On Thursday evenings from 8 to 9pm ET, Indie Business hosts #HandmadeChat, a Twitter talk show to help artisans and handmade product makers succeed as small business owners. While the show is aimed mainly at business owners who make and sell handmade consumer products, the topics and discussions can empower and encourage the growth of any small business.
This week's chat was sponsored by Soap Equipment, cosmetics manufacturing equipment that won't break the bank.
Our guest this week was Marla Bosworth of Back Porch Soap Company in Duxbury, MA. Through her company, Marla wholesales and retails sea-inspired soap targeted at people who love all things beach. She also teaches soapmaking and beauty business classes in the Boston and New York areas and online. Marla delivered some fantastic information last night. No matter what kind of business you own, or want to start, you'll want to hang onto this interview.
Q1 IS NOW A GOOD TIME TO START A #HANDMADE BATH+BODY AND COSMETICS BUSINESS?
Yes! The high demand for personal care products makes this a perfect time to start a handmade bath and body business. Even when the economy took a hit, consumers continued to purchase bath and body products. They are affordable luxuries. Also, for many new entrepreneurs, it’s not just about starting a business, it’s about freedom and giving back to communities and causes that are near and dear to their hearts. Owning a beauty business is a great way to do that.
Q2 WHAT ARE SOME OF THE MOST IMPORTANT BASICS OF MANAGING A SUCCESSFUL #HANDMADE BATH+BODY BUSINESS?
Know your customer base and understand how to reach and connect to them. This is much more than just getting in front of them and selling. It’s connecting emotionally and showing that you care about them.
Beauty businesses need to price for profitability out of the gate. Review financials on a monthly basis and watch expenditures.
Get help in areas in which you are weak – especially accounting. It’s all about working smarter and not harder. Spend your time and focus on what you are good at doing – which should be growing your business. Many entrepreneurs try to wear too many hats in order to save money and either suffer burnout or run their business into the ground because they're doing all the heavy lifting and no one is driving things forward.
Q3 WHAT ARE YOUR BEST MARKETING TIPS FOR BATH+BODY COSMETICS BUSINESSES?
Have a solid marketing plan. I’ve seen companies with great products but no sales leverage and no plan for one. Put Internet marketing into action. It brings in sales and opportunities 24/7.
Plant seeds of opportunity each week, whether it is with the media or a potential collaboration with another entrepreneur. Push and challenge yourself to move outside your comfort zone for professional and personal growth. This should include expanding beyond your current support network.
Attend a chamber of commerce event. Get out from behind the computer and engage with the community on a regular basis.
Q4 IS IT IMPORTANT TO HAVE A NICHE FOR YOUR BATH+BODY PRODUCTS BUSINESS?
It’s too easy to get lost in the sea of cosmetics if you don’t have a niche. Companies without a nice must work harder to be remembered. A niche puts a visual image in the consumer’s mind. Next time they need a product that fills that niche, they will remember your company. Some popular niches today include ethnic-inspired lines – especially in the area of haircare products.
Skincare lines that are regionally-inspired and use locally sustainable ingredients are also showing growth. I believe uber-focused niches are the next wave of growth opportunity for personal care products.
Q5 WHAT ARE THE BEST WAYS FOR COSMETICS STARTUPS TO ACQUIRE NEW CUSTOMERS?
I always advice to start local. Build your business with your friends and family. Get their support and have them help spread the word. Then build out from there into your neighborhood, town, and state while simultaneously building an online presence.
Q6 HOW IMPORTANT IS IT FOR #HANDMADE BATH+BODY BUSINESSES TO HAVE AN EMAIL NEWSLETTER?
In order to get opened, an email newsletter must stand out and deliver either news or something special. Email newsletters are a part of a good overall marketing strategy, but I feel their time is limited. I’m finding that younger generations view email as archaic.
Many consumers complain about too many emails in their inbox each day, including myself. I unsubscribe from email lists every day because I don’t find them relevant to my life anymore. We need to be relevant to our customers for them to want to hear from us.
Q7 HOW DO I FIND BEAUTY BLOGGERS AND OTHER MEMBERS OF THE MEDIA WHO CAN WRITE ABOUT THE PRODUCTS I MAKE?
Check out Signature 99's ranking of top fashion and beauty blogs.After that, Twitter search is my top pick for tapping into media circles. Here's a link to Alltop's beauty blogs, another great resource.
Q8 WHAT ARE THE HIGHLIGHTS OF YOUR RECENT TIP TO HAITI TO TEACH WOMEN HOW TO MAKE SOAP AND START BUSINESSES?
We taught them how to make soap, but what they taught us in return was much greater.
Haitain women who face everyday adversities taught me to take nothing for granted. They lead very hard lives, yet are full of happiness and hope. Can you imagine living in a tent camp with hundreds of others with no running water, no electricity and only a couple latrines? Yet they greet each new day with a smile and hope for a better future.
Q9 CAN I MAKE A FULL-TIME LIVING SELLING PRODUCTS I MAKE, OR WILL I NEED TO SUPPLEMENT MY INCOME?
Yes, you can make a living, but you must plan, plan, plan! Don’t quit your day job until you have a solid business and marketing strategy. Figure on netting half of what your business will gross – at the most, depending on your overhead and other factors. If you want to net $60,000 a year, you'll need to gross more than $120,000.
Q10 WHAT ARE YOUR TOP BEST TIPS FOR GETTING MY PRODUCTS INTO RETAIL STORES?
Have a point of difference or niche. Retailers are going to say that they already carry bath and body products. You need to be able to tell them how yours are different from what they already carry. There will be competition on the shelf so you’ll need to set yourself apart for the retailer and for their customers. Start locally and visit the stores to see if your product line will fit into their current offerings and clientele base. Be respectful of the store buyer or owner’s time and ask for a future appointment, not one when you walk in.
Understand wholesale pricing and have your paperwork in place: sell sheet, terms and conditions, introductory offers, etc. Retailers can smell inexperience a mile away, and it can kill a sale.
Q11 HOW SHOULD I USE SOCIAL MEDIA TO SELL #HANDMADE BATH+BODY PRODUCTS?
Be engaged online and make friends. Give, give, give…don’t sell, sell, sell. Someone once said for every three gives, suggest a sale. Be authentic and care about your customers. Bring them into your brand. Connect with media for easy exposure.
Q12 WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT USING SHOPPING CARTS ON FACEBOOK TO SELL MY PRODUCTS?
I’m not sold on F-commerce. I certainly wouldn’t have it as my sole means of selling online. Consumers are worried about security and privacy on Facebook, and are reluctant as a whole to share their credit card information there. Facebook is good for raising awareness about your brand (as are sites like Etsy), but ultimately, entrepreneurs should have their own website and shopping cart in place.
Facebook is about having meaningful connections with customers, and building your customer base, not sales. Sales come from engaging your customers on your business page and making your products relevant to their lives so that they want to click to your website and purchase them.
Q13 ANY OTHER TIPS YOU'D LIKE TO SHARE TO HELP USE MANAGE PROFITABLE (AND FUN) COSMETICS BUSINESSES?
Be the face of your company and get out from behind your brand. Stand out from behind your logo and let customers get to see and know you. After all, we choose to do business with people that we like. So give them a reason to like you. Share your life experiences in ways that others can relate. It will draw people to you, and they will become loyal customers.
Keep your overhead low. Store/warehouse space can be exciting and fun, but remember that you have to sell about ten times your rent to cover it. There are many hidden costs. I worked in retail for many years growing up and had my own store for three years. There’s something enticing and somewhat romantic to having a store, but crunch your numbers before jumping in.
Q14 PLEASE SHARE JUST ONE THING YOU ENJOY ABOUT BEING A MEMBER OF #INDIEBUSINESS IBN?
Definitely getting to know everyone and networking!
Q15 OUR APRIL 2013 THEME IS #LEANIN. WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU TO LEAN IN TO YOUR BUSINESS AND YOUR LIFE?
I love that you asked this. For me it means meditating on my personal path and my business on a regular basis to see if both are aligned: Am I doing what I love? What is my purpose? Is there a way I can do it better? Am I helping change or shape people’s lives? How can I share and give? Am I creating and building my business in a way that is true to what my heart desires?
This is what being an entrepreneur is all about.
More About Marla Bosworth
Marla has been an IBN member since 2007.
Back Porch Soap Company designs, produces and distributes an evolving line of pure, high-quality bath and body gift ware products in selected United States markets. The company's sea-inspired line is sold in upscale gift stores and spas, while its organic line is sold in natural health stores.
Connect with Marla:
You can also help Marla raise money for lye and oils for a return trip to Haiti to further empower the women there.
When Is The Next #HandmadeChat?
The next #HandmadeChat will be Thursday, April 18, 2013, at 8pm ET, with Torrian Howell of DorNee Shea Body Souffle in Twinsburg, OH. Torrian wil share tips on how she manages her growing business through a team of nationwide sales reps, and how she has navigated her business through some very challenging times.
Take the #HandmadeChat Survey so we can make #HandmadeChat even better!
Follow #HandmadeChat on Twitter.