How I started Lovely Greens Handmade and tips to help you take your soap making hobby to the next level. Includes my five main tips for starting a soap making business
There are two questions that I get asked more than any others – how did you end up on the Isle of Man, and how did you become a soap maker? Funnily enough, the two are related, but before we get to that, let’s talk about you. I’m guessing that you’re either interested in learning to make soap or to start a soap-making business. You’re curious about what it takes and how to begin.
I’m going to tell you about how I started, and some things that I’ve learned along the way. Every person who wants to start a soap making business will come from a different background, life stage, financial position, and goal. Some broad points will help everyone, though, and I’m going to run through five of the most important:
• Be passionate about your product
• Know and reach your real market
• Tick the boxes of legality and safety
• Never stop learning
• Watch your business cents
How I started my soap making business
Lovely Greens began as a hobby, a dinky little blog site, and a mountain of soap that I didn’t know what to do with. When I moved to the Isle of Man, I had time to immerse myself in my interests: green beauty, herbal medicine, beekeeping, and gardening. I started a blog to share ideas, but mostly to meet others who enjoyed the same interests. I was a stay-at-home wife with no kids and no local friends. This is no sob story, though!
My little blog started to do its job of connecting me to others —but it was helping people too. As I was learning and teaching myself how to do things like making handmade soap, I’d share it online. The way I share how to make soap comes from knowing what if feels like to be a novice. I try to remember that when I write anything so that it’s simple and clear and feel that it helps.
I don’t know how much money I spent on soap making ingredients back then (A LOT), but it wasn’t long before I had dozens of batches of soap lying around the house. Stacks of bars that represented a lot of indulgently spent money, because we all know how much you can rack up on a ‘few ingredients.’ That’s when I researched selling at the local farmers market and recouping my losses.
Starting a soap making business
Selling soap in Britain has become more stringent since then, but even in 2011, you needed cosmetic safety insurance and safety assessments for your products. My first step was buying a comprehensive soap safety assessment that would cost a fortune to get now. I then got my crafter’s insurance and applied for a stall at an upcoming Christmas market. I sold about £40 worth of soap that first day and couldn’t have been more pleased.
Over the next few years, I started ramping up the business and offering soap for sale on Etsy, my shop website, and local shops. I worked from my kitchen, and every penny of profit stayed with the business. Eventually, I was making a little money off ad revenue from my blog too. It started with about eight dollars a month, woo-hoo! Honestly, though, the only way that I was able to sustain my business at this point was through savings and my husband’s savings. We’d moved to the Island to start a new life and his new business, but time was beginning to run out. Our marriage was about to fizzle out too.
Time to make it happen
In late 2013, I was separated, alone on the Island, and left with no money other than the ten thousand in profits I’d made from Lovely Greens over the past two years. I couldn’t easily apply for a local job since I’d not been a resident for five years, and I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. I knew that I couldn’t give up on Lovely Greens, though. It was time to get serious or have to move away.
Here we are now many years since, and in that time, Lovely Greens has grown. This website reaches thousands of people every day, and my YouTube channel does too. I offer soap making workshops, products, ebooks, an upcoming course, have been featured on television, and have just written a physical book that will be published internationally. I’m not bragging, though. The reason that I’m sharing this with you is that I want you to know where it started and how you could do it too.
Be passionate about your product
When people are first starting off making soap, I always recommend beginning with tried and tested recipes. The reason? So that you succeed and make safe soap. Soap making is chemistry, and in a soap recipe, there’s a reason for every type of oil, gram of lye, and exact measurement of essential oil. As a beginner, you cannot throw a dash of this in or leave an ingredient out – making soap is not like baking a cake, and customizing a recipe can be complicated. If you’re just starting out, check out my four-part soap making for beginners series:
After making many batches of soap, you start to understand the uses, ethics, and benefits of ingredients. That’s when you take it up a notch and can begin thinking about creating your own formulas. Some people are passionate just about the process of making soap, but to make it into a business, you also need to be passionate about the soap you’re making too. So passionate that you can get other people excited about it too. One of my passions is teaching others, so aside from physical products, I also run popular soap making workshops.
Know and reach your real market
Many of my customers are women who choose eco-friendly options, care about health, and love beautiful, natural products. I sell soap packaging-free to cut down on waste, avoid using palm oil because of its environmental impact, and naturally color soap with soft plant-based tones to look pleasing. I love the products I make, but I can sell them because other people want them too. The soap I make is for others, not for myself.
Soap making as a business is tough work, but unless there’s a group of people who want to buy your soap, your efforts could be a waste of time. Do your market research and look at what other soap makers are doing. Not to copy them, but to understand their business model. There are soap makers who market to manly men, to girly girls, to crunchy people, and to the luxury market. Know what you’re passionate about and identify your tribe. Then find ways to get your soap in front of them.
Tick the boxes of legality and safety
Soap making is a fascinating art, but there’s an element of danger in making it – handling and safely using essential oils, fragrances, and, most importantly, lye. I share soap recipes online mainly for those who want to make small batches for personal use. Screw up a small batch, and it’s no problem. Get a large batch wrong, and you could waste money or make unsafe soap.
That’s the reason why most western countries are strict about the legality and paperwork side of making soap for retail. You, first of all, need cosmetic safety insurance, to protect you and others if anything goes wrong. To get coverage in Britain, Europe, and potentially other places, you will also need a cosmetic safety assessment for every recipe that you intend to sell to the public. My safety assessments are through Scott Grainger, a certified EU chemist, but others offer the service too.
You need to keep precise records of batches you’ve made, ingredients you’ve used to make them, and create correct labeling and PIF files for recipes. To sell soap or hygiene items in the European Union, you also need to submit all of your products to the EU’s cosmetic products notification portal.
Your country or region may have stringent guidelines regarding the legality of selling soap to the public. If you sell soap into another country, you have to comply with their laws too. Ensure that you tick all of the boxes to ensure you keep yourself and others safe.
Never stop learning
Making actual soap and products is just a tiny fraction of what I do. I also market it, maintain trade customers, run websites, do the accounting, take inventory, design labels, run social media, and so many other things. If I’m not on top of it all, then the business will suffer.
You can, of course, outsource many things but it will cost you. Designers are expensive, as are accountants, office managers, and every other person that you bring in. The more you can do yourself, and the more financially viable your business will be at the beginning. And to keep on top of that, you need to keep learning.
Learning includes looking at trends in the market, keeping skillsets updated, and learning new ones that will help your business. Become a Jack or Jill of all trades, even if you don’t like wearing some of the hats. I’m personally not a fan of accounting, but learning Excel and having online accounting software saves a big chunk of change. When your business grows to the point where you can afford it, hire others to help.
Watch your business cents
When Lovely Greens was a hobby, I didn’t watch the money I spent, but that changed when I had to pay the bills. Being able to don many hats and do things myself has helped me to make Lovely Greens a business. Not just a side hustle either, but my main job.
One of the ways I manage that is that that I am conservative with spending, and always look for the highest impact or quality for every cent I spend. In small soap making businesses, your highest costs will be ingredients, brick-and-mortar, and staff. If you can initially work from home and do things yourself, then you will save a lot.
With ingredients, work out exactly how much you’re spending on making each bar and ensure that you’re making a worthwhile profit from each. Not just profit on top of material cost, but an amount that will compensate you for your time. If you’re using expensive luxury butters in your soap but your customers are moms on a budget, you may need to rethink your recipes, packaging, target audience, and prices.
Having business cents also means knowing when to say no. I’ve said no to shops for wanting to stock my products because they weren’t the right fit. I’ve said no to business proposals because they would take too much of my time or wouldn’t be financially beneficial. Being open to a yes is important when opportunities arise, but evaluating your situation and being able to say no can save your cookie.
Final thoughts on starting a soap making business
There’s a lot to starting any business, and it’s no different when you start a soap making business. You have to be thoughtful, creative, on-target, always learning, financially adept, and, most of all, relentless. Lovely Greens is more than just a website or line of products to me – it’s become my life. Ask any successful business owner, and they’ll say the same.
I hope that my experience and tips answer questions you might have on starting your soap making business. If you have any others, though, please leave me a comment below. Oh, and to answer that first question on how I ended up on the Isle of Man, it was pure chance. A tourism advert on TV paired with an intention to move someplace peaceful. In life, as in business, sometimes a little luck can help.