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14 Lessons Learned in my first years of business

It’s been a few years since we started our business, and I can tell you that it has not been easy. Fun? Yes. Profitable? Eh.. a little. Easy? Certainly not. Rewarding? Oh Yes!

We have learned a tremendous amount since starting our Bath & Body products business. Below, I list out 14 of the most pertinent lessons we have learned over the first couple of years, in no particular order. These aren’t all the points, but a few I thought I would be helpful for those wanting to take that leap.

Now, we didn’t leave our regular jobs, drop everything, and start our own business like many people do, but that doesn’t make us any less business owners that those that do. Just like we didn’t pack up everything we own, leave our jobs, run to the country to start our homestead either, but we are still homesteaders. Yes, our decisions may make it harder, and we have less time to focus on certain aspects of the business – which is why those that step away from it all and have more time are sometimes more successful. However, sometimes putting all your eggs in one basket isn’t always a good idea which is exactly why Jeff and I decided to go the safer, slower route.

What we want to express is that you don’t have to risk it all to be successful. I have run into so many people that tell me they wish they could leave their jobs and follow their dream to start their own business. Which brings me to my first lesson.

#1) Just start!

Why do you have to leave your job though? You don’t – and I am not saying that you should or shouldn’t… this is a personal decision. Granted, it is easier to run a business when you have more time to put into it. This isn’t necessary though. It is possible to work a regular full-time job and run a successful business. You won’t know though unless you try. Sure, essentially it would be equivalent to two full time jobs. There are many people out there that actually work two full time jobs outside of the home, so it’s defiantly possible. You know the saying though, “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” This is the same thing. If your business is something you love, then it’s not like work… mostly. There are the administrative tasks, and they are not fun at all, but that is when I set my laptop on my lap and work on those things when I’m relaxing in the evening. This is also when I write my blogs and catch up on Netflix – so it’s really not that bad.

#2) You don’t have as much freedom as you thought.

This is a job – treat it as such. When I say “freedom”, I don’t mean time (see #1). I mean – you can’t just do what you want, when you want. Sure, I think most small business owners start out thinking that way, but it doesn’t last. I found myself getting into a pretty strict routine. Taxes are due on this day; I need to complete inventory on these days; I have to produce X amount of product each week; and so on, and so on. I found that if I gave myself a routine of certain days - doing X and certain times, completing Y at other times, then Z fell into place better. I soon discovered that even though I had the freedom to make the choice to do X, Y, or Z, it was simply more productive to stick to a schedule.

#3) Stay productive.

This kind of goes with #2. Don’t slack off just when things seem to be going good. Things go good when you work hard at something and you want it to prosper. If you don’t work at something, you can’t expect it to grow. This was a hard lesson I learned, and a hole I’m still digging out of. When we purchased our homestead, my bath & body business stayed at our house in town that we gave to the kids. Running 20-30 minutes to town every day to make product, which (depending on the product) can take anywhere from an hour to an entire evening. The time it takes me to drive to town and back is about the same amount of time it takes me to make one loaf of soap… and with clearing land for our homestead (you can see that property tour video here) we are simply too busy for extra commute time. It will be so much better once we can get my shop set up out her on the homestead. In the meantime, me working on products has been set aside for weekends only – and my sales have shown it. Out-of-stock is one of the worst things an up-and-coming small business can do to themselves.

#4) Don’t get burned out – take care of yourself

I know, I said that the success of your business will reflect how much you put into it. Remember when I just said that I don’t go into town every day to make product? I’m sure some of you may be thinking that I’m simply not putting into it what I need to. You’re right – BUT… I would be worthless if I burned myself out by putting in too many hours. My product quality would suffer and I would lose focus on all the administrative tasks. I am choosing to produce less products for the time being in exchange for keeping up with necessary tasks and ensuring my best quality (as well as keeping prices down; To make a profit I would have to add in my extra time and gas into my costing – yikes!) I learned that spending time with my husband, taking care of our life, and my sanity is far more important than a $2 tube of lip balm. I do what I can, when I can – the rest will follow in due time.

#5) There is no absolute way.

I have read so many articles and books on having your own business. Most the items I read will have many of the same points. However, each normally throw in a few new ideas. This made me realized: There is no “one” way. It’s different for everyone. There are too many variables. The type of business, the product, your market, the area, etc. If it is a point that everyone is trying to get across, then you better believe I take that advise – these people are successful and they all agree… must be good. That doesn’t mean you can’t do something nobody has thought of yet. I tried to do it just the way some were writing about, but quickly realized their advice didn’t make sense for my niche market. Or, it didn’t make sense for my product. I used their ideas and tweaked them a bit, and it has paid off. So, don’t be afraid to test your own ideas.

#6) Don’t stress over competitors.

Be yourself, find your niche, and do what you do best… Your Product. I see so often in the FB and IG groups people trying to exactly match what others are doing. When I made my very first bar of soap, it was all me. I did the research, learned how to make it, and just did it. I fell in love with it – not just the soap, but with the whole process. I soon started watching what everyone else was doing and I tried and tried to match their beautiful designs. It didn’t take long for two things to happen. First of all, I didn’t like them as much. The recipes weren’t what I was going for. Second, I wasn’t as happy with making the soaps. I realized that the recipe I created was my favorite. I continued to tweak it here and there, and after two years, I simply love mine the most. I also realized that coming up with my own creations was part of what I enjoyed. In the end, I am more successful with what I do then when I was trying to mimic other successful soapers. Take the time to find what works for you, not everyone else.

#7) Don’t get discouraged when competitors brag – it may not be all sunshine and rainbows.

In regards to #6, I say to not mimic other successful soapers… but what makes them successful? Do you know that they are, or is it just perception? I have a few soaping friends that when you look at their posts in our soaping groups – they seem to be very successful. One just bragged about the 4k he spent on bottles for lotions because he was afraid of not having enough due to the pandemic (granted, this is a great idea). What everyone was commenting was “Wow, I wish I made that kind of money from my bath & body business to be able to do that”. When in reality, he actually didn’t spend that – though there are some competitors out there that do. Many people will post things like this to make others think they are successful. “If they are successful, their products must be good, so I should buy from them”. Not always the case, but it is a great marketing strategy. Don’t compare yourself to them. They may not be doing as good as you think.

#8) You may not make any money – this does not equal failure.

One of the first things I learned was that turning a profit does not happen overnight. At first, I would buy the raw materials I needed, made products, then sold products. It wasn’t until I sat down to really uncover what I should be charging when I realized that the money I was bringing in was going right back out for more materials. Some businesses may have very low overhead costs – Small Business Bath & Body products are NOT one of those businesses. With all the equipment and raw materials, I am actually still in the red. I have not turned a profit yet – I am not ashamed to admit this. What I do have though is a good solid foundation at this point. I don’t have the need to purchase any additional equipment. This is great, because equipment is not cheap. I don’t take this loss as a sign of failure though. You know the old saying “It takes money to make money”… well YES IT DOES! Do not expect to get rich overnight – it’s simply not going to happen. So be realistic, and be prepared to lose money, especially in the beginning.

#9) Listen to your customers

A fail proof way to lose everything is to ignore your customers. Not long into this business, I came across a fragrance that I simply LOVED! I thought to myself, this is going to be a best seller – I’ll make extra. Boy was I wrong! Just because I thought it was fantastic, didn’t mean my customers would feel the same. I still have bars of that soap, I use them for personal use since I like them so much, but I lost a good amount of money on that little mess-up. Don’t be afraid to ask your customers what they want. Do your due-diligence, get a consensus, and go with the majority… even if you disagree. For me, it’s lavender scented anything. Everyone wants lavender, and I can’t stand it. But, that is what they want, so that is what I make.

#10) Learn to Bend

As with changing what you make to please your customers, you need to learn to be flexible with yourself. When I started this, I had a business plan in mind. When it turned out that my business wasn’t quite going to plan, I had to adjust. Don’t make goals that are so unrealistic that it makes you give up, but do give yourself goals that are attainable but only if you really work for it. However, when you don’t reach a goal, don’t be afraid to bend a little and understand your limitations. Be flexible, adjust, and keep going.

#11) You are a sales person

Not everyone is good at sales, but if you are going to start your own business then you better come to terms with having to do this. Take my mom for instance… she can sell anything. She’s a natural, and was always one of the top performers in everything she did. Me, I can’t sell water in a desert. I still try though. I still get out there, network, meet people, and I try. You have to tell your potential customers:

Why do they need your product? What problem will it fix? What benefit will it bring? Most importantly though, is that I had to realize that I am a sales person and the biggest harm I can do to my business is to not try at all.

#12) It’s okay to say “no”

As a sales person, I get told no, A LOT. One lesson I learned within the first year though was that I could say no also. I was approached by a potential customer who wanted a very large order. She gave me plenty of time to create the products, but the order was so large that I was completely overwhelmed. I completed the order, on time as well, but I was a nervous wreck by the time I shipped it out. It took every ounce of my time, and product for my standard inventory was pushed off because of this. Hindsight 20/20, I should have said no, or negotiated a more realistic time frame. Other times, someone will ask me for a large order and they need it next week. Regardless of what you have heard from other soapers, homemade soaps (aside from melt & pour which is already pre-made soap) take 4-6 weeks to cure. Yes, it is safe to use sooner, but the quality will not be there and it will dissolve WAY to fast. I refuse to create a sub-par product, so the answer is NO.

#13) Keep learning

Things change, constantly. One of the most important things I learned was to keep learning. Research, stay informed, stay up-to-date, keep improving and keep up. I cannot stress this enough. If you find that one thing, don’t think your done. Think about if Bill Gates or Steve Jobs had not continued to learn and improve. Granted, small businesses are not on the same scale as Microsoft or Apple, but the concept doesn’t change – you don’t want to be left behind.

#14) Don’t worry about what others say – they aren’t you.

It hurts when someone you love and care about tells you that what you are doing is stupid, or a waste of time, or not worth pursuing. We are VERY fortunate to have family and friends that support us and our endeavors. I have seen this though in all the different social groups I belong to – people talking about how they want to start a business, but spouses, family, or friends tell them they won’t succeed. How dare they! We should not be bound by the thoughts and opinions of others. It does not matter what anyone says, if they won’t support you, make sure you support yourself.

If you are planning on beginning a new chapter in your life, or have already started but needed a little insight, I hope this article has provided some light for you. If you have any questions or comments, please leave those below – We would love to hear what you think, and are always open to any fresh ideas!

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