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The Latest Soap Design Techniques are Beautiful, But Are They Worth It?

starting a soap business

A lot of folks found Modern Soapmaking through one of my tutorials or YouTube videos, and that's fabulous - really, it is! I love playing with new soap design techniques and of course, challenging myself with difficult color schemes (rainbows!)

 Are Intricate Soap Design Techniques Worth It?

I've noticed lately that there is a hot new soap design technique coming around every month or two, and it will continue to grow and trend as long as soapmakers continue to share online. Again, this is super awesome - I love seeing the handcrafted soapmaking industry continue to grow and thrive.

If you are a hobbyist soapmaker, exploring new soap design techniques will help you learn the craft by challenging you to get outside the box and your comfort zone. Most of often, problems crop up when you are trying complex designs - fragrances misbehave, trace accelerates, emulsions break, and so much more.

Certain types of formulas make complicated soap design techniques easy, while other formulas are either to slow to set up or give you a race to the mold. Pushing yourself with new soap design techniques teaches you how to handle the multitude of variables that affect how a batch of soap turns out. (And if you need help conquering your soap pot, this article talks about how you can control trace to make it easier to turn out beautiful designs!)

However, if you sell your handmade soap, we have to have a little heart-to-heart chat about all these fancy swirls and pretty soap design techniques...

When I coach soapmakers in business, one of the biggest issues they talk about is slow sales and low cash flow. Many of the soapmakers who report dwindling cash in the bank and cricket noises on their website are trying to manage all their marketing moves by using social media, blogging about their business, and/or sending regular email newsletters. (High five!) They often complain that they don't have enough time to do all the "business tasks" on their plate and state that they feel overwhelmed by their businesses.

One thing all these soapmakers tend to have in common? They spend a whole lot of time and money on making tons of products to offer their customers a huge variety of choices. They make new products using the latest and greatest soapmaking design techniques to try to pull in more sales and cashflow. They're chanting and pointing at sparklin' shiny bars of soap, fresh off the curing rack, through their social media channels, blogs, and email newsletters.

And this is the number one area I know to look at for business owners!

Why Intricate Soap Design Techniques Are Bad for Business

We all have different goals when starting a business, whether that's to create a full-time income that supports your family or a side game that makes enough profit to support a hobby.

Regardless of the reason you are in business, there are a couple things about business that are undeniable:

  • With more types of products you are making, you will have more money tied up in supplies and product
  • With more complicated products in production, you will spend more time making products
  • With more complex product designs, you are more likely to hear from customers that it's too pretty to use
  • With more varieties of products and/or more complex product designs, you will spend less time actually selling your products which means less cash flow

Having less available cash flow for your business and less of your time available to sell your products, you will be creating a perpetual cycle of problems for your business! No one wants that!

Before You Start Selling Your Handmade Soap

If you just starting your business, it's the perfect time to prevent problems before they start! Here are my top three tips for tackling soapmaking as a business owner rather than a hobbyist:

Limit each product line to 10 or less varieties. I know, I know! You think you have the upper hand by offering more varieties of products to your customers, but time and time again, it's been proven that consumers do better with less choices.

The benefit of this is that the less products you make, the more time you have to market and sell your products rather than producing them.

Study your target market and identify what varieties would appeal to them the most and then limit your options to ten or less choices that are appealing to your target market. For instance, if you create products for a teen market, you will likely create scent varieties that are fun, playful, or fresh. However, if you create products for men, you won't likely create scent varieties like florals or sticky sweet scents.

Consider design and production complexities. It may be tons of fun to pull off a Taiwan Swirl or Tiger Stripe, but in practice, these soap designs require a lot more time than you should be spending on production. Most consumers just see a swirled soap, so use that to your advantage!

You can create a variety of beautiful designs using techniques like:

  • In the pot swirls and in the mold swirls
  • Layering and embedding
  • Pencil lines
  • Textured tops
  • Combinations of the above techniques

Limit yourself to fast and easy techniques for production soapmaking to maximize your efficiency.

Create efficient production practices as soon as possible. The very first step in converting your hobby to a business should be to eliminate inefficient production flows. For most soapmakers, this means creating larger batches of soap and masterbatching your ingredients.

If you currently make 2 pound batches of soap that give you eight bars of soap, you are going to spend a lot more time to keep up with production than if you upgrade to 5, 10, or 20 pound batches. You can easily increase your production capacity by making your soap molds and using buckets, a drill, and a paint mixing attachment from the hardware store.

After You Start Selling Your Handmade Soap

If you've already started selling your soap in your business, it's not to late to save your hide and get moving in the right direction. Here are the four tips I can offer you to clean it on up:

Cut back on your offerings. Evaluate which products are selling, and eliminate your worst sellers until you have ten or less varieties on your plate. If you have a product that sells seasonally, remove it from your permanent line and only make it during the season in which it sells. This does two fabulous things for your business:

  • It eliminates production when no production is needed.
  • It gives you something new and shiny to talk about seasonally without additional research and development.

There is always going to be folks who complain when you remove products from your line, you can choose to take custom orders for those products with the purchase of full batches or you can offer the product seasonally. At Amathia Soapworks, a particular product I eliminated from my line was super popular during the summer, so I moved it to a season item. When the time came, my customers who loved that product stocked up!

Simplify designs and production complexities. If you currently make crazy intricate soap designs in your line, you will want to simplify those designs or raise your costs to account for the extra labor required.

When I set up Gratitude Soapery, I intentionally created a product line full of solid color soaps and one special bar of soap that featured a rainbow tiger stripe. While being a much more complex and labor intensive design to create, I made sure to charge more for that particular product and customers loved it! They happily paid more for that special design, and seemed to appreciate the design intricacies more because it stood out among the line.

If you need to simplify a design, please consider how much the change will cost you. Will you need new product photographs? Will you need to print new wholesale or marketing materials? Weigh the benefits and long term costs of continuing to produce the product versus the short term costs of taking new photos or creating new materials. Nine times out of ten, the short term costs seem scary, but actually save money in the long run due to labor costs.

Evaluate production efficiency and make changes. If you haven't yet, detail your entire workflow in production, calculating the time you spend during each step, to see what is really hanging you up.

For most soapmakers, steps like beveling soap, shining soap, or removing ash on soap are all extra production processes they started doing as hobbyist that they quickly realize are not cost-effective for their businesses. The benefit of offering these steps as part of your production process is usually greatly outweighed by the cost involved. If you insist on keeping these steps in your processes, make sure you are financially compensating yourself for them in your product costs.

Make the steps necessary to increase your production output, whether that's larger molds or larger batches or masterbatching.

Outsource production work or business tasks. If you spend more than 20% of your "work" time on production, you are spending too much time focusing on the production and not enough time on the selling and marketing.

If you want it to stay that way, outsource the necessary business tasks to ensure your business is profitable and making money. Whether that's outsourcing your bookkeeping or hiring a social media manager, if you want to stay over the soap pot, put someone else over the business side.

However, if you spend more than 20% of your work time on production due to demand of your products and have already taken the steps above, it's time to hire production help. If you can't afford to hire production help, it's likely that you need to take a deeper look at your product costs and possibly, your pricing.

So, are those intricate soap design techniques worth it?

Probably not!

However, in the end, it's your call, isn't it?! I'm a huge proponent of rocking the U in bUsiness, so you do you.

Oftentimes, when I talk about this problem in classes and talks in person, I see a lot of light bulbs flicker on above soapmakers' heads. When you start a business, it's hard to take off you soapmaker's cap and wear the business hat, so if you haven't made that transition yet, I hope this has helped you do it!

Have you taken these steps to eliminate intricate soap design techniques or limit your product offerings? Share how that went for you in the comments below!

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