This is part six 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 think a lot of people thought Trefiel was bigger than it was. To be fair, what we were doing as a company was becoming better and better with each month –

It really looked like the company had a huge team. We only ever had small team of talented individuals in the business though. Everyone was just really good at what they did… and hard workers too.

Lucy Bloomfield, Co-Founder

Michael Tremeer, Co-Founder

Demi Dacanay, Right-Hand Woman

Karen P’ng, Marketing & Strategy

When I’ve spoken about Trefiel since it closed down, I’ve noticed that a lot of people were surprised that for much of the business, it was myself, my business partner and my virtual assistant working on the business.

That was initially out of necessity and finally, out of design.

One of the biggest lessons for me in building Trefiel was coming to understand what type of person I am and what I want out of a business.

I’ve spoken in the first post of this series and the wholesaling post of this series about some of my (perhaps unrealistic) dreams for the company.

Another one of those dreams was having a huge business, with a team and a beautiful office.

I haven’t achieved that dream yet and I may never.

What I learnt from having a small team is that management and leadership is an entire job by itself. 

If you don’t take hiring seriously, if you don’t take structuring the company seriously and if you don’t take management seriously, you will build a business you can’t effectively control and potentially, a business that fails.

I say this because I experienced it myself.

There were times in the business where I dreaded logging onto our Slack channel because I knew I’d have hundreds of messages to read, fires to put out and internal conflict to soothe.

There’s an element of naturaly ability and desire to being a great leader as well.

Whether you learn this about yourself prior to building a team or after, I think it’s important to know who you are as a person if you really want to make a business work.

Defining what you want your life to look like as a business owner is a great place to start.

How to build a life you want around your business

When I started Trefiel, there were two elements which would make it successful for me:

  1. Being able to call the shots and have complete control over a project; and
  2. Having the ability to run the business from anywhere.

I’ll discuss the first element later in this post, but I know I did a fantastic job of preparing the business for me to leave the country, which I talked about in Part 5: How to build an efficient business.

Knowing what you want your life to look like needs to drive the way you build the business, from internal processes to marketing.

Everything we did internally – from only hiring remote team members, to delegating almost every task beyond the key revenue generating and management activities – was done with the end goal in mind.

I think that’s a really important perspective to keep in mind as you’re building your business.

Whether you’re a:

  • Homebody with a love of gaming;
  • Digital nomad at heart;
  • Someone who is only interested in more time with your family; or
  • Dreaming of the inner-city office;

Knowing what you want from your life is essential to building a business that supports that. If you’re successful, you’ll arrive at a destination that allows you to live the life you’ve always dreamed of.

I think that’s why we all go into business. 

Once you know what you’re building (and why you’re doing it), the rest is a matter of execution.

How to structure the business so you’re able to hire correctly

I mentioned in my last post that we made a critical error in the internal processes of our business. That error? Not defining responsibilities and roles from the start.

My hope in this post is that you’ll take my mistakes and lessons and not make them in your own business.

I really believe that for all of Trefiel’s success, we made a lot of stupid mistakes that we could have avoided if we had done this. Defining roles and responsibilities would have made it easier for us to hire for what we needed and what we lacked.

It can be as simple as writing in a Google Doc who’s responsible for what.

Knowing who is responsible for what allows the person in charge to take ownership of the wins, the losses and the lessons that need to happen to grow as a part of the business.

It will also allow that person to take ownership of growing the team within their role.

The 2 ways you can approach hiring

If you’re at the stage in your business where you want to hire, there are two ways you can approach it –

  1. Outsourcing your workload so you have more time; and
  2. Hiring for an area outside of your skill set.

Both can work, but both also have their negative aspects too.

Hiring to outsource your workload

Personally, I think if you’re a person who wants to focus on growing your business, this is a great option. The more you can shift the work that doesn’t generate revenue or growth off of your plate, the more you can focus on the activities that do.

There are sub-options within this option as well.

  1. You can hire someone who is very clever and switched-on that is trainable. I think if you do go with this option, you need to be the type of person who wants to actively train and manage someone.
  2. The other option is hiring someone who is very clever, knows the job and is autonomous. These people are hard to find. The only advice I have to give is don’t hire the first person you find and give them tests.

Lots and lots of tests.

Hiring for a new skill set

This is arguably the better option although more difficult.

If you’re not great at reading people or detecting bullshit, this can lead you to make some really terrible decisions. I know when we tried to hire out our paid advertising (without understanding the platform ourselves), we made poor choices.

This was the result of the ads we outsourced.

Admittedly, I didn’t do my due diligence when hiring them, have the experience to know what I was really looking for or set specific goals to measure their performance against.

Now, I hire a consultant to conduct my initial, technical interviews.

What this allows you to do is get help wading through the unlikely candidates from someone who has the know-how to do the job for you, but isn’t looking for a full-time job.

How to hire for culture and customer fit

On culture fit

You’re probably familiar with the idea that your employees need to fit into your company culture. Personality clashes aren’t fun and often lead to internal team politics.

One of my good business friends, Tina Swinkels from Institute of Code, gave me some incredible advice about hiring for culture –

Spend more time with your candidates than you think you should.

Go to dinner, do activities and talk about everything.

Work, passions, dreams, interests, hates, politics.

There’s nothing quite as illuminating as listening to a potential employee talk about deeply important topics.

Don’t skip this.

I have hired poorly because I haven’t invested the time into hiring properly. You can avoid my mistakes and wasted time by doing this.

On customer fit

One really important lesson I learnt was how important it is for your marketing team to be:

  1. Your exact customer;
  2. Have very similar interests; or
  3. Deeply empathic as human beings.

If you’re hiring someone who has none of these elements, they’re going to struggle relating to your customers. If they can’t relate, they can’t get on your customer’s level and really communicate with them.

If that is missing from your communications team, you might as well not have one.

What happens to you when you hire right

When you hire right, you can be a great employer and minimise you needing to micromanage your staff. 

But I know you because I know myself.

Most entrepreneurs (myself included) can be controlling. It’s in our nature to add structure and want our vision executed precisely.

I think letting go of the reins is one of the best skills you can learn as a business owner. Some things matter – hiring, running the business efficiently, managing capital, growing your business – and some things don’t.

  1. Figure out which things matter and need to be handled by you specifically in your business.
  2. Then delegate the rest, giving your team the opportunity to show what they’re capable of.
  3. If you’ve hired well, you’ll likely end up with something that outshines your own vision.

Being controlling and driven is what has gotten you this far.

But if you want the business to grow and your team to grow as individuals, you have to loosen your grip. Let your team have ownership over their work and responsibility for their mistakes.

This is something I didn’t do well, especially within Trefiel’s management team. 

Perhaps naively, my romantic partner and I decided to start a business together 6 months after dating.

It was while we were on a trip to Israel that I made the decision to leave my cushy coding job and start an eCommerce business. We were having samples sent to our home while we traveled one of the most incredible countries I’ve ever been to.

I remember being so certain we’d have no disagreements, no communication problems and absolutely no differing opinions about what to do in the business next.

Perhaps naively should probably be re-written to say definitely naively.

How to make your business partner relationship work

Starting a business with a partner is difficult at best. Adding in romance is a whole other degree of difficulty.

My naivety and general lack of experience meant that what I had envisioned was not going to be the case.

I’ve since learnt that what I experienced in my partnership is actually quite common in most romantic-business partnerships and certainly in most business partnerships, where there are two people trying to control the ship.

I mentioned earlier in the post that I had wanted control and ownership over a project.

While my business partner worked a full-time job, I had complete fulfilment of that desire and need. But up until that point, I had done a very average job of growing the business.

My head was wrapped up in storytelling and being the designer I am, I cared more about branding than I did sales (which we’ll talk about more in a future post).

My business partner’s input and guidance are ultimately what brought Trefiel to a new level of growth and profitability. We couldn’t have built what we did without his input. 

The only issue was that in him joining the team full-time, I lost the fulfilment of a core part of my needs.

I no longer had ownership and control over what was happening in the business, not even the work I was responsible for.

I didn’t realise how important this need was to me, but it is.

I’m a self-motivated person. I need the autonomy of trying, learning and making mistakes on my own merit in order to feel satisfied in the work I did and continued to do.

That wasn’t happening and my satisfaction levels dropped significantly.

This is why it is incredibly important to define your roles and responsibilities and to hand over ownership and responsibility to the person you’re in business with, whether they’re an employee or a boyfriend.

Doing so will cost you, but it will also add to the experience.

In saying all that, I do think there are certain qualities in any relationship which will allow you to work together well:

  1. If you both move on from arguments quickly, the partnership will be a lot smoother. It won’t work (or will be incredibly difficult and perhaps not even worth the time) if someone is always stamping their feet days after an incident.
  2. If you both spend time defining your roles and giving each other room to take ownership of those roles – both the achievements and the mistakes – without judgment, stealing credit or taking over, you’ll have more chance of succeeding.

Mistakes are inevitable in business and in life.

The unfortunate part of business mistakes is that they can cost you thousands, tens of thousands and occasionally hundreds of thousands of dollars.

If you’re in business with someone who:

  • Understands that in you’re playing a game that will see you brought to your knees and bleeding money on occasion;
  • Respects you as an equal, capable human being who is doing the best you can with the skills you have;

You’ll have a better chance of making the business succeed together.

I know all of this may seem basic if you’re in a loving, respectful relationship or the person who you’re wanting to start a business with seems level-headed.

But don’t be fooled by your lack of experience –

You will suck, you will lose money and it will hurt and stress the both of you, romantic partner or not.

Hurt and stress sometimes make us behave in unexpected ways.

If any of the above points raise a flag or sound familiar, I would think very carefully about starting a business together. Starting a business is not a walk in the park. It will add a whole new element of stress and responsibility to any relationship.

You can’t fire your romantic partner as your business partner…

Well, I suppose you can. But wouldn’t you rather avoid that situation all together? I know I would.

Regardless of how well you prepare or strategise in your hiring, at some stage, you will need to fire an employee. Particularly if hiring is something you’ve never done before.

What you need to know about firing

The hardest part of firing is knowing when to do it.

Every person quotes “Hire slow, fire fast” as if it’s the easiest advice to follow.

But when it’s your business and your team, it’s more difficult than you think.

I haven’t had the opportunity to practice firing to the point of considering it a honed skill, so I’ll reserve giving you advice on the best way to do it.

My only real advice for this situation is something that I’ve also noticed in my personal relationships –

The moment I need to talk to a third-party about someone else, there’s a problem that needs to be fixed by communicating or by removing that person from the situation.

What problem is big enough to result in the removal of an employee from your business?

There are a few things which I could never forgive and would ultimately end up with the employee being fired:

  1. Stealing;
  2. Causing internal team conflict;
  3. Inability to complete tasks and/or results;
  4. Poor attitude (this ties into point two); and
  5. Lack of autonomy.

If I have to sit down next to you so you’ll work, I can’t keep you in my team.

If I have to dissipate unease you’ve caused, I can’t keep you in my team.

If you take what isn’t yours, I absolutely cannot have you in my team.

Those are my expectations of anyone who steps into my business. I dare say with more experience and failures, that list will expand.

Let’s pause here

Recently, I’ve been fortunate to gain a few mentors who have built far bigger businesses than I have. When I asked them for advice, they each said –

Don’t hire employees.

They were, of course, joking… partially.

The management of humans is without a doubt one of the hardest parts of running a business. But if your goal is to grow your business, employees are a part of the journey to that.

In Trefiel’s case, it wasn’t until we hired that we were able to expand our capabilities as far as what we did with our marketing.

In fact, without the team we built, we wouldn’t have been able to build the 40% return customer rate that I am so proud of.

But more on that in the next post.

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There are 13 posts planned out – from starting an eCommerce business to influencer marketing, brandingwholesalehiringfiring, customer retention, shipping and the mistakes I made while growing my own eCommerce business.