Enjoy Your Life! Build Your Business! Have Your Way!
I'm wanting to start a business producing and selling aromatherapy oils (blends, roll-ons and bath oil) and beeswax candles. I'm just in the planning stage and checking out if it would be a viable full-time business (with no employees). Does anyone have any advice on forecasting sales? I have no idea how much I could expect to sell - I want to start with 4 products and 8 different varieties of essential oil blends for each. I'm thinking of focusing on on-line sales, farmers markets, craft shows and wholesale.
Has anyone else made this type of business work for them? Any suggestions on what I can do differently to increase sales?
(I'm really hoping I won't need a part-time job on the side!)
I started my soap company full time. I was fortunate... I didn't have a job, so I had no leap to make. Family and friends bought from me, and this helped a lot. I also fell into selling, when at short notice I was invited to take part in a big local craft show by the organizer, some six months before my plans to open for business. I had no urgency to earn myself money, so there was no stress where having to perform or sell was concerned. What I'm saying is that mine was an easy ride into the business... but even so, it's been hard along the way.
There's many Indies on here that can help with info by giving you their own story, or tips and hints on what worked for them... or what didn't work for them. There's also a wealth of information on the many different subject topics in the community forum here on Indie Social as well as audio and videos of Donna Maria's interviews with experts and phone in help.
You can set yourself targets for selling, and you can chase those numbers each day. It's very do-able. Being in business from home is a disciplined thing, and you need to be single minded and focused beyond belief if you're aiming to start out full time. On-line sales, farmers markets, craft shows and wholesale are all great places to shoot for, and between them you should net yourself some sales, which in the beginning will make you feel good. Would these be enough to support a full time business right from the off? I'm not too sure. It all depends on the quality of the farmers markets and and the craft shows in your area. Online sales take time to bring in any proper income, and selling in this way is a target market all of its own, needing real dedication of time and an incredible hunger of determination to succeed. Wholesale is a whole different ball game, and any excitement of first orders is sure to give way to frustration, with many hours of work yielding little money.
But this is how we grow. We work for no pay at all. We tend to plow it all back into the business, as we focus on growing. Then we plateau... and the scattered thought begins as we start to question what we're doing wrong. From there it's a slippery slope. Knowing what I know now, if I were to be right back at the beginning just starting out trying to form a plan, I would buy myself an hour of personal time with Donna Maria. It will put you on the right track, and you'll leave her presence knowing exactly where you are going and what you have to do. It will answer all your questions, and will probably even answer questions you didn't know you had. It will pay for itself many times over.
Welcome to the world of being Indie, Kelsey. It's a wonderful place to be. You'll find much among Indie Social to make you feel good about the direction you're planning for yourself. Keep it real, and don't ever fall asleep at the wheel. Here's hoping that as well as Indie members a few of the IBN Area Directors will weigh in with their thoughts and experiences for you. It's nice to post a question and have many replies of varied support to read. Support is so important on any journey of growth, and you'll find it here on Indie Social.
Your IBN director in Boston
Reach out. Make friends. Let's lift each other.
I agree with everything Susan has said. I too started out full time because I'm a stay-at-home mom so it was a natural thing for me to go full time with no need to replace income with my venture. However, many do not get that luxury. To project sales is impossible. You can set goals and have specs of what you want to do but that doesn't necessarily translate into meeting those each and every month or year. Local, national & worldwide economies can and do effect sales tremendously as does dedication and time spent. It takes time and alot of effort to build a regular customer base, sometimes several years. No matter how good your product, you have to win the buyer's confidence and trust before they will buy. That just doesn't usually happen with 1 exposure to you & your business. Once you win 'em, you gotta keep 'em. That takes effort, time, focus and experience too. Targeting specific niches means getting in their head and then getting into their wallet. There are so many others out there vying for the same market niche and getting your part of the pie is not easy. It's more than just being different or doing things different. Much, much more. Are you ready for 16-18 hour days, 7 days a week? While running your home and taking care of your family? That is what I do every single day (with the occasional day off for my sanity). Sounds crude but its truth. These are things I wish I had been told earlier on.
What I'm saying is that no one is an overnight sensation or success in business. If someone says they are, I have to question that as truth. It's a process. A process of learning, of reaching, of growing, of messing up, of enjoying small successes. Much like you wouldn't feed a baby steak, you really don't want to feed a new business owner the harder to chew and digest things either. Gotta start out on the milk, then move to the soft things, eventually progressing on what you can handle as you cut your teeth and are more able to digest complex stuff. You really must roll over, sit up, scoot, crawl, cruise, walk, then run. No getting around that. I can tell you from personal experience....You gotta put your back into it and push till it moves and then push to keep it moving. Sometimes uphill, around obstacles and through bogs. Sometimes on level ground, on smooth, unblocked roads and even downhill. GOOD NEWS is that its never boring!
We all bootstrap and sometimes have to drag ourselves kicking into a new day and a new way. It's just the way it is. You may be able to make a quick go of it with total self supporting income for the business and yourself rather quickly. It has been done before but it is not the norm and often not lasting. You want sustainability and strength and that most often takes time to plant, water, and grow. Will you need a part time job? Only you can answer that according to your financial needs and that of your business. Starting a business is not a cheap venture and it takes more than you think at first with testing, R & D, insurance, marketing, needs such as websites (those can cost you hefty if built by a pro), processing of credit cards for orders, accounting, etc. You want to be able to support your business from your business. That often takes more time to be able to do than you can imagine at this point. Many of us are still not to the point that we can pay ourselves yet after years in business.
I don't want to discourage you and this is not meant to. I just want to be honest and have you seeing the bigger picture while not seeing it through rose colored glasses. Step out and give it a try. Start your journey to entrenepuerial success but know the way will be difficult at times and your will have to make sacrifices and stops along the way to get where you wanna go. As I say...DRIVE BABY DRIVE! You've got alot of indie support and years of expertise here on Indie Social. Most of us have been there, done that, got the T-shirt.
IBN Local Director-Chattanooga, TN
Thanks for your replies Susan & Ginger! I am determined to make the business work. I'm not sure how I feel about 17 hour work days.... but I guess if you're doing what you love to do it's not actually work anyway! It's good to hear that others have done it and made a go of it.
I'm happy I found this website! The support on here has been amazing!
Kelsey I've only started selling about a year ago and I have to agree that this website is amazing. I have a day job and I download Donna Maria's podcasts to listen to while I work. I only wish I had found this site sooner. The support from everyone is incredible and I have found many friends here. Thank you for asking your question, I'm learning from everyone's posts along with you.
I am not sure you can pin-point "how much sales to expect." My thought is ask yourself how revenue you do want to realize and build your business plans around a sales goal.
I'll spill out some honest history here...
Like Susan Mann, and Ginger Moore, I too, was already retired from my full-time career so I did not need to work (at that time). If I had to depend upon my business for income, it (return income from the business) wouldn't have happened in the first year, honestly. Several years passed before I was able to dip into the funds and call it a "paycheck to me." During the first several years pretty much each and every dime I brought in was thrown back into ordering supplies. At the same time, with my lack of experience and with my love of soap, I threw the business into a lot of trial and error, created a lot of products that were not smart. Time and money was involved. But, it was a very deep learning period, one that I do not totally regret.
My personal advice is to research your market well, understand who your customers are, stick to your guns with the products that you intend to sell, do not do a lot of experimenting until funds allow you to do so (and then only experiment one product at a time, in case there are losses), and very carefully manage your funds (both in and out). Do not fall into the trap, for example, of purchasing the smallest quantity possible of a supply ingredient because it is all you can afford that week. Overall, it truly digs deep into the business net profit (for some time to come).
Someone asked me yesterday, after I invited them to attend and talk at an Indie Meet-Up, "Do you really want to encourage people to start businesses right now?" Yes, I do!!!! Why? Small business is the back-bone of our country. If small business comes to a stand still, what happens then? Yes, times are tough, but we are smart Indie's and we can do this!!!! Tread carefully, smartly, do your homework...it can be done!
Oh my goodness, I so agree with you, Mary!
Now is a super time to start a business! When in the past few generations has your average, everyday person been in a position to even start a profitable business? The ailing job market combined with access to information and new technologies create the perfect positive business startup storm for anyone who is determined to chart their own course and not rely on any third party to secure their future income and that of their family. It's hard work, but then so is a J-O-B!
If you're going to work hard anyway, why not create an asset while you do it? Defining wealth on your terms, not on someone else -- it's the best definition of freedom I know of!
Welcome and thanks for your question! I love the advice and tips provided by Susan, Ginger and Mary. They each run very different businesses in different part of the country so you have just enjoyed access to a cross section of advice that will serve you well. I'd like to offer a very few tips, though I have to say that what you have already is a tough act to follow for sure! These are very basic:
1. Start out defining the sales you want, not the sales you should expect.
What I mean by this is that your business needs to have set financial goals. Do you want to generate $50,000 in sales in 2012? Or do you want to generate $5,000 in sales in 2012? You are capable of doing either, but only you can decide what that figure should be. Once you have an idea of how much money you want to make, you can get down to the business of setting up a business model that will take you in that direction. You may find that you don't want to work enough to make $50,000. In that case, you can still have a business, but you'll adjust your income expectations to account for the kind of life you want.
2. Determine what kind of life you want.
I'm glad the topic of how many hours you want to work a week came up in other comments, because that is critical. As women, we don't define our professional lives solely by how much money we make. While that's important, it's not an exclusive consideration. Our lives are an integrated whole: spouses, children, siblings, friends, local activities, etc. Part of setting up your business will involve doing some soul searching and deciding what you want for the next year, 5 years, 10 years of your life, and then work your business around that.
This of course involves working with and consulting your spouse and/or other family members (if any) so that while you're planning your business around your life, you consider and respect the plans and goals of significant others.
3. Define your business model.
Your list above includes on-line sales (presumably retail direct to consumers), farmers markets, craft shows and wholesale. Even though everyone is buying the same products, these are VERY different business models. The marketing you have to do to sell wholesale is very different from the marketing you have to do to sell at craft shows. Since most of the time in ANY business is invested in marketing, you'll want to make sure that you choose your business model(s) carefully, and make sure that you have the resources to support each one on its own.
Sorry this was longer than I planned - and it's still just the tip of the iceberg!
I hope that, combined with the great suggestions already shared, it helps as a starting point.
I look forward to the input from others.
PS - You would benefit greatly from joining my Indie Protege Network.
Thanks so much for all your advice! I certainly have a lot to think about...
I have been worried about being unrealistic with sales targets, but I'm getting the idea that it's better to project what you need and then figure out how to get there. If it's going to take working 17 hour days, 7 days a week then I'll need to decide if I want to do that, or if I need to change something in my business model or even get a part-time job.... makes sense! thanks!
Don't worry, Kelsey... you don't start out with 17 hour days. :) It becomes an addiction. You go through a phase of living and breathing it. Then you find there's not enough hours in the day and something gives as you have to slow down. That's where the lesson of focus starts to happen, and with focus you begin to discover what prioritizing is all about. That's where you suddenly find there's plenty hours in the day... you've just been chasing your tail through most of them, that's all.
I'm really looking forward to watching you grow. Right now, you're in the planning stage and it's a real exciting time. Take your photographs and scrapbook your journey. It's so great to look back on as the years go by. It also keeps you going when the going gets a little tough. :)
Reach out. Make friends. Let's lift each other!
Kelsey...you don't have to do 17 hrs day or 7 days a week. I do it more than not but that is me. I do take the occasion day off and I am getting better at making sure that I'm not overworking for the sake of working. You may do 3, 5, 8, or whatever. That is up to you.
As a one woman show who must wear many hats and walk in alot of positonal shoes, with a young child that I'm prepping to begin homeschooling next fall, I'm doing things in waves, in between the homefront responsibilites. I start early and end late but with home things within that time. Suppers to cook, baths to get, floors & toilets to clean, clothes to wash, lessons in writing and reading for my son, etc. I spend alot of time doing research and developing products and fragrances, time online with my website, on social media making connections, marketing and on planning for later. In retail, you plan for stuff 3-6 months in advance. You are always ahead of the general public in what will be going on for holidays, special events, promotions, changes. For instance, I'm currently planning a huge branding and design redo that will come about in the early spring (hopefully), planning for my spring shows (specifically a very large one) and looking at ones for the fall, thinking about Valentine's Day and Mother's Day promotions. I'm blessed enough to have a husband that is very involved and even handcrafts his own department of items at Neos (woodworking and hand-turning) and a few friends that are jonny on the spot when I need some help with various things.
When I first started in 2009, as a ready to give gift busines that included non-handmade gift items and handmade bath & body/spa products for gift giving, I went at it like gang busters, thinking I had what EVERYBODY wanted and needed and I was going to make a good profit right out of the gate. I mean, how could anyone resist my goods/services and not beg me for the chance to buy them! I was going to be the next Sam Walton...the next Mary Kay...the next must have by all. I just knew it! It didn't take long for me to see that was not the case. People can be very fickle at times. loving you one moment and on to the next big thing in an instant. I quickly realized that it was going to take alot more than I thought to get to where I wanted to be. After a short while, I saw that my business had to change and with it my plans and actions. I've since changed my business name, and now only deal in handmade cosmetics and the few things that hubs handcrafts. The gift business went by the wayside. I'm still not where I want to be but I am on my way there and getting closer than I was even 6 months ago. I'm learning NOT to chase my tail and do things that are useless or non-beneficial. I'm learning, learning, learning, learning and learning some more. As I said before, it's a process! A wonderful process! Welcome to the world of business!
I strongly recommend that you join Donna Maria's Protege program and eventually become an IBN member, get involved with your local indie group with a local director from right here at Indie, connect with other small business owners, start making waves and building bridges. You will get there, just not right out of the gate. You may have to work a part time job or even a full time job for a while, but if you are doing what you love with your business, it will seem like a nano second before you are able to go at it with gusto and without a job on the side. It is your business, DO IT YOUR WAY!
I started my soap business while I was in Divinity school and really just kinda "played" at it for a while. I did a twice-weekly market and a few shows, but that was it. I sold mostly by word-of-mouth. After school, I got a full-time job with a hospice agency and still took care of my business. After getting let go from that job, I took my unemployment and gave my business a much-needed boost. Soon I was creating a website and really pushing sales. In 2009, I landed my first wholesale account, and it just snowballed from there. This has been over a period of 9 years now, though. That's the best way to illustrate the truism that, It takes a lot of time and work to become and "overnight success."
In 2002 I did my first show - a huge Christmas monster. I expected to get thousands in sales. I greeted, I offered lotion samples and I made less than twice my booth fee. The following year, I did an event where Mom worked at the time. We were two hours from the end, and she started offering discounts. When I asked her what she was doing, she said, "I figured since you haven't made any money, yet, that you'd want to liquidate." I told her it takes 3-5 years for a business to get out of the red and into the black. Since I wasn't working my business full-time, it took me quite a bit longer, but I got there last year.
I'm a CEO, homeschool mom (to an 8yo who's joined me in the business), toddler wrangler/early childhood educator (she's 2) and household manager. I essentially work 3 full-time jobs pretty much every day. I take one day a week to do nothing if possible - no site work, no social media updates and no production. The most I'll do is check email and answer my phone. My days usually start at 7 and end at 10-11 at night. Yes, my days are often long and tiring. I'm not going to say, "It's all fun and games," because it's not. There are some parts of the job you'll love more than others, and those things will really make your business "work." After a promotion I'm participating in next Friday, I'll be winding it down for the year, so I'll kind of have a solid week off. The last week of the year I'll do my inventory, plan my year-end clearance sale and set up my business plan for the following year. January is marked by final inventory, tax prep and restocking. Once my new supplies come in (usually oils), I start manufacturing again. In February, all I pretty much do is take care of my large-order customers, make stuff and apply for shows. My first show of the year is in April, it slows down in late June and in August I start planning for Christmas production. I get a little breather in October, but then it's turbo until the week before Christmas. Even during the slower times, I'm busy with wholesale and private label accounts, blogging (which I've been REALLY slack about lately) and generating new accounts. Sometimes things are slow and I only have to work 6-8 hours a day, but I'm early in a 4-day spell of long, hard days until my show's behind me, and then I'll come home to a large order from one consignment account and a request from my other one, so I'll still be working, but not as strenuously.
Think about how much you'll have to buy to make your first bunch of products. Like Mary said, it's a great idea to buy in bulk, because this increases your profit margin by driving your costs down. I'll confess, I have bought smaller-than-usual quantities when money was tight but I had to fill orders. It's not my first choice, but it's a necessity sometimes. In this case, it was lye for soap; I bought 16 pounds as opposed to my usual 32. Anyway, ponder how much wax you'll need, how many essential oils, labels, wrappings, bags... Then the stuff not related to the products themselves - display units, business cards, table coverings, etc. The price goes up quickly, and it's important not to get discouraged if you're still in the red by the end of your first year.
Instead of an independent website (your own domain), you might want to try Etsy first. The price is lower, and it'll be a great way to expose a lot of people to your products. Once you've established yourself as a business, then you can create your own website.
Remember that life happens, even to the busy CEO. If you were the manager of a retail store and you came down with a bug, you'd call your supervisor, then call in your assistant manager to cover for you. With or without you, the work would get done. Not so when you're the CEO. When life and crises happen, business comes to a standstill. Maybe you have a spouse who can pitch it for you, but likely you're not going to care about ANYTHING related to your business, and that's fine. One thing that will augment your success is having trusted people who can cover certain parts of your business for you in your absence. The last time I was sick, my husband made and wrapped soap for me. While I was traveling on Black Friday, my web guru monitored my site's back room and my email for me. Support from friends and other Indies is great, but you've got to have people who are right-there supportive, too.
An hour session with Donna Maria would give you a great start, and I certainly second her recommendation to join the Indie Protege' Network. Of course, we'll help you all we can, too. If you want it, you'll have it. "Thoughts are things."
Hiya, Kelsey... I've just been reading all the replies you've had so far, and it's great to read the journeys that we've each had along the way to where we are now. I thought I'd share this one of mine with you. It's been an incredible 7 years, and like so many other Indies here... it all started in my kitchen. Please enjoy... and know that whatever the ups and downs you may encounter along your own journey, it really is an absolute joy to be one of Donna Maria's home grown Indies.