I had an interesting chat with Elina Furman recently. Elina runs Elfin Marketing, a creative agency focused on helping innovative baby and kids brands.

Elina has had a fascinating, illustrious career – she’s been a a writer for both print and online publications, entrepreneur, consultant.  It was a very fun conversation, and Elina was full of insight, wisdom and good cheer. She talked about the need to adapt or die when faced with new marketing channels, and about the importance of paying attention to your personal feelings about your work.

Here’s a cleaned-up transcript of the conversation we had:

“You’ve done so many things at such great scale – how did you begin?”

“I had always done marketing through my startup and online work, always loved it. I started out Elfin Marketing with Dockatot as my first client – a hybrid agency between traditional PR / influencer marketing , email marketing, website optimisation, design, product development.

When I started with Dockatot, they had no marketing in the US. Instead of hiring someone in-house, I wanted to stay in my own agency.

With Dockatot, I did influencer marketing, built the website, figured out the website, taught myself backend and Shopify from the ground up – and today it’s the number 3 most registered baby product.”

“How did you get in touch with Dockatot?”

“I had a publishing company called A-list mom. It was email company when email was big before bloggers – there were email companies (like Daily Candy, for example), and our company a list mom – 80,000 email list… it was good – all organic growth, Lisa had sent me her product. this is the most amazing product i had ever seen… and I had all this experience writing about baby products.”

“I’m very careful with who I take on. If my influencers don’t want to write about it, if other moms aren’t going to want to promote it, then I’m not going to take them on. I only work with clients that have something so amazing – and they’re all still in the growing phase, just starting out.

A list mom – early marketing – promoting through partnerships with other media properties, other brands who had email lists, do giveaways together, sweepstakes, grew the list to the point where we were at – but I got tired of selling advertising space. to create a simple way… I didn’t want to run a blog with huge websites… wanted to deliver something cool and concise and minimalist to moms’ inboxes.”

“People started hearing about Dockatot and hearing about what I was doing, and everybody wanted to be the next Dockatot story.”

I had learned enough about what’s working, tested all the apps, developed a formula with influencer marketing that was really effective, huge database of influencers, very elite influencers, that I have personal relationships with – these other brands started coming to me and asking me, would you be able to work with us to refine our marketing / branding. I always loved that part – I see a website and think, “Oh that’s so wrong!” I’d always helped people but never monetised it, launched my startup, media properties…

“Can you tell me about how you work with new marketing channels?”

“I was so against Instagram at first, after having been through so many platforms – email, another platform… But I’ve met so many business owners who are just doing direct-to-consumer with all of their traffic coming from Instagram, so I’ve learned to adapt.

We use many different channels now – Youtube, Facebook advertising. But Instagram has been that reliable source that leads to all other channels. they create so many assets for us that we can leverage and push out into other channels.

I don’t really focus on Pinterest, but we’ve had so many influencers posting on there that we ended up going viral on Pinterest – and that’s one of our strongest channels without much management.”

“Tell me more about the rest of your clients!”

“I like to focus on the innovative products. I’ve had companies come to me with great products, but I don’t really see innovative or new about it, so I turn them down.

Binxy Baby is like a shopping cart hammock, started by a mom of 4 kids, doing very well, had some great early interest, perfect product that was just waiting to blow up. So I did the strategy with them, increasing their brand awareness through Instagram and influencers. Now they have big box stores coming to them. Buyers are looking at these channels, what moms are talking about. And then the wholesale side starts functioning much better.

The same with Ollie World, it’s a product that so many moms love.

I always check reviews. if a client doesn’t have amazing reviews, and the moms aren’t screaming about it, I won’t take it on.

You cannot market a faulty product. The product, the reviews, have to be there, and people have to be passionate, the customers have to be passionate for this to take hold. So I always look first to reviews.

Finn + Emma, they were more a organic baby lifestyle brand. I also did the same thing, they’ve been pretty successful as well because they’re innovating, and always thinking about what we can do to innovate. What will be ‘the’ wow product? I can get to be in every aspect of the business. helping to develop products. That’s what’s fun… otherwise I get a little bored.

Can you tell me how ReferralCandy has helped you and your clients?

“Dockatot was my first client where I saw first-hand what ReferralCandy can do. You could go affiliate model, share-a-sale – but the ease and simplicity of running ReferralCandy made it the obvious choice.

“Being the sole proprietor of my agency, I like all-in-one programs and apps – with ReferralCandy, with Dockatot, any of the clients, you’re getting the virality element, people posting on Facebook, people started their own websites – Dockatot is profitable for the referrers and advocates, it allows you to create a very effective sales force at a very reasonable price.

“Some other companies have strong ambassador platforms, and you can push out content, but the pricing on those is very high… ReferralCandy is that perfect combination of affiliate/referral with all the technology, very scalable, very customisable… Dockatot is a big brand now, but when I started it was small.

“ReferralCandy is fantastic for companies that have extreme buy-in and loyalty, like Dockatot and Ollie World. I don’t think it’s gonna work for every single brand – I’ve tried it on some other clients, they don’t have the traffic yet to really make an impact, and there isn’t that loyalty cult following for the brand.

“The advocate has to legitimately want to share the information with their friends and followers. It can’t just be about making money. Nobody really wants to promote with “I just bought this and maybe you’ll buy it”. Rather, what I see is – “My baby just slept, this is best swaddle in the world,” that’s where the real success comes in. There has to be this confluence between the materialistic and altruistic… it’s all about the personal attachment to your product.”

Do you have any advice for new stores?

1. Start by figuring out the market fit.

“That is the most fundamental thing. Some people talk about ‘minimal viable product’, let’s just get it out there – that’s fine, and I understand… but I am a big believer in getting product right and putting it on the market and getting great reviews from moms. Those reviews are what are going to sell your product, whether on your website, on your Amazon, people are not going to refer a product…”

2. If you’re developing a product, figure out IP, innovation – do you have something that’s protectable?

“You can make a lot of money just going straight to the Instagram route and doing a copycat product and just marketing like crazy, but if someone can replicate (blankets), just copying each other – unless you’re first to market, it’s going to be really a tough hurdle. You need to be somewhat first to market, have some sort of protection for the IP that copycats can’t come around. Now everyone’s just copying everyone, so you need to have unique positioning in the market.”

3. Prepare to market 48 hours a day.

“It just doesn’t stop. There’s always a new app to research, a new platform, now there’s stories, Facebook live, and you have to…

But also remember to pace yourself, don’t burn out. You really have to market your own business, give it to somebody – outsource that portion. as much as you can, you cannot focus on distribution, product development, manufacturing AND marketing. you can’t do all of those things well at the same time.

So partner up with someone who’s strong at what you’re weak at, hire others, that pays off much more than trying to do everything else yourself.”

4. There’s so many people who say they know what they’re doing, but there’s nothing’s established.

“So many people think that they’re a social marketer or digital marketer, but hardly anybody has any idea what it takes – the pace, the frequency, the commitment it takes. They think you just post a photo. It’s a full 360. You still have to understand traditional marketing, brand partnerships, you also have to understand social media.

You want to partner with strong brands, get yourself up to a point where other brands want to work with you so you can support each other. We’ve been very lucky to partner with some of the top companies in the baby space. Once people see you’re playing in the big leagues, you can grow  your email lists, do so many other types of marketing.”

Do all your clients use Shopify?

Everyone runs on Shopify except one. It’s really easy-to-use, has great service, there’s easy access to such a great variety of apps, it has the best reviews, great themes.

What apps do you like?

Conversio (previously Receiptful)– Receipt app that lets you upsell in the app, nice pickup and revenue.

Abandonment Protector – allow you to do other followups. they used to only do 3 emails when someone abandons, but now you can do other emails. With Dockatot, if we want them to upgrade to the bigger size once the baby is older, we can set up that parameter, and they can follow-up.

Loox – I went through a lot of review apps. Loox is affordable, it incentivizes reviewers to put a photo with their review. Social proof, peer to peer reviews, so it was a no-brainer to use Loox. Incentivise them with a special discount if you use a photo with the review. People love to read reviews.

Vantage – I used Vantage for a long time primarily for their Facebook ad platform. What I can do with each client is, in 5-10 minutes, create retargeting ads, prospecting ads, based on the Shopify customer profile. Dockatot is running extensively with them, amazing returns. I’m really happy with them. It’s so easy to create the ads, you just upload the photos, pick the campaigns – Facebook likes, abandoned carts, it pulls it all directly from Shopify. They optimise the ads – if it’s doing well they’ll optimise it. That allows me to really function as effectively bigger agency without the $10k-$20k minimum fees that most agencies have.

(Vantage Case Study)

How do you deal with tonnes of clients?

“I’m trying to cautious about that. I have had to say no to so many people. I value the time I have. If I can’t make an impact – I think of it in terms of revenue increase – if I can’t increase your sales, then what am I doing? These are smaller companies, $1m to $10m, if I can’t make a dent in that then I’m not doing my job. The goal of marketing is to increase revenue. That’s how I view it.”

How did you end up choosing ReferralCandy?

“I started looking for a refer-a-friend programs – refer your friend you’ll get a % off. Initially I just went with ReferralCandy because it was  one of the options. Then what sealed the deal for me was the support. Bryan called me – real great – and he locked me in. He called me and said you can optimise your program if you give a cash reward instead of an advocate. That skyrocketed.

That changed everything, just the fact that he called me, he followed up. Normally, when you sign up for an app, nobody cares. But Bryan looked at our program, he wanted to improve it, he went the extra mile, and we saw so much success because of his suggestion. Everyone’s been really nice, ReferralCandy’s’s been great with their customer service. I haven’t seen another referral app that I think would do a better job. I feel you guys have… it’s not so many bells and whistles, but it does what it says it’ll do really well, and the service is great.”