Disclaimer: I actually do sell products from time to time, but it's to cover the costs of sharing what I've made with someone. For instance, I might make more conditioner than I would normally make and accept money to cover the costs of my extra ingredients and packaging.
It seems like the moment someone picks up a new craft, they want to sell it (and people seem to consider you a freak if you don't want to sell!). I see a lot of products for sale on-line that worry me: When I see a lotion with 25% e-wax or see a scrub with real avocado as the first ingredient without preservatives, I know that seller doesn't really know what she's doing. I will never forget the post on a forum (that shall remain nameless) where the poster put up a recipe for a lip balm containing Vaseline, lime juice, and sugar with the comment, "I guess I sell lip balms now!" (If you don't know why this is a bad idea, you're really not ready to sell!)
Learning how to make really awesome bath and body products takes time. You need time to see if the product remains emulsified, if the colour stays true, if the fragrance morphs, if the bubble bath maintains its viscosity, and if the product will hold up in bathrooms, warm cars, and cold basements. If you haven't tested your products under a variety of conditions for at least a year, I would ask you to consider waiting before you sell.
I consider myself an experienced formulator and creator, but I made huge mistakes the first Christmas for which I made bath & body products. I used a ton of dead sea salts, and my bath salts became bags of cement. I forgot to use Vitamin E in my lotions, which meant their shelf life was maybe 6 months. I used short shelf life oils, like grapeseed oil, in my bath bombs, and they were rancid within weeks.
It takes time to learn your chosen art and become a true crafter. It's appealing to think of casting off the shackles of the work-a-day world and be your own boss, but there are so many factors to consider. Can you explain every ingredient and why you're using it? Have you created any of your own recipes? Can you tweak recipes as per customer requests, and do you even want to get into that whole custom making thing? Do you have any idea how to price what you're making? Do you have a brand identity that sets you apart from your competitors?
If you're considering selling your products, there are a few things to take into account.
1. Do you need to register your products or get approval of some kind from a governmental agency?
Health Canada requires that you submit information to them if you are selling, and most other countries have these kinds of reporting requirements. I understand the EU regulations are particularly difficult.
Click here for the Health Canada guide.
2. Do you need a business licence, tax registration, inspection of your home, and so on?
I know my workshop wouldn't pass an inspection with our local authorities. It's clean, but there's no way to sterilize wooden surfaces, and it would cost a fortune to install surfaces that would meet the stringent requirements. (Although I am planning on re-surfacing the floor and counter tops in the new year!)
3. Do you have insurance?
This is a big one. It's not easy to get insurance for bath & body products at a really reasonable rate because there is always the possibility someone will sue you! Talk to your local soapmakers' guild to see about coverage.
4. Are you labelling your products correctly?
In parts of the world, INCI names are required; in others, not. Are you putting the ingredients in the right order?
5. How are you going to sell your product? On-line, at markets, through word of mouth, through house parties?
Everyone and their dog has an Etsy site, and there's no way to know which shops are good and which are scary! How will you define yourself? Do you have a branding idea? What will you use for marketing tools?
As an aside, if you're going to have a blog, have a blog, and update it regularly! You don't have to write every day - I recognize people have lives and no one's as obsessive/compulsive as I can be - but write a few times a week to get readers to remember to come to your site. It's frustrating to return to a blog two weeks later and see the same post you saw last time! Give people something to read and enjoy, and give them a reason to come back!
6. How will you test your products?
Find a lab near you and get them to do some challenge testing on your products to ensure your preservative will stand the test of time. (And no, I don't know of any I could recommend.)
If you are ready to sell, there are agencies that can help you draft up your business plan and help you get started. Your town probably has a Chamber of Commerce or a Downtown Business Association and they can point you in the right direction. Look for small business agencies or local charitable or networking to help you learn the ropes, make connections, and promote your business. You might be able to get grants and financial support if you fit into certain categories, so look into that! (If you've been on EI in Canada in the last three years, you might be eligible for a small business grant!) And remember - making money takes money. If you don't have the right equipment and right supplies, you're going to be scraping by every month.
If you're doing some on-line buying for the holidays, consider a few things...
1. Does the seller call his/her products "chemical free"? If so, they really don't understand chemistry.
2. Does the seller use approved preservatives in products with water? If not, then run away now!
3. Has the seller listed all of the ingredients by their proper name? If not, then go to another store. (If there isn't a list of ingredients and your seller has a good reputation, write to them for more information. Some locations don't require retailers to list all the ingredients, and they're just following those rules!)
And a note to sellers in markets - Please be sensitive about scents. I love fragrance and essential oils, but when your stall smells so strongly of patchouli that I start coughing and have to leave that aisle of the market, you're not doing yourself or your fellow vendors any favours!