As a soapmaking instructor and consultant, one of the most common things I hear is, “I’ve made my first batch of soap…how long until I can sell it?”
Sometimes selling that first batch of soap isn’t the greatest idea…but there are a lot of soapers that do. And when asked, I have a few pieces of advice that I offer.
(And by the way…I’m speaking from experience as someone who made a batch or two and started a business 8 years ago. I made lots of mistakes but learned many lessons. After a rough start, I had success in the local market, but quickly found my passion was not selling soap, it was teaching, writing and consulting. I now run a non profit which teaches soapmaking to women in underdeveloped countries. Your story will certainly be different than mine but here are some thoughts and a few pieces of advice from someone who’s been there/done that and from someone who now works as a consultant helping soapmakers start their journey into making and selling soap.)
Mistake: I didn’t sell that great of a product. Okay, it wasn’t horrible…but I didn’t take the time to hone my skills and develop my product. The product I put out early on was not my best.
Lesson: The soap you make in a year or so will be so much better than the soap you make today. Even the soap you make in six months will be better than the soap you make today. Give yourself a bit of time before you offer your soap for sale. Don’t ruin your reputation and future business by putting out a product that isn’t the best it can be. (For fun if you’re just starting out…save a bar of soap from your first couple of batches. You’ll be amazed at where you are in six months or a year.)
Mistake: I didn’t have the experience to know if something was wrong with the soap I made.
Lesson: Luckily, I don’t think I ever gave away or sold soap that was dangerous or terribly bad, but I was careless in that I simply didn’t allow myself time to gain experience. You need to learn to recognize when “things go bad” in soap. Lye pockets, wonky measurements, separation, etc. Some of these things can be fixed; some of these things aren’t a big deal… but you need the experience to know what the issue is, is it safe to use and if its not, how to fix it.
Mistake: I would make a batch, cure it for a month and sell it.
Lesson: That soap you made and cured for a month might be okay…but do you know how it will hold up in two months or even six months? Customers don’t just buy the soap, take it home and immediately use it. Sometimes, it sits on a shelf for months or gets put in a drawer to freshen clothes. If you sell wholesale to a store, it can sit on a shelf awhile before it sells. You need to know how it holds up for longer stretches of time. Fragrance and essential oils can fade or change as they cure. Are your base oils stable and hold up? Do your colorants fade? Curing your soap and analyzing it at 1 month, 2 months and even 6 months is necessary to see how stable the ingredients are that you’re using.
Mistake: I didn’t have a niche. (And this goes for ANY business.)
Lesson: You will need to find your niche. As soapmakers we start out making the standard set of soaps…lavender soap, oatmeal soap, goatsmilk soap, coffee soap…etc. Every soapmaker starts out making these same soaps.
There are so many soapmakers out on the market (just do a search on Etsy) that you will have to find your niche to stand out. Go through the process of making all of these basic soaps to gain experience…then make yourself stand out!
What makes your lavender, oatmeal, goatmilk or coffee soap stand out from everyone else’s? Maybe you use all natural colorants, maybe you use a certain design technique, maybe you specialize in wedding favors, or packaging geared towards tattoo studios that features artwork…or maybe you use holy water in your soap! Why should I buy soap from you and not the other hundreds of people selling the same dang thing? So many soapmakers join Etsy and email me asking why they haven’t had a sale. It’s because you’re doing the same soap as every other soapmaker out there listing their stuff on Etsy! Stand out. Find your niche. Make your soap unique or special.
Mistake: I didn’t develop a consistent product line.
Lesson: I know so many soapmakers who start selling soap and are simply all over the place with what they make, what design techniques they use and what they use to scent their soap (60+ different fragrance oils!). You can overwhelm yourself and your customers by so many scattered variables. I would also lose business because I made a wonderful lavender soap three months ago, but had moved on to something different. When a customer came back to buy it, it wasn’t available.
How many products should you offer to start out? I recommend 8-12 consistent products and then rotate in 2-4 depending on the season or holiday. Focus on these products and make them consistently perfect. (This is also going to help you when you get into wholesale.)
Mistake: I didn’t really know what it cost to make my soap.
Lesson: I never really took the time to figure out the costs of the products that I was making. I charged what I saw others charging but didn’t understand that I needed to do my own calculations to make sure I was actually making money!
Take the time to figure out what it is costing to make your soap. Then develop a pricing strategy that is in line with your products and branding. Don’t simply charge what other people are charging.
Mistake: I didn’t have a good story.
Lesson: Develop your story. Every business needs a story (and every business has one that is waiting to be told). Your story and your niche are what are going to make you stand out. How did you get into soapmaking? Are you a third generation soapmaker? Did you start making soap because of a bad skin condition? Did you start making soap when you were laid off and raising three kids? Were you inspired by a trip to somewhere with incredible natural resources you wanted to utilize? Develop your story and use it when you market your business.
Any business when first starting off makes mistakes. That’s just part of it. But the lessons learned…the “take away” from the mistakes…are what can catapult you towards success! The mistakes I made during the early months of my soapmaking journey have given me great lessons to share during my consulting and assisting of other soapmakers.
As a soapmaker, what were some of your early mistakes and what did you learn that might help others?
-Happy Soaping! – Amanda Gail