One of the best ways to make yourself and your business the best they can be is to learn from the success of others. That’s why we love to spotlight our members here at the blog. Today, you’ll meet Michelle Rhoades, founder of the Mossy Creek Soap Studio in Perry, Georgia.
Michelle is a certified soapmaker who offers classes to teach others how to make their own soaps and cosmetics. She also sells supplies locally. Michelle has been a member of the Indie Business Network since July 2013. I asked her to share a bit about her life and the Mossy Creek Soap Studio, along with some of her best business tips. Here's a little of what she said.
Q1 TELL US ABOUT MOSSY CREEK SOAP STUDIO
Mossy Creek Studio is located in a refurbished beauty salon in a house that was build in the 1930's in historic downtown Perry, Georgia. We are a “destination business,” with students coming from as far away as Mexico City to take our classes.
I started out in 2006 as an independent consultant for a beauty company offering home parties. During this time, I developed the skills needed to open my own soapmaking business. It's a good thing too, because I soon learned that the the company would be closing its doors to direct sellers. I found myself with a customer base, but not products to sell them, so I began teaching myself to make products using books and seminars I attended with my husband.
My soaps get a lot of good press. For example, in 2011, my Coffee Mocha Soap was featured on Food Network.com, and in 2012, my soap was featured in the holiday edition of Southern Living Magazine. I have been featured in local newspapers and on local news shows.
I have also spoken at conferences and events, including the Handcrafted Soap and Cosmetics Guild Conference, the 2012 Alabama Soap and Candlemakers Gathering (where I'll be speaking again this year), and this year, I'm speaking at the Tennessee Soap and Candlemakers Gathering — where I'll meet Donna Maria.
Q2 WHAT ARE YOUR BEST SELLING PRODUCTS?
That's a tough question because my business has multiple income streams. Our artisan soaps sell very well online, while our classes provide a steady stream of local income.
Our true gems are our wedding and bridal favors. While my love for hand blending colors in the soap is a large part of my business, my heart belongs to designing new packaging for our wedding favor line. The wedding business is seasonal, but it's a huge creative outlet for me because I can designing the graphics for personalized labels that provide simple, rustic packaging for my handmade soap.
Q3 WHAT BUSINESS PRINCIPLE DO YOU FOLLOW NOW THAT YOU WISH SOMEONE HAD TOLD YOU ABOUT BEFORE YOU STARTED MOSSY CREEK SOAP STUDIO?
Stay on top of record keeping.
I am a creative individual so I have a tough time with record keeping and keeping books. Most people get into this business not for business but for the creativity side of it. It’s the business that keeps you doing what you love. This time of year right before tax time still causes me a lot of stress.
My advice is to get organized from the beginning and you will not have any trouble. Take some basic classes on bookkeeping so that you can understand lingo. Quickbooks is still the best software to keep everything together, take some classes to understand how to use it.
Q4 WHAT SORTS OF THINGS DO YOU LIKE TO DO WHEN YOU'RE NOT WORKING?
There is life outside of a small business? Ha! I really enjoy spending time with my husband and my daughter when I am not totally involved with my business. My business really is a family affair, with my husband taking care of the upkeep and “handy” things needed at the studio and my daughter offering support wrapping soap.
Outside of my business, I love photography. Photography has always been a huge part of my life. My husband laughs at me, saying that I only make pretty soap so I can take pictures of it!
Q5 WHAT IS THE MOST VALUABLE PIECE OF BUSINESS ADVICE YOU CAN GIVE SOMEONE WHO IS STARTING OUT TODAY?
Many folks are getting into business for themselves these days. I believe the Internet has spawned a lot of businesses that would not have been around 10 years ago. I cannot stress this enough — do your homework before sinking your life savings into a new venture. Visit your local US Small Business Administration office where you can get free or very low cost advice to see if you have a viable business idea. Business rules have not changed, we have. Check out your competition before hanging out your shingle. Learn from their experiences by watching what they do.
The new “thing” now is to open a retail location, but most retail outlets fail in their first year because they only had one revenue stream supporting the business.
Before I opened Mossy Creek Studio, I had to acknowledge that my business was not local, and it’s still not local even though I have a retail area. I live in a small town of about 50-60 thousand people and that would not be enough to keep my doors open if I depended only on them. I don't.
My advice is to have more than one income stream so you can keep the money flowing in. In the end, that’s what will keep your doors open. Also, have an exit plan so you can get out of business if you want or need to, without losing everything.
My advice is to have more than one income stream so you can keep the money flowing in.
Q6 WHAT INSPIRES YOU TO KEEP YOUR BUSINESS GOING WHEN THE MOST CHALLENGING TIMES COME YOUR WAY?
I am utterly inspired by each person that walks through my doors. Their excitement to learn something new, get into business for the first time and positivity that flows is so rewarding. The fact that they come to me is still humbling.
Sharing my experiences is one of the things I love the most. I try to keep it honest, upbeat and easy to understand. What I do is not rocket science but having the right tools will make your life easier. You can spend a lot of money in the beginning of this business as with anything else but it doesn’t have to be expensive. I teach everyone how to use their own skills to get things done and how to incorporate unconventional ideas to further their own businesses.