A Spanner in the Works (Blogtober 25)

I had plans for today. Big plans. Important plans.

Today was the day for finishing off the wrapping and labelling of the first batches of Christmas soaps which had emerged, at the weekend, from their curing confinement

Today was also the day for delivering/dispatching said soaps to all the lovely people, both wholesale and retail clients, who had pre-ordered them.

I got up, and started making breakfast for the kids (pancakes, from scratch, in case you cared).  I made my husband a coffee and took it up to the bedroom. He works from home and I take him a coffee in bed every. Sodding. Morning.  Mind you, I can’t complain. I get a cup of tea in bed at the weekends. If I nag enough…

I digress. I should have known it was going to be a strange day.  Most days my kids are awake before me – they were both utterly rubbish sleepers as babies (my eldest was over 18 months old before he slept more than 2 hours at a time) and have always been early risers. Today, for the first time in our family history, I had to go in to each of their bedrooms and WAKE THEM UP!! (*Ahem* capitals are for effect – I didn’t actually shout – how mean would that be?!!)  Seriously though, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve ever had to wake one, or the other, up in the morning. Never, ever have I had to wake them both.

So, they were up a bit later than usual, and I was hurrying them along to eat their pancakes and get ready for school. At 7.45 the electricity went off. Complete power outage throughout the village. Never mind, teeth still got done, faces still got wiped, hair was still brushed and we put on layers of waterproofs to brave the howling wind & rain for the arduous 45 second walk to school (have I mentioned how close we live to the school?)

Did you see it coming? We arrived at the school door and were turned away. No school today – ‘Health and Safety’. Can’t do school without electricity. “Arrrrgggghhhhhhhhhhh!!!” (I might have said, under my breath)

So home we go. I couldn’t go to work, and I couldn’t even take the car to make deliveries as my husband, at a crucial point in his current project, needed to use the car to go hunt for the to nearest reliable wifi connection (which, it  turns out, is to be found parked up outside our nearest Tesco (8 miles away), laptop balanced on knees – who’d have thought??!!)

So I spent an hour trying valiantly to do ‘housework’ (but mostly boiling a pan of water to make cups of tea). The kids spent an hour not knowing what on earth to do with themselves until I remind them that they have some toys that don’t have screens…

Mum turned up at about 10.30am, saw the wild look in my eyes and took the kids for a couple of hours. I ran (literally, the rain was still an issue) over to the office and wrapped and labelled as much as I could in the gloom.  These are about half of the orders that were supposed to go out today:

Soapy Work in Progress

Soapy Work in Progress

It was dark, really dark, and although I had so much to do my eyes did get sore and I was glad when 12.30 came around – time to collect the kids.

The electricity finally came back on at about 5.30, just in time to illuminate our meal of  fish and chip suppers that Dean brought home, in full-on hunter-gatherer mode.  The family was fed.

I’m back at the day job tomorrow, so I have a lot of soapy catching up to do somehow but one thing’s for sure – I’ll be back with Blogtober 26 😀 #blogtobersoapers

 

 

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A Change of Circumstance (Blogtober 20)

**Waffle Warning**  I’ve just reread this post before pressing publish, and it’s rather text heavy and lacking in pretty pictures.  While the turn of events is a little sad,  it’s exciting stuff in terms of growing the business and so I just had to share.

When I decided to take The Soap Mine forward as a bona fide business, I knew it would be a slow burner.  It was 2010, I had a small baby (I was still on maternity leave) and I had just discovered that it would cost me just shy of £1,000 a month if I went back to my full time job. Neither my husband nor I were happy with the prospect of putting our baby into full time childcare (I was a project manager in a Manchester ad agency – crazy long hours) and so I gave up paid work to become a Work At Home Mum and set to making a business out of selling soap.

I practiced and experimented for months and months, and finally applied for SAs (Safety Assessments – professionally certified documentation that proves that my recipes are safe), organised insurance and dealt with all the other legal admin that needs to be done in the UK before you can sell soap.

I spent a couple of years selling at markets and fairs in and around Manchester, and then we took the big decision to move back to my childhood home in Snowdonia, North Wales (well, not actually my childhood home, I don’t think my dear mum would have been too impressed at that, but the same village)  This was the turning point for my business.  I was able to slowly increase the number of wholesale customers that I deal with, start giving soapmaking demonstrations and talks, and supply local visitor accommodation with guest soaps.

Throughout most of this time I’ve also had a part-time job in the village pre-school.  For the last 2.5 years I’ve been the Assistant to the Setting Leader – just the two of us and up to ten 2-4 year olds.  Happy chaos!!  To be perfectly honest it would never have been my first choice – working with children had never been a dream – but I was offered the job when my youngest turned 2, and I could take her to work with me. There aren’t many jobs out there where you can take your child to work so it didn’t take me long to accept.

BUT, as I got busier and busier on the soaping front, I had started thinking about giving up the pre-school role and running the soap business on a full time basis.  My youngest started school full time this September, and so, with some trepidation I told my employers that I would be leaving at the end of the Christmas term.  Then fate decided to move things on just a little bit more quickly.  Last week, the Leader of the setting handed in her notice – 4 weeks notice. She has another job, and we can’t replace her.  Not for want of trying, there’s just nobody out there with the appropriate qualification who wants the job, and so she is literally irreplaceable.

So, sadly, we have to close the pre-school. We’re shutting our doors for the last time a week today – next Thursday, and I’ll be officially out of work.  Except I won’t be. I have more than enough to do with the business, but now I need to think seriously about growth, and increasing revenue.  It’s extraordinarily exciting, but ridiculously daunting too.  I have so many ideas and plans, and now I’ll have the opportunity to put them into action – wish me luck!!

Thanks for reading, back tomorrow!

Vickx

 

24 Tips for Giving a Soapmaking Demonstration (Blogtober 12)

24-tips-for-giving-a-soapmaking-demo

Last December, I wrote a post giving some hints and tips for giving a soapmaking talk / presentation, something I’ve been doing on a weekly basis for the last three years.  I also get regular bookings to do soapmaking demonstrations, which, unsurprisingly, take a little more preparation. It’s safe to say that it’s been an interesting learning curve, and I thought it might be helpful to someone out there if I were to note down some of the things that I’ve learnt the hard way.  Many may be no-brainers, but some of them might prove to be helpful. So no more waffle, here they are:

  1. Consider your fee before you’re asked so that you’re not coming up with a figure out of thin air (yep, that was me, and it was ridiculously low!)  It might be worth offering two options – one fee if there’s to be no selling involved and a slightly lower one if they’ll allow you to offer your products for sale after the demo.  In my experience they’ll always go for the slightly lower fee and you can take full advantage of the sales opportunity.
  2. If they’re happy for you to sell, make sure you take plenty of product, and some samples as well. If at all possible, make sure that you have plenty of the variety that you making on that occasion available for sale (ie if you’re making lavender soap in the demo, make sure you have plenty of fully cured lavender soap available to buy).
  3. Consider offering a discount to the audience on the regular price of the bars – I usually take 50p off the price of each bar for demo audiences. It’s not a huge discount by any means, and it’s doesn’t make too much of a difference to me, but it is appreciated by the audience.
  4. Take plenty of business cards.  You have a captive audience and a great opportunity to sell not only your soap (or other products) but your demo packages too.
  5. Be prepared.  Create a list (beforehand!) of all the things you need to take, and tick them off as you pack them.  There’s nothing worse than getting in front of an audience and realising that you’re missing a key piece of kit.
  6. Make sure that you know exactly where you’re going.  Google Street view has been my friend a few times when I wasn’t familiar with the venue.
  7. Decide how much preparation you want to do beforehand.  There are plenty of things you can do before even setting off for the venue.  I like to soap at room temperature, and so I prepare the lye water at home and transport it in a well sealed container.  I also prepare the oil/butter mix before I go, and depending on what facilities are available at the venue I may melt it down before leaving, or do it as soon as I arrive at the venue to give it time to cool (if you choose this option make sure that there is a microwave available to use)
  8. Wrap/secure oils WELL to avoid spillage.  Ask me how I know :-O  The passenger foot-well of my car has never been quite the same since the Great Oil Spill of 2016 😀
  9. Make sure you know how much space you’ll have. It’s also nice to have an idea of how many people are likely to be in the audience – is it likely to be 5, or 35?  (That will also give you an idea of how much product you need to take to sell)
  10. If you use a hand blender (or any kind of electrical equipment) remember to tell the organiser that you’ll need to be positioned near an electrical socket. If in doubt, take an extension lead.
  11. Be aware of your timings.  If it’s your first time you might unconsciously race through the process in record time, leaving the audience wondering just what happened there. Take your time and explain what you’re doing every step of the way.
  12. Let the audience know that you welcome questions at any time (providing you do, of course).  If you’re new to demos you might feel that having questions being fired at you could be offputting, but I’ve found that it’s a nice way to break the ice.
  13. Take samples of the ingredients to hand around the audience during the demo, eg fragrances (essential oils or fragrance oils), colourants, oils / butters in their natural state.
  14. Make sure you take plenty of towels and/or tablecloths to protect whatever surface you’ll be working on. I also have a roll of thin linoleum that I use to cover tables as I’d be mortified if spilt lye / raw soap and damaged somebody else’s property!
  15. Also ensure that you have plenty of cloths and/or paper towels to mop up any spillages.
  16. Don’t forget your safety gear.  It might be obvious, but it’s easy to forget the gloves or the goggles.  Make sure they’re added to your list (see point #4)
  17. Don’t ever use a new recipe or fragrance for a demo – make something you’ve made many times before, and that you know works. Don’t rush –  It’s easy to forget to add a fragrance or add the colourant at the wrong time if you’re feeling even a little pressured or anxious.
  18. Take a big plastic tub specifically to take home all the washing up.  I use big tubs to take everything to the venue and usually find that I can use just one of them to transport soapy pots and utensils home – you don’t want to be carrying them home in the same containers as all your non-soapy stuff.
  19. If you can, take some previously made soap in the mould to show the audience the unmolding / cutting process.  (And don’t forget your cutter!) It means that the audience can see full process from start to finish. I usually try to make a batch 2 days before I’m due to give a demo or talk, for this very reason.
  20. Consider talking about the wrapping process and/or  labelling rules & regulations.
  21. It can help to have some ‘interesting facts’ at your fingertips (eg history of soapmaking) should something take longer than planned. If, for whatever reason, your soap doesn’t trace as quickly as usual, you don’t want to be standing there in silence with an audience staring at you!
  22. Consider preparing a handout with a basic recipe and a list of resources should anyone want to try making soap themselves.  Not everyone is comfortable doing this, but in my mind it shows a generous spirit to be willing to help others get started.
  23. Know your audience language.  Now this is a  bit of a niche tip, I’ll admit, but I live in a bilingual area (English/Welsh) and while I’m comfortable giving a demo / talk in either language, I always make sure I know beforehand which language I’ll be using for that particular occasion.
  24. Try to enjoy it!  The audience will enjoy it much more if you’re having fun yourself. Smile a lot, crack a few jokes if appropriate, make it clear that you welcome questions and engage in conversation.

Hope they’re helpful to someone – if you can think of any more please comment below!

Thanks for sticking with me so far, nearly halfway there! Back tomorrow #blogtobersoapers

Vickx

 

Soap Samples (Blogtober 5)

Every time I cut a loaf of soap – I always have a fair sized chunk left over at the end of the loaf. Not so thick as to be a saleable bar but perfect to cut into four and use as sample bars.  Their uses, as a general rule, are twofold

1. As free samples to be popped in the box when anyone places an order and

Free sample bar

Free sample bar

2. To be given out to retail outlets with each wholesale order, one per fragrance ordered, so that customers can get a good idea of the fragrance

Retail samples

Retail samples

I ALSO have left over the very thin end piece that I slice off the loaf when I begin cutting it:

Thin end slices

Thin end slices

and recently I started wondering how I could use them.  A couple of years back, at Christmas time, I had bundled up various end pieces, wrapped them up in raffia and sold them as sample packs at market:

End piece bundles

End piece bundles

But I wanted something a little ‘neater’, and then I remembered this blog post by Emily at Soap & Restless, and went on the hunt in the kitchen for a suitably sized cookie cutter.  This was the result:

Cookie Cutter Samples

Cookie Cutter Samples

I’m still not entirely sure what I’m going to do with them. Maybe cut a hole in each one and string them onto some ribbon or raffia?  Or just use them as prettier free samples? It would be an easy enough process to continue slicing that last chunk into thinnish slices, so I should still be able to get four samples out of each end chunk…  What do you think?  Which sample would you prefer to get with your order?

Back tomorrow,

Vickx

Goals: September 2017

September Goals

Does anyone else feel like September is a bit of a fresh start? Almost like a mini New Year if you will.  It’s always been the same for me, probably because it’s the start of the academic year, and therefore was often a time of change during my younger days.

Anyway, this September, things get serious for The Soap Mine.  My youngest starts full time school next week, and I’ve known for a couple of years that this September will be a pivotal month for the business.  Up until now I’ve had to work during the evenings and weekends, but going forward I’ll have 22 more hours a week to really grow and take this business forward.  (I’ll continue to work in the Village Pre-school for 8 hours a week – on Wednesdays and Thursdays, for the time being)  Having said that, it won’t actually  be 22 hour MORE, as I’ve no intention of continuing to work all evenings and weekends like I’ve had to do this last couple of years.  I’m taking some time back for me!

Ok, back on task. There really should be only one goal for September – get the website up and running.  I’ve made a start – today I spent a couple of hours inputting text and uploading photographs – but it’s going to be quite a long process if today’s anything to go by. Many of my photos need to be re-shot too so that may take some time.  Part of the website launch will involve migrating this blog onto the new site – I have no idea how that’s going work – am I likely to lose all my readers in one fell swoop or will you all somehow, magically, be redirected to the new site? We’ll see I guess :-/

But one goal’s just not going to cut it this month. I need to get the majority of my Christmas soaps made if they’re going to be cured and wrapped by the beginning of November. I also want to get back into the swing of regular blog posts too. I’ve committed to doing Blogtober again this year, but aiming for 8 – 10 during September should keep me on my toes.

So there we go. Website, Christmas soaps and blog posts.  Together with the ongoing restocks, they’re the priorities for this month. What are yours?

 

 

 

 

The Week in Soap: 28th May ’17

Building a business one soap at a time.  That’s my blog’s sub-heading, and that’s what I’ve been doing for the last few years.  Just like putting one step in front of the other, I’ve been making one soap after another, and slowly growing the business  But a lot of the time it feels like I’m flying by the seat of my pants.  I knew nothing of business before I started this venture, and it’s been (and still is!) a huge learning curve.  I was simply a soapmaking hobbyist who frankly, was looking for a way to make a bit of money when I realised that I really DIDN’T want to go back to the long hours of Project Management when my son, my eldest child, was born seven years ago.  Seven years ago today in fact.  I’m not sure where I’m going with this ramble, but it’s my gorgeous boy’s birthday today, and I’ve been reminiscing on the passing of time.

Before my boy arrived I loved my job.  It was fast paced and I worked long hours, but it was absolutely not compatible with a baby – for me anyway. So I started wondering whether it was possible to build a profitable business making handmade soap.  Seven years on and the business grows month by month and I love THIS job. Working my own hours is so family-friendly (and will be even easier when my youngest starts school full time in September) but I’m still nowhere near making the kind of income I had from my pre-children employment, and I don’t know if I ever will.  It’s exciting, exhilarating even, and sometimes it makes me anxious.  At times I drive my long suffering husband insane by fretting and worrying about how much I have to do in what little time I have available to me, especially when he’s working away and that available time is further reduced.  I’m frightened of taking too much on, overstretching myself and letting customers down.  I’ve been holding back on launching the website because I really don’t know if I can handle more orders than I’m already getting…  A great position to be in, but it means that growth is slower than it could otherwise be.

Well, having said all that, I was lucky enough to secure two new stockists this last week. My soap can now be found in Conwy Art & Craft, 7 High Street, Conwy and Slate and Things at 38 High Street, Caernarfon.  Do pop in and check them out if your in the area – both gorgeous shops with loads of lovely items for sale.

Needless to say, I’ve been doing a lot of wrapping and labelling recently, but  I also made soap (of course!).  Two batches each of Serenity and Botanica:  (please forgive the shadows – I thought I’d try some ‘arty’ photos in the dappled sunshine but, erm, it didn’t quite work :-D)

Serenity & Botanica in the mould

Serenity & Botanica in the mould

And I even managed to get it cut in time to share some pics with you:

Serenity Mid-cut

Serenity Mid-cut

Botanica Mid-cut

Botanica Mid-cut

I’ve been inundated with orders for the mini guest bars – plenty of them gone out this week:

Guest bars ready to ship out

Guest bars ready to ship out

I’m STILL in discussions with a couple of companies re boxes for my soap – I’ll be sure to share more when I have something definite to report.

On a personal note, I’ve already mentioned that it’s my eldest’s birthday today. We held a party for him and his friends yesterday, and much fun  was had:

The birthday boy (and me)

The birthday boy (and me)

He absolutely adored his Minecraft themed cake:

Minecraft Cake

Minecraft Cake

made by the super-talented Julie of Stickytreats – check out her Instagram account if you love creative cake decor…

That’s it for today, thanks for reading, I’ll be back soon!

 

 

The Week in Soap: 21st May ’17

Did you have a good weekend?  I’ve no idea where this last week has gone – seemed to fly by!  My husband was away for a couple of nights at the beginning of the week, so although I managed to make a couple of batches on Tuesday night, once the kids were in bed, I didn’t manage to get as much done this week as I usually would… He’s away again next week, for three nights I think, and as it’s half term and both kids are off school, it could well be a rather unproductive week soapwise…

Anyhow, back to the good stuff. These were Tuesday’s batches – Clarity and Luscious Lavender:

Clarity & Lavender in the Mould

Clarity & Lavender in the Mould

And, for once, I managed to photograph the freshly cut bars – forgive the rough edges, these were taken just minutes after cutting:

Clarity - brand new and freshly cut

Clarity – brand new & freshly cut

Luscious Lavender - brand new and freshly cut

Luscious Lavender – brand new & freshly cut

I’m still on the hunt for soap boxes – I knew there was a reason I put it off for so long, it’s not an easy search!  I’ll update when I have something to share.

This week saw the arrival of the last parcel (all the way from the US) in the 2017 International Soap Swap. I don’t want to spoil any surprises so I can’t really give anything away until all participants have received their return packages, but oooohhhhh I’m so excited to share.  There should have been 15 of us in total, but 6 had to pull out for one reason or another, and the final count is 9.  The contents of these boxes are stunning, and will be posted out to their rightful owners by the end of the week.  Stay tuned as I can’t wait to share their contents with you….

Soap Swap boxes - woop!

Soap Swap boxes – woop!

My soapmaking routine is taking a bit of a shuffle this week.  I’ve always been in the habit of making soap on a Tuesday night, so that I have a batch to cut at my soapmaking presentation on a Thursday night (48 hours later).  However, the venue has asked me to move my talk to Wednesday nights (after my kickboxing training – eek!) for the foreseeable future, and therefore I  need to make soap on a Monday night from now on.  It does however free Thursday night up for soapmaking too, so my schedule from now on will mean soapmaking on a Monday and a Thursday as a general rule.

There you go, that was my soapy week in a nutshell. In other news, we spent most of yesterday working in the garden.  Have I mentioned our back garden yet?  It was a complete jungle when we moved into the house, and it’s slowly being tamed into submission.  This was it last year – just look at those overgrown boundaries :-O (But on a positive note they hid pounds and pounds of juicy blackberries)

A couple of months ago...

Last Autumn…

Then, after lots and lots of hacking, digging etc etc etc we got to this point a couple of weeks ago:

Before yesterday's efforts...

Before yesterday’s efforts…

And by the end of yesterday:

After Sunday's efforts...

After yesterday’s efforts…

I’m starting to see potential, and am getting excited about what we could do with it.  It slopes upwards, so it’s foreshortened in this picture, and is actually longer than it looks.  I have dreams of a greenhouse, a seating area, raised beds for veg and salad, and plenty of flower beds.  I absolutely adore gardening, and can’t wait to get to it properly! And obviously I’ll be sure to share the progress 🙂

Thanks for reading – back soon!