One of my favorite things about our Facebook group is that interesting discussions are always taking place! Recently, one of our members, Jennifer Jansen (From the Blue House) kicked off a great topic by asking: “If you had the chance to start your soap business over again, from scratch, knowing what you know now, what would you do differently?”
This question (or a variation of it) is something I get asked often, so I was really interested to see how other soap company owners would answer. When I started Gratitude Soapery, which I sold in 2018, I was given that chance to do things differently the second time around. There wasn’t much that I changed between starting Amathia Soapworks and Gratitude Soapery, but there were a few things…
My answer is going to be oh-so-different than most soapmakers, because I spent several years prior being an entrepreneur in an unrelated industry, plus my unique experiences as a retail buyer, vendor liaison, inventory specialist, web designer, and freelancer. For me, here are three things I would do if I started a new company tomorrow:
I’d be more confident in myself and my products. I knew my confidence would be the backbone of my success, but I often allowed things to get under my skin the first time around. Business is business, it’s not time to take sh*t personally.
I’d outsource tasks that took me a long time or exploited my weaknesses in business straight away. In my first company, I knew I sucked at certain things, and I knew it would be better to outsource them, but I just didn’t. It wasn’t a smart move, and I think it had a lot to do with confidence. Financially, it was a hard hit to swallow, but anything is possible, if you put your mind (and self-control!) to it when it comes to budgets and finances.
I’d wait to start this mythical soap company until my kids were older (which is one of the main reasons I changed gears). When I started my first soap company, I knew I would work longer hours working for myself as I had been there, done that (being self-employed). However, I didn’t know how much I would miss being home with my kids and focused on them. I certainly didn’t account for how difficult it would be to participate in events, shows, and meetings for my biz when I had to find a sitter for little kids. (The start of motherhood + the start of a new biz coupled together was more blindsiding than starting a biz on its own.)
What Other Soapmakers Said About Starting Their Soap Business Over
Like I said before, I know my answers are going to be crazy different than most soap business owners because I already came from a background that gave me the discipline, focus, and systems I needed. Curious about what other members of the group had to say? Here’s the six most common themes we saw in answers:
- Focusing & Planning
- Pricing & Marketing
- Production Changes
I was surprised to see that a lot of the answers other members of the group gave aligned with what I previously laid out as things you should know before you start your soap business! But if you really want to dive in, here’s what seven soap business owners had to say about what they would differently if they could start their soap company over:
Stephanie started her bath & body company, Southern Girl Soapery, in 2012 and is one of the most active and helpful members of the group. She’s always opening up her current focus to the group so everyone can learn alongside of her. She also wrote up this great review of Craftybase for the community, which stemmed from her trying to find an alternative to Soapmaker 3.
Here’s what she says she would do differently if she started her soap business over:
1) Invested in inventory/pricing software from the start.
2) Instituted wholesale CRM (customer relationship management) earlier
3) Built GMP (good manufacturing practices) into processes from the bottom up
Oh, I also would have started sooner! — Stephanie, Southern Girl Soapery
Robin started her soap company, River County Soapworks, in 2001 and has been an invaluable friend of the soapmaking industry by sharing her experiences with owning and operating a business. Last year, she even stepped forward and told her story of having an FDA (Food & Drug Administration) representative showing up on her doorstep (huge learning experience for us all!).
With Robin’s years of experience, I love how she answered this question:
I would have branded differently. My brand is fine for a farmers market where I sold originally, but to grow things, it had to change. To do that I had to reset the focus on custom soap making and private label soap.
I would have also focused on the business side first. I decided I liked making soap and signed right up for our farmer’s market without any plan of action of how to make this a viable business that generates income. — Robin, River County Soapworks
Kathy started her first business in the industry in 2000, and added soap to her line in 2003, and started her newest venture, SoapEmbeds, in 2014. Since she joined us in the Facebook group last summer, she’s been a big help in contributing to discussions and helping folks locate the information they need.
Here’s what she had to say:
Focus! Not being distracted by the next big shiny thing. “Ooh, look at the new scrub recipe! I would love to make emu, kukoi balls for laundry, I want all 100 Fragrances!!!!” New and shiny is so easy to look at and lose sight of your goals. Self-correction is hard. “Squirrel!” — Kathy, SoapEmbeds
Jackie started her soap business, Naked Hippie Soap Company and joined the Facebook group almost a year ago now. It’s been great to see business owners like Jackie grow as the group does, especially the information they pick up from others! Even if her business isn’t as established as others, her reflection on what she would have done differently speaks volumes!
Here’s what Jackie says she would have done differently from the start:
I’ve changed my labels, business cards, and signage from when I first started. Such a pain! Also, I would not have gone mad ordering supplies before selling stock. I’d start slow and steady! And! Focusing on wholesale!! — Jackie, Naked Hippie Soap Co.
Jennifer K. from Miles Away Farm has been a standout member of the Modern Soapmaking community for so long that I can’t even place when I started to get to know her! Since the day she joined the Facebook group, she has left so many encouraging & helpful comments and helped people navigate both the group and this website. She also shares advice that’s valuable to others because it comes from her unique perspective.
What she would do differently if she had a do-over shows exactly what I mean, here’s what she had to say:
I’m pretty comfortable with how I’ve grown organically, but I was really lacking confidence in business skills when I started. By growing slowly, I had time to learn (still am learning). The one thing I would have done differently is starting to do larger batches of soap much sooner. — Jennifer, Miles Away Farm
Marianne started Vine and Branch in 2010, and has been a member of the Facebook group for almost exactly a year now (hey, happy bizofsoapmaking-versary!). She’s always sharing her thoughts and trying to help other soapmakers when she can.
Here’s what she said she would change if she started over:
While I love making soap, I really stink at the business side! I would have taken the business side much more seriously at the beginning. Now, I am backpedaling to learn more about the whole aspect of having a business. — Marianne, Vine and Branch Soap
Jennifer J., the lovely group member who posted this question, also threw in her thoughts about what she would do differently if she was starting From the Blue House over. She’s been a part of the Facebook group for a year and a half now. She’s been a great resource, whether it’s about setting up a soapmaking space for a business or rocking it at craft shows.
Here’s what she said she would do differently:
I would take more time to plan out the concept of branding I wanted and a set product line. Take your time do it right! My soaping merged from hobby to business with very little planning and foresight. — Jennifer, From the Blue House
There were so many amazing comments from the thread and I couldn’t share them all! But, if you are a member of the group, you can pop over and read through them. (And if you aren’t a member yet, you are welcome to join us!) Thank you to the lovely members of the group who gave me permission to share their answers here!
Now, it’s your turn… if you could start your soap business over, what would you do differently? Leave a comment below and share it up!