September 16, 2013

Soul Searching

Recently, I had a meeting at which I was a rather unwilling participant with an advisor of sorts. He told me that based on my numbers I should just consider making soap only when my family needs it. He seemed to think that making soap was too labor intensive for an "individual"to make any real money at it. He then stated he didn't think even a couple of people could make a substantial living at soap. Now, I know this to be an inaccurate statement, obviously, I don't know the exact figures for the soapmakers I know that make an abundant living,but I know it's possible. I know abundance is a relative term too. What is abundant to me is not abundance to someone else. My definition would be having enough to contribute to the needs and comfort of my family and have extra to help make a difference within my community-my business plan has this already worked in.  This person was unfamiliar with the process of making soap or it's potential. He did have access to my figures which are dismal by most accounts I'll admit. I've thought about throwing in the towel many times over the years, so this isn't the first time. I was pretty devastated to have someone just put it out there like that. I sat there in that room with him and couldn't even respond-I was just frozen.  I could hear my mother's voice in my head responding to the various ideas of what " I wanted to be when I grow up"  her stoic reply was always certain to be"you'll never make any money doing that." I left the meeting angry and devastated. This person doesn't have any idea of how I've worked to learn soapmaking, how it's been like a serenade to my soul, how it's been  like a lifeline over the past few years-a constant in my life in the midst of turmoil. I would also like at add there have been many things I've tried over the years and gave up on because they were too hard or I couldn't do a perfect job so I gave up. I would like to point out I haven't given up on soap yet. Grant you, it's not important like curing cancer, I'm not sure what it's significance is to society, but it matters to me.

I wonder why it's easier for someone to tell you to go get an unfulfilling " minimum wage part time job" than to say "what would you need to do to make your business a success?" What support do you need?  Why is it that people think you only have the ability to work a "minimum wage part time job" and not to learn the "business aspect" of what you are already doing? In all fairness, I have been sort of stumbling along in that area,but I could learn it-we all have that potential and capability.

I know I'm perhaps a bit of a dreamer, and while I have seen myself as an artisan of handmade soap I haven't really seen myself as a "business person." I've been terrified of that part, and made lots of excuses as to why I couldn't do it. I allowed that to be a part of my "self identity" I am an artist, but not a "business person." Now, while I'm still stinging over someone just putting my downfall out there like that, my new school of looking at "problems" has taught me to look at "What is good about this problem?" Did you know the only persons who don't have problems are those 6ft. under? Did you know that in fact there is always something good to be found in the thick of any problem?What's good about being told to "put your soap molds out to pasture" you ask? It's caused me to take a hard look at where I want to go, it's caused me to up my resolve, it's  helped me see I need to work harder at grasping the "business side" of things.  Seems like such a juxtaposition that there is good to be found in every bad situation, but it's true.  Clearly, the answer is I must find a way to tackle my fear of the "business" side in order to be successful. I must weigh whether or not soapmaking is something I want to keep in my life or let go of and in order to keep it I MUST learn how to run a business. I must "Focus on where I want to go and not on what I fear." I know the answer deep inside, I'm just not quite sure how to go about it all, but I know it's come to the point that I either figure it out or set aside my molds and move on....


Handbrewedsoaps said...

Thank you for posting this. I know a lot of us have this same fear. I've also worked a job that isn't fulfilling, and like you have "taken that leap." I commend you for taking risks and following your passion. Sometimes, it's not about the money, it's about living your dream!

Tierra Verde Handmade Soap said...

@ Handbrewedsoap-Thank you for your encouraging words.I am learning that following your passion is not really enough-you have to have a grasp of the business goings on too.

Sue said...

Your post has reaffirmed a employment choice I am trying to make. I have been reading your blog for about a month, and love seeing your soaps. Your colors are gorgeous. I am a new soaper, who hopes to be at a place where I am experienced enough to sell my soap in about a year. I am an avid crafter, and a woman who has wanted to own their own business since she was 16 (I just turned 36). I am also a law school graduate, who is about to be sworn into her states bar association next tuesday, and who get's up every morning puts on a name tag and uniform, and goes into my retail management job because the job market sucks where I live, and I have to put food on the table.

All that to say is that I have been thinking about what I can do to use my legal training, my love of business and handcrafted items, and my 10 years of sales and management exp. The answer is small business consulting for hand crafters. Most hand crafters, artisans, and creative types feel the same way you do, Creating is their joy, their heart, but they have a hard time with the business aspect. And, since most business advisors give the artisan the same attitude you got today, one of condescension, of belittling instead of helping, most artisans feel like you do now. Second guessing yourself, your art and your business. It's BS. Success comes in many forms. Not all of it is money. It's money, it's happiness in your profession, it's joy in life, it's work/life balance. What is success is different for every one.

Whether or not you hang up your molds is completely your decision. But do not do it because some stuffed shirt thinks your business is not worth it. My advice is to try to attack the business part of your business the same way you attacked soaping. You learned it. Now, trust me, it won't nearly be as fun as learning how to make those beautiful soaps you make, but it is something that is needed. At least try before you through in the towel. I am taking a year to learn soaping, to decide on branding, develop my blog, decide on collections of other items to offer with my soap, all while working a full time job and possibly offering legal work/consulting services on the side too. It's crappy sometimes. but I promise it will be worth it. Explain to your inner artist that the inner biz person needs her time in the sun too.

I am sure the guy you talked to would think that I, with a law degree and a bar license, would only be successful once I am making a 6 figure salary in some big firm. Well I would rather be making 40K a year, spending time with my husband and doing what I love any day. THAT is success to me. If I am working 90 hours I had better be making my own money, not someone else's.

I hope some of my rant helped or offered some useful advice. I just could not see someone who is trying to make a go of their dream, and who makes soap like you do, throw in the lye flakes because some guy who doesn't even understand or respect the hand crafted community was a jerk.


Tierra Verde Handmade Soap said...

@ Sue,What a tremendous asset you would be to people such as myself.I can see you are a person that is very motivated,bright and capable of making such a difference.

How refreshing to have someone "get" where I am coming from.

For some reason the business aspect it a bit like a foreign language to me.I'm just going to have to make a tremendous effort to grasp it if I want to support my passion. It's a big conundrum to be in,but I get it.I stated to this person that I could indeed work part time and work on my soap business and he stated I should just make it "my hobby." Ummmm really? I left there thinking perhaps he was right, but my wonderful husband believes that together we can figure it out. My husband and I have been together for 25 years and he has never seen put so much into something of interest-he knows what it means to me. I'm very lucky in that I do have his amazing support-we will work on figuring this out together.

Thank you so very, very much for taking the time out to respond to my post. What an amazing gift you will give to people just like me!!!

I wish you all the best,and if I can ever help you with any soap questions just let me know.

Jojoka said...

Hey there Michel,
I do not know all about your sales, I just know your products. And they are wonderfull. You are on that crucial step of getting bigger. But is it because you need the money, or is it because this will mean success to you, or others around you? Some people can speed up things and some other need to take it step by step in order to be sure and safe. You know you are making wonderful stuff, you have great ideas like these shaving brushes, you evem persuaded me to order from the other corner of the earth. Jen made the next step, why don't you contact her, to give you details about this new journey? She looks very willing and it seems she loves you a lot.
For the moment, in the middle of the economical crisis, I became a waitress again leaving behind a luxury office, in my 30's, but I like it because I finally practised soapmaking. I know it might look like a failure but I'm living it as a success. I have this dream that one day I will be able to make money to live from my soaps. Until then I am taking it step by step, I am learning more about soap and I am trying to learn all about bussiness. In Europe you cannot make soap to sale from your house legally, which means you need extra money to rent a place other than your house and to buy the equipment, in order to be legal. So if you want to live from soap you have to be succesful from the first moment.
You know I am an admirer, take it slow and do what you do because you want to. Success will come.
Love, Georgia

Tierra Verde Handmade Soap said...

@ Sweet Georgia-Thank you so much for your words of encouragement. I do need the $$ to help support my family-it's not just "extra" money.I don't mind working a part time job to get where I need to go,however per this persons advice he thought I should just keep it as a "hobby." This person clearly didn't have knowledge of the process and was giving me advice to move on,and it's not that easy for me.I will fight the fight to learn what I can about the business part or I'll have to put my molds out to pasture-that's what it boils down too. I'm responsible for my success or failure.

Love you Georgia my Greek daughter.<3

Tierra Verde Handmade Soap said...

@ Georgia-by the way-I've seen some of your soap and you are definitely on the right track. Your soap is beautiful in such an organic way. Lovely and striking-keep at it my dear.

Anonymous said...

Hi. This post struck a chord with me. I am passionate about soapmaking too, and I am happy to grow organically and slowly. A couple of times, when people have asked "what do you do?" and I said "I make soap and natural body products" - they replied "Oh that's a nice hobby". I couldn't be bothered explaining to them that it is more than a mere hobby to me - they wouldn't understand. It did hurt me and made me doubt myself. I decided perhaps I was being naive and childlike, and got a part time job in retail just to shut people up.
One big lesson I have learned along the way, though, is that there is a definite element of "smoke and mirrors" in business. People who appear successful are often just better at bluffing. Making money from soapmaking is hard and competitive, but I think it is a worthwhile craft. Don't give it up entirely. Jane xx

Jennifer Young said...

Hi Michelle, yes artisans making a living from doing what they love! Sounds familiar. If it is a bobby, it is one thing, but if profit is needed,(as in my case too), then business and numbers are a big part of it. My expenses are high with some organic ingredients, my studio, every batch being analyzed by a lab, and the packaging (instead of getting thousands of bags produced in China for pennies, we have them locally hand-made). So, basically, there is not a lot of profit on our soaps. I heard an interview with Joshua, owner of Pangea organics, who said the same - if you want to make a soap business work, offer other products with more profit. That's what we do. Still about 50% of everything we sell is soap, it is the product with least profit for us. Reducing the price even more for wholesale clients kills most of the profit, so we prefer to sell directly. Wholesales approach us and some don't understand why we can't bring the price to them down more. They can get cheaper soaps elsewhere. I am not producing cheap soaps. I love making soap, it is my favourite product that we sell, but in order to keep the business profitable, we sell creams, scrubs, serum, etc. And i see you doing that with the incredible shaving brushes your husband makes. So I hope you get inspired by this jerk instead of down... and can't wait to hear what is coming next for you. Hugs, Jen

Tierra Verde Handmade Soap said...

@ All-clearly I am not alone with this issue. For me it seems the solution at least for now is to educate myself and to put myself in a better position to be successful.I am diligently reading in an effort to educate myself about how I can "do better." I think at the very least I am going to have to put the ol soap business on a back burner while I get other obligations taken care of. Thank you all so much for being my friends over the years and for your kinds words of support. Funny how even though miles and miles separate us I feel as if you are my neighbors-we are all in this together. Much love and wishes for the best for all of you.

Gabbie said...

Ditto to what everyone else has said...l also think you need to remember that he/she was obviously 'advising' you based on traditional forms of business 'success' - cold hard monetary facts as opposed to how your soapmaking makes you 'feel', and the other things that it brings to your life. Money is not always everything. Fulfillment, pride, creativity, flexibility - these are all things that a soap buiness(or anything handmade for that matter) can bring to your life - it doesn't always have to be a financial reward.
Currently l am not selling soap or making websites, and have a part time job. Sure it is nice having a regular pay, but l have lost my flexibility, my weekends, and so much personal time. It is hard having a boss again, l have to bite my tongue so much. There are so many pros and cons to both situations.
In the end, this is just another 'problem' in your business that you have to solve - it's not much different to making the decision of which soap shape to make or which moulds to use. You just research the facts...decide whether to make a to go about it...decide which way works best for you...and then do it. Only you can decide whether it is worthwhile, based on your personal compass of what things you value in your life.

I always liked to think of my businesses as organic things, almost like an indoor plant. What did l need to do to my plant to care for it and to make it healthy? Bookwork and finances were just one of the things that kept my business/plant happy and ticking along. At the end of the day, if you love your business, then you will do whatever it takes to keep it happy and healthy and putting out new shoots! :-)

Gabbie said...

ps. or like me, you can decide it is time to have a break from your indoor plant and try something different ;-)

Listen to your heart. It always tells you the right path :-)

Tierra Verde Handmade Soap said...

@ Gabbie-ya know I luvs ya.

I love the houseplant analogy.I'm really not sure what I am going to do at this point.I'm leaning towards putting it on the back burner for awhile. I have some other fire make soap from now on-it's just not practical.Right now I have some firess to put out that are a priority and need my attention sooner than later,and as badly as I would just love to make soap happily ever after-I guess that's just not in the cards right now.

I think you're right about the Patti Flynn and Platypus Dreams folks. You'd have to be able to manufacture large amounts of soap and export probably to make a grand living on soap, but if you wanted to be comfortable,be creative,have a flexible schedule,some weekends, have your own agenda, be your own boss-you can have those things as a smaller scale soaper.

I think ultimately I spent too much time over the years trying to be as good as some of my mentors-Patti Flynn,Erin Nute etc. I wanted to make above average soap,I wanted it to be beautiful and like most soapmakers I taught myself all I know so it was slow going.

I'm pretty much numb about all of this and think I need some time to weigh my options-so I'll be taking some time.

Jojoka said...

But please don't leave us without you..

Tierra Verde Handmade Soap said...

@ Jojoka-I don't think I could do without all of you in my world. Many of you I've known for years now, and soapmaking has been a BIG part of my life. I can't imagine not having you all around. ;-))

I am working on a plan,I do have a few commitments to complete, one being a show in December that I am very much looking forward to-maybe I'll see how that goes for me and go from there. I do have other fires that are rather urgent, but it my soapmaking is a very meaningful part of my life-it makes me so sad to think of letting it go.

SoapJam said...

Good luck on your December show! I hope you somehow get to keep soapmaking a part of your life since you are passionate about it, good at it, and means a lot to you. I think you have the right recipe for success, but sometimes it's all about timing. I hope you hang in there, make the necessary changes if you have to, and wait until the tides change. A lot of success stories had to go through great challenges and nearly giving up before things changed for the best. I look forward to that day for. Sending you love and prayers.

Tierra Verde Handmade Soap said...

@ SoapJam, thank you so much. I am currently working very hard behind the scenes to get my ducks in a row. Organizing,working out a line so I know exactly what supplies I will need on a regular basis,spending only $$ on necessary supplies(instead of a lot of fun things-darn!)Ya' know trying pretty much to pull myself out of a crack here.I committed to this show before all of this happened and thought about cancelling,but I just really want to give it a try, and I was so looking forward to it. Thank you so much for your kind thoughts.

Melissa said...

Hello. I am a regular reader of your soap blog, and a fellow soap maker. You make beautiful soap! Please do not let one person dissuade you from continuing to make soap. I too find the "business" side of soap selling a bit intimidating, and if I had the time to devote to it full-time, I'd find the help to make it work. You can do it. Look for the resources in your community to see if they offer free programs to help entrepreneurs. See if there is a SCORE in your area. This is a free program of retired professionals who know about running a business and can help you from the ground up, find leads, etc. Or if you know someone who has a successful business as well, tap into their knowledge. And, if you aren't already, you can become a member of the Handcrafted Soap & Cosmetic Guild. They offer soap makers a lot of information and hold an annual conference. Just some ideas for you to consider. Keep on soaping!

Tierra Verde Handmade Soap said...

@ Melissa,Thank you so much for your encouragement.I am really working hard to figure it out the best I can and thinking on how I might get some good tips/advice. We do have a Small Business Development workshop type thing locally that I may tap into. I'm reading all I can get my hands on and working on a bit more planning and organizing. I will eventually join the HSCG-it's a great resource.

I'm so glad you stopped by and thanks again!

karolshandmadesoap said...

I've quietly followed your blog and your talent is quite evident! I am a soapmaker too, and like you, trying to figure out what the next step is. I want to quit my day job, but I'm really only half-way to that financially. Why does it always revolve around $$?

It's a shame that the advice you received was so blunt and unsupportive. But there are soapmakers out there that are already living our dream! Some good advice I received recently is to diversify. I've thought alot about what that means and, in all honesty, not sure how to do it yet. It can be done....for both of us!!

Tierra Verde Handmade Soap said...

@ karolshandmadesoap-Quite honestly and in all fairness I probably had this coming, and perhaps it's been a blessing in disguise.It's made me take a look at how badly I want this to work. I was sort of in limbo afraid of the "business"side of things-it's NOT my comfort zone, that indecisive fear of failing was costing me.

I got great advice from several of my blogging,soaping buddies some of whom told me to "embrace" the business aspect with the same exuberance as I did the soaping aspect, and when I looked inside I knew that was what I had to do.

I've been working very hard on cutting out spending where I could,I've gone over my pricing and re-vamped,I've attended Small Business Development Workshops,I'm working on consolidating my blog, website, market calendars to be more efficient. I am making big changes in the name of being able to support the passion in my life and in an effort to contribute to my family and community,so in the end having someone be so frank and honest with me has only spurred me on to face my fears and move forward.