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If You Could Start Your Soap Business Over, What Would You Do Differently?

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?

If You Could Start Your Soap Business Over, 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
  • Branding
  • Pricing & Marketing
  • Production Changes
  • Systems
  • Wholesale

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!

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37 Responses

  1. I would not have opened a brick and mortar store. It was expensive, it took an incredible amount of work, and the overhead was high. Still, I was able to follow my dreams, and never have to wonder “what if?”.

  2. There’s not a lot that I would change, I have been doing this for 17 years now and still have a lot of my original customers! I think I would have started doing online sales sooner, learned about SEO and all of that. I really rely on that in the off season (of Farmers Markets) when I am doing one less market than usual. I am still in love with making soap, happy the passion is still there.

  3. My biz is all of 10 months old now, but I still don’t have a clear picture of 1. My brand/target market, 2. How taxes and things all work into the equation, 3. My pricing (I would love to get into wholesale but my prices are low – too low to make it worth my while if I’m not retailing).
    BUT. I am glad I stuck to JUST soap for 9 months before delving into another product, since I have a full time job outside of my biz. I just recently started selling lotions and so far so good, but it would’ve been too much to start with soap, lotions, plus however many other products.

  4. I have to say that for anybody out of United States, the abbreviations you use are really frustrating… what mean SEO ? CRM ? GMP ? Sounds very interesting.. if only I could understand what it’s all about !

    1. Sorry about that, Sylvie. SEO is search engine optimization, CRM is customer relationship management, and GMP is good manufacturing practices. Hope that helps!

    2. Don’t worry, I speak this language fluently and had no idea what she was talking about :v. Thanks for the clarification

  5. Investment in tools is not to be underestimated , especially if it allows you to increase production and achieve better economies of scale.

    Time is most definitely money. Use economies of scale to your advantage. Why spend 10 minutes measuring for a single batch when you can spend 20 minutes and measure for 5 batches?

    RECORD EVERYTHING.

    Accounting for manufacturing is different to accounting for retail and service industries. Understanding the basic concepts helps you immensely. Don’t assume because you’re a hobbyist you can ignore manufacturing overheads such as electricity, incidentals, etc. MOH is a significant cost that is hardly ever appropriately accounted for. If you can’t handle a complex system, learn the ABC method and use it.

  6. The things I would have done differently would have been to have a better understanding of inventory and paperwork trail. Also, I would not have tried to start in so many different directions nor bought so many supplies.

  7. I am exactly where you were Kenna, I still have not started my soap business but planning to…and I have three beautiful kids around…I will definitely reconsider starting it now … I think this post will be one of those ones that just change things for better 😉 Thanks for another great post!

  8. I love this article and I enjoy learning from other’s experiences. Everyone in the soap world is so eager to share information, I love it. Kenna, what advice would you give on building inventory or can you point me in the direction of some useful informtion, seeing that it takes a little while before the soap is usable? Thank you so much in advance!

  9. Great information. I am just starting out. There is so much to learn. I actually thought I was the only one, until I started the online research. And it is a search, so many areas and directions to look into. My head spins. There are times when I look up and I have been on the computer taking notes for HOURS!!

    I find myself up in the middle of the night, jotting down new ideas and then researching some more. Good thing I don’t need a lot of sleep. lol

    Keep soaping!! 🙂

  10. I have not started my soap business but I would like to thank everyone for sharing. This site has been incredibly helpful.

  11. I’m so grateful for you, Kenna! I started making soap three years ago, loved it, and jumped in head-first without a business foundation a year later. Now I’m having to step back and develop that foundation, which takes a LOT of time! I’ve worked very hard to understand labeling guidelines, implement Craftybase, develop a better understanding of pricing, etc. I have had many moments of discouragement and frustration because I didn’t have good resources for figuring these things out…until I found your FB forum. I’d read lots of your blog articles, but at a time when I was desperate for some guidance and couldn’t seem to find it, you loomed out of the mist with answers (and resources!) and I’ve considered you a mentor ever since. Thank you for all you do and share. By all means, business owners, get your foundation in place first!!! I’m also learning that it’s ok to start small; to let yourself be a small business owner and learn. I believe the growth will come, but my husband keeps reminding me you have to walk before you run.

    1. Hey there, Jodi!
      I LOVE this comment. So proud of you for taking a step back, finding the resources you needed, and getting you business on firm footing. We are cheering for you!

  12. So many common threads here. I retired from Nursing, read a soapmaking book, and thought, “Hmmm, I wonder if I can do that” So I read lots MORE books, bought supplies and MORE supplies much to my husband’s chagrin, worked up enough courage to handle lye for the first time, and created soap! Eight months later, I am still creating soap: some great loaves, some flub-ups, some total disasters. I have a bunch of soap sitting around now, and I am wondering what the hell I’m going to do with all this soap? Now I need to think about selling it to either make a little cash or at least enough to buy more supplies. Now I run into issues: insurance, DBA or LLC, taxes, business license, target market, packaging, business name, COGS (who knows-I only wanted to make soap and didn’t keep up with receipts), wholesale vs retail. Like others have said-my head is swimming with initials, rules and regs. The more i know, the more i realize i need to know. It feels like a black hole I’m dissapearing into. I don’t make large batches of soap at a time, so it’s hard to put a price on the supplies I use. Arrrgh. I SO appreciate all of the posts and the willingness to share information. I couldn’t have gotten this far without you, Kenna and all the members. Thank you all so much! I’ll get there eventually!

  13. I will understand if you don’t put this comment up and maybe I should send you a letter instead or maybe it would be good to for everyone to hear from someone who has failed at this. They can maybe learn from my mistakes? IDK Anyway I am disabled (bipolar disorder – but I haven’t had a major episode in more than a year and I am feeling like I can work now – at least on my own schedule in any case and I’m feeling too like I SHOULD?) and that complicates things a bit – but anyway…… Okay so I decided I would go into business when in a manic phase and I even got an LLC.
    I hadn’t the first clue about branding or any of that but as it turns out my shyness (I am a full-fledged hermit – zero exaggeration here) has gotten in my way BIG TIME!! I couldn’t work up the nerve to go into one shop to try to sell my wares and only managed to make it to one market and it was a flop. My table looked great – my product is good – but that day no one in the room I was in made a dime- – it was set in what looked kinda like a school – it was odd – but lots of vendors showed up and everyone was disappointed – it rained and was SUPER hot and the event was poorly advertised I guess. So I didn’t feel especially bad that I made not one sale seems how there was like practically not a soul there. But okay so YES I have some huge obstacles. But here’s the deal because I was SUCH an utter failure I have lost the drive to make soap AT ALL. Since I have officially closed up shop – the government called me and asked if I was going to pay taxes and when I told the woman I made less than $!00 in sales she said “I’ll just mark you as closed – next time please inform us.” LOLOLOLOL Anyway – as I was saying since that time I have not made one loaf of soap and that was like idk 3 months ago or so? Yeah. Isn’t that incredibly sad? I have TONS of supplies here that ARE going to go bad if I don’t turn them into soap soon and yet I have scared myself silly!!!! I am depressed and upset about the whole thing – any confidence, which clearly I was lacking from get, that I had has evaporated and I am not sure what I should do now. I am not suited to working a normal job because I would be missing from work too often to be considered employable yet at the same time when I can do work on my own hours so to say I CAN physically do work and I feel like I should! Talk about a bind!!!!!! Can’t work for myself because I am such a gutless wonder yet cannot work for anyone else cuz truly I am bipolar and even major episode free I have too many days where I don’t function correctly – it’s off again on again naturally. I don’t suppose you have any advise for this situation or is it too much of a total mess up to even think about putting it back together. I have cards and a nice logo although I am not crazy about my own company name., I went with it simply because I had been using it for years. LOL I find almost every single aspect of business to be Super challenging from packaging to photography to branding to inventory to you name it. Ugh I love making soap – or I used to anyway but I fear I have really made a mistake or conversely that I should start over and this time FORCE myself to go into stores and markets??!!!! OR figure out how to sell online? What do you think? By the way, I LOVE what you’ve done here on your website!! I DO consider you a mentor and a big support to the soaping community on whole – I think you’re fabulous at what you do!! Good Job and Thank You!! OH and what would I do differently?? EVERYTHING!!! haha I’m kidding – I would make a plan – a VERY detailed one!!!!! Instead of try to wing it – although I think my major failure is purely lacking courage or confidence to get past my shyness if you can even call it that – extreme social anxiety is better put. Am I totally beyond saving here? (sorry a bit tooo long in the tooth here – certainly if you do want to publish this you are more than welcome to delete a bunch of it!) Thanks again!! 🙂

  14. Hi Group.
    I’ve been soaping for eight years so my family could have healthy, clean soap, not skin detergent. I have a business background and at some point decided to merge the two and go into business. I am, however, a soapaholic. I have 28 varieties of bath bars; scented, herbal/essential oil/skin care. I have a big problem with pricing, so much so that when I do farmers’ markets, I have to take my granddaughter to keep my pricing where it should be. I want this to work, but the marketing is OMG. I’m sure my website needs help; it’s more of a catalog. I do very well face to face; but online? HELP

  15. I am actually taking a do-over as we speak! I’m so thankful I found this article, because it validated what I am actually doing differently this time around. I originally started a soap business in 2004. I began with M&P and comparing what my products looked like back then to what I have seen done with M&P lately, I could have stood to wait a bit before registering for a seller’s permit. I did several craft shows a year over 4 years, and sold to friends and family along with co-workers of my husband’s at the time. Out of all that time, I never established repeat customers outside of my family. And then my husband left right when I had changed jobs. That job became six 12-14 hr days each week, and I couldn’t do anything with my soaps so the year after he left I literally had 0 sales; bad for being in business for 4 years. I had also just begun learning CP and had to put it all down. It was a sad day.

    That was 7 years ago. Meanwhile I still practiced CP, researched, read books upon books, and even made a few batches of soap for Christmas presents. A friend of mine always loved my soaps, so I continued to make small batches for her. But it just wasn’t enough to dabble now and then. Plus, in the last 2 years I have had so many job changes that I am fed up with relying on other people for stability of my personal budget. I decided it’s time I step up, do this, and do it right this time! I reinstated my seller’s permit in October 2017 after spending the previous year changed my business name, my labels, and my theme. I still have done a handful of craft shows just to get a feel for the area because I am not living in the same town as before. I decided to start focusing on wholesale accounts in 2018. I also decided on exact product lines, and how many different scents to carry in each line. I’m starting out buying oils in bulk but making smaller batches so I can stretch them yet keep the costs down. I am planning far enough ahead to accommodate the seasonal changes and holidays. I am working towards having limited time items to hopefully build a sense of urgency in people who are introduced to my products. I am also doing more learning of the business side, and my Accounting knowledge is getting used a lot more than it was previously. I even stumbled across CraftyBase and decided I needed it to keep track of all my stuff easier. In the past I just kept spreadsheets, but it wasn’t the best choice and it was time consuming.

    I’m sure there are many other things I could do differently, but I’m relieved that I have made all the right choices from what I have gathered in this article. It’s validating. It has helped me gain confidence that I really do know what I’m doing, and not just flying by the seat of my pants in hopes of making a substantial profit down the road. I am feeling even more proud of my decision to go back into business. Thank you for all the work you do to bring this information to people like me; who just need a bit of a shove in the right direction! Happy Soaping!!

  16. hi
    i am actually trying to start soap making business and i happy to get this interesting information.
    i hope i will come back with my first product very soon

    .

  17. Wow! What I great community of soapers you all are! I have noticed that the great Soapers out there have got their mistakes edited down to a single line. They don’t talk about the wasted hours and money and self recrimination involved with making mistakes. And then, what is the solution? The answer? I love that the articles on this sight are linked to the “answer getting places”. Well, I want to go into a bit more detail, because I’m starting a business and I’m living it! I registered my business a year ago and making all kinds of mistakes. But I found the solution to a big problem, inventory. It was completely out of control. My journey started about 2 years ago with an introduction to essential oils. Need I say more? Soon after, I started making things, body butter, bath bombs lip balms etc. And what does that lead to? Inventory, lots of it. Too much!
    About 2 months ago, I started hearing about a program called Soap Maker 3. It could keep track of all my inventory and recipes and tell me the cost of my finished product. A month ago, I laid out the cash. Then, dug out all my receipts and purchase orders from the last 2 years and diligently put everything into the program. (I had tried Excel but gave up) It still took many days. But I now have an organized and personalized inventory. I will say that I am ashamed and embarrassed at the amount of stuff I have accumulated and what I have duplicates and triplicates of. But now I know, and can move forward.

    1. Hey, Isabel,

      Your story is super common among soapmakers, especially those that started as hobbyists. I definitely overdid it on supplies early in my career. And while I opted for Craftybase for inventory, I agree that inventory software is a game changer. Kenna shares your love of SM3. There really is an option for everyone.

      And those hours, $, and blame? Well, that’s why we started offering our Soapmaker to Moneymaker class, so we can straight up share our mistakes and what we learned from them…and save others the tears!

      Welcome to the tribe, Isabel. We are glad to have you.

    2. Hey Isabel,
      I read your post and thought “that could be me!” Except you’re a step ahead as I’ve yet to settle on a program. I just wanted to say as someone who has an obnoxiously overflowing supply room filled with every ingredient I was ever curious about, and two shelving units full of small batches of every product I just had to try making…none of it was a loss. While some people are naturally inclined to take things slow, I get excited by all the possibilities, and thats what motivates and fuels me every day! Have I spent a thousands of dollars on things I may never use? I sure have. Have I spent the past two years learning the ins and outs of making dozens of products I decided not to pursue? Yup! Have I learned through valuable experience what products I always come back to, what others love most, what products I kinda hate making, and what simply isn’t viable due to cost, time or other? You’re damn right I did! Someone much smarter than me once said “Experience is a brutal teacher, but you learn. My God do you learn.” The knowledge you gained through your “mistakes” Has value that far exceeds the cost, so long as you recognize it as such. So find a way to forgive yourself for your excitement, your passion, your drive and desire to create as much as your imagination would allow! No more shame, no more embarrassment.
      Grab a notebook and divide it into two columns. On the left make a list of your so called mistakes (leave a little space between each one). Now on the right side write down what you learned from each “mistake”. When you’ve finished take a good, long look at what you’ve gained and consider how that hard earned knowledge is going to help you achieve your goals! Some of us need to try things for ourselves to learn, and it may take us a bit longer to reach conclusions others learn through reading alone. But there would be nothing for others to read were it not for folks like us, because nothing new can be learned or discovered without people who are willing to lose a little (or a lot) in the hopes of gaining so much more in return!

  18. I’m a beginner beginner I’ve just started about a month ago. The problem I see in me the main problem I’d have to say is confidence. I see other projects and think wow could I ever? Or what if ppl work buy from me? How do I really know what packaging to buy and if why can’t I focus in one project at a time. Its like I want to do so many things. Idk just a small part of my thoughts on me.

  19. Hi, Kenna and all soapmakers!!
    I just signed up with modernsoapmaking this evening. and I have read just about all of the stories on what would be done differently. I am new to soap making since November 2018. So far, I have been just giving my body butters away and now venturing into soap making. Everyone I gave body butters to has completed my surveys and all want me to make more– so I’m going for it.
    My love for essesntial oils started more than 10 years ago. I’ve always wondered how essential oils are made, what are wild cfafted oils, etc. Back then I even thought of names for my soaps that I hadn’t made yet– thought of a company name too. Then all my dreams had to be put down. Taking care of my mom was much more important to me; so I retired early and took care of mom. Mom has been gone now since 2015, and I’m dreaming of my essential oils and soaps again– about my products and company . Everything I have read this evening is so inspiring that I’ve got to keep going this time. I am going to take the advice of several contributors here and concentrate on my branding, systems, marketing and of course soap makers 3– love that. Blessings and much success to everyone!! I hope to be joing your groups and asking lots of questions.
    Celeste

    1. Hey, Celeste,
      Our next session of Soapmaker to Moneymaker (our class for soap biz startups) starts soon. Make sure you are on our email list if you want to jump in!

  20. I wish I had organized better and like everyone else knew more about the business end. I wish I had delegated that part to someone else. I love doing the artistic part the soap making but I hate doing the business part. I now have a sales person that helps tremendously.

  21. This business of soap making is what I want to start now. My worry is that is it profitable? Presently I am a teacher on part-time and I like to have a soap making business.

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