I’m not entirely sure what sparked my interest in making soap. I think I just wanted to make something with my hands and I can’t fix cars. I started with “melt and pour”, melting down purchased soap base and adding fragrances and colors from the craft store. A month later I switched to making soap from scratch, which was way more time-consuming but more fun (and kinda dangerous… sexy). Being the entrepreneur I am, I began selling my soap at our weekly farm stand. While I didn’t make a whole lot of money, it put a little bit of cash in my pocket to diversify and by the end of the summer, I was making sugar scrubs, lip balms, body butters and mason jar soap dispensers. It was some serious growth. My husband even made some simple business cards for me so I’d have something to give out with the product.
But… the end of the summer was the end of the business. I didn’t have a continuing demand for the product. I did a holiday craft fair that brought in about $35 and gave some soap as gifts, but other than that I was dead in the water.
This summer, I wanted to take it to the next level. I did some sprucing up on the image and overall feel of my brand. My previous logo was a stamp I’d purchased at Michaels and I knew I couldn’t legally keep using it forever, so I paid about $30 for a good-enough “professionally-designed” logo and started printing custom labels on kraft paper. I bought some shabby-chic display boxes. Every weekend this summer, I sold a bit at our farm stand – not a lot, but maybe $20-$30 per week. By the holiday season, I’d starting printing nicer sticker labels and ordered real business cards. Between two holiday craft fairs and orders from family and friends, I made nearly $300 just during this holiday season. People are asking me when and where they can buy more soap and other handmade goods. I’m growing! Pretty awesome, right?
Now that my business is finally getting some traction, I don’t want to fall by the wayside again. Due to professional circumstances for my husband,the odds of running a farm stand this summer are pretty long. This means I won’t have that regular, weekly venue for sales and that’s a huge bummer. My plan is to focus on a few other possibilities.
Do more craft shows. This is the best way to connect with new customers and get my business out there. There are a few negatives: they aren’t always easy to book or easy to prepare for. They also come with the added expense, usually in a straight-up fee, but also in the preparation. I need to have as much product as possible on hand while also being realistic about sales. I don’t want to spend too much money completely over-making for the show, but I also don’t want to sell out halfway through the day.
Diversify. I’m working on some additional items. My new sewing machine opens up all kinds of handmade options, both in soap accessories like pouches and toiletry bags but also eventually in larger projects.
Talk to local businesses about selling my products. There are a couple of local shops that carry, or have carried, my product. Now that I’ve learned my lesson on ‘consignment’ (more on that later), I’ll be requiring paying upfront. I do offer a discount on bulk product and shops can sell at whatever price the market will bear.
Spend more time advertising the business. In the past, I haven’t spent a whole lot of time advertising my business outside of craft shows and our market stand. I’ve been making a more conscious effort to give out my business card when I meet someone, even if we haven’t talked about my side business at all. It almost always piques their interest, sparking a little conversation about the items in my shop.
Make sure I have inventory all the time. This is a big one! I’ve been out of stock on soap since just after New Years. We are renovating our basement, which was also my soap crafting shop. It’s a mess of sawdust and (shortly) drywall crumbs – neither of which people want in making their way into soap! Plus, all of my supplies are currently stowed away in the back of our storage space during construction. But seriously, I need to stop making excuses. As soon as I can, I’ll need to clean up a portion of the space for soap or move the whole operation upstairs. I’ve learned that telling someone I don’t have any product “right now” is a surefire way to make certain they won’t ask me again.
This summer will be tough without our farm stand to help, but hopefully keeping business strong throughout the spring will help soften the blow and keep things moving forward. I don’t think I’ll ever live on soap alone but I do enjoy my little business and it’s an awesome value-added product for our farm.
If you have a side business, how have you grown your income and visibility?