Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A few thoughts about starting a business...

I was over at the Soap Queen's blog, and there was a very lively discussion about starting businesses. I saw a few things in the comments that got me thinking and I thought it might make for an interesting discussion here...

Experienced soap and bath and body makers will tell you not to run headlong into starting a business based on these crafts. The reason I tell potential businesses owners to give it time before selling products isn't because I'm jealous of you, I'm worried about competition (note: I don't sell my products), or I want to ruin your dreams. I worry that a newbie making a bad product will give handmade products a bad name. I worry that you won't use the proper preservative or get proper testing done and someone will get hurt and might sue you and ruin your life. I worry that you are entering a business you know little about, and you'll lose your money.

You have to take time to see how the product stands up over that time. You have to make mistakes and learn how to fix them. You have to learn which oils can be substituted for others so you don't have to have many different oils because you use 3% sweet almond oil in one product. You have to learn how to modify your products when your supplier is out of that thing or it's gone rancid. There is so much to learn, and I don't think you can do that in a few short months.

The idea of a craftsperson means that person has worked hard to obtain the skills they have and can be considered a master of that art. You don't become that after a few batches of lotion! 

I can't count how many people a week write to me and say that they are planning to start a "skin care line" or "hair care business" without having made a single product! I get that you have dreams, but shouldn't you see if you actually like making the products first? I tried selling my products for a very short period of time before I started the blog, and I didn't like it. I hated having to make the same products over and over again exactly the same way and I hated working on a deadline. (I realized that love making things for myself, writing the blog, and teaching classes, so it pushed me in that direction!) What if you start a business then hate what you do? There's a ton of money lost there!

If you want to start a business I won't stop you, but recognize that it isn't all hearts and flowers and the coolness of being an entrepeneur. Your very long hours will be filled with hard work. You will get disheartened when you get to the first farmers' market and no one buys a thing. You will get sad when you see your bank account in the red. You'll get upset when you see mould in your lotion or some weird pink discolouration in your scrub and have to throw it all out. Owning a business is a worth while thing, but why not start from a position of knowing how to face those inevitable mistakes or problems instead of floundering and losing money?

The reason experienced soap and bath and body makers are telling you to wait until you have more experience to open a business is because they've been there. They've lost sleep, time, money, and sanity with their businesses, and they are trying to help, not hinder. They want you to be successful and make tons of money and be happy! (They are offering you advice you would normally have to pay for, so take it!)

My dad always said to me that when I wanted to do something, I should find the smartest person in the room and pick their brains clean. That way I'd know as much as they did. It was about getting information but, more importantly, about learning what mistakes they had made so I could avoid them, too. When you shut down another person by calling them jealous or "haters", you're losing out on the opportunity to learn so much. Lose the defensiveness and let them mentor you so you can have the best business possible!

Thus endeth the rant...Any thoughts?


Anonymous said...

I have owned a handmade soap and skin care business for 6 years now and you are so right on this! It is alot of fun and very rewarding is alot of work and takes thoughtful preperation. But it also takes a leap of faith! I will be looking forward to this discussion and following along. You can always learn from others and I wouldn't be where I am without the help and generosity of their experience. Your blog has been a hugh resource to me! My dad told me "If you are going to have a might as well make you money" It took some time and it is still a work in progress but I am now earning a living doing what I love! Tanya

Eileen said...

Great post! I've owned a very small soap co. for 3 yrs. now, and I can't believe how much time I've put into it! That was the biggest shock for me. And I'm good at time management. Getting into the saturated bath/body market needs a lot of thought beforehand.

Organa said...

Hello Susan, this post was fantastic.
The handicraft manufacturing can be advantageous, but if you think of making their products to enter and compete with these large companies, will need a lot of money.
Not to mention the risk of their products not be accepted by the consumer are great, not only for the quality but for your brand is not known.
Need to make a lot of money on great marketing their products.
But one thing I say, if you have chemistry capacity and many years of work ahead of us not give up on your dream.
Unfortunately this capitalist world only large companies are accepted.

Marjo said...

Hearhear. In any business. This is life. You can try and compete and potentially ruin an entire profession with amateuristic work (i am referring to my own working field which is visual design where everybody with hacked photoshop think they can design. I correct and improve their files sent by desperate clients that want the job done well after all.. Craftmanship is something earned and learned. No luck will ever make up for it.

I make things to learn and your blog is one big source of startingpoints! But there is not a single hair on my head saying hey nice shampoo this time. Go sell. I would not dare!!! especially for i dont feel i have total control and knowledge of this stuff .. Ofcourse just enjoying this new relaxing exiting thing in my life for almost a year now. I try out and tweak it .. and
these are thing which other people could be putting around their .. Eyes.. Face.. Mouth.. Go figure.. Big responibility and choice if one feels confident enough to output to others..

Anonymous said...

Maybe, if your products is better than others, they will sell a lot.

Thank Susan for your help.

My best regards

Anonymous said...

Maybe, if your products are better than others, they will sell a lot.

Thank Susan for your help.

My best regards

LeKenda said...

My oh My- I get the same questions! How did I get started? I want to start a hair care business, what oils do I buy? It's not that simple! I tell them first- research. I didn't touch a thing until I researched carrier and essential oils (and actually learned the difference between the two) for about 6 months. During that time, not only was I researching, I was sourcing my supplies (an on going day to day task!) I let them know the FIRST thing they need to do is study to know your craft. Then start simple. Make an oil blend. "But I want to make a hair conditioner. I plan on preserving it with tea tree oil" Insert eye roll here. The lecture on preserving begins. Most give up when they realize its not the get rich quick scheme they hoped it would be. Heck I wouldn't have started as soon as I did, if I had known all the work that it entailed. But I wouldn't trade my teachable moments for the world.

Carol said...

Hear,hear! Thank you for the wise advise.

Melissa from Naturally Good Soaps said...

Hi Susan
Thanks so much for this post. I have owned a body care company since 2003 but rebranded in 2009. I have learned so much about making amazing products but also about running a business. I too started with the idea of turning my craft into a business but then soon realized it was more than just that. It became a serious endeavor and I must say I LOVE LOVE LOVE your posts. It has helped me re-evaluate some of my products and I thank you for that!

Mitchell said...

I couldn't agree more. I occassionally look through products on Etsy and see people using GSE as their preservative or not using a preservative whatsoever. It's scarry to think what could be growing in their containers or what it could do to a person applying the product.

I think newcomers also need to know that it's not a get rich quick option. It takes a lot of time and money to develop your own products. It's hard to "hear" when you want it so bad, but this article is awesome!

Mitchell said...

guess that would be "scary" not scarry

Sheila said...

Great post. Having been in business before (20 yrs owning a jewelry store) I know noting happens over night. 7 years is the rule of thumb on weather you will make the big bucks or not.
I have been playing around with this for almost a year now and I am tired of every one telling me I need to go into business! Yes I am flattered that they think my products are great but I would like to see if I really like it enough to do it all day every day. Then there is the FDA, product safety, laws both state and federal, and labeling. Will this blind some one one? Will I give them some sort of nasty infection on there skin? Is the product safe for kids if they got into mommy's creams. The list goes on.
Yesterday I was reading a post about home made lotion. The person righting the blog refuses to use preservatives. Even after some experienced formulators chimed in. She cautioned her readers to "Ignore the hype" People like that give Hand Crafted a bad name. She has her products listed on Etsy. It makes it hard for serious kitchen chemist every where and will more than likely lead to expensive gov.regulations that can make us use professional lab rental space. submit every product for testing. Does she even know what is floating around in the very "natural" air we breath? I could go on but oops... i am ranting.

Chaeya said...

Thanks so much for writing this. I started studying aromatherapy with essential oils in 1996 which blossomed to a lotion making class in 2004. I was hooked! But it was another year before I started my business and even then, I kept it extremely small to just my day job co-workers and friends. I can’t even account for the long hours of study, books which take up an entire bookshelf alone, research and more research, participating in numerous online communities of other cosmetic and perfumery business owners and enthusiasts, studying chemistry and then community college classes in Microbiology and finally studying nursing, to which all the medical knowledge came in handy about the human body and its functions. I didn’t do my first craft fair until 2008 because all those years I didn’t feel I was comfortable with my knowledge base until then. Of course, I didn’t mention my investing close to $20K just to get started and lots of experimentation.

Despite all this, I still keep my business small because I enjoy making my products. I worry about getting too large to where I have to outsource my production. While I do have a website, I’ve kept it mostly word of mouth and I still just do smaller craft and renaissance faires. I pity anyone who gets into this business just for the money because at the beginning, you’ll mostly be spending it and when you first start doing faires, you’ll be lucky to break even. I spend a great deal of my time educating the public on what I have, what’s in it, and mainly dispelling all the misinformation and myths out there - to which there are a lot. I have to deal with all the “I have allergies,” “I can’t have harmful chemicals,” and “I can’t use synthetic fragrances.” If you don’t know how to sell to these people, then you’ll be broke, especially if all you can say about your product is it’s “all natural and organic.” I’ve busted a number of people deceiving the public on this -- I know many of them don’t do it on purpose and it due to ignorance and then passing that ignorance on to the public. I get people at my booth and listen to them whisper to one another: “oh, we can make this.” I’ve had people flat out ask me where I buy my products so they can go into business too. Ha ha.
Oh well, I love and appreciate your blog because you’ve helped me clarify and validate many things for me. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Good thoughts.

I'm the newby. I've been making my own hair care products and lotions for about a year. Around Christmas, I started researching soap making - I wanted to make my own shampoo. I've taken a soap making class and have plans for a couple more. In the mean time, I've read books, researched the internet and have been experimenting with various recipes. It has become an addicting passion.

That said, I have learned that I'm not satisfied making a batch of soap now and then just for my family. I thought that if I'm going to have vast amounts of soap accumulating around the house, I might as well put my new found passion to work for me.

I've started production of a few favorite soap recipes in order to send out sample packs to friends and family to get their reviews. I hope to fine tune a base recipe for my main stock in the next month or so and be ready for our local festival in July to launch my product.

I know what owning a business entails - I've been a self employed structural engineer for 9 years now and that will still be my main source of income (when there's work to be had - when one designs houses for a living and no one is building, it tends to put a damper on the check book), but thought this might be a good part time income through local sales, weekend markets and holiday shows. The people at the store where I buy my supplies thought this was a reasonable goal.

What are your thoughts? I would love to hear any other suggestions anyone else might have. Sage advice is always welcome.

canfieldfive said...

This post and the comments on it are awesome!

I decided to learn how to craft with the goal of starting a business in 2007, but this is the family's first year of actual gung-ho selling. I felt worried at first (in '07)because I wondered if at the 3 month, 6 month, 1 year mark, we were another small business failure because we weren't making money, just continually learning and experimenting. (The world will tell you that if you don't get in the black quickly, quit- obviously you won't make it with the big dogs. Don't believe them!)

I have been realizing that all that time gave us the chance to truly learn our craft- what works, what doesn't, what is good quality and what is just for show, what is hype and what isn't (preservative is NOT hype, newbie lotion makers!), and how to talk to customers when they've got questions. I've done the math, done the science, and now make products that I know other people have confidence in- and their confidence just fuels my energy and curiosity to learn even more.

canfieldfive said...

PS- I forgot to mention- I definitely agree that making things on other people's deadlines can be hard. I want to spend my time experimenting!

But I've never made anything exactly the same way twice- being "done" with a formula doesn't work for me (although I can understand how the need for consistency would make it necessary for bigger businesses). We are endlessly asking for feedback on what people need and want and our products (and many one-time custom products!) reflect their answers. I hope more craft businesses will do the same! People love knowing that they have had a hand in refining your products, and that you want their opinion on where to go next. They can't get that from department store products, and they also can't get it from many crafters, but their opinions are well worth hearing. :-)

Janet Tolin said...

Hi, I am wanting to start selling my products on etsy. I have been making them for years for friends/family/gifts. I don't use water, they are all oil based. My spouse would like to see some numbers on risk/liability statistics for handmade beauty products before I dive in. I know I need liability insurance and to form an LLC, but any other legal end advice would be greatly appreciated. If this is not the place to ask, my apologies!

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Janet! I don't know anything about running a business or these kinds of statistics. May I suggest a trip to the Dish forum, where they could have more information on this topic!