Recently I’ve been thinking about what I’d do if I was starting out with a brand new business while at a corporate desk job. Don’t ask what exactly prompted this, I think it has something to do with the stories I hear from Business With Intention clients and from our recent Business In The City event.
Although I had an unusually early start with Jess LC as a 15-year-old, I think that a slow but steady Midnight Hustle is totally do-able for those with a yearning to express their creativity, make some extra cash, or even start the process up full-time (eventually).
The steps that I will outline will be based on my own experience from Jess LC over the past 12 years as well as what I know the most, product selling. For this example, I’m going to pretend that I have 40 hour a week day-job that isn’t capturing my interest and a burning desire to make and sell handmade soap. Oh, and I also have just $100 to “invest” in my business.
And of course it goes without saying that the process can take a long time, cost more, or vary from my case study. But this is loosely comparing what I’ve done when I started to what is possible today.
Ready? Let’s start.
Step One: Make Some Soap
The first thing that I would do is learn how to make great soap. Right now eco-friendly, handmade, all natural body products are incredibly popular, so I would start finding formulas online or in books that fit these attributes. I’d invest most of my $100 on the items necessary to make a few dozen bars (I admittedly don’t know the costs associated with soap, but let’s imagine that we can make 50 bars of soap for $50).
After I experiment with the formula itself, I’d find ways to create unique scents because for me, I think that moisture and scent are the most important attributes besides packaging that will sell these puppies. Since the holiday season is coming up, I might craft a two regular scents and a holiday one as well.
Step Two: Design Some Packaging
Okay, assuming that I’ve pretty much perfected my soap formula, I’d then focus on the packaging. At this point I don’t need the worlds best packaging, or branding. I just need elements that are “good enough” to get started.
Because while I can most likely come up with a pretty clever or unique name, most likely that I won’t have the best graphic design skills nor the money to invest in professional boxes. And there is no use delaying a business just because things aren’t perfect right off the bat — they never are. Right now, selling my first bars and getting feedback is all that really matters.
So I’d probably get business cards printed at Vista Print for about $10* with my initial name and logo (made by myself or the most talented person I knew at graphics who would do it for free or for homemade cookies). Because I’m on a budget, I would probably make the business cards pretty and simple enough to double as my labels with soap info on the back so that I could use them in the packaging as well.
Then, I’d probably pick up some simple clear plastic bags used for party favors or something like that at Michael’s or Jo’Ann Crafts. Choosing a spool of ribbon in my company color would allow me to tie the business card/label around the clear plastic bag with the soap inside. It may not be the most elaborate packaging, but it’s useful and keeps costs low.
(Obviously packaging can vary, but the point is to double up utility when you can like the business card / label combo and purchasing packaging that is pretty but in small quantities at big box stores keep things simple and easily changed later when there is money to buy in bulk from more professional packaging suppliers.)
Step Three: Make My First Sales
For pricing, I would take my costs of the soap ($1 in this example) and packaging ($.50) and multiply it by three. $1.50 x 3 = $4.50 per bar. I would also make a three pack of each of the flavors I made that could serve as a holiday gift for $12 – which is just slightly less than the cost of three individual bars.
After I have made my soaps and their prices, I would then start telling my friends, family, and close co-workers (assuming I don’t work for a soap manufacturer) about my new side business. I would share how much fun it was to create the soaps with all the eco-friendly, all natural ingredients and how much I’ve enjoyed using it myself (assuming that I do really like my product – I’d never lie and say it’s great if I personally didn’t like it). And I wouldn’t try to sell anyone the soaps outright, I’d just let my enthusiasm for the process and products sell itself. If you are excited about what you are doing, other people can sense that and may want to seek out the sale themselves.
Though some people may want to avoid this step, I think it can be very positive. The people that know and love you are also the most interested in the new venture you are starting. Especially given that this is a low price item (you aren’t making $600 handbags), a few or even several people are likely to want to buy and try them out.
With Jess LC, I found that in the very beginning and more recently my friends and family were most likely to buy. When I was in the middle, from years 2-10, I found people would support me emotionally, but purchased less often. So be sure to get that initial support via sales in the beginning to get some cash and feedback.
The goal is to have friends, family, and your first customers tell their friends about what you are doing. Word of mouth can be great, especially if your product is good. But also, don’t expect sales to be huge immediately either. You may need to tweak the formula, change the scents, or update the packaging before things pick up more steadily.
I’d also keep all the profits from the first sales in the business. My day-job will continue to fund my life as usual for right now.
Step Four: Figure Out How I Want to Sell to People I don’t Know
After you’ve mastered your first sales via your real life contacts, it’s time to decide which way you want to sell to people you don’t know. The three main ways are: wholesale to stores, direct to customers online, and arts or crafts shows. Below I’ll explain the first steps I’d take for each of those avenues:
For wholesale, I would re-examine my pricing. I would take my costs, $1.50 per bar, and make the wholesale price $3 (or $2.75). Most likely stores will then mark up the soap to $6 or $5.50, depending on your wholesale price.
Then, I’d make sure that my packaging was professional looking enough to sell in a store environment and also that the cards on the soaps did a great job explaining the benefits, ingredients, and scents of my soaps. I’d also probably start a simple blog as my first website and include that url on the card as well so customers could reach out directly to me.
Then, I’d walk into the local stores that sell high end bath products, locally made goods, or all natural products. From here, I recommend reading my advice for getting into stores.
To sell online, I would open an Etsy shop to start. I would get the best possible pictures I could of my products (by asking the best photographer I knew who would do it for cookies or a trade). I’d also get the best header I could, keeping things simple and clean.
After it is live, I would make sure that business cards going forward had the site url on them as well as link them to my blog with soap info.
Then, I’d take the cash I had made from the soap sales so far and purchase a blog ad with a blogger I really liked that had a readership that would appreciate all natural products like mine. I’d also send her a three-pack of soap for herself and for a giveaway on the blog. This would help me get people to my shop. Because I know very well that just having a site or Esty shop is not enough, once it’s there, it is up to me to get the word out about the store.
I’d keep repeating the process above and selling directly to people like in step three.
To find art shows in my area, I’d google around and also ask anyone with their own small business who was local as well. I could imagine that a Farmers Market might also be a great place for me to try out selling my products since they match a lot of the same customers and values that my products have.
Â Step Five: Keep Growing
As I got more experience under my belt, I might consider hiring a blog and graphic designer like Danielle, Alaina, or Claudia to make me a beautiful site and header which I could use on my labels and business cards. Branding is a very important part of separating my products from the rest, especially when you are not able to smell them online or test them out a store.
So there you have it! I hope that this has given you some insight into the first steps that I took that would also translate to those with day-jobs. The steps I outlined could easily be done after hours or on weekends. But you most importantly need to continue to improve the product and the appearance of the site and packaging, reach out to new people, have fun along the way, and just keep going!
* If you google the words “free business cards” Vista Print reliably comes up at the top of the search with a deal for 250 free business cards, you just pay for the shipping. I have used them since college and think the price is great for the very decent quality (if you aren’t a stationery designer, that is).