This is part 2 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’ve spent more money on influencer marketing than most people will dream of earning in a year.

There.

I said it.

Influencers and clever influencer marketing played a huge role in growing my business from 0 to 10,000 customers. In fact, I would say it was the sales channel which worked best for Trefiel. I’m not the only person or company who’s had this experience either.

Frank Body and Hi Smile use influencer marketing to take their revenue into the millions each year.

I joined the long line of companies like Frank Body and HiSmile who have used influencer marketing as their primary sales channel, turning over millions of dollars of revenue each year.

If you’re not in business or marketing, I know these numbers are shocking. The truth is, influencers have more influence over you, your purchases and your life than you realise.

Take a look at your Instagram

I want to you to scroll for three long flicks and answer these questions –

  • Out of all the posts you see, how many are sponsored?
  • Out of all the people you follow, who do you trust and take recommendations from?
  • Out of all of your own social media posts, how many of them contain a company and/or the product they sell?
The power of influencer marketing makes it a full-time job for many women and men around the world.
Here is an example of an influencer’s feed. The white circles are sponsored posts. This is actually not a bad example – a lot of influencers have sponsored content in every single post, with multiple brands.

If you’re an everyday person, you may not realise how incredibly powerful social media is to business. Let me tell you as someone who knows –

Social media is the number one way to build any business that sells directly to consumers or, to be more specific, you.

Social media platforms are commerce platforms

Here are 3 truths you need to realise about social media and the current world we live in –

  1. Regardless of whether you like it or not, “social media = commerce” is the truth.
  2. Regardless of whether you believe business and capitalism is bad, it exists.
  3. Regardless of whether you think the Kardashians provide real value to the world, they shape the core structure of our society every time they upload a post.
Kylie Jenner tweets about Snapchat. This is the power of influencer marketing.
The infamous Kylie Jenner tweet that cost Snapchat billions.

That’s just the way it is.

Influencer marketing is here and it’s here to stay

Although the industry is changing, the results aren’t.

Using influencers to promote your business and your product is a sure-fire way to boost sales… if you do it right.

That’s the first reason I’ve written this post –

I want to teach other businesses how to do influencer marketing and hopefully make less mistakes than I did.

The second reason is that I’ve come to realise just how twisted marketing is and how few people realise it. Especially the people who are targeted by marketing.

In an effort to balance out the work I do for businesses, I’m putting out information about business practices which affect you as an everyday person.

You can’t escape the realities of social media, but you can be more aware of what’s infiltrating your life via your phone screen.

Everything I’ve learnt about influencers and influencer marketing

In the process of building a business around an extremely niche product, I’ve learnt a lot about working with influencers.

It’s not all sunshine and sponsored posts when you hire someone to promote your brand.

I’ve had influencers –

  • Breech exclusive contracts with no communication about their intent to do so;
  • Go above and beyond what they promised they’d do;
  • Flake, lie and not show up when they said they would;
  • Support us in tough situations (thank you to Anna Missen who helped us fight copyright infringement).
Sometimes you meet great people who also happen to double as influencers, like Anna Missen from Alabasta Doll.

Through all of these experiences, I’ve come to realise that working with influencers is like stepping into a jungle where rules change swiftly and no person has any loyalty to any company.

In fact, if a competing company offers more money, an influencer will ditch you faster than they can say “so” at the start of every Snapchat. Influencers are not your friend, no matter how long you work with them for (at least, that’s my experience).

This is just one example of a well-known influencer switching between companies for monetary reasons.
Let’s not forget the Hello Hair incident with a well-known Australian fitness influencer.

If you are a business owner, I can’t stress this lesson enough –

Find other sales channels that work and run them parallel to your influencer strategy.

I’ll dive into this more in the post later but first, let’s talk about details of working with influencers.


How to find influencers to promote your brand

Before you start searching for influencers, you need to make sure they’re the right fit for your brand –

Once you’ve profiled what you’re looking for to represent your business and who your target customers are looking to for recommendations, it’s actually quite simple to find influencers.

There are three basic approaches to finding influencers – influencer tools, agencies and manual searching on platforms.

How to use influencer tools to find influencers

There are a tonne of influencer platforms out there that alow you to peruse a range of influencers in the one place. If you’re interested in investigating these more, take a look at HypeTap, The Right Fit and Tribe.

An example of what an influencer marketing platform looks like.

Personally, I don’t like using influencer platforms. In my experience, they don’t give you an accurate idea of what the overall sentiment of the influencer’s community is towards an influencer. If you can’t gauge that, you won’t know whether their community cares what their thoughts are on a product or if they’re just there for the booty shots.

If there any influencer tool companies who are reading this and would like to team up to build a better tool, please contact me!

How to use influencer agencies to find influencers

If I wrote down every influencer agency that existed, this post would take you an hour to read. There are a lot and most bigger influencers will be represented by an agent who ensures their client gets the best possible deal in any business negotiations.

Influencer marketing has become such an industry that influencers often require agencies to represent and manage them.
One of the hundreds of unsolicited emails I receive from social media agencies offering me influencers and influencer marketing services

I don’t like using influencer agencies either. I find a lot of them sign on micro influencers and charge their feeds out for a fortune, with very little community to speak to or return for the business. If you’re looking for content creators, this is a better place to start looking but if you’re a) looking to increase your sales and b) haven’t forayed into influencer marketing before, I would avoid them.

How to use manual searching to find influencers

This is my favourite way to find influencers. It’s time and labour intensive, but I’ve always found spending this initial time on discovery and assessing to mean I make better choices about influencers.

Here's how I do it: 1. Go to Instagram, 2. Search a relevant hashtag. 3. Scroll through all the images and find people who match. 4. Contact them. Easy.
This would be the first place to start if you’re launching or currently running a skin care company.

Basically, I identify what niche I want to find influencers in and on what platform, then I search flor them using those keywords and platforms. I go through their community to understand what type of relationship they have with the influencer and what they respond to best out of all the influencers posts.

How to reach out to influencers

This seems to be the point where a lot of business owners get stuck. I believe this is because you fear rejection from the influencer. To that, I say:

Influencers are in the business of influencing.

  1. They want to make money doing sponsored posts.
  2. They’re looking for great brands to work for.
  3. They are approached a hundred times a day by other brands.

You’re more likely to receive no response at all than to receive a scathing email rejecting you.

Don’t fear rejection.

Most influencers are looking to work with brands who align with their personal values and will appreciate you reaching out to them.

But how do you approach an influencer?

I was and am very grateful to have an influencer marketing gun, Kristina Ioannou from We Are Eden, on Trefiel’s internal team. She taught me the most out of anyone about communicating and negotiating with influencers.

Kristina Ioannou taught me a lot about communicating with influencers and navigating influencer marketing the right way
The mystery woman Kristina Ioannou, who is outrageously beautiful and yet still won’t let me take any photo of her ever.

Here are some of my main takeaways from executing multiple influencer marketing campaigns –

1. Keep your outreach email simple

Include relevant details about your business and product without going on and on. Keep the email to three paragraphs max.

2. Ask for their rates

If your influencer has more than 100k followers, ask for their rates in the first emails. They receive hundreds of emails each day and if you ask, you show you’re serious.

3. Don’t be scared to negotiate

Negotiate by being firm but honest. Having a small budget isn’t a problem (even for larger influencers), but wasting their time is.

4. Pay when you say you’ll pay

There’s really no need to explain this.

5. Treat your influencers with respect

Treat your influencers with respect from the get-go and throughout the entire relationship if you want to see results with your business.

Looking at the rules above, they’re more of a common courtesy and guide on business integrity than a specific strategy to approaching influencer marketing.

The truth is once you’ve figured out a system, outreaching influencers is actually a very simple process and one that my team and I perfected to the point of automation.

How to manage influencers

When you’re starting out with influencer marketing, you can manage anywhere up to five influencers without needing a system. But the more influencers you have on board, the more you really need to invest in a management system to keep track of them.

I’ve tried many different systems internally for Trefiel, from using Trello boards, spreadsheets and email (which in my opinion is the most difficult to manage).

In the end, Hubspot was the best because it allowed us to automate a lot of our internal processes such as following up influencers when they didn’t respond to our outreach email or when they didn’t post on their scheduled date.

How to use Hubspot to manage your influencers and automate your influencer marketing
In my Influencer Guide, I run you through my exact set up for using Hubspot to manage my influencers and automate my influencer marketing.

Regardless of what system you use, the set up is much the same –

  1. You want to categorise your influencers in the following ways – prospects, outreached, too expensive, booked, paid, product sent, follow up, post completed.
  2. You can use other categories but for a smaller operation, you likely won’t need any more than these.
  3. Then, like any sales process, all you need to do is manage the influencers you have, using the tool you choose and keep everything up to date

If the thought of systemising your current influencer outreach program is daunting, I can help.  Systemising, delegating and automating my own business was what made it possible to run Trefiel from beautiful Bali.

Automating and delegating influencer marketing meant we could travel the world while running our business.
The only reason we were able to move our business around the world with us was because of how we built the internal mechanics of how it ran.

 

I think it’s also important to note –

Even with careful management and pain-staking care, the best relationships with influencers can hit rocky patches and even fall apart.

Just like your personal relationships, sometimes no amount of communication can save what you once had.

How to deal with “no posts” from influencers you’ve hired

I would say the most common reason for influencer breakups or rough periods are caused by “no posts”.

“No posts” are when an influencer agrees to post (whether free or paid) and doesn’t.

I can’t tell you the number of times this happened to me.

In my case, I was lucky that my product was relatively inexpensive and easy to ship out, so when influencers didn’t hold up their end of the deal, it wasn’t a huge issue from a financial standpoint.

But if your product isn’t as affordable to replace or you really can’t afford to lose money on sponsored posts that don’t go through, I do have some tricks for mitigating risk.

How to make sure your influencers do the right thing by you and your business

  1. Pay with PayPal when and where you can. They’ll protect you if anything goes wrong.
  2. Pay your damn influencers. I see people complaining all the time about influencers not posting, but then it turns out they haven’t paid. You don’t have any grounds to stand on if you haven’t paid them. Okay, it wasn’t nice of them to accept the product knowing they wouldn’t do the post, but you can avoid that by incentivising them.
  3. Don’t be annoying. Incessantly emailing, using a rude tone and generally being disrespectful towards influencers will never work. You have to understand the mindset of the millennial (and younger) generation – they’ve figured it out. They can work from home, being themselves and there are brands clambering up their inbox walls to work with them. They. Don’t. Need. You.
  4. Make it worth their while to work with your company. Make it different, special, interesting and fun.

I know, I know. If you’re anything like me, it feels like you’re kissing ass. Let’s not pretend this isn’t exactly what it is.

If you’re not capable of doing this yourself, hire someone who can. I struggled to manage our influencers, so hiring Kristina was the best decision I could have made –

  • She could talk to them all day and was happy to do so
  • She’s a skilled negotiator and landed us multiple, excellently priced deals with large influencers (all while making the influencer feel as if they’re the most important person in the world).

She’s great and I highly recommend her.

How to track the results of your influencers

The question I’m asked most often is –

How can you tell if the influencer has worked or converted enough for you to pursue an ongoing relationship with them?

There are a few options.

  • You can set up a discount code which will show you how many sales can be attributed to that specific influencer.
  • You can also pay to have your companies URL in the influencers bio. If you attach tracking parameters to the URL, you’ll be able to tell how much traffic came from the influencers profile and if you have Google Analytics set up properly, you’ll be able to track conversions. This method won’t show you how many people found their way to you of their own accord from the influencers post, which depending on the platform of the sponsored post, happens quite a lot.
  • Finally, if a discount code and a bio link aren’t for you, you can clear your entire marketing schedule the day your influencer posts and see what happens.

I prefer the third option, although I’ve done both of the other two. Typically I can line up which influencer posted when with what happened to our website analytics and sales. It’s usually easy to see who converted and who didn’t just by this alone.

My favourite way to measure return on influencers and influencer marketing - matching revenue with influencer post dates.
The large spikes in revenue line up with the days I know our best influencers posted. As you can see, the result of our influencers posts are obvious.

As far as what results to expect from your influencers, it varies wildly –

  • It’s not uncommon for nothing to happen. A lot of influencers buy followers and don’t have a great sense of community in their following.
  • You can also see huge responses to an influencers post (we once 12x our investment within 12 hours for one influencer post).

This is why influencers and influencer marketing can be so hit and miss, even when you do your due diligence.

How to scale your influencer marketing once you see success

When you see success with any influencer, you must start focusing on finding more who speak to the same demographic as the one who gave you success. Even if that success is small – only making back your investment on the sponsored post is a good indicator – it tells you the demographic and product fit is right.

Depending on what type of product you sell, this will be really easy or really difficult. For my company and product specifically, it was difficult to find a plethora of influencers who were high-converting. The nature of the product itself and the brand messaging was tightly niched and difficult to spread across the masses.

But even if this is the case for you too, it’s still possible to see huge returns on a few targeted influencers. I typically find related influencers using the platform and doing the same identification work I do in the initial outreach phase.

The ugly side of influencer marketing

Nothing is perfect, least of all influencer marketing.

Over the past two years of working with influencers, I’ve learnt some very difficult lessons which hurt me physically and financially.

The online world is really no different to what you’ll find out on the streets – there are some wonderful people who you will stay friends with forever and there are people who will stab you in the back without blinking.

If you’re a business looking to use influencer marketing, tread carefully.

If you are supplied contracts by the influencer, make sure they are airtight and protect you as well. If they don’t, invest into ensuring they do.

If you sign contracts, make sure you receive a signed copy back from the influencer. Do not take chances with this, be rigid and inflexible when it comes to protecting yourself and your company.

If you have a contract which stipulates you have exclusivity within your niche, please make sure to have this section checked by a solicitor to ensure there are no loopholes the influencer can squirm their way out of. They can and will turn around and work with another company if the other company offers them more money and you haven’t protected yourself. Trust me, this has happened to me.

If you agree to create custom product for the influencer, only do this once you have a signed contract in place and the influencer has met all of your requirements to do this.

All I have left to say on this subject is be careful.

They are not your friends, no matter how long you work with them.

No matter how great a relationship you have with them or their agent.

They operate for themselves and themselves only.

If you’d like to hear more about the business of social media, take a listen to Episode 27 on The Love Note. It features Jess Parata from Life As a Wild Flower and it’s one of the more interesting podcasts I’ve recorded.

What influencer marketing taught me

Even with the negative aspects, there’s no denying the profound effect influencer marketing had on my business. While thinking about my experiences using this channel, I realised that the lessons from this channel extended out beyond influencer marketing itself.

Inside this experience, were core business lessons that I would take with me for the rest of my life.

Business is just like any other skill. While I was growing Trefiel, I had close friends who were growing their own businesses and learning the same lessons, albeit in different ways.

When I spoke to them about their experiences in the sales channels they chose, we all seem to come back to the 3 lessons that most businesses owners (new and old) tout as common knowledge. But just like I mentioned when I started my business –

Sometimes you don’t learn until you feel the pain of the lesson.

That was definitely the case for me.

Rather than sharing these lessons myself, I actually want to introduce you to some of my closest business friends who learnt, through the same experience or another, the lessons that we all have to learn when growing a business.

Lesson 1: Go all in on a channel that works

For this lesson, I’ve asked my friend Kjetil Hansen to step in.

Kjetil Hansen, Founder and CEO Deliciou, knows a thing or two about investing into a channel that works.

Kjetil is the Founder and CEO of Deliciou, a gourmet spice company that now offers vegan spices.

Did I mention that his claim to fame is making anything taste like bacon?

As a vegan myself, this opens up a whole world of opportunities in my cooking and I’m not the only one who thinks so.

With Kjetil behind the wheel at Deliciou, the company has gone from strength to strength over the last 4 years. When I asked him why it’s important to maximise the results of a channel that’s performing well, he said:

If you’re just starting a business, you have to test different marketing channels. I think we all make the mistake of assuming we know what will work. So often what we think will work, doesn’t.

That’s why testing is important, as is going all in on channel when you gain traction. I become laser-focused and work on leveraging it to its full capacity.

Making just one channel work well requires a lot of work and if you try to nail multiple marketing channels simultaneously, you won’t have a chance.

I agree with this completely.

If I could go back and re-do Trefiel, I would have invested heavily into the influencers we were working with (such as creating limited edition products). This would have taken our already great results from influencer marketing through the roof.

Lesson 2: But at the same time, don’t put all your eggs in one basket

A few months after I’d started Trefiel, I did a one-month stint as a mentor at the Institute of Code. While on retreat, my business started to grow rapidly and I had to turn down an ongoing role with the company, but I did stay friends with Tina Swinkels, the Co-Founder and CEO of the company.

Tina Swinkels the Co-Founder and CEO of Institute of Code has used influencer marketing to successfully grow her business.

Tina is one of my closest friends and we’ve shared the highs and lows of business and life together for the last 3 years. So it’s no surprise that we both had to learn this lesson, although I wish it didn’t have to be the hard way.

Here’s what she said about her experience  –

One of the challenges of influencer marketing is that you rarely know exactly how it’s going to turn out before you have tested it. There have been influencers we worked with who looked amazing on paper but just didn’t perform well for us, and others that performed unexpectedly well.
While influencer marketing can be an amazing addition to your marketing strategy, I wouldn’t recommend that you put all your eggs in one basket and stake an entire campaign on one influencer, or even on influencer marketing if you haven’t tested that channel or person before.
For many brands it’s potentially less risky to partner with multiple micro influencers rather than one bigger influencer.

Some lessons apply to certain parts of your life, but this is a lesson that I’ve taken with me everywhere – from relationships to self-care and business.

I think it’s unrealistic to expect one job, project, friend, goal or idea to be fulfilling or to achieve what it is you want.

That’s why I spread my time and self over many projects (that I’ve tested and are working), work on multiple ideas and share my life with as many friends that will take me (ha!).

Lesson 3: The industry is changing

I was well-timed when I started using influencers to grow Trefiel. Sponsored posts were only just beginning to gain traction and the prices that influencers wanted were viable based on the return those posts gave.

But it’s not like that now.

To illustrate this point, I want to introduce you to fellow business owner Pinar Parry, Co-Founder of Delta & Co.

Pinar Parry is a Co-Founder of Delta & Co and perhaps one of the bravest people I know. She recently spoke out about influencer marketing and what a wild ride it can be.
Pinar Parry is a Co-Founder of Delta & Co and perhaps one of the bravest people I know. She recently spoke out about an influencer she worked with who did terrible things to Pinar and her business.

Here’s what she has to say about using influencer marketing today –

When I started my e-commerce business Delta & Co 18 months ago, the first channel I looked to for marketing was Instagram.

The reason? I had read so many success stories of brands skyrocketing to stardom thanks to influencer marketing.

Here’s what you’re not told in those same stories – Instagram isn’t the same Instagram it was several years ago.

Influencers back then promoted products for free and it was much more authentic.

Now influencers are asking for big dollars and with the saturation of influencer marketing, the audience is far more wary of sponsored posts, hence the ROI isn’t always there.

This is my experience as well.

What worked a few years ago in influencer marketing no longer applies. At least not to the extent it used to.

  1. Influencers have less influence because the market is saturated (with influencers and sponsored content).
  2. Influencers want more money without necessarily providing more value. The ROI (return on investment) can often be less rewarding than it used to be.

So be careful. Protect yourself. Start small.

Let’s pause here

Influencer marketing was hugely effective for our business. But it wasn’t the only strategy we used to grow it.

In fact, there’s a whole lot more that I haven’t touched on – like wholesaling your product to the right companies to achieve recurring revenue and growth.

So that’s where we’ll continue from in the next post.

Want to learn more?

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

Lucy Bloomfield

I'm Lucy and I help businesses increase their customer retention. If I'm not working on client businesses, I'm talking about self-respect, communication and long-lasting relationships.