As some of you know, I am in the process of starting a business – a handmade organic soap line called Soaps to Live By. I love starting new businesses and seeing my ideas come to life (in a future post I'll share with you why and how I got the idea for Soaps to Live By).
As some of you may also know, I've launched, grown and sold a few other companies – three to be exact. You can say that I'm a “serial entrepreneur” and I love it! But during this most recent launch, I learned a few things that I'd love to share with you. So if you are starting a business or looking for inspiration for your current one, here are the ten things I learned over the last few months.
Starting a business – ten things I learned
- You're never fully ready to start
I got the idea for Soaps to Live By almost a year ago – and I sat with it, ran it by a few friends and family members and really thought about whether it makes sense for me to start another business considering that I already have a very successful business. I even registered the domain name so it would be there when I was ready to create my website. Well, interestingly enough, I never really felt fully ready to launch this new business. I kept thinking that next month would be better than this month and the month after that would be even better. So I waited and waited for months… and then one day I decided TODAY IS THE DAY and I got the ball rolling. Did I feel fully ready? Absolutely not? Did I start anyway? Yes… and looking back I realized that there will always be a reason WHY or a reason WHY NOT – so you just have to go out there and start doing it whether or not you feel fully ready. My website is still not 100% ready – the optin form needs to be changed, the footer needs more content, my blog is not up yet – but I'm moving forward with what is ready instead of waiting for it all to fall into place before I take action.
- Don't try to do it all yourself
In the past, I have been guilty of the “do it all yourself” syndrome. You know, the one where you do EVERYTHING – the manufacturing, the shipping, the marketing, the social media interaction, the press release writing, the website design, the packaging, and so on? I've been there and done it all and it resulted in FAST BURNOUT. This time around I decided to do what I enjoy most and what I do best – publicity and wholesale – and hire other people to help me do the rest. To make my vision come alive, I hired some really talented people to make the soaps, design the packaging, take and edit photos, do research on stores and wholesale, design the website and create all the graphics. I am still doing some things myself, but it's the things that I am best at and that I love to do! And yes, it did require me to invest money in starting my business – something that is a risk, but I believe in my vision and I know I can make this company succeed and I will be paid back many times over (if you're starting a business and don't believe in yourself, it's time to shift your thinking – because if YOU don't believe it, no one else will, either).
- It sometimes takes more money than you think to launch your brand
In the past, I've prided myself on starting businesses on almost non-existent budgets. I started my t-shirt company with under $1,000 and I did everything myself – photos, website, hangtags, product catalogs, and more to save money. That worked for a while, but when I needed to step it up and “go pro” my designs weren't cutting it. So I invested in a photographer & designer to help me. With Soaps to Live By, I decided to “go pro” right from the beginning and set up things the way I really want them and it cost a lot! But what I didn't budget for were things like a new printer, printed catalogs, trademark fee, shipping fees and sample fees for the press, shopping cart hosting fees and more. My original budget included manufacturing and design, but not the “marketing.” And when my original designer wasn't producing the packaging that I wanted, I decided to cut my losses and start over with a new designer – which wasn't in my original budget.
- Packaging matters
You can't deny that people buy products because the packaging speaks to them. Sometimes it's not even about the product – it's about the packaging. Since I launched I have received SO MANY comments about the soap packaging – everyone from editors to customers to buyers at Whole Foods – the first thing that they always say is “I love your packaging.” If you haven't paid much attention to your packaging yet, maybe it's time to revisit it. As a matter of fact, I just got off a phone with a sales rep who is interested in my products and she said “All of this stuff about organic ingredients is great, but that's not the first thing that people care about. I really love your product because your packaging is cute.”
- Finding your niche is more important now than ever
There are A TON of other organic handcrafted soap companies out there. Some of you reading this might be making and selling soaps as well! How do you ensure that your brand will be successful? You have to be really specific about who your target market is and it can't be broad – women 20-40 or college students. You have to get a lot more specific than that – what do they like to do, where do they live, what do they read, and so on. The more specific you can get in WHO you want your ideal customer to be, the more likely you are to attract him/her.
- There will be setbacks
You'll find that with almost anything you do, including launching a new product or company, there will be setbacks. Those are a natural part of the process and if you have embraced them instead of letting them defeat you. Yes, I was stressed out when the files that my designer sent to the label printer needed an extra 1/16 of an inch of bleed and my designer had just left on vacation for two weeks and I had a show coming up for which I needed the soaps (with labels). I was about to give up and thoughts like “why is this happening to me?” and “if I was doing this all myself this never would have happened” crossed my mind… but I let them go over and over again. Or when the one blogger who I thought my soaps would be a PERFECT fit for wrote back to me saying “Thanks, but I don't think this is a good fit for our site…” WHAT? What does she mean it's not a good fit? But it's important to brush those aside and move on. There are a hundred other sites who would find my products to be a good fit and I will find them – even if it takes me another year.
- “If you build it, they will come” is a myth
Can you relate to this – your website is now live and all your hard work has finally paid off. You are expecting tons of orders to come in. After all, all your friends and family know that your site just launched – but the orders are not coming through. You wait and wait – still no orders. This happened to me when I pressed the LIVE button on www.SoapsToLiveBy.com website – not one order for the first few days. “Maybe this isn't going to work…” was constantly going through my head. Until I decided to change my attitude and shift from “If you build it, they will come” to “If you market it, they will come.” Or, better yet, “If you build relationships, they will come.” So I started reaching out to stores, to bloggers, to editors, to places on Facebook where I knew my ideal customers were and I began to build relationships and communicate. And an amazing thing happened – orders started to come in, editors began requesting samples and sales reps started to call. But I had to reach out instead of waiting for them to find me. That's something I'll continue to do for as long as I have this business because IT WORKS!
- Pricing right is tricky but critical
OK, I am going to be brutally honest here – $8 for a bar of soap is A LOT! I don't know if I've ever bought an $8 bar of soap (other than when I bought it from a friend to support her business and because I love her soaps). As a matter of fact, I usually only buy soap when it's on sale at Whole Foods or my local health food store. Organic soap is something that I LOVE and I have been using exclusively for at least the last 15 years. So I expect to pay $4-5 for a bar. But $8? When I was trying to figure out what I should be pricing my soaps at, it came out to a range of $8 to $10. And when you consider all of the materials that go into making soap, plus all of the markups you have to include if you want to sell to stores, through sales reps and if you want to offer discounts and specials, it turns out that I would have to price my soaps at $8 or more to make a profit, pay myself and invest back in the company to help it grow. So I had to get over the “REALLY, WHO WOULD PAY $8 FOR A BAR OF SOAP” thoughts running through my head and realize that there are a ton of people out there who would pay that much for a bar of soap (including me if I felt like I HAD to have that soap). There are people who pay $1,000 for a car and those who pay $250,000 for it – and everything in between. There are a lot of people out there who will pay what you are asking if you position yourself correctly and if you believe that your products are worth that much. It took me a while to get to this point, but I feel great at $8 now.
- It's OK to have doubts – but don't let them hold you back
I've had some pretty successful businesses, but I have to be honest – there were times when I wasn't sure if it was going to work. When orders aren't coming in for weeks or when no one is signing up for your newsletter it's easy to think that things might not work out. But the secret to success is to do something about it instead of letting it defeat you. Orders are not coming in? What can you be doing to get more people to your site? Are they coming to your site but not buying? Could it be your actual product or your site that's making them turn away? Keep asking questions and searching for answers. Then turn those doubts into opportunities to try new things and improve on already existing ones.
- Focus on the things that are going well and don't take things personally When starting a business you'll encounter lots of setbacks (see #6). But if you keep on focusing what's not working instead of what is working, you'll get more of the things that are not working. Like the time when a magazine editor wanted samples for a photoshoot NOW and my printer was acting up and the quality of the printout was embarrassing, to say the least (and there were no stores open where I could go to buy a new printer cartridge). My options? Feel sorry for myself that I ruined this opportunity to get featured in a magazine or send it anyway – bad print quality and all… I decided to send it anyway and guess what? The editor emailed me a few days later to let me know that she received my package and loves the soaps – and no mention of the bad print quality! There have been so many instances like these since I launched Soaps to Live By. And that's ok… I continue to focus on what's going well and address the things that aren't going well without taking it all personally.
I continue to learn new things every day as I am launching this business and I feel so alive and ready to step it up!
Can you relate to any of the ten things about when you are launching a business? If so, leave a comment below and let me know. I'd love to know about your experience!