What Did You Learn?

I’ll confess, I have been horrible at keeping up with this blog. Between school and all the girls’ activities, there were other things demanding more focus and more time. In the time I’ve been away, we’ve seen some pretty tremendous milestones in our family, both involving my teen. In the space of two months, she has applied to and been accepted at the local community college to start her dual enrollment process, and she has taken driver’s ed and received her learner’s permit.

Once she got that precious little piece of paper in hand, she has wanted to drive everywhere. Her first day driving was very much a trial by fire as she conquered the interstate and city driving. It was while she was driving in the city that she had her first driving scare. She was trying to execute a lane change on a multi-lane road, needing to go from the right lane to the far left turning lane with traffic and while not disobeying any driving laws (i.e., not changing lanes within 100 feet of an intersection). She had given her signal, checked her mirrors, checked her blindspot and was just executing her lane change when a truck came up out of nowhere, forcing her to retreat back to her lane.

Later that night, she was still ruminating over the “What ifs” and “Ifs.” “If I’d hit that truck, it’d have been my fault.” I could tell her confidence in her newly burgeoning driving abilities had been shaken and was afraid she’d let fear keep her from driving. I told her, “It’s in the past, and you didn’t hit the truck.” Then I asked her, “What did you learn from this experience that’ll make you a better driver?”

Whether we’re operating 2000 pound motor vehicles, parenting, teaching, or making soap, we are going to screw up at some point. I have beaten myself up many times over for neglecting my blogs and my writing in general. I have sighed with frustration at the terrible lag in our Konmari Method tidying quest. (It’s bad to the point that the last bags of clothes have finally made it to my trunk to be dropped off this week!) It would be so easy for me to say, “I haven’t blogged in over three months. Why bother now? Why not just quit?”

What have I learned from this? I have reconnected with the grace I so often need to afford myself. I remember the words of lost frustration of my maker friend Jennifer who was so relieved to know that I also neglected my business last summer. “You mean I wasn’t the only one?” we exclaimed together, relieved.

I’ve learned this is something that happens in seasons. There are simply some times when I find myself completely lacking in inspiration and don’t want to bore you with mindless mutterings. I’ve learned I’m not the only maker who goes through these times. And I’ve learned it’s OK. In the media-quiet space between, I’ve been making soaps and other products. I’ve filled orders and am even getting ready to debut something totally new for a belated anniversary celebration. Stay tuned for that!

What mistakes have you made lately and what did you learn from them? Share in the comments below.

How to be an Overnight Business Success

Are you ready?  Got pen and paper?  Here it is…

Buy a kit, make the stuff, price it exactly as recommended by the wholesaler from whom you bought it, rent booth space, sell it (along with at least a half dozen other people who had the same idea as you), and voila!  You’ll be a success overnight.  Or maybe that’s just for overnight.

My dear artisan friend Denise and I joke, “It takes a long time and a lot of hard work to become an overnight success.”  Newbie crafters/hobbyists see what we’ve achieved over years of owning our businesses and want what we have, only without the hard work, trial-and-error, discipline, learning, or experience.  It really does take a significant amount of time and unique experiences to achieve success in business, and I’m happy to show those off in my blog, newsletters, website, and social media outlets.  Today, though, I thought I’d share with you some of my flubs that have led me to where I am now.

“Do a show!”  I was brand new in my business, and the ink on my business license was barely dry when a lady recommended I participate in a huge selling event.  It cost me $325 to rent a booth for the 4-day weekend, and I made probably around 1000 bars of soap for it.  Imagine my joy – how thrilled I was! – to see this line of people at my booth.  Only, they weren’t at my booth; they were in front of it, in line for the gourmet candy apples next door.

Surround yourself by people who want you to succeed.  Or something.  It was a year later, now 2003, and the memories of that awful event were still plaguing me.  It was my first time doing the EPA show with Mom as my sponsor and right-hand woman.  We were two hours from the end, and business had been quite good, when Mom started offering discounts without consulting me.  I was like, “What are you doing?”  She said, “I thought since you weren’t making a profit, yet, that you’d want to liquidate.”  It takes 3-5 years to turn a profit in business, and she’s been a super-tremendous help since.

Then there was the grand mal soap seizure that turned the beautiful funnel swirl of my plans into “murdered Mardi Gras clown soap.”

Over the course of a few years, that first EPA show led me to markets and monthly artisan events, which, in turn, began to lead to other opportunities.  An artisan potter was opening up an incubator co-op and invited me to join for $100 a month.  I was spending $20 a month to sell for 4 hours, and this way, my wares would already be set up, and I wouldn’t have to worry about doing the selling.  It seemed like a good idea.  It’d be nothing to sell $100 of products a month, or so I thought.  I discussed it with my husband – I was so excited!  He didn’t really think it was the best idea.  I persisted.  It was fun doing the Art Walk, chatting up customers, and just being in that atmosphere.  I made $100 one month of the six I was there, and I pulled out after six months.  That was the only year my net profits went down since my first year in business.

I’m pretty sure at this time I may have still had a few soaps from that first event left over.  I’d systematically melted most of the soaps down to cats, because I quickly discovered that cat soaps sell very well.

So many scents!  So many soaps to make!  And bath salts and bubble bath and bath bombs!  And no one in that area really takes tub baths.  Plus there was a drought in the state that effected us for a couple of years.  So.  Much.  Inventory leftover!  I still have some of those bath salts and bath bombs, because I don’t often get time to take tub baths, either.  It’s so important not to get carried away with making stuff.  I have over a hundred fragrances still, and I’m selling them or using them in very limited edition soaps – or simply in soap for us.

Event A, Event B, and Event C, all carrying high costs to do.  While there is a formula to determine if a show has been poor, fair, good, or excellent, there comes a point where I had to say, “Nope.  No more.”  Because it’s not just the expense of the booth fees, gas, food, and possibly lodging to take into account, but it’s also the intangibles – child care, labor of workers, and just the pure pain-in-the-butt it is to schlep tables, canopy, and products, set it up, work all day, and tear it down.  Given all this “invisible” expenses, it just stopped being cost-effective.  The day before the first of these events I gave up, I waltzed around town with the same dopey smile on my face my mom had her first day of retirement.

Selling on consignment is another one of those flubs.  The seller doesn’t pay me for my products until they sell them, so they have no personal investment in my wares.  I lost inventory to shop-wear, sun fading, and age.  It’s so much better financially and for my stress to sell the products myself retail through my website or via one of the two events I do each year, or to one of my stockists and be done with it.

It’s now been almost fourteen years since I officially started my business.  I have an online soap boutique, three private label accounts, and I’ve had a number of wholesale accounts as well.  My net profits go up every year, which is good; it means I’m selling more products, but also managing to buy smarter.  I have faithful, loyal customers.  Judging by these factors, you could say I have gained a measure of business success.  It hasn’t all been easy, though, and I certainly have made a slew of mistakes, er, “learning opportunities,” along the way,

If you’re in business, what, um, “learning opportunities” have you encountered that have led to your success?