Want to Build Your Own Successful soap Biz?

How to Know When You Are Ready to Start a Soap Company of Your Own

As a business coach in the handmade soap making industry, I get asked often about how long a soapmaker should wait before they start a soap company. It even comes up in our Facebook group often, and it usually doesn’t go so smoothly.

Here’s why:

Experienced soapmakers with longstanding soap businesses may seem negative or appear as if they’re afraid of competition, but usually, experienced soapmakers that warn a soapmaker about starting a business too soon are only wanting what is best for you and the industry as a whole.

They may be protective of our industry, wanting only the best for the customers who shop the handmade soap arena, and upholding the best possible perception of our industry as possible. They also usually despise seeing others make the same mistakes they’ve made, and will do what they can to prevent that from happening. If an experienced soapmaker offers advice about waiting to start a soap company, it usually comes from a place of love, I promise!

It’s no secret that I’ve owned two successful soap companies (one of which I sold), but soapmakers are usually surprised to find out that I didn’t even think to start a soap company until I had six or so years of soapmaking experience under my belt. While this greatly benefited my businesses, it’s not typical or required, at all. In fact, not much is typical or required, but there are definitely some recommendations to save some trouble in getting started.

Are You Ready To Start a Soap Company of Your Own?

Are you ready to start a soap company of your own?

If you want to know if you are ready to start a soap company, here are the common questions I dish out in return to that big old question:

Do you know how the soap you are making right now compares to your competition?

Ten years ago, I thought I made the best soap I could possibly make. Fast forward a few more years, and I had tweaked that recipe a bit more to make it even better. In the past three years or so, I haven’t been able to make that recipe any better. (I’ve been making soap for almost twenty years now, you learn a lot in that time.)

The level of recipe tweaking and formulating know-how can only come with lots of research and experience, not to mention, comparing your products to the others available on the market.

Being able to objectively compare your formulations with your competitors will help you differentiate your products on the market. Before you throw in the towel and start your own soap company, compare your perfect recipe with soap made not just by other handmade soap companies but large scale handmade soap companies and commercially produced soap bars.

Takeaway: Figure out what sets your formulations apart, so you can communicate that to your customers.

Have you made enough soap to handle issues in soapmaking and know how to fix them?

When you start a soap company, you need to be able to reel in your costs and keep any losses to a minimum. If you aren’t experienced enough with soapmaking to know how to troubleshoot and fix common issues, it will cost you valuable time (that could be better spent selling and marketing) and financial resources that eat at your profits. Here are a couple of common issues you should have under your belt with a big fat checkmark of ‘I got this!’:

  • Anticipating and handling acceleration, seizing, and ricing
  • Calculating and using a water discount, superfat/lye discount, and recipe changes
  • Identifying when something is not “right” – such as oil is missing, your lye solution is strong/weak, your mold/soap pot is not the right level of “full” for the recipe you are making, etc.
  • Understanding allergens found in your ingredients
  • Understanding the difference between the two processes of saponification and curing
  • Identifying when soap is unsafe for usage (lye pockets, uneven saponification, etc.)
  • Having a go-to method for rebatching

Takeaway: There is no magical timeframe that suddenly makes you a knowledgeable soapmaker.

Every soapmaker is unique in reaching the point where they can fully troubleshoot and handle issues in the soapmaking process, and it all depends on your learning curve. Advice that says you should make X number of batches of soap or have X number of years of soapmaking behind you isn’t a one size fits all metric for determining your expertise!

Do you know how your soap will perform, smell, or look in a year from the date of manufacture?

When you start a soap company, you need to fully understand how your product performs. If you have not completed full research and development on the products you wish to sell, you will not know if your customers are getting the level of quality they expect from your brand and it could backfire on your brand’s reputation.

You should know exactly how long a bar of soap lasts (you will be asked a million times by customers, I promise!). You should also know how your recipe and the soap itself will perform in different situations (hard or soft water, lathered in the hands or with a loofah, etc.) as well as if it’s stored in a variety of places (left in a car in 120° F weather or -20° F weather, tucked in a closet or drawer, placed on a shelf near a shower, etc.) You want to know exactly how long a fragrance will last or if a colorant will fade or morph over time.

Takeaway: It’s a good rule of thumb to test a soap formula for at least a year before selling it.

Doing so will allow you to correctly recommend usage methods, proper storage conditions, and advise on the stability/shelf life of the product.

Are you experienced enough in soapmaking that you can turn your attention to business?

The biggest issue I see with a soapmaker who starts a soap company with little experience is that they have to split their attention and focus on mastering both soapmaking and business. Entrepreneurship is tough, and there are a lot of hats to wear as a CEO. If you are going at it solo, you need to be able to focus 99% of your efforts and energy on the business side rather than the soapmaking/manufacturing side.

Takeaway: Don’t try to split your learning between soapmaking & business, the biz will keep you busy!

Some soap companies have managed to handle having little soapmaking experience when they start a soap company by having more than one owner, such as a partnership between spouses or friends. In this case, one founder can focus on soapmaking and the other can focus on business. This really helps the learning curve in both arenas and would be extremely difficult for a soapmaker to handle solo.

Do you know what you need to know before you start a soap company?

There is a slew of lessons that soapmakers learn when they start a soap company, and I’ve dished on ten of my favorite things to know in the past.

Before you dive in, it’s important that you understand the amount of dedication necessary for a small business to succeed, and evaluate what success will truly mean to you.

Not all soapmakers start a soap company to build a multi-million dollar business, and that’s totally okay.

What isn’t okay is diving in and not having a clear understanding of where you want to take it and having limitations on what you will or won’t do for your soap company.

Define where you want to take your company (a brick and mortar? retail only? wholesale? private label? in your kitchen forever?), what you expect from it financially (pay for your supplies? supplement your income? support your household?), and how much time and attention you are willing to devote to building a soap company you love.

Skipping this step will quickly lead to your wheels spinning out and make any decision in business a difficult one!

Still not sure if you are ready to start a soap company? Reach out to a soapmaker in business that you respect and ask them to get real with you or leave a comment below so we can talk it out!

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26 Responses

    1. I think back to when I started my first soap company, and despite having entrepreneurial experience, I still thought that I’d have plenty of soapmaking time. Ha, so silly of me! Thanks for stopping in, Theresa!

  1. Great article, thanks for posting this. I am embarking on selling my soap – I thought I had covered all my bases on the business front, and tested the product for just over a year (turns out my previous life as a boring IT Test geek came in handy!)…but then wham – oh yeah, good point – hard water/soft water. Never even thought of that one!! B

    1. Oh drats. I typed too fast and hit the send button by accident! (French keyboard..naturally not my fault)… yes so, back to the drawing board for a bit more testing before I start flogging my wares. Thanks a bunch for great site of inspiration! Cheers, Nadeen

  2. Hi Kenna! I really appreciate the suggestions regarding the length of the R&D phase for soap formulations. My question is, how does one stay sane and calculate this amount of information for an extensive product line? Not only does this require an immense amount of documentation, but also frequent use in a setting that may not be easily controlled (at home, for me). The “leaving soap outside in -20 degree weather” sounds unrealistic and burdensome, though I get where it’s coming from. Know your product, inside and out, so that you protect your brand and can provide all information your customers could possibly need. I would appreciate a blog post on what your R&D phase looks like, if that’s something you’re willing to share.

    1. Hi Ally! Adding a post about R&D to my list! Great idea and I’d be happy to share! 🙂

      As for checking product stability in weather, you can simulate temperatures in your home. For freezing temps, the freezer comes in handy. For high temps, turn your oven on the lowest setting, turn it off, and wait for the temperature to come in range of 120° F. Or a box turned upside down on a heating pad. Etc.

      In general, if you do a lot of using and abusing, you can usually find your product limitations. 🙂

  3. My husband and I are beekeepers and I have a line of beeswax skin care products that is very popular in the area. Honey soap is a good fit with the rest of my line. You have provided me with much very valuable information about soap making and the business side of things. Thank you so much and keep up the good work.

  4. Thank kenna, you are right on points, soaping in Nigeria is really not same with yours, 1. Weather, when I tryed using the normal temperatures for mixing lye and oil I ran into trouble cos the temperature here is very hot, another trouble I encounterd is preserving my soap, I notice the after cure my soap start swearing due to heat and againg getting ingredients, mostly essential oil and fragrance oil is almost impossible but I’m at it still cos I’m passionate about soaping and reading you article has really helped me. Thanks.

  5. Thank you for such wonderful articles! I just recently started my soapmaking journey, and you’ve given me much to think on. There aren’t many other soap makers where I live, so I really appreciate blogs from experienced makers such as yourself.

  6. Hi Kenna,
    Just stumbled upon your site, thankfully, as you do share a vast amount of information and advice which I am finding very informative.
    I have just stared making soap, just finished my third batch based on a recipe being shared online, seems pretty good so far, my first batch worked but had issues 😉 I started making it mainly as I hated commercially processed soap so started buying locally handmade soap which got me thinking about making my own for my family and here I am, loving making my own soap 🙂 I am thinking of starting a business as friends around me are asking to buy my soap which is great. So I appreciate all your advice about this, certainly opened my eyes to things I hadn’t thought of.
    I will keep reading 🙂

  7. My question is what to do with all this soap that turned out great –can I offer it for a donation? People want my soap and I just started! I know I don’t have my perfect recipe yet, but what I have so far is pretty nice. I am thinking of getting small business insurance just to do fundraising with my soaps, what do you think?

  8. This information has been invaluable. I have made soap for yrs. just for me, family, and friends. I had several colleagues who wanted to buy my soap and so I sold some to them. Then by word of mouth I have my soap in 3 local businesses. I want to learn from others in the business. Thanks so much.

  9. I know that soap making and bath bomb making often (typically) go hand in hand. As this is a “soap making” business site, I just want to confirm that the same tips (mostly) are equally applicable to someone contemplating/already starting a “bath bomb” business? (My assumption is “Yes”, but want to be sure. :-))

    Next Q: Can a “bath fizzy” business thrive without expanding into making soaps? I haven’t ever made a single bar of soap. Because those who make and sell bath bombs also seem to also make and sell soaps, I started joining groups catering to both, and initially assumed I would need to be skilled in both to have a successful bath bomb biz. However as I mentioned in a comment on another article, the potential biz idea is not intended to replace my primary career and full-time job. It could eventually replace my husband’s, assuming it becomes successful enough, but at this point, the expectation and intention is to have a manageable side business that is expandable, should we be inclined to grow it further and include additional product lines. Initially, however, we want to stick with bath bombs and other similar types of products (salts, milk baths, shower steamers, etc.). Is that realistic?

    Could we pair up with some other soapmaker (who only makes soap, not bath bombs) and/or buy soaps wholesale white label (am I using that term of art correctly?) to put our label on and sell (perhaps just as add-ons/package combos with “our” handcrafted bath bombs), without diluting our “brand”? Every time I see the insanely beautiful and artistic soap creations made by the soapers and/or multitalented creators in my various groups, I become completely overwhelmed at the idea of having to learn how to make soap. Not only because it looks really complicated, but because we only have so much spare time available and I don’t envision having the time to make and sell both (though I don’t know enough about soap making to say that with any certainty and what little I have begun to learn about seems to indicate that there is a delay between the making and packaging of soaps, due to cure times. So perhaps it would require less time investment than I currently perceive it would require….which of course doesn’t address my anxiety about the complexity! Ha ha!

    I appreciate any thoughts, comments, insight you have in these areas! 🙂

    1. Hey again, Dana!
      You are working your way through reading the whole site aren’t you? I get it, I’m a researcher too! lol.

      I just want to confirm that the same tips (mostly) are equally applicable to someone contemplating/already starting a “bath bomb” business?

      Yes! Branding, marketing, financials, manufacturing processes, and so on are largely the same. The big ticket differences I can think of off hand that you want to be aware of are:
      (1) Bath bombs, being cosmetic, have different labeling requirements in some locations (United States, for example) than plain soap. Nothing to be afraid of, just aware of. (I treat my soaps as cosmetics, as we recommend. You get more marketing freedom that way.)
      (2) You don’t have a multi-week cure time when it comes to bath bombs, so keep that in mind when we talk about timelines for production. It’s a positive, I think, but, again, something to be aware of.

      Can a “bath fizzy” business thrive without expanding into making soaps?

      100%. There are a ton of makers who only do soap, or only do bath bombs. (As a matter of fact, most rookies are apt to do too many product lines and get overwhelmed.) It’s realistic!

      Could we pair up with some other soapmaker (who only makes soap, not bath bombs) and/or buy soaps wholesale white label (am I using that term of art correctly?)

      Yes, again. We have a community forum to facilitate just such partnerships. And we even offer contract manufacturing on a limited scale! Just make sure that you can brand any outside product to appeal to your perfect customer.

      Hope that helps!

  10. Thanks so much for this wonderful information and guide. It’s very helpful to me. I have not started anything yet on soap making, but it’s good to read articles like this to be know those things we can avoid. I am happy to be connected to you.
    I will be very grateful if you can trian me on soap and cream making or if you know of any school for this that can train me on these lines, please help me to recommend, thank you. […removed…] my phone number or Whatsapp […removed…]. 🙏

    [note: we removed specific contact information from your comment for security reasons.]

    1. Hi, Nancy,
      I’ve replied to both of your contact form submissions this week with info on how to schedule a phone consult. Just let me know if you need additional info.

  11. Hi Kenna, thanks for this article. please I have always have this passion for soap making but I don’t know where I can learn soap making, please if you have any where I can grab this knowledge kindly let me know. Thanks

  12. Hi Kenna!
    Thank you for sharing your knowledge about starting a new business!! My sister and I have made soaps for only a year now, and enjoy working with e. oils and trying different luxury oils and recipes with the calculator! I have felt some pressure too jump into this business and you confirmed how I was feeling, we need more time and experience too try out our product too see how it holds up! Thank you for the heads up on establishing a name for our business also, for when we are ready too jump in!! It honestly means so much too have someone with the knowledge in starting a business and soapmaking!! Thank you again!!

  13. Hi all, …well, I am a semi-newbie having a mini (actually a medium or big) meltdown…..and not in re-batching!….. I haven’t even begun to sell my soap, but I want to make my way TO that goal…..but I am stuck on my recipe, everyone usually talks about reformulating (which is what I need to do with this recipe) in ratios and percentages, and I started out and learned with ounces and grams…..and its really hard for me to figure out the best way to “fix” my recipe!!!….Then I read the article on here about the FDA….and I am freaked out about that now too…..I mean, I make my soap in my KITCHEN for heavens sake…… and I am just SO FRUSTRATED right now and trying my best to research it all more online…every day. I get burned out on looking and even though I have been making soap for over 4 years now, for myself and family, and my friends all love the soap….it’s just not retail quality in my opinion….and taking each issue “one thing at a time” has me saying, just don’t do it…..THEN my rebel kicks in and says “DO NOT QUIT”…..I can safely say my soap biz venture is driving me out of my mind. Does anyone have any tips or advice, my recipe is so simple but it’s just too slimy if it doesn’t set for a couple days to dry out after using it a few times….. and I can’t figure out how to fix that……this is my first issue. first things first right?….that’s my first. 🙁

    1. Hey, Pamela,
      We actually have a class, Soapmaker to Moneymaker, that will help you *really* put first things first. (And that is not perfecting your recipe like many people think.) If you hurry, we might have room for you in the August 3rd class: Soapmaker to Moneymaker Registration.

      As for formulating, we offer a lot of guidance on the blog: Formulating. Kenna also did a live formulating class a few years ago and The Nova Studio sells the recording. If you want one-on-one help, we offer formula reviews and reformulations. You can shoot me an email at support@modernsoapmaking.com if you want to get on our schedule. Oh, and in our Resource Library we have templates and examples of Master Formulas, as well as other GMP docs that might help you out (and RL members get 25% off our other products!)

      Hope that helps, Pamela!

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