Failures, catastrophes and starting a small business

by Veronica on June 27, 2014

in Soapmaking

The problem with starting up a small business, is that most of the time it’s only us to do the work. This leaves me counting down the weeks until the shop opens with no small amount of panic.

Also it’s the end of June and my mental health is never good around the anniversary of my Nan’s death, funeral, and the subsequent family implosion which occured at the same time.

So I’m busy and suffering from a little overwhelm.

But it’s all good. We’ll pull it together and launch successfully and it will be amazing.

Of course in the meantime this means I’m not online much – spending time making and stamping soap, designing packaging, making sure the curing soap gets turned regularly and the hundred other jobs we’ve got going on.

I made an exfoliating foot soap this morning. The plan was a round soap, pale green with darker green and blue swirls. I’d scented it with spearmint and eucalyptus and it was looking fantastic.

I was just about to pour it into the moulds when I realised I’d forgotten the ground pumice stone. I’m not quite sure how an exfoliating soap without any exfoliant in it would work, but I doubt it would be successful.

Carefully I sprinkled pumice stone on top, hoping I could maybe stir it in without destroying all the swirls. I still had a little bit of colour to swirl with after all.

Nope. I tried, Internet. I tried really hard, but by the end, my soap was a blue green colour and nary a swirl in sight.

I poured it anyway, only to discover large lumps of pumice in the last two cups of batter.

Back into the bucket it went for a quick stick blend and any hope of swirls dashed.

Dashed, I say.

Luckily the blue green colours I picked blended really well and it looks like a lovely aqua green/blue colour.

Not what I’d originally planned, but pretty all the same. I thought briefly about adding some titanium dioxide to a portion of the batter and trying to add a lighter swirl for contrast, but by that stage the batter was heating up and thickening and I needed to get it back into the moulds.

I poured it and it’s currently all tucked up in towels to speed up the saponification.

I rather like round soap and I don’t have enough of it made, so it’s going to be a few weeks of playing with column moulds, in between making bucketloads of soap for a large pre-order.

It’s exhausting and exciting and amazing and just so much fun. Even with disappearing swirls and the thought of hundreds of bars of soap to cut, stamp, package and list online.

There’s all kind of advice out there about starting a small business.

A lot of it is similar to advice given to bloggers. Create your brand. Behave professionally at all times. Never complain. Never mention mistakes or people won’t trust you.

I’m not sure. I think there’s good points to the advice, but also, I’m a real person, working out of my house, with problems occuring. I made soap while the children were occupied doing something else (my soap area is gated to stop pets/toddlers causing themselves harm), only to discover Evelyn had been so silent because she was busy using a batch of sample soap bars as toy blocks, and she’d also pulled out every single nappy in the house and covered the living room with “snow”.

And I don’t think there’s any shame in mentioning the slight panic when I just checked the freshly poured soap, found it almost too hot to touch and had to frantically find space in the fridge to stop it overheating. I may have dropped a bottle of orange juice on my foot at the same time.

There’s a difference between being professional and unapproachable.

I’d very much like to talk about the process of soaping with you guys, but how can I do that without also talking about the struggles of setting up a small business with no capital? About how every spare cent is going on soap ingredients so we get everything up and running. About my disgust that the castor oil I ordered is going to take over 12 days to reach me according to the tracking number, and that until it reaches me I can’t start the order which really needed to be made this week in order to give me time to remake in the event of castastophe.

It’s a balancing act.

Luckily I am good at balancing.

Mental health problems aside, it’s been a rough few weeks here for me. The realisation that people have strong opinions about my reproductive organs threw me for a loop and I stopped writing, talking, thinking, while I came to terms with this.

Of course, it doesn’t matter what people think. We’re happy, and that’s all that counts, but the judgey in the meantime is hard to deal with. I won’t deny that I’ve spent a fair amount of time reading, escaping into other people’s worlds for respite.

But eh. There’s nothing I can do about it and not writing is worse for my sanity than people judging, so again. Balancing act.

In summary, life is incredibly busy, incredibly fun and we’re all doing well.

How are you?

Fiona June 27, 2014 at 8:06 pm

I’m glad you’re having fun playing with the soaps, learning a new craft. Disasters happen, I like how you’ve allowed time for them!!

Beth June 28, 2014 at 8:38 pm

I have a small business. In fact, I’ve had a number of small businesses, all of which I started from scratch. Some failed. One sold. One provided me with a small income and a lifestyle but nothing else. And now I’m working in the current one. I’ve been doing it since I started buying 6 packs of coke with my pocket money at 10, and on-selling them at an exorbitant profit to my brothers. There’s only really two pieces of advice I have ever found completely useful for every small business situation: start small, and while you’re small concentrate on systems that work for you. You have so much to do that you need a system. Some people need a list. I prefer a big whiteboard with daily, weekly and monthly tasks that I can tick off. Up to you, really, but creating that semi formal system is what will keep you out of crap when things like late deliveries raise stress levels. Include things like accounts etc on it, and you’ll find it all just happens without too much thought. You just don’t have time for any thought!

river June 29, 2014 at 7:19 pm

How am I?
Looking forward to browsing your shop and selecting soap!
On the other hand, I’ve had an extremely busy week, bit of stress thrown in and spent most of today hiding in nap-land. Thank goodness things are calmer now.

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