The following is from an interview about my career as a soapmaker, in case you were wondering!
Interview with a Soap Maker
Read as Carla Brooks talks about her career as a Soap Maker. Find her at www.deltamoonsoap.com or www.deltamoon.blogspot.com and on her Twitter feed in the sidebar of this interview.
What do you do for a living?
I make and sell handmade soap.
How would you describe what you do?
Where do I begin? I created the recipe that I use and it’s the basis of all the soap I make, over 30 varieties. I then sell the soap on-line as well as at the Farmers Markets and in a couple of local stores/shops as well.
What does your work entail?
Well, it’s everything you see and a lot that you don’t see. From lugging in the heavy boxes of oils (my husband and son help!) that I have to go get, to designing and printing the labels, making the soap of course, keeping inventory so you know what you may run out of, and then all the other things associated with a business. Things like bookkeeping and marketing – I can’t say enough about that one, you MUST do promotion so that people can find you, without that, there’s no point! When you start a business remember that the distribution channel is VERY important, how your customer will get your product. There are just a ton of little things that I do that I really don’t think of, but that keeps it interesting!
What’s a typical work week like?
It can vary a bit for me depending on if I have to travel for supplies and what soaps I need to make as well as what new things I will create. I like to do a Limited Edition soap each month, I call that “Playing” because I get to be creative and put different combinations together. It’s a lot of fun for me. The usual things I do each week are managing my on-line shops and of course attending my 4 Farmers Markets a week. That involves traveling to where the Market is and setting everything up and selling for 4-6 hours. That part can be challenging in the weather because the Farmers Markets are there rain or shine, and the customers really believe in supporting their local businesses and so they come and support us rain or shine as well. I have to add that selling soap in the rain can be a challenge too! So after Market I come home and unload (husband and son help usually) and then restock for the next Market. I’d have to say the biggest part of the Markets for me is the preparation, you have to make sure you are well stocked so you don’t disappoint your customers.
How did you get started?
I actually got started because when my 3 sons were little, we went through a lot of soap! I started reading about what kinds of things are in commercially made soap (scary chemicals!) and decided I could do a better job making it myself. We shared it with friends and family who encouraged me to sell my soap, and that’s what we did, we started in 2000.
What do you like about what you do?
Too much to list! I love the freedom my schedule allows me, I love that I get to be creative. I like being my own boss, there’s really very little I don’t like.
What do you dislike?
The mundane stuff you have to do like lining the soap molds, separating the oils into batch sized increments, it’s not bad, just boring and repetitious.
How do you make money/or how are you compensated?
Well the cool thing about working for yourself is that there’s no “payday” (that’s a bad thing too!). I get paid whenever I make a sale. From the wholesale it’s nice because you send them a box of soap and get paid right away (most of the time, with some accounts you have to wait 30 days, that all depends on the arrangement you make with the shop when you first get together). With on-line sales I get paid right away as well. With the Farmers Market you get paid right away too, the tricky part of that is, you never know what kind of a day you’ll have. Sometimes you’re very busy and other times it can be slow, things like holidays, and extreme weather can affect your sales. I really love talking with my customers, most of which have become friends over the years. I also like the instant feedback I get from them, it’s very helpful in knowing which way the trends are going, so that affects my future creations. So you can see each way has it’s own challenges and benefits.
How much money do Soapmakers make?
Well soapmakers incomes can be VERY varied!
$15k to $60k per year is possible although there are so many contributing factors like how active they are etc. It can be done!
It has many factors that go into it, depending on what products you offer, your market or customers and really how dedicated you are with it. I feel like you get back what you put in most of the time. Like, when you are at an event selling your product, you want to be there, smiling and making eye contact with your customers, sitting and reading will not help you! As far as numbers that’s hard for me to say. I have heard so many different things from other “soapers”. I will say that it’s hard work but rewarding and you can make a living at it, but I don’t know that you’ll get rich, at least that’s been my experience.
How much money did/do you make starting out?
In the beginning I didn’t make much, had a lot to learn about business and am STILL learning! The thing with being self-employed is that you have to figure out some of the things by yourself. There’s no manual of Operating Instructions, all the decisions are yours and that could be good or bad! I worked at my day job for the first year and then took a HUGE leap of faith and went on my own. The first year or so you’re just lucky to have a profit at all.
What education, schooling, or skills are needed to do this?
Well there are classes now that are helpful, (Nova Studios if you’re in the Bay Area). With me, soap making was self-taught, but if you can do classes, that’s so much easier! My skill-set I think has been developed by all the things I’ve done up to this point. I was Operations Supervisor at a bank, and the last job I had was as a Registered Veterinary Technician. Each thing taught me something that I utilize each day. I think the biggest thing is just being “tenacious as a weed” and not giving up. You do need to have some problem solving skills too. It falls on your shoulders when challenges crop up.
What is most challenging about what you do?
It can be a challenge to have the self discipline at times, like when you really would rather goof off than make 180# of soap! When sales are slow it can be a challenge being able to get all the supplies that you need. That’s where the problem solving comes in too. I think that’s probably it though, I’ve been doing this for a while so that gives me a pretty good feeling for how to deal with things.
What is most rewarding?
That’s another one that has too many to list! I love being with my customers, hearing what they’re up to. I love when they’ve used my soap as a gift and they tell me how their recipient enjoyed it. I also love it when someone that can’t use regular soap because of their sensitive skin tries my soap and they find that their skin is so much happier. It’s very rewarding to know that you’ve had a part in making someone else happier. I enjoy working with my friends at the Farmers Market. We’re really a community in fact, sort of a family.
What advice would you offer someone considering this career?
I say go for it! It’s wonderful! Do know that it won’t always be a bed of roses and there will be challenges for sure, but I think you would get that with any job where you had this much freedom. I think it takes a special kind of person to be self-employed, its not for the faint of heart! For me, the rewards far outweigh the challenges.
How much time off do you get/take?
Personally I don’t take much, but other folks can, it really depends on how you want to do it. I really enjoy what I do and am very passionate about it, so it doesn’t feel like work really. ( I call working in the Studio “playing” in fact ). Every now and then I do take a couple of days off. I post it on my website and try to give my customers notice whenever I can as I know they depend on my being there when they need me, but there’s a great deal of flexibility in this line of work.
What is a common misconception people have about what you do?
That it’s really easy! It is, I mean the actual making the soap is very easy once you’ve done all your research and know what you’re doing! But it’s all that comes with it. Folks seem to think that because you set your own hours, you sit on the beach drinking margaritas all day. It would be nice, but that’s not the reality! It requires a lot of dedication and discipline. It never goes away. There’s always the Studio telling you that there’s something that needs to be done. Oh and the other thing is, that people think that you only work a few hours and make all this money. The reality is, that when you work for yourself, at least for me, I have worked much harder than I ever have for anyone else, but it’s a question of how do I spend my time, doing something I really love and make a living at it, or doing something for maybe less hours that I don’t feel as passionate about. I wouldn’t trade it!
What are your goals/dreams for the future?
Not to get rich really, just to be able to make a decent living. I’ll continue to watch trends and see what people are looking for and enjoy. I love that I can change anything about my products very easily since it isn’t mass produced. I’m actually very content and am just happy to be able to do what I do. A lot of people aren’t able to say that.
What else would you like people to know about your job/career?
The most cool thing about being a “soaper” is that there are SO many ways to do it! There’s no end to the possibilities! Give yourself some time to learn everything, do your research, there can be a lot to learn. If you have the dream, do it!
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