It’s been a while. I decided to take a short (!) break from the blog after completing Blogtober in 2021, and never came back. I don’t really know why, I think I just got out of the habit and never got around to setting time aside to write.
Anyway, here I am, in front of my screen, committing to sharing (at least!) a weekly round-up post at the end of every week, most likely on a Sunday evening. I think. Maybe. We’ll see that works out…
I suppose I should really be inserting here a whistle stop catch up of the 14/15 months since I last posted, but I’m not going to. 2022 felt like a bit of plod. A year to get through, rather than a year to grow and enjoy. On a personal level there were definite high points, interspersed with a few health niggles, but business-wise I felt I was chasing my tail for the whole year, trying (and failing) to hit the level of sales of the previous year. The economic climate hasn’t helped of course, but I can’t blame it all on that. I need to up my game, be more organised, work more efficiently and promote the business better. And part of that, is reinvigorating the blog.
Last week was a strange one, work-wise. The kids were still off school, so the first week of the year was a very part-time for me. I had a sale on what was left of the Christmas range (at time of writing there are a still 9 bars of Candy Cane left – at just £3 – in case anyone’s interested :-D) and the Plastic-Free Starter Set was reduced to £25 (still a bargain at £30 now for SEVEN products to start/help you on your plastic free journey.
Coming up this week – a thorough clear up of my workspaces – making studio / office / packaging room, making some/all of the spring specials, doing a little prospecting for new wholesale customers, trying out recipes for a new solid lotion bar (exciting!) and generally restocking. Hopefully that will give me plenty to tell you in next week’s round up post *crosses fingers*
Monday and Tuesday of last week were the big soaping days – this was the result of Monday’s session:
On Tuesday I was mostly speed (read: ‘panic’) making Christmas soaps. I made a load weeks ago, thinking I was really on the ball, but I wasn’t happy with them. AT ALL 🙁
I prevariacated for a while, conscious that time was getting on and that I needed to make a quick decision, and finally this last week I redesigned and made bars that I’m happy with – phew! They’ll be released a little later than I’d hoped, but still in plenty of time for the holiday period. I don’t have any pictures yet, but I’ll share the fragrances next week, and perhaps a photo or two the following week – maybe 😉 In the meatime, here’s a sneaky peek that doesn’t give too much away 😀
A brand new stockist came on board last week, Snowdonia Nurseries in Glan Conwy. They’ve taken a lovely range of soaps for their gift shop, and shared these photos with me over the weekend:
The next bit of excitement last week was the fact that my Cosmetic Product Safety Report finally came through from my solid conditioner bars. It’s illegal to sell any body care / cosmetic product in the UK (well, the EU actually) without one of these reports, which proves that your recipe has been checked by a qualified chemist and is safe to use. So although I’ve had them ready for a while, I’ve not been able to sell them until that report came through. These are some of the ones I made during the formulating / testing process:
They’ll be available in three varieties initially, to match the shampoo bars – Bergamot & Lime, Lemongrass & Spearmint and Unscented – but more varieties will be coming soon. Now I just need to get making! A few people have asked for more information about the ingredients etc so I’ll be writing a dedicated post about the conditioner bars later on this week.
Lastly, I’m giving away a free mini Peppermint Scrub bar with all orders over £10 this week (while stocks last). These are what’s left over when I make the full size peppermint bars – I use the usual amount of soap mix but because there’s so much extra stuff in there (ground apricot stone and oats) there’s far too much to fit my regular moulds and I have plenty left over to make these little ones – a little treat for my valued customers 🙂
This is going to be a quick post – I haven’t made any soap this week, but it’s been a busy week for wholesale and guest bar orders, so most of my time has been spent putting them together.
Wedesday was the exception to the regular routine, and I spent the morning at my monthly networking group, telling them all about my business. I’ve done so many soapmaking demonstrations and talks, but I’ve never had to speak to a room of business people people about MY business. About my struggles and successes, and future development and growth. I was a little nervous to begin with, but soon warmed up, and I even made some sales, which is always a bonus! I joined the group back in January, and although time constraints have meant that I haven’t been able to attend every meet-up, I’m really beginning to really appreciate the benefits of being a member. There was a time, not so long ago, when I would have been rather dismissive of this kind of group. And all the more so because it’s called ‘Women Working Together’. But to be honest the idea of networking was a little daunting, and I’d heard some horror stories of pushy men practicing their sales patter on unsuspecting newbies at networking events. So, I decided to give this group a whirl, and I’m so glad I did. I was welcomed from the beginning, and the advice and support I get from other members, who have far more experience of growing businesses, is invaluable.
I’m really short of soapy pics to share with you this week, but here are a couple of the guest bars that I put together for one of my holiday home orders. These particular ones were for a gorgeous cottage on the Lleyn Peninsula (well worth checking out if you ever fancy a break in this neck of the woods!)
I’ve got some new ceramic soap dishes on the way, made by my talented friend Helen of the Snowdonia Blue Slate Pottery. These are so beautiful, and sell well as part of sets.
And here, just for you, is the very first look at how I’m proposing to package my new facial bars when I launch next month:
There’ll be a tag on the ties (as I have now) and a stamp on the bag with my logo – that’s the plan anyway.
Oh, and I’ve finally taken the plunge and signed up for a card reader, so that I can take card payments at fairs and markets. I don’t think that not having one has caused me to Iose an awful lot of sales in the past, but I know I have lost some. People who say they’ll come back later when they’ve been to the cash-point, but they never do. Perhaps they never meant to do so, but who knows?
Over on Instagram, this was my best performing post of the week – a #throwbackthursday collection of discontinued bars. I still love the all-blues one, and I’m thinking of using that colour scheme to make a nice ‘ice blue’ themed bar for next Christmas:
And this one was my favourite IG post of the week, purely because it combines my two passions of soapmaking and books – a selection of my favourite soaping books. How many of these do you have? I’m open to recommendations too 😉
On a personal note, this week saw the first harvest from the garden – a cucumber and two (TWO lol) beans. This was taken at the beginning of the week, and there have been a further two cucumbers since. Fortunate, as my son absolutely loves them!
This weekend has been pretty active, with an early morning walk with my friend yesterday (Saturday) morning. The sun shone, the birds sang, and I got home in time for breakfast feeling, dare I say it, awesome!!
And then today (Sunday) my husband and I took the children on a walk up into the mountains, to a hidden lake called Llyn (Lake) Idwal:
Kind of an incongruous place to find a beach, but a beach it certainly is – there were even a couple of swimmers. We had a bit of a paddle, and the kids did a load of rock climbing, before we headed back down and home just in time for dinner. My kind of day 😉
I’ve realised this evening that I need to start some kind of daily diary. This blog is supposed to serve as a record of the development of my business, but as I sat down this evening to write, I wasn’t entirely sure what it is I’ve been doing all week 😀 I think it’s the heat, going to my head. It’s been another scorcher, with temperatures around 28-29 degrees every day, and I’m loving it… I have fingers, toes and everything else crossed that it hold up after the schools break up for summer (less than two weeks away now – yey/eek!!) but I’ll confess to being a little pessimistic about the chances…
Back to last week then, and on Monday I took the day off and climbed a mountain. The perfect start to week, despite the oppressive heat. I went with three girlfriends, and we took our time, putting the world to rights as we walked. This is the view back down towards our village from the top:
We got back in time for the school run and then we all headed down to the river for a cooling dip. By the time I got to bed that night I’d clocked up over 28,000 steps on my Fitbit. That’ll do me 🙂
I was back to work on Tuesday, wrapping and labelling stock to replenish what I’d sold at the fair the previous Saturday. I spent a bit of time reorganising my office, and came across these bars that I hadn’t put up for sale because of the partial gel:
It’s great soap (of course!) and has been curing for months so it’s wonderfully hard, but it’s just not perfect, so I wasn’t happy selling it. Anyway, there’s only so much ‘reject’ soap that we can get through at home, so I decided to offer it for half price on my Facebook page. I had absolutely no idea it would prove so popular. I went off to a dentist appointment and forgot about soap for a while, and when I came out my notifications were going crazy and they were all sold no time. Why on earth has it taken me so long to do that?
On Wednesday I sent off my application for the largest Christmas fair around here, the Portmeirion Winter Fair. It’s held on the first weekend of December, and I had a great (and profitable!) time there last year, so fingers crossed I can return this year.
Thursday was soapmaking day – woop! I made 4 loaves (60 bars) of my most time-consuming bar, the seven colour Tutti Frutti, scented with a jelly beans fragrance oil. I also made a batch of my luxury Facial Bar, in my tall ‘n’ skinny mould from The Moulds Shop. Nope, I’m not on commission, I just love their moulds :-D.
(Yes, that’s a permanent kink in the silicone liner 🙁 Entirely my fault, I stored it badly)
Generally I don’t gel my soaps. It’s too difficult to cover my textured tops to insulate them, so I don’t normally bother. Last time I made the facial bars I got a partial gel so this time, when I saw that the batter in the mould was starting to gel, I popped it outside into the (hot!) sunshine and let it do its thing. Because I don’t often get to see the gelling process, I excitedly took a few snaps along the way:
At this point I had to go over to the office and was worried that the batch might overheat if I left it in the sun unattended, so I brought it indoors again. I’m sure it would have been fine, and I kind of wish I’d left it out to finish off, but never mind…
On Friday morning I unmoulded and cut the facial bars:
I am ridiculously, utterly excited about this facial bar. I’ve been using it myself for months, to the exclusion of anything else, and I absolutely LOVE it. I don’t want or need anything else. It’s been tested by many others, and the feedback has been amazing, so this batch is the first that I’ll be offering for sale, probably in mid to late August. It’s got some wonderful ingredients, including evening primrose, sweet almond, jojoba and argan oils, and I’ll be writing a post about it closer to the launch date.
I took Friday afternoon off (yes, more time off lol) and caught up with an old friend, so I was back into the office on Saturday, just briefly, to cut the Tutti Frutti soaps:
The rest of Saturday (or what felt like an awful lot of it anyway) was spent painting our hallway. Not exciting, but very satisfying. Oh, and avoiding the flippin’ football. Apparently England are doing ok? Bah – give me the Tour de France any day 😉
Thanks for reading, have a great week, and I’ll be back soon!
Last night I had the niggling feeling that I should be doing something. I wouldn’t come to me though, so we spent the evening binge watching Better Call Saul (have you seen it yet? I LOVED Breaking Bad, but didn’t think much to the idea of a spin off so avoided it despite Netflix’s best attempts at drawing me in. Given that it has the same writers, producers and directors I really should have known better, but there we go – Netflix 1, Me 0 Mind you, it has tried to foist some real doozies on me recently – the new Lost in Space remake for one – arrghhh! Anyhow, within three seconds of waking up this morning I remembered just what it was I should have been doing last night – writing this… Guess I’m not quite as firmly back in the saddle as I thought I might be ;-D Now, clearly I realise that nobody is out there desperately refreshing their screen in the hope that a new post from me will pop up, I’d like to maintain some form of regularity, so I apologise!
Well then, what’s been happening in my soapy world over the last week? On Monday I sent out orders that had come in over the weekend, and Tuesday was spent wrapping and labelling. Again. I don’t think I realised when I decided to turn my hobby into a business that, while I would get to make a lot of soap, I would also have to wrap and label a lot more soap too. Ah well, at least I’m not sweeping chimneys!
On Wednesday I had my first big soaping session in about three weeks. I stocked up on Serenity (patchouli, ylang ylang, lemon & sweet orange essential oils) and Bewitched (a dupe of the ‘Love Spell’ designer perfume), 120 bars in total:
Thursday was another day of non-stop wrapping and labelling, oh, and a little bit of photography. I’m still trying to get good shots for my website, and I quite like this one of Traeth Craig Du (Black Rock Sands):
On Friday I cut the batches that I’d made on Wednesday. I took a very quick snap of them just cut, so forgive their rather tatty appearance. I also got a touch of partial gel in the Serenity, which hasn’t happened before – I’m trusting they’ll look fine once they’ve been tidied up and bevelled:
In the afternoon I donned my science coat (not really) and made a few more batches of emulsified sugar scrub. It’s one of the things I’ve been working on whenever I have a spare half day, and I have to say I absolutely love this stuff. I’ve whittled my recipe down to three options, and I’m hoping I can finalise the recipe soon. I have so many things I want to launch this year, but at the very least there’ll be cold process shampoo bars and these sugar scrubs (fragranced with mandarin essential oil in this case) :
So that was it – my work week in soap. This coming week is going to see more soap being made, including shampoo bars, and more work on the sugar scrubs. I’m hoping to be able to send off for my scrub assessments sooner rather than later (as they can take a good few weeks to get done) and in the meantime I’ll have to think about labelling.
Have a great week everyone, and if you’re in the UK, what about this weather eh? Absolutely glorious, although it does mean watering my hanging baskets a lot more often than I’m used to!
I normally try to get this weekly round up out on Sunday evening but yesterday was Mothering Sunday here in the UK and there was no way this was going to get written last night. I had a lovely day actually – woken by very excited children at 7am and brought a card, flowers AND chocolate in bed.
A quick 5k run at 8.30 was followed by an extremely good breakfast at a local cafe Caffi Gwynant, a long walk in the hills:
and the day was rounded off with a roast dinner at home with my mum and her partner. A glass of wine turned into a couple more, and while we managed to get the washing up done, writing wasn’t really an option lol…
Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself. The week started, as it so often does these days, with a soapmaking session… Four loaves of Bewitched:
And I also made two loaves of Castile.
Castile isn’t one of my best sellers, but I have a small (and growing) group of return customers, so I always make sure it’s in stock.
Unfortunately I don’t have any photos worth sharing of the cut of these two yet, but here’s a new photo of Bewitched from a batch that’s just finished curing…
I sent out a couple of wholesale orders last week – one to the shop at Storiel in Bangor, and one to Siop Ogwen in Bethesda (which reminds me I really need to update my stockist list), and I also spent the best part of one whole day wrapping and labelling bathbombs…
On Thursday we woke up to an unexpected dump of snow, and soon after we got notification that the school was closed. The kids were thrilled, me not so much – another day’s work missed, but we baked a couple of Lemon Drizzle Cakes so it wasn’t all bad 😀
Did you see my Happy Mail on Instagram or Twitter? The super generous Terry of Oldways Soap agreed to trade soap with me, and this is what our postie delivered last week:
Aren’t they gorgeous? Five varieties of soap (one of which has already joined me in the shower) PLUS a bunny each for the children (who were utterly thrilled – far more than they ever are with any of my bars lol…) Terry is an expert at the Hot Process method (which I tried for the first time a couple of weeks ago) and she’s given me some hints and tips for my next batch which I’m looking forward to putting into practice soon.
So other than sending out the usual stream of retail orders for soap and bathbombs, that was my week. This coming week is going to be very busy – I have a bathbomb making workshop on Saturday morning, and then a craft fair on Sunday, both of which I need to prep for. I also have a few wholesale orders to get out this week, I’m making soap tomorrow (Tues) for a change, I have a networking meeting on Wednesday morning, AND my grading for my next kickboxing belt is on Thursday. Plenty to write about next week lol…
Happy Sunday folks! Hope you’ve had a good week? It’s flown by here – can’t believe it’s Sunday evening once again…
So, as it’s already 8.30pm and I still have a mound of ironing to get through, I’m going to make this fairly brief.
I made another 8 loaves of soap this week. This was on Tuesday, as once again my regular Monday making needed to be postponed as the children didn’t go back to school after their half term break until Tuesday. These are four loaves of Luscious Lavender and four loaves of Blodau (Flowers):
This follows on from the previous week’s enforced trial, and it truly does save a significant amount of time. I was a good 90 minutes faster making those eight loaves this week than it took me a fortnight earlier when I made two loaves each of four different varieties. Now, you know by now don’t you that I LOVE making soap, but when I’m making restocks I just need to get them done as quickly as possible, so this is a big win for me. A couple of close ups of this week’s makes:
I’ve finally hit my goal of having 1000 bars in stock (as I write the exact figure is 1041 bars) but I’ve realised over the last few weeks that it’s not enough, and I need to have at least 100 bars of each variety in the core range made at any one time. I don’t ever want to have to tell a wholesale client that they can’t have a particular bar, and whilst I’m prepared to accept that it may happen occasionally, it’s something I want to avoid if at all possible. Obviously those 100 bars will be at different stages of the curing process, and so I hope that if I do happen to sell out of a variety, it will only be a week or two at the most before the next batch is ready for sale.
I gained a brand new stockist this week. I was contacted by Zip World about supplying soap to their gift shop at Zip World Velocity in Bethesda. If you’re a bit of a thrill seeker, do check out that link, you won’t be disappointed!! By last Friday they had received their stock and the bars were already on display. This is a quick snap kindly sent to me by a member of staff…
Wednesday, Thursday and Friday were spent fulfilling orders and wrapping and labelling stock. I’ve also been in discussion with another potential new stockist, more of which at a later date, fingers crossed.
This weekend has been a complete work free zone. The weather was dry and bright, and although it was cold, it was the perfect opportunity to get out and tame a bit more of the garden. I use the term ‘garden’ very loosely – it was an overgrown junk heap when we first moved in, and we’re spending an awful lot of time and energy clearing it, but we’ll get there eventually. In the meantime I’m giddy to announce that I have ONE raised bed ready for sowing! Look at this beauty:
Want to know how much work that was? Every single last bit of soil in that raised bed was sieved, by hand, to remove every last bit of glass, stone and rubble, and I couldn’t be more pleased with it (well, until it’s full of edibles anyway!!) If I wasn’t so sore this evening I’d be happy dancing 😀
I have quite a long ‘to-do’ list for this coming week. I was contact recently by Plastic Free Snowdonia who were interested in solid shampoo bars. I’ve not made shampoo bars for quite a while, so that’s top of my list of things to do. I also need to make up bath bombs for a couple of orders, and for the craft fair I’ll be attending next Sunday in Abersoch (for which I also need to make up a load of gift sets – Mothers’ Day is coming dontch know! :-D) Finally, I want to make some shaving soap this week, this is a new one for me – the potassium hydroxide is on order and I can’t wait to start experimenting with recipes!
And I nearly forgot – look at this happy mail I received this week:
This rather suspicious collection of white powders was sent to me all the way from Ireland by Barb of, erm, well… I’m honestly not sure if I’m allowed to say yet as I suspect there may be a big reveal coming soon… Barb if you’re reading this do let me know if I can mention/link your new company name 😀 😀 Anyhow, she and I did a bit of a swap – I sent her some soap and she sent me this awesome selection of cream / gel / lotion making supplies, and these, together with Lisa’s e-book, are going to keep me quiet for a good while 🙂
I posted in mid Jan with great intentions to get back on the writing horse, and then found myself paralysed with indecision about WHAT I should write. I felt that I should recap everything that I’ve been up to since the end of October, but that felt like too big a job. It would never be complete (and would probably not be 100% accurate either – I don’t have the best memory these days!) and I wouldn’t be satisfied with half hearted attempt. Anyway, THAT is only reason I haven’t written anything for the last month. Crazy really.
I’m jumping back onto it tonight, and from now on I’ll be doing my weekly roundups and any other stuff in between, just like before. I’m not going to try to backtrack, but if you have any specific questions about what’s been going on over the last few months, please just ask (my memory’s not that bad ;-D) but I may well naturally fill in the blanks as I go along anyway.
The run up to the Christmas period was amazing, business-wise. I was busier than I had anticipated, and for that reason I’m still playing catch-up as far as stock levels go. My current goal is to get to 1000 bars in stock over the whole range, and I every time I think I’m getting close, another big order comes in. Mind you, I’m DEFINITELY not complaining.
I’m making a minimum of 120 bars a week now, and if you follow me on Instagram (www.instagram.com/thesoapmine) you’ll know that Monday is my big ‘making’ day. I’ll make four double batches every Monday (that’s my 120 bar minimum) and occasionally try to fit in another session later on in the week.
I’ve retired a couple of fragrances that weren’t selling so well – Delicious (a dupe of DKNY Be Delicious) and Boho Baby (Patchouli & Orange essential oils) have both gone. I don’t have any plans to replace them with anything permanent just yet, but if I come across a fragrance that I just ‘have to have’, I have the capacity.
This was the result of last week’s Monday session:
From left to right are Serenity, Welsh Rose, Tutti Frutti and Blodau (Flowers), and here are a couple of them cut:
I used slightly different colours for the Welsh Rose this time, and there’s a more subtle different between the pinks that I usually have (I’ve also just realised that this is such a fresh photo that I’ve not bevelled this one yet!) Anyway, I can’t decide whether I really like it, or I really don’t… Hmm… what do you think?
I’m going to leave things there for now, and not try to get too ahead of myself. I’ve already had some thoughts ping into my head for the next post, so I THINK I’m back on a roll. I’ll be doing my best anyway. I’ll be back next Sunday for a full weekly round up, if not before…
I had plans for today. Big plans. Important plans.
Today was the day for finishing off the wrapping and labelling of the first batches of Christmas soaps which had emerged, at the weekend, from their curing confinement
Today was also the day for delivering/dispatching said soaps to all the lovely people, both wholesale and retail clients, who had pre-ordered them.
I got up, and started making breakfast for the kids (pancakes, from scratch, in case you cared). I made my husband a coffee and took it up to the bedroom. He works from home and I take him a coffee in bed every. Sodding. Morning. Mind you, I can’t complain. I get a cup of tea in bed at the weekends. If I nag enough…
I digress. I should have known it was going to be a strange day. Most days my kids are awake before me – they were both utterly rubbish sleepers as babies (my eldest was over 18 months old before he slept more than 2 hours at a time) and have always been early risers. Today, for the first time in our family history, I had to go in to each of their bedrooms and WAKE THEM UP!! (*Ahem* capitals are for effect – I didn’t actually shout – how mean would that be?!!) Seriously though, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve ever had to wake one, or the other, up in the morning. Never, ever have I had to wake them both.
So, they were up a bit later than usual, and I was hurrying them along to eat their pancakes and get ready for school. At 7.45 the electricity went off. Complete power outage throughout the village. Never mind, teeth still got done, faces still got wiped, hair was still brushed and we put on layers of waterproofs to brave the howling wind & rain for the arduous 45 second walk to school (have I mentioned how close we live to the school?)
Did you see it coming? We arrived at the school door and were turned away. No school today – ‘Health and Safety’. Can’t do school without electricity. “Arrrrgggghhhhhhhhhhh!!!” (I might have said, under my breath)
So home we go. I couldn’t go to work, and I couldn’t even take the car to make deliveries as my husband, at a crucial point in his current project, needed to use the car to go hunt for the to nearest reliable wifi connection (which, it turns out, is to be found parked up outside our nearest Tesco (8 miles away), laptop balanced on knees – who’d have thought??!!)
So I spent an hour trying valiantly to do ‘housework’ (but mostly boiling a pan of water to make cups of tea). The kids spent an hour not knowing what on earth to do with themselves until I remind them that they have some toys that don’t have screens…
Mum turned up at about 10.30am, saw the wild look in my eyes and took the kids for a couple of hours. I ran (literally, the rain was still an issue) over to the office and wrapped and labelled as much as I could in the gloom. These are about half of the orders that were supposed to go out today:
It was dark, really dark, and although I had so much to do my eyes did get sore and I was glad when 12.30 came around – time to collect the kids.
The electricity finally came back on at about 5.30, just in time to illuminate our meal of fish and chip suppers that Dean brought home, in full-on hunter-gatherer mode. The family was fed.
I’m back at the day job tomorrow, so I have a lot of soapy catching up to do somehow but one thing’s for sure – I’ll be back with Blogtober 26 😀 #blogtobersoapers
**Waffle Warning** I’ve just reread this post before pressing publish, and it’s rather text heavy and lacking in pretty pictures. While the turn of events is a little sad, it’s exciting stuff in terms of growing the business and so I just had to share.
When I decided to take The Soap Mine forward as a bona fide business, I knew it would be a slow burner. It was 2010, I had a small baby (I was still on maternity leave) and I had just discovered that it would cost me just shy of £1,000 a month if I went back to my full time job. Neither my husband nor I were happy with the prospect of putting our baby into full time childcare (I was a project manager in a Manchester ad agency – crazy long hours) and so I gave up paid work to become a Work At Home Mum and set to making a business out of selling soap.
I practiced and experimented for months and months, and finally applied for SAs (Safety Assessments – professionally certified documentation that proves that my recipes are safe), organised insurance and dealt with all the other legal admin that needs to be done in the UK before you can sell soap.
I spent a couple of years selling at markets and fairs in and around Manchester, and then we took the big decision to move back to my childhood home in Snowdonia, North Wales (well, not actually my childhood home, I don’t think my dear mum would have been too impressed at that, but the same village) This was the turning point for my business. I was able to slowly increase the number of wholesale customers that I deal with, start giving soapmaking demonstrations and talks, and supply local visitor accommodation with guest soaps.
Throughout most of this time I’ve also had a part-time job in the village pre-school. For the last 2.5 years I’ve been the Assistant to the Setting Leader – just the two of us and up to ten 2-4 year olds. Happy chaos!! To be perfectly honest it would never have been my first choice – working with children had never been a dream – but I was offered the job when my youngest turned 2, and I could take her to work with me. There aren’t many jobs out there where you can take your child to work so it didn’t take me long to accept.
BUT, as I got busier and busier on the soaping front, I had started thinking about giving up the pre-school role and running the soap business on a full time basis. My youngest started school full time this September, and so, with some trepidation I told my employers that I would be leaving at the end of the Christmas term. Then fate decided to move things on just a little bit more quickly. Last week, the Leader of the setting handed in her notice – 4 weeks notice. She has another job, and we can’t replace her. Not for want of trying, there’s just nobody out there with the appropriate qualification who wants the job, and so she is literally irreplaceable.
So, sadly, we have to close the pre-school. We’re shutting our doors for the last time a week today – next Thursday, and I’ll be officially out of work. Except I won’t be. I have more than enough to do with the business, but now I need to think seriously about growth, and increasing revenue. It’s extraordinarily exciting, but ridiculously daunting too. I have so many ideas and plans, and now I’ll have the opportunity to put them into action – wish me luck!!
Last December, I wrote a post giving some hints and tips for giving a soapmaking talk / presentation, something I’ve been doing on a weekly basis for the last three years. I also get regular bookings to do soapmaking demonstrations, which, unsurprisingly, take a little more preparation. It’s safe to say that it’s been an interesting learning curve, and I thought it might be helpful to someone out there if I were to note down some of the things that I’ve learnt the hard way. Many may be no-brainers, but some of them might prove to be helpful. So no more waffle, here they are:
Consider your fee before you’re asked so that you’re not coming up with a figure out of thin air (yep, that was me, and it was ridiculously low!) It might be worth offering two options – one fee if there’s to be no selling involved and a slightly lower one if they’ll allow you to offer your products for sale after the demo. In my experience they’ll always go for the slightly lower fee and you can take full advantage of the sales opportunity.
If they’re happy for you to sell, make sure you take plenty of product, and some samples as well. If at all possible, make sure that you have plenty of the variety that you making on that occasion available for sale (ie if you’re making lavender soap in the demo, make sure you have plenty of fully cured lavender soap available to buy).
Consider offering a discount to the audience on the regular price of the bars – I usually take 50p off the price of each bar for demo audiences. It’s not a huge discount by any means, and it’s doesn’t make too much of a difference to me, but it is appreciated by the audience.
Take plenty of business cards. You have a captive audience and a great opportunity to sell not only your soap (or other products) but your demo packages too.
Be prepared. Create a list (beforehand!) of all the things you need to take, and tick them off as you pack them. There’s nothing worse than getting in front of an audience and realising that you’re missing a key piece of kit.
Make sure that you know exactly where you’re going. Google Street view has been my friend a few times when I wasn’t familiar with the venue.
Decide how much preparation you want to do beforehand. There are plenty of things you can do before even setting off for the venue. I like to soap at room temperature, and so I prepare the lye water at home and transport it in a well sealed container. I also prepare the oil/butter mix before I go, and depending on what facilities are available at the venue I may melt it down before leaving, or do it as soon as I arrive at the venue to give it time to cool (if you choose this option make sure that there is a microwave available to use)
Wrap/secure oils WELL to avoid spillage. Ask me how I know :-O The passenger foot-well of my car has never been quite the same since the Great Oil Spill of 2016 😀
Make sure you know how much space you’ll have. It’s also nice to have an idea of how many people are likely to be in the audience – is it likely to be 5, or 35? (That will also give you an idea of how much product you need to take to sell)
If you use a hand blender (or any kind of electrical equipment) remember to tell the organiser that you’ll need to be positioned near an electrical socket. If in doubt, take an extension lead.
Be aware of your timings. If it’s your first time you might unconsciously race through the process in record time, leaving the audience wondering just what happened there. Take your time and explain what you’re doing every step of the way.
Let the audience know that you welcome questions at any time (providing you do, of course). If you’re new to demos you might feel that having questions being fired at you could be offputting, but I’ve found that it’s a nice way to break the ice.
Take samples of the ingredients to hand around the audience during the demo, eg fragrances (essential oils or fragrance oils), colourants, oils / butters in their natural state.
Make sure you take plenty of towels and/or tablecloths to protect whatever surface you’ll be working on. I also have a roll of thin linoleum that I use to cover tables as I’d be mortified if spilt lye / raw soap and damaged somebody else’s property!
Also ensure that you have plenty of cloths and/or paper towels to mop up any spillages.
Don’t forget your safety gear. It might be obvious, but it’s easy to forget the gloves or the goggles. Make sure they’re added to your list (see point #4)
Don’t ever use a new recipe or fragrance for a demo – make something you’ve made many times before, and that you know works. Don’t rush – It’s easy to forget to add a fragrance or add the colourant at the wrong time if you’re feeling even a little pressured or anxious.
Take a big plastic tub specifically to take home all the washing up. I use big tubs to take everything to the venue and usually find that I can use just one of them to transport soapy pots and utensils home – you don’t want to be carrying them home in the same containers as all your non-soapy stuff.
If you can, take some previously made soap in the mould to show the audience the unmolding / cutting process. (And don’t forget your cutter!) It means that the audience can see full process from start to finish. I usually try to make a batch 2 days before I’m due to give a demo or talk, for this very reason.
Consider talking about the wrapping process and/or labelling rules & regulations.
It can help to have some ‘interesting facts’ at your fingertips (eg history of soapmaking) should something take longer than planned. If, for whatever reason, your soap doesn’t trace as quickly as usual, you don’t want to be standing there in silence with an audience staring at you!
Consider preparing a handout with a basic recipe and a list of resources should anyone want to try making soap themselves. Not everyone is comfortable doing this, but in my mind it shows a generous spirit to be willing to help others get started.
Know your audience language. Now this is a bit of a niche tip, I’ll admit, but I live in a bilingual area (English/Welsh) and while I’m comfortable giving a demo / talk in either language, I always make sure I know beforehand which language I’ll be using for that particular occasion.
Try to enjoy it! The audience will enjoy it much more if you’re having fun yourself. Smile a lot, crack a few jokes if appropriate, make it clear that you welcome questions and engage in conversation.
Hope they’re helpful to someone – if you can think of any more please comment below!
Thanks for sticking with me so far, nearly halfway there! Back tomorrow #blogtobersoapers
Every time I cut a loaf of soap – I always have a fair sized chunk left over at the end of the loaf. Not so thick as to be a saleable bar but perfect to cut into four and use as sample bars. Their uses, as a general rule, are twofold
1. As free samples to be popped in the box when anyone places an order and
2. To be given out to retail outlets with each wholesale order, one per fragrance ordered, so that customers can get a good idea of the fragrance
I ALSO have left over the very thin end piece that I slice off the loaf when I begin cutting it:
and recently I started wondering how I could use them. A couple of years back, at Christmas time, I had bundled up various end pieces, wrapped them up in raffia and sold them as sample packs at market:
But I wanted something a little ‘neater’, and then I remembered this blog post by Emily at Soap & Restless, and went on the hunt in the kitchen for a suitably sized cookie cutter. This was the result:
I’m still not entirely sure what I’m going to do with them. Maybe cut a hole in each one and string them onto some ribbon or raffia? Or just use them as prettier free samples? It would be an easy enough process to continue slicing that last chunk into thinnish slices, so I should still be able to get four samples out of each end chunk… What do you think? Which sample would you prefer to get with your order?
Does anyone else feel like September is a bit of a fresh start? Almost like a mini New Year if you will. It’s always been the same for me, probably because it’s the start of the academic year, and therefore was often a time of change during my younger days.
Anyway, this September, things get serious for The Soap Mine. My youngest starts full time school next week, and I’ve known for a couple of years that this September will be a pivotal month for the business. Up until now I’ve had to work during the evenings and weekends, but going forward I’ll have 22 more hours a week to really grow and take this business forward. (I’ll continue to work in the Village Pre-school for 8 hours a week – on Wednesdays and Thursdays, for the time being) Having said that, it won’t actually be 22 hour MORE, as I’ve no intention of continuing to work all evenings and weekends like I’ve had to do this last couple of years. I’m taking some time back for me!
Ok, back on task. There really should be only one goal for September – get the website up and running. I’ve made a start – today I spent a couple of hours inputting text and uploading photographs – but it’s going to be quite a long process if today’s anything to go by. Many of my photos need to be re-shot too so that may take some time. Part of the website launch will involve migrating this blog onto the new site – I have no idea how that’s going work – am I likely to lose all my readers in one fell swoop or will you all somehow, magically, be redirected to the new site? We’ll see I guess :-/
But one goal’s just not going to cut it this month. I need to get the majority of my Christmas soaps made if they’re going to be cured and wrapped by the beginning of November. I also want to get back into the swing of regular blog posts too. I’ve committed to doing Blogtober again this year, but aiming for 8 – 10 during September should keep me on my toes.
So there we go. Website, Christmas soaps and blog posts. Together with the ongoing restocks, they’re the priorities for this month. What are yours?
Building a business one soap at a time. That’s my blog’s sub-heading, and that’s what I’ve been doing for the last few years. Just like putting one step in front of the other, I’ve been making one soap after another, and slowly growing the business But a lot of the time it feels like I’m flying by the seat of my pants. I knew nothing of business before I started this venture, and it’s been (and still is!) a huge learning curve. I was simply a soapmaking hobbyist who frankly, was looking for a way to make a bit of money when I realised that I really DIDN’T want to go back to the long hours of Project Management when my son, my eldest child, was born seven years ago. Seven years ago today in fact. I’m not sure where I’m going with this ramble, but it’s my gorgeous boy’s birthday today, and I’ve been reminiscing on the passing of time.
Before my boy arrived I loved my job. It was fast paced and I worked long hours, but it was absolutely not compatible with a baby – for me anyway. So I started wondering whether it was possible to build a profitable business making handmade soap. Seven years on and the business grows month by month and I love THIS job. Working my own hours is so family-friendly (and will be even easier when my youngest starts school full time in September) but I’m still nowhere near making the kind of income I had from my pre-children employment, and I don’t know if I ever will. It’s exciting, exhilarating even, and sometimes it makes me anxious. At times I drive my long suffering husband insane by fretting and worrying about how much I have to do in what little time I have available to me, especially when he’s working away and that available time is further reduced. I’m frightened of taking too much on, overstretching myself and letting customers down. I’ve been holding back on launching the website because I really don’t know if I can handle more orders than I’m already getting… A great position to be in, but it means that growth is slower than it could otherwise be.
Well, having said all that, I was lucky enough to secure two new stockists this last week. My soap can now be found in Conwy Art & Craft, 7 High Street, Conwy and Slate and Things at 38 High Street, Caernarfon. Do pop in and check them out if your in the area – both gorgeous shops with loads of lovely items for sale.
Needless to say, I’ve been doing a lot of wrapping and labelling recently, but I also made soap (of course!). Two batches each of Serenity and Botanica: (please forgive the shadows – I thought I’d try some ‘arty’ photos in the dappled sunshine but, erm, it didn’t quite work :-D)
And I even managed to get it cut in time to share some pics with you:
I’ve been inundated with orders for the mini guest bars – plenty of them gone out this week:
I’m STILL in discussions with a couple of companies re boxes for my soap – I’ll be sure to share more when I have something definite to report.
On a personal note, I’ve already mentioned that it’s my eldest’s birthday today. We held a party for him and his friends yesterday, and much fun was had:
He absolutely adored his Minecraft themed cake:
made by the super-talented Julie of Stickytreats – check out her Instagram account if you love creative cake decor…
That’s it for today, thanks for reading, I’ll be back soon!
Did you have a good weekend? I’ve no idea where this last week has gone – seemed to fly by! My husband was away for a couple of nights at the beginning of the week, so although I managed to make a couple of batches on Tuesday night, once the kids were in bed, I didn’t manage to get as much done this week as I usually would… He’s away again next week, for three nights I think, and as it’s half term and both kids are off school, it could well be a rather unproductive week soapwise…
Anyhow, back to the good stuff. These were Tuesday’s batches – Clarity and Luscious Lavender:
And, for once, I managed to photograph the freshly cut bars – forgive the rough edges, these were taken just minutes after cutting:
I’m still on the hunt for soap boxes – I knew there was a reason I put it off for so long, it’s not an easy search! I’ll update when I have something to share.
This week saw the arrival of the last parcel (all the way from the US) in the 2017 International Soap Swap. I don’t want to spoil any surprises so I can’t really give anything away until all participants have received their return packages, but oooohhhhh I’m so excited to share. There should have been 15 of us in total, but 6 had to pull out for one reason or another, and the final count is 9. The contents of these boxes are stunning, and will be posted out to their rightful owners by the end of the week. Stay tuned as I can’t wait to share their contents with you….
My soapmaking routine is taking a bit of a shuffle this week. I’ve always been in the habit of making soap on a Tuesday night, so that I have a batch to cut at my soapmaking presentation on a Thursday night (48 hours later). However, the venue has asked me to move my talk to Wednesday nights (after my kickboxing training – eek!) for the foreseeable future, and therefore I need to make soap on a Monday night from now on. It does however free Thursday night up for soapmaking too, so my schedule from now on will mean soapmaking on a Monday and a Thursday as a general rule.
There you go, that was my soapy week in a nutshell. In other news, we spent most of yesterday working in the garden. Have I mentioned our back garden yet? It was a complete jungle when we moved into the house, and it’s slowly being tamed into submission. This was it last year – just look at those overgrown boundaries :-O (But on a positive note they hid pounds and pounds of juicy blackberries)
Then, after lots and lots of hacking, digging etc etc etc we got to this point a couple of weeks ago:
And by the end of yesterday:
I’m starting to see potential, and am getting excited about what we could do with it. It slopes upwards, so it’s foreshortened in this picture, and is actually longer than it looks. I have dreams of a greenhouse, a seating area, raised beds for veg and salad, and plenty of flower beds. I absolutely adore gardening, and can’t wait to get to it properly! And obviously I’ll be sure to share the progress 🙂
I got back into the swing of making soap this week. Having realised that I need to be making far more to keep up with demand, a new process was required. Previously I would usually make three different batches during an evening’s soaping, once a week, but the new routine is four batches a night, twice a week. By doubling up the batches – ie making two lots of two fragrances, rather than three lots of one, I find I can make the four batches as quickly as three, if not faster.
Wednesday was the first day of the new regime – two lots of Welsh Rose and two lots of Bewitched on the cards. But, wouldn’t you know it, I ran out of lye. Arghhhh – I felt sure I had a second tub but nope… Nevermind, I had enough for three batches: two Bewitched and one Welsh Rose:
More lye was ordered and arrived within 48 hours, so I was able to make more today – two lots of Oatmeal, Milk & Honey and two of Blodau (Flowers):
I clearly need to have a better handle on inventory. I do have have the Soapmaker 3 program, which comes highly recommended, but haven’t got round to using it yet. :-/ Maybe that should be one of April’s goals.
This week I also delivered another couple of batches of ‘Ar Lan y Mor’ (By the Sea) and Potters’ Soap – exclusive fragrances/designs for Glosters in Porthmadog:
I also finished off wrapping and packaging the mini guest bars for Plas Colwyn Guest House right here in the village – these are just a small selection of them:
We celebrated St David’s Day on Wednesday, and as is traditional, I made up a big batch of Teisen Gri (Welsh Cakes) for the village school show.
I’ve been asked again to share the recipe, so I’m planning on getting that written up this week and posted here on the blog.
This is my little three year old in her traditional ‘welsh lady’ costume, singing her heart out at the front of the stage. She’s normally pretty shy, so it was wonderful to see her enjoying her moment in the limelight…
I also managed to get out for ONE run this week – 5km on Friday morning. If you saw the post about my goals for March, you’ll know that I want to run at least 30km this month. Easily doable, IF I can get my running mojo back where it was in January. Throw some motivation my way?
Happy Sunday everyone! It’s been a busy week, so I’ll crack right on…
More Luscious Lavender and Welsh Rose were made this week. They’re very popular, and I always like to have plenty in stock:
Both were cut, but I only got round to photographing the Lavender:
I also photographed the two custom batches I made last week. This pic, of Potters’ Soap, proved to be my most liked ever on Instagram – so far! 😀
And this one is called Ar Lan y Môr (By the Sea):
I’ve spent quite a bit of time this week bevelling, packaging and labelling soap. It’s almost half term and before I know it the tourist season will be upon us, so I’m getting ahead of the game:
This evening I had planned to masterbatch a load of oils for the next couple weeks of soapmaking but discovered at the last minute that I’d run out of Shea Butter. Arrghhh!! I’m usually really careful to reorder as soon as I’m getting low of something so crucial. I didn’t because I was sure I had more, but nope, it’s nowhere to be found. So, first off I ordered more Shea, and then changed tack and made some Bath Bombs (or Bath Fizzies, or whatever it is I’m eventually going to call them – decisions decisions!!)
Before Christmas I got my assessment documentation through for 8 varieties of Bath Bomb (in the UK/EU it’s illegal to sell any bath & body product without first paying to get your recipe assessed and approved by a qualified chemist), and tonight I made three of them – Welsh Rose, Clarity & First Kiss:
They’re not ‘perfect’ looking, but they do what they’re supposed to – gorgeously!!
Eventually I want to be able to provide matching Bath Bombs for each soap in my core range, but at the moment I can only sell the three above, plus Boho Baby (patchouli & orange), Lavender, Bewitched (was Love Spell), Serenity and Oatmeal Milk & Honey. I’m waiting on more colourants to arrive then I’ll be making more (woo hoo!)
I had a bit of an interesting experience with Facebook this week. I’ve neglected my page somewhat recently as, if I’m honest, it sometimes feels like a waste of time. The Facebook algorithm means that very few of my ‘likers’ actually see my posts, and consequently there is very little engagement. Regardless, I decided that I should give it a go again, and wrote a post explaining why I hadn’t posted for a while and that I would be grateful if people could occasionally like, comment or even (gasp!) share a post. Then I added the photo that had been so popular on Instagram Well my friends, that post has gone bonkers! 165 likes, 54 comments and, and 47 shares at time of writing…
Soo…. I wonder if the same thing would work here? May I ask you to click that little like button below? Would you be amenable to writing a word or two to let me know you’ve been here? Lol, I can but ask, hey??! Thanks for reading, back soon.
February will see an increase in the pace of restocking the core range of soaps and (finally) bathbombs. In addition, the plan is to:
Create a wholesale Line Sheet. Wholesale enquiries are increasing and this is a high priority ‘must have’. ASAP…
Make a test batch of facial soap
Make 3 Spring Special soaps
Post 8 times on the blog
On a personal note, I have these (particularly un-SMART goals). I’m going to run 50km this month, read something (yep, that’s deliberately vague as I have. absolutely no idea what yet – better decide soon eh?!), and do some baking. I LOVE baking but never seem to find the time. Maybe a cake or two, maybe some cookies, I don’t know, but I WILL bake two somethings 😀
A short post, but it gives February some structure. Thanks for reading and keeping me accountable!
Ok, so I made soap too, but I’m more excited about the marmalade.
I was given 2lbs of Seville oranges last week – the perfect opportunity to indulge in a bit of preserving. I used a Delia recipe (can’t beat a bit of Delia!) and it proved to be extraordinarily easy: 2lbs of Seville oranges, 1 lemon, 4 pints of water and 4lbs of granulated sugar. It’s identical to this recipe here, except I took it out of my rather ancient copy of Delia Smith’s Illustrated Cookery Course, which has been my go-to recipe book for years…
I’m ridiculously pleased with it – it’s really tasty.
Last week’s adventures in soapmaking was a couple of custom batches – I first made these last year for a local retailer, and they requested more of the same:
I’ll have some cut photos to show you next week, but in the meantime, here’s a photo of the Potter’s Soap just before cutting – it’s been one of my all time most popular photos on Instagram:
Other than the day job I didn’t get much more done this week – I spent a few days under the weather – a bug which turned into a cold – and then I was away over the weekend (hence the late post). Oh, but more wholesale enquiries have come in this week – hopefully I’ll have some good news to share soon.
I’ll be back very soon with a roundup of January’s goals, and a plan for February – thanks for reading!
Another year, another set of goals… To be honest, last year’s weren’t a huge success – on a personal level I didn’t read as many books as I’d hoped, and I certainly didn’t run as far as I wanted to. Luckily, I’m not anywhere near as bothered as perhaps I should be 😀 On a business level I achieved two out four of my goals – I generated significantly more income than I did in 2015 and I nailed down my bath bomb recipe / got my assessment paid for and certified, so I can now crack on with making and selling them. Lip balms and website are back on the list for this year…
Speaking of which, I’m going down the route of monthly goals this year. Last year’s goals weren’t time specific enough, so without any further ado, here are my personal and business goals for January:
Run 30km. Yep, I’m running again. Last year I started off with a rather gung ho attitude and injured myself. I was out of action for a good couple of months and never really got back on track properly after that. This time I’m starting very gently. I’ve run 6.5km so far, so I think 30km is achievable.
Read one book. Any book. Just read dammit!! We’ll see… This is one I may have to give up on until the kids are a bit older.
January is usually a quiet-ish month, but I’m generally kept busy restocking after the Christmas period, so that’s a given, not a goal. In addition I want to:
Complete my tax return. This is not optional. It has to be done by 31st January, and WILL be done by 31st January, so I know I’m onto a winner with this one 🙂
Make a batch of Castile soap. Castile is a pure olive oil soap, with no other oils or butters, which needs at least 6 months cure time. I’ve wanted to make it for a while but not got round to it. I figure if I put it down here as a goal I might be more motivated to find the time.
Work on a formula for a facial bar. I probably won’t actually make it this month, but I’d like to start researching and formulating a recipe so that I can try making this soon.
Post a minimum of 8 times on the blog.
And there we go, nothing really groundbreaking but, fingers crossed, they’re achievable. If you’re reading this, thank you! It’s you I’m counting on to keep me on track, if only because I have to report back here in four weeks time – hopefully with my head held high 😀
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