Growing a cosmetic product from 0 to 10,000 customers in 18 months.

Hello! Who are you and what are you working on?

Hey, my name is Lucy Bloomfield, and I co-founded Trefiel alongside my business partner.

Trefiel is a luxury sheet mask company that helps women see amazing results with their skin and squeeze in more me-time while they’re at it.

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What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

I was working for a US security company as their designer and front-end developer as well as teaching back-end programming with a UK company. Even though I had a great job, great salary and the freedom to travel and work as a digital nomad, I was starting to become quite depressed. I wanted to build something for me, but I didn’t know what.

It was at this time we heard from a friend who was running a teeth whitening company and selling hundreds of thousands of kits using Instagram Influencers. When we checked out the company, they had spelling errors on their website, and honestly, it was overall a very poorly executed business. I knew I could do it at at least the same level as they were doing, if not better, so the hunt for a product began.

I ended up sourcing a few different products from various manufacturers, and the lace sheet mask was by far the best. It was beautiful, different and no one in Australia had ever seen anything like it. When we gave it to friends and family, many with sensitive skin, they loved it. Some even asked to buy it immediately, so we know we were onto something and needed to order more.

Describe the process of creating and launching the initial product.

We worked with our supplier to tweak the original formula. If you’re not familiar with the Australian market, as a culture we really like natural products, and as a consumer goods product starting in a specific region, you need to focus on serving that demographic.

Once we had a formula that was acceptable, we ordered a few masks (I believe it was 1000 altogether) and had them shipped to our house with no labeling. That day I had to sit down and put the stickers on the front and back of each of them. It was a long, long day but the end result was worth it.

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Our launch was small and we used Instagram and many micro influencers to get the ball rolling with our first customers. I still remember the first time someone ordered from my store. My business partner and I tackled each other and rolled around on the office floor, screaming. It was such an exciting time.

We both had a background in tech and startups, so our main goal from the start was to run the company as lean as we possibly could until we saw signs that there was a reason to invest further. We didn’t register the company. We had a very basic Squarespace website which I believe we put together in a few days.

Everything was bootstrapped - we asked our friends to model for our website photos, we did all of the social media ourselves, and because my business partner and I were also boyfriend and girlfriend, we didn’t start with an equity agreement. We were both more interested in seeing if it would work and when it did, we went from there with setting up the company properly.

How did you use influencers to grow Trefiel?

Instagram and influencers were what we built our business off, although I must say the space has changed a lot since we first started.

Originally, we approached influencer marketing in two prongs - sponsoring posts on large influencer platforms, and gifting products in exchange for a post with micro influencers.

If you’re looking at using influencer marketing in your own business, here are a couple of my best tips for doing so:

How to find influencers

Typically, I start with my demographic and look to the platform they’re spending the most time on. Then from there, I’ll either use hashtags, keywords or audience insights to find people who are influencing in the space I’m trying to sell into.

Once you’ve identified a few key influencers, you simply reach out to them, introduce yourself and your company and ask them if they do sponsored posts. When you reach out, don’t waffle and don’t waste their time (they receive hundreds of emails every day). Be concise, to the point and respectful.

Working with paid Influencers

If you’re paying an influencer, you can have complete say over when and what they post, right down to the caption itself. I always recommend giving the influencer leeway to communicate to their audience in their usual way - the posts where we’ve written the captions for them have never performed well.

As for what type of content you should ask the influencer to post, it really comes down to what your product is. If you’re a fashion brand and influencers can sell your product without actually saying anything about it, you can see great results with a simple photo and one-liner tagging the photo.

On the other hand, if you have a product whose benefits need to be spoken about and the influencer’s experience using it is important, you need to strictly ask them to speak about this. If you don’t, they won’t and your product won’t sell.

Working with free, micro Influencers

If you’re not paying an influencer, you don’t really have a say over what type of content they post or when they can do it.

You can ask nicely and provide guidelines, but engaging influencers for free isn’t a guaranteed game. A lot of the time they won’t post or they won’t do what you ask. But, if you nurture the relationships and treat the influencer well, you can have some really great experiences, results, and long-term relationships.

The current space for influencer marketing

Established influencers want exorbitant money with no real increase in ROI. New influencers want exorbitant money with no real ROI at all, and their audiences are savvier and less trusting of influencers and sponsored posts in general.

More and more I find myself recommending brands to pick one or two influencers, over hundreds, and really develop great relationships with them. That’s where there are still opportunities.

You can organize long-term contracts with them for sponsored posts - we have done this previously. It’s a good way to keep the relationship going with an influencer. But if you really want to continue doing business with the person you’re working with, you need to actually go into business with them.

Influencers have a lot of leverage and, from my experience personally working with them, they want to build their own business, not yours. They often don’t have the skills or the knowledge to release their own lines though and that’s where you, as an expert in whatever field you’re in, can really help an influencer out (and the same in return). I’ve seen a lot of companies do partnerships with influencers, who have seen huge success and growth because of that partnership.

But, one word of warning - an influencer is not your friend. They are mercenaries, and they are often ruthless. If there is a better deal, they will go to it. There is no such concept as loyalty. So tread very carefully, make sure you have contracts drawn up and you protect yourself in every way possible when going into business with them.

What other types of marketing have you had success with?

Other than influencers, we did a lot of the typical e-commerce strategies to grow the business from 0 to 10,000 customers.

Content marketing and lead magnets helped us to grow our list and email marketing played a huge role in maintaining our 40% return customer rate.

Specifically, we had success writing content that answered our customer’s questions about skin care. This made our customers happy and feel like we were taking care of them and it also gave us fresh content for Facebook Ads.

When a blog post performed well with our customers, we knew it would likely answer other people’s questions about skin care, so we used that content to drive traffic to our site, acquire emails and convert the cold traffic into new customers.

As I mentioned, we saw a lot of success with creating lead magnets. A lead magnet is a piece of valuable content, such helping our customers achieve better skin, that we provide for the viewer’s email.

It’s not an overnight win, but if you put in 10 minutes every day for a year, you start to see something magical happen (and it’s all for free).

The lead magnets are an opportunity to give the customer a discount code for your site, and it will have a surprisingly high conversion rate if you align the content and your product as the solution to your potential customer’s problem. One of our best-performing lead magnets was a PDF with 6 tips on how to see incredible results with your skin using face masks.

As we were growing our list, we built multiple funnels depending on how a subscriber joined our list. If they joined through a lead magnet, we’d follow up with the same offer as what they had in the PDF.

If they joined through our site, we’d welcome them into the brand and give them core pieces of content that educated them on why they should use our product to take care of their skin. If they joined because they were a customer, we had a separate funnel that introduced them to the founders of the brand, what our mission was, what they could expect from us and some of our best content for them to read.

The customer funnel was the best performing with 80% average open rates across the entire sequence. I also believe it played a major part, alongside the typical eCommerce email marketing we deployed, in keeping people involved and interested in the brand.

Beyond our funnels, we ran flash sales to our email list every 6-8 weeks, and we were always throwing giveaways and looking for ways to spoil our customers.

Email was also the medium where we communicated directly with our customers about what we were working on behind-the-scenes and how we involved them (using quizzes and surveys) to help us shape the brand. Again, I think this played a major part in how much people loved us and our company. They felt they played a role in building it into what it was.

I worked really hard on building relationships with our customers so they would enjoy their experience with our company.

For example, I used platforms like Snapchat to build the rapport and trust that is so essential to any business today. In the end, we saw 22% conversion rates on our slide up snaps (insane) and 18% on our Instagram Stories, so I know we did a great job of doing this and it’s often one of the first platforms I recommend to clients now who want to build their business.

It’s not an overnight win, but if you put in 10 minutes every day for a year, you start to see something magical happen (and it’s all for free).

We also experimented with PR and got some decent opportunities from it, although the results from these opportunities were impossible to track. I think the biggest event we were apart of as a brand was the launch of 50 Shades Darker in Australia, although to be honest, it was the last event we sponsored because of the significant cost without quantifiable return.

It goes without saying that we ran many Facebook ads and experimented with all kinds of funnels, simple and complex. We saw a lot of success with content marketing and boosting the posts, over standard product advertising that you might see in the feed.

If you could go back, would you do anything differently?

Almost everything! Once you have a few years under your belt you start to get really, really focused on what’s going to move the needle. If you’re smarter than me, you’ll do that quicker. I wasted a lot of time executing ideas that I thought were cool but had absolutely no value to the business as far as acquiring new customers or increasing revenue.

One of those ideas was a campaign called ‘Be My Galentine’ which was for Valentine’s Day. There was no giveaway or incentive for our customers other than a once-off product launch and looking back on it, it could have been made so much better by giving them a reason to purchase that product - such as going into the running to win a romantic dinner for two or something similar. I think that’s a lesson that I take with me everywhere because it’s applicable in many different businesses and I find myself using it all the time.

I said this at another talk I gave recently, but part of being an entrepreneur is having an innate desire to create and make something out of nothing. Once you have a business though, you need to curb that desire in such a way that any and all ideas you execute must return immediate or long-term value for the business, particularly when you’re first starting out. It’s your responsibility as the business owner to put the business first always and that means forgoing great ideas to focus on the most important thing - sales.

Have you found anything particularly helpful or advantageous that you learned?

I think this comes back to the above, but I’m always focused on the strategy behind a business or marketing effort now. Here are some of the questions I ask myself before doing anything in my business or my clients now -

  • What’s in it for the business?
  • How will this help me now or later down the track?
  • Are customers likely to act with this incentive?
  • Are there any cons to doing this?
  • What’s a better option than this?

There are always going to be times where you’re not sure if what you’re planning to do is going to work, but you can at least use a framework to help you reduce some of the risk involved when trying something new or to make better decisions overall.

Where you are at now and what are your plans for the future?

My business partner and I decided to close down Trefiel once we became vegans and started educating ourselves more on the environment.

The more we learned about climate change, the more we realized that we were apart of the issue - sending hundreds of thousands of plastic packaging and non-biodegradable face masks out into the planet each year.

It was this realization, coupled with the fact that neither of us was passionate about skin care enough to launch a full skin care line, that resulted in us deciding to close down the company at Christmas in 2017.

Since then, I’ve been focusing on consulting and helping other businesses with their acquisition and retention strategies. I’m having a blast getting my hands dirty in so many other types of businesses, and it’s also giving me the revenue to pursue other ideas and projects, like a tool that automates my internal marketing campaign processes.

I think a lot about ethics and who is doing great things in their business without doing bad things as well. Every business has its flaws but I’m lucky to have stumbled on some particularly incredible clients, like Edgar’s Mission, who make the world a better place without causing any damage.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

I can code, so Woocommerce and Wordpress have always been very attractive to me because of its customizability and also the low cost involved with using the platform.

I think Shopify is great for people who have no idea what they’re doing but how much they charge their customers for basic functionality honestly makes me feel sick. I can’t believe there are themes being sold for $250 that look as bad as they do, where you can buy a Wordpress theme and use visual composer for less than $100.

I love and recommend using Stamped.io for automated reviews, they have a great team behind the tool as well. I also really like using MailChimp. I know there are other alternatives, but Mailchimp have upped their game recently and the product they offer is one of the best, especially for e-commerce.

Finally, Trello is the key to my ability to stay sane when running multiple businesses. I use it for everything - mapping out future plans for my own business, delegating tasks, onboarding new clients, brainstorming and just about everything you can think of.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources for your business and why?

Some great business, marketing and advertising books:

I don’t listen to a lot of business podcasts because I enjoy the process of learning hands-on rather than trying to absorb weekly information about entrepreneurship.

If you want to become a better marketer and storyteller, reading fiction will help you develop your language skills and ability to paint pictures with words. This is inherently important if building a brand with a personality is a priority to you.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

I had a friend ask me recently if they should pursue a new business idea. They said they wanted to, but they were worried they were going to fail. To that I said:

You are 100% going to fail, so you don’t need to worry about the uncertainty of whether you will or not. You will fail because you suck. But if you keep going, you’ll suck a little less each day and over time, that accumulates into competence until you realize one day you don’t suck at all.

So go out and suck until you learn not to suck anymore.

Where can we go to learn more?

Check out my personal website www.luchia.com.au.

I've also written some blog posts that you might find helpful:

-  
Lucy Bloomfield,   Founder of Interview: Trefiel

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