December 29, 2011
I’m thinking about starting a business.
There, I said it.
The first time I sold soap at a craft fair, it was kind of scary. Is that weird? Crafting is just so personal: offering my handmade stuff for sale made me feel very vulnerable, even if it was only soap. I only had the guts to do it because it was small, organized at my local coffee shop by someone I knew. I tried to prepare myself for the possibility that I wouldn’t sell anything. I could always use the soap myself, or give it away as gifts, I figured.
I shared a table a friend who makes handbags from recycled materials. She brought almond milk and vodka to make her signature low-cal white russians. Friends stopped by. We hung out, drank fancy coffee, moved on to booze- and to my surprise, I sold some soap.
After that, I started doing it every year. I had my cigar box of money from soap sales, and I could spend whatever was in there for materials. It was enough to make more soap to sell and use, and to occasionally try out something new.
People on the whole seemed to like the soap. I got a few offers from shop owners who wanted to carry it, and craft fair customers often asked if I had a business card. But I resisted expanding. There are lots of reasons why: soap isn’t cheap to make, and it’s fairly labor intensive at the scale I’m working. There are lots of handmade soap sellers out there, and it’s a small product, so I’d have to sell a lot of it to make a significant profit. Plus, what if it took the fun out of it?
Enter the recession. Last year was a rough one for me financially. At least I still have a job. But the work was thin on the ground, and a lot of expensive stuff happened. I’m normally very stable financially, so I was pretty surprised to find I’d managed to deplete my resources.
At one point I was hesitant to dig into my tiny bank account- which I needed for bills coming due- for spending cash. So I did something I’d never done before. I borrowed from the soap money box. It really helped me get through the tight spot.
It seemed like a lesson to me: without trying too hard I’d managed to make a small profit over the cost of materials. Plus, I have lots of ideas that I don’t follow up on. I want to try *doing* some of them.
There are still reasons why it might not work. Etsy and paypal fees are a killer for small items. Soap is heavy and therefore expensive to ship. Getting registered and collecting sales tax for the state is expensive too, on top of being a pain in the arse.
But I have a few marketing ideas. And in the meantime, I’m making buttloads of soap. Which feels rewarding all by itself.