that spoke like our customers.

Campaign strategy using Gleam is one of the packages I offer as part of Business 2iC.

If you’re interested in learning more about harnessing the power of Gleam.io for your company take a look at the program and get in touch with me.

The older Trefiel became, the more I understood that my actions should focus on making more money. Even after we condensed our team back down to three, we had even more successful marketing campaigns than before.

No more mucking around with fluffy storytelling or creative marketing.

I was driving our marketing campaigns to achieve a very specific business goal. What was the channel that proved most effective in doing this?

Emails.

Using email marketing to grow your business

The smartest thing you can do as a business, still, is to grow and nurture your email list.

Yes, it’s not as effective as it used to be. Even so, it’s still effective for generating sales and retaining your customers.

What should your emails contain?

I can’t answer that for you.

Emails need to around your offering and your brand. I can’t give generic advice and help you see results off a small section of this blog post.

What I can tell you is this –

You need to invest into creating two different prongs of your email marketing strategy.

  • Automations (Abandoned Cart, Win-back Funnel, Welcome Series); and
  • Regular Email Marketing (Sales, Giveaways, Gift With Purchases, BTS)

If I had Trefiel again, I would start with the automations first, then add routine email marketing as a part of your monthly work.

You’re not going to get your emails right on the first try. There’s an element of testing required to get the best results from any of these channels.

But if you keep testing, keep tweaking and keep going, your emails will begin to perform better.

Where do I start with email marketing?

If you’re stuck for ideas, I recommend starting with Really Good Emails. They have email campaigns from the best and most effective companies in the world. I always find something new and inspiring whenever I look on there.

Email is still effective in generating sales from your existing customers.

It takes a lot of money to acquire customers. For you to be able to afford that cost, you need to:

  1. Retain your customer;
  2. Increase their average lifetime value; and
  3. Increase their average lifetime with you.

The best way to do this is email marketing. It’s an investment that will pay back over the lifetime of your customer.

Go to the eCommerce Email Marketing Summit

I was a recent speaker for the online conference, eCommerce Email Summit, talking about everything I did with Trefiel’s email marketing.

Not only will you hear me speak about the tactics and strategies we used for Trefiel, but you’ll also learn from other world-class experts and entrepreneurs who used email marketing to grow their business.

Attend the summit

Full disclosure: I am an affiliate partner with the eCommerce Email Marketing Summit. I receive an affiliate fee if you attend the summit through these links.

Each of these channels are important. But I always come back to this as a business owner –

When and where you can, shift any channel that’s working off your plate so you can keep growing the business in other areas.

This doesn’t mean that you’ll never touch it again.

If growing the business is your number one task, then solving problems is number two. Marketing channels need constant management and problem-solving.

Let’s Pause Here

I’ve mentioned a few times in those post that branding doesn’t sell product the way direct sales does.

As a new business, your main priority has to be on generating revenue.

Even when you’re more established, you need to make the calls on what needs to happen for the business grow and remain alive.

Branding doesn’t need to be as big of an investment as you think it needs to be.

But it does have a part to play in building a successful business.

I say that as someone who spent a lot of time on my company’s branding (to my success and detriment).

  • It played a huge part in building Trefiel’s community.
  • It was the effort we invested into that that resulted in so many of our customer’s staying with us for as long as they did.

We had Pamper Club subscribers who didn’t even use our masks but stayed as subscribers because they loved us a company.

That’s the power of branding.

But more on that in next month’s post.


Want to learn more?

If you’d like to be notified when the next blog post in this series goes live, sign up below.

There are 13 posts planned out – from starting an eCommerce business to influencer marketing, branding, wholesaleoutsourcinghiringfiringand a few other valuable lessons I learnt while growing my own eCommerce business.