Indie Business Launchpad: Zularis Naturals

Indie Finds Niche, Launches New Business In 147 Days

On August 20, Penny Tallent, one of my clients and a member of the Indie Beauty Network, launched Zularis Naturals. Penny's story is inspiring. No matter where you are in your life, and no matter what health challenges, family obligations or traditional jobs you have, Penny proves that you can own a brand of your own.

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Penny is a 39-year old Massachusetts mother of 3 girls, ages 17, 10 and 6. She has been married to her husband, Rick, for 11 years. Penny has worked as a nurse 3 nights a week on the 11:00PM to 7:00AM shift for nearly 17 years, so she gets very little sleep. Amazingly, she launched Zularis Naturals, from soup to nuts in just 147 days while working all night 3 days a week and being at home (and awake) with her children during the summer months. She did all of this while managing a significant health related challenge. I asked this amazing Indie Business Owner to share the milestones, high points and low points of the process she went through to make Zularis Naturals a reality.

dM: Where did you get the idea for your business?

Penny: It all began over 9 years ago, after I learned how to make handmade soap. At the time, I was a nurse and my hands were horribly dry and cracked from repeated hand washing with detergent based soaps and alcohol sanitizing gels. The handmade soaps and body butters I made helped so much that other people asked to buy them and my home business began.

I put the business on hold to tend to several family issues, always knowing that I would come back to it again.

dM: How did you come back to your business?

Penny: During the time when I couldn't run the business, I happened to find the Indie Beauty Network. My  plan was to join IBN whenever I started up the business again because IBN offers affordable products liability insurance.

But I quickly discovered that insurance was only one of many benefits IBN offered, and the organization became a great source of very helpful business related information.

In early 2007, I decided to go back into business, and started up Sugarlicious to sell sugar scrubs in deli-style containers. I packaged the colorful scrubs just like ice cream and called them Sugar Scrub Sundae's. I also offered coordinating scented and colored body butters.

dM: How did things go at Sugarlicious?

Penny: Well, after spending about 9 months back in business, I realized that it was going nowhere. It was going to be difficult to get noticed since there were now so many handmade bath and body companies. Sugar scrubs are everywhere!

After listening to one of dM's Indie Business Radio Shows on the importance of having a niche, and attending some of dM's IBN member group coaching sessions, I realized that, if I wanted to make my business successful, I was going to have to focus on a particular niche.

I decided to contact dM and inquire about business coaching. The idea of switching from sugar scrubs to hand hand and nail care products came up during my very first coaching session with her.

Since 1994, I have been a licensed manicurist, so I know how to help people take care of their hands and nails. Also, my first business began because of the difference products I made make on my own hands. Talking it through with dM, I decided to focus on hand and nail care products as my niche.

dM and I discussed the natural hand and nail care niche, and dM asked me who I thought would purchase those types of products. I figured it would be mostly women. But even with a focus on hand care, there still are a huge number of companies that sell specifically to women. dM asked if men purchased similar products. I answered that they might, since men's grooming products are becoming more popular. But I wasn't sure since I had never seen a hand/nail care kit for men.

I figured that, if there wasn't already such a kit available, why not create one suitable for men, and also for women? Zularis Naturals was born.

dM: How did you settle on Zularis as a brand name?

Penny: Creating the brand name was one of the most difficult parts of the launch process. Sugarlicious was definitely not going to work, and of course, that was a bummer since I had already spent thousands of dollars on the Sugarlicious website, labels, photos, ingredients and packaging. But the change had to be made.

Trying to come up with a brand name where the dot come was available was hard enough. But I also wanted something that worked with my niche and that was also short, catchy, unique and as easy to remember as possible.

Many of the names I came up with were already taken. I finally found one but, in the end discovered that another company was using a similar name. Even though the name was used to sell products that were different from mine, I didn't want to spend money and time building on a brand name, only to have to change it down the line, so I erred on the side of caution and continued my "brandstorming."

It was disappointing for sure. I had even created a basic logo idea based on the name, but a brief coaching session with dM helped me move forward. The new name I came up with, Zularis Naturals, met all of my requirements, and the logo idea I had for the original name was easily incorporated into it.

dM: How excited are you to launch Zularis Naturals?

Penny: Are you kidding?!! Very excited! It's amazing to see how it all came together.

First and foremost, I am excited to be finally doing something where all the time, effort and energy will benefit me and my family directly, instead of someone else. You can't beat that!

At first it seemed like all I was doing was making plans. Now, just a few months later, I'm looking at a new website, great product photos, bunches of labels and spa bags! It may sound weird but right now I'm probably most excited about the labels. This is the first time I've ever had professionally printed labels. I can't believe the difference in the way the products look just because of the labels. I can easily see my kit sitting on a salon shelf next to some of the big names in nail care such as OPI, Essie and Cuccio.

dM: What products are in the Zularis Naturals Hand & Nail Care Kit?

Penny: In a reusable zipper spa bag, 1/2 oz Intensive Repair Cuticle Oil, 4.5 oz Soothing Milk Soak, 2.5 oz Hand and Foot Scrub, 2oz Hand and Body Rub and a 2oz bottle of Aloe and Shea Butter Lotion. It also includes a callous reducer/foot file, emery boards and cuticle sticks, plus instructions for maximizing use of all of the products.

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dM: What sorts of methods are you using to promote your business?

Penny: Since I'm brand spanking new, I'm still developing my outreach, but I'm off to a great start.

The first thing I did, based on dM's advice, was to take her free blogging tutorial, participate in the IBN member blogging group coaching sessions and then launch my blog before Zularis Naturals launched. I transferred all of the posts from the old Sugarlicious blog to the new Zularis Naturals blog and I have big plan for the future of my blog. I also joined Twitter.

I hate blogs that are nothing more than a big commercial. One of the fun things I am going to do with my blog is focus on people's hands, nails and feet by taking pictures of them and showing off how beautiful and valuable these most under appreciated appendages are.

(Email your hand and feet pictures to me at ZularisNaturals @ aol dot com with a link to your business and I just may include you in the discussion!)

I just joined dM's Media Leads Program two days ago. I sent out my first pitch yesterday to a journalist writing a story on people starting non-tech online business during the current economic downturn. I have not heard back from her yet, but within hours of sending the pitch, I noticed that the journalist signed up to follow me on my Twitter page. It's exciting to know that such a quick, simple and inexpensive move could result in a journalist signing up to find out more about my business. What more could a 3-day old business ask for?

dM: Why did you join Twitter?

Penny: Originally, it was because dM said I should. As mentioned in the answer to the last question, I'm sold on it already. I have several followers who I can quickly and easily keep updated on my activities, and I'm following people too. It's a great way to get to know others, learn new things and have fun in business.

dM: What are your biggest fears, if you have any, about starting your business?

Penny: People tell me I'm crazy to start a business now. Everyone talks about how bad the economy is. Raw materials prices are constantly increasing due to increasing gas prices. I sometimes worry that perhaps they are right, so I guess that is my biggest fear right now. But I think dM's coaching has helped me plan everything out so that I could launch a focused product line without spending a huge amount of money.

dM: What were your start up expenses?

Penny: I kept really good records.

IBN membership: $125
Products liability insurance: $395 (annual premium for $1M in coverage)
One-on-one business coaching services: $920
IBN member group coaching: free
Website redesign and launch: $1,200 (Web designer: Red Lime)
Logo design: $150
Label design: $125 total (5 products)
Label printing: $1,450 (1,000 labels for each product). With my label printer, because two labels were the same size, I got a further reduction in price since. The printer calculates price by the number of each size, not the number of designs, so since I had 5 labels designs, all the same size, and purchased 1,000 of each design, I got the bulk price for 5,000 labels)
Product photos: 5 single shots, 2 group shots: $150 (Photos: DJ Photographer). I opted for photos on a plain white background for budgeting reasons. I hope to have more elaborate photos with props in the future.
Social media (blog and Twitter): free
Trademark application: $325 (this will be done soon)

As for ingredients, I had many on hand from Sugarlicious, but I still invested an additional $2,000 for new ingredients and packaging. I was able to sell many of the Sugarlicious inventory and supplies, which cut my packaging costs in half I think.

dM: How did you finance the start up?

Penny: I used my credit card and applied points toward free items. I used a card with a super low interest rate of 4.9%. I got it that low by calling the company and telling them that I was going to switch to someone else because their offer was better. They asked what the other offer was and they matched the other company's interest rate. It is only for 9 months, but everything will be paid off before then anyway.

I planned all my purchases very carefully so I didn't end up with a huge balance. Any balance that remains after the 9-month low rate period will be transferred over to my home equity account, which carries a similar rate. If I did not get added points from the credit card, I would have used money from my home equity account to start the business.

dM: Did your special health issues impact your business start up process?

Penny: Yes, some. On April Fool's Day this year, I found myself laying flat on the floor in the middle of the living room, when I was supposed to be walking through the room.

Based on several MRIs and my daughter's reports to medical professionals about what she observed, it was determined that I had a small stroke followed by a grand mal seizure at the ripe old age of 39. A bit of a shock considering that my health was very good at the time. Thankfully, the only physical side effects are headaches and slight speech and memory issues that are more of an annoyance than anything else.

But the problem has greatly affected my ability to work the night shift. I can no longer work several nights in a row and still think clearly. The anti-seizure medication I take several times a day also makes me very sleepy. This makes it harder to stay awake to work nights, and is another reason I'm so glad to start my own business so I can work on my own terms.

Zularis Naturals will be extremely helpful given the current situation I'm in. I'll be able to work during the times that I can be most productive, take breaks when I need to because of the medication and finally get the amount of sleep I need to function. No more double shifts because of call-ins or getting stuck working too many nights in a row because someone else is on vacation and there's no one to cover.

I've already reduced the number of days I'm working. I'm hoping to change over to per diem shifts now that Zularis Naturals has launched. I will eventually quit my job to focus entirely on my business. Slowly making changes in my work schedule now has made it easier to adjust the household budget. This will ultimately help when the time to quit finally arrives.

dM: What's your honest evaluation of your experience with your business coach (me)?

Penny: Through other non-business related experiences I've found that the best way to learn something is to work with a mentor or coach who is already successful. Why re-invent the wheel if someone else has already done it?

Before starting with dM, I had already spent 9 months trying to rebuild Sugarlicious through trial and error, and had little success. I decided that, if I was serious, then consulting a business coach would give me a better chance this time. I was already a regular reader of the Indie Business Blog and I enjoy Indie Business Radio and dM's IBN member group coaching sessions.

With dM's experience in business, and in the beauty industry in particular, I felt that she would be a great choice for a coach.

Personally I think this was the best thing I could have done to invest in my business.

At first, I thought a coach would listen to my thoughts and ideas then tell me what to do. That was not the case with dM. She listened, asked questions and really made you think about what would actually work for my own personal situation. She provided information and whatever kind of support was helpful in particular circumstances.

dM also helped me find people I could use for different services: printing, design, product photography. I made all of the final decisions, but having someone to ask the right questions helped me formulate plans and kept me focused when I was about to go off track. This has saved me tons of time and money.

I have to say that, if I didn't have to worry about starting my business during the summer while I was also home with my children, and if I worked a normal shift at my job (instead of the night shift), things would have been less stressful. Even though my circumstances made starting things a bit more difficult, I have to say that dM's coaching certainly made it much easier.

Without my coach, I would still be guessing about what to do next. The step-by-step Action Plan dM helped me develop ensured that I did not waste time, money and energy on things that would have been counter-productive.

Now, my challenge is to be patient, stay focused and keep doing the things that will ultimately make the business a success.

What do you think?

Is Penny amazing or what? She launched Zularis Naturals in just 147 days while working all night 3 days a week, being at home with her children all summer, taking potent medications, going back and forth to her doctor's office regularly.

If Penny's story doesn't inspire you, nothing will. Please visit Penny's website and blog, and follow her on Twitter to keep up with her amazing life and enjoy watching Zularis Naturals take flight. And feel free to leave Penny a note of encouragement and congratulations in the comment section here.

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About Donna Maria Coles Johnson

Donna Maria is an author, podcaster, attorney, and the founder and CEO of the Indie Business Network, providing affordable product liability insurance and mentoring. Donna Maria teaches Makers and Creative Entrepreneurs how to use technology and community to build a profitable, sustainable business.