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

 

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Saaaaaaaave!! (Blogtober 19)

°OMG I’m so relived today.  Remember a couple of day ago in my last Reader’s Questions post where I confessed that I’d recently had two failed double batches of Clarity?  The ones that looked like this when cut?

Clarity fail...

Clarity fail…

6kg / 12lbs of soap that I don’t know what to do with (except I might have a plan, which I’ll come to in a moment..)

Anyway, it was with much trepidation that I decided I had to attempt making it again. It’s a REALLY good seller, and I can’t afford to run out, but I was nervous – wasting more precious oils (both regular and essential!) wasn’t an option.  I had decided that it was probably down to a partial gel situation, and it would appear that, contrary to what I said here about changes in the weather not affecting my soapmaking, recent changes in the weather had indeed affected my soapmaking (Gah! This is where making bold statements in a blog post gets me!!!!)

I decided to try the CPOP (Cold Process Oven Process) method.  I made the soap with the oils and lye solution just a little warmer than room temp (I usually soap at room temp) and preheated both ovens (on the dough proving setting) to just 40°C.  I had to use both ovens as I make two loaves at a time but can only fit one in at time:

CPOPping!

CPOPping!

I did actually try to take a pic with the door closed but it didn’t quite come out as planned :-D:

Look! It's me...

Look! It’s me…

So, I left the moulds in there for an hour, then turned off the heat and left them there for another hour.

When I took them out the tops definitely looked different to my non-CPOPped batches:

Soap in the mould after CPOP

Soap in the mould after CPOP

And then, a mere 24 hours later (I usually leave them in the mould for 48 hours)  I cut the first one loaf, practically holding my breath as I brought the wire down for the first slice…Success!!  (but do bear in mind that these are freshly cut and not yet tarted up…)

Clarity freshly cut 1

Clarity freshly cut 1

Clarity freshly cut 2

Clarity freshly cut 2

Cue a little happy dance…

And what to do with the other 6kg of spoiled soap?  Well, in the comments section of this post where I also shared my ‘fail’, Sly of Soaps by Sly was kind enough to share a video of Tania of Soapish showing a method that seems to ‘fix’ a partial gel. This could be a gamechanger, and I’m definitely planning on giving it a go (just don’t ask me when!!)

Thanks for reading – back tomorrow!

Vickx

Wet Soap Wednesday (Blogtober 18)

As another Wednesday comes around, I give a little cheer (yey!) because I can use #wetsoapwednesday as an excuse to share more of my favourite soap in the mould pics!

Bewitched in the mould (Love Spell type)

Bewitched in the mould (Love Spell type)

Serenity & Oatmeal, Milk and Honey in the mould

Serenity & Oatmeal, Milk and Honey in the mould

Luscious Lavender in the mould

Luscious Lavender in the mould

Clarity in the mould

Clarity in the mould

Bewitched in the mould

Bewitched in the mould

Christmas Tree in the mould

Christmas Tree in the mould

Serenity in the mould

Serenity in the mould

Blodau in the mould

Blodau in the mould

Welsh Rose & Clarity in the mould

Welsh Rose & Clarity in the mould

Reader Questions #2 (Blogtober 17)

I’m back to those questions that were posed on my appeal for post ideas back in September.

Today’s four questions are courtesy of Barb of Scrub Me Down – Happy Skin. There was going to be a fifth from Lisa of Aquarian Soap (see link below), about time management, but I’m going to give that subject a post all of its own!!

Question 1 is ‘What are my favourite blogs to follow?’  Well that’s an easy one – go to my homepage and down the right hand side you’ll see a list of some of blogs that I follow (I don’t know how it chooses which ones to display – Lisa’s Aquarian Soap blog doesn’t show up but I LOVE her posts, and Sarah of Sas-Oki Soaps too. Oh, and Danica’s Seife und Anderes) I went through and did a bit of a cull just recently as I realised that many of them hadn’t been updated for the longest time.   Are there any glaring omissions there that I really should be following?  What are your favourite blogs (not necessarily soapy ones!)

Question 2 – If you could carve out half a day and make something other than soap, what would you make? A cake. Always, a cake.  I might not be the best cook in the world, but my baking usually goes down quite well.  I’m going to post another couple of recipes before the end of Blogtober I think!  I also really REALLY want to learn how to crochet, and if I had any regular free time I think I’d give that a go…

Question 3 – What’s your favourite fragrance for soap? My favourite fragrance oil of all time is a Pink Sugar dupe from Gracefruit called Pink Kisses (used in ‘Sugar Drops’), but I’m also in love with their Warm Gingerbread at the moment – it’s all ginger, cinnamon and vanilla and is mouthwateringly delicious.   I’ve recently received a little sample of a fragrance called Tabac Vanille which I think is a dupe of a Tom Ford fragrance which is really intriguing me and can’t wait to try in a test batch.  My favourite EO blend at the moment is the one I use in Botanica – lavender, lemon & lime.  I could stand and sniff a bar all day…

Sugar Drops

Sugar Drops

Warm Gingerbread Handmade Soap

Warm Gingerbread Handmade Soap

Botanica (Lavender, Lemon & Lime)

Botanica

Question 4 What was your worst batch of soap?  Hahahaha there have been loads of them over the years.  I’ve forgotten to add fragrance, or added to much.  I’ve miscalculated and made lye heavy soap, and made soap that never set up.  Luckily these days ‘bad’ batches are few and far between, but I did have that one a month or two ago – when I tried to make ‘Snowdon’ with a new FO that I hadn’t tested – rookie mistake!!  I’ve still got it carefully stored in the hope I can use it to experiment with rebatching – and report back my thoughts of course!!

A soapy disaster

A soapy disaster

Unfortunately I had another couple of disasters just this last fortnight. I mentioned it in yesterday’s post so I won’t go on about it now but Clarity, with activated charcoal has been proving problematic too:

Clarity fail...

Clarity fail…

Thanks for reading – back tomorrow!! If you have any questions please comment below and I’ll do my very best to answer them.

The Week in Soap: 15th Oct ’17 (Blogtober 16)

So, Blogtober rolls on and, to be totally honest, here at the halfway point,  I’m suffering from a bit of blogging apathy.  I’m certain it’s temporary, and I’m absolutely not giving up (are you cheering or groaning?? 😀 ) but I am glad that today is my usual weekly update day and I don’t have to come up with something new!

Despite only having a few more weeks in which to squeeze in Christmas soap making, I only managed to make two double batches this week – Clarity & Tutti Frutti:

Clarity & Tutti Frutti

Clarity & Tutti Frutti

You probably won’t remember that I made two batches of Clarity the week before too.  Unfortunately they proved, shall we say, problematic – the first one I cut had developed soda ash throughout the bar (or is it a partial gel?) which in a black bar is really ugly. How bad does this look?!

Clarity fail...

Clarity fail…

I’ve seen photos of this before, but never experienced it, and I was absolutely gutted – it’s throughout BOTH loaves.  I had read that it could be because the oils & butters weren’t completely transparent when I added the lye (ie too cold) – which is perfectly possible as I soap at room temperature, so for my second lot this week I made sure that the oil mixture was completely, utterly, thoroughly, melted… And the same thing happened again.  6kg of soap spoilt…  Gahh!!  I’ve ALWAYS made this the same way – nothing has changed. Anyway, I’ll be upping the temps for the next batch and hope that that does the trick.

I released the Christmas soaps (Candy Cane, Frosted Christmas Tree & Warm Gingerbread) for pre-orders this week – they’ll be ready by the 21st October and orders, both wholesale and retail, have started coming in…I KNOW it probably feels early to many of you but I got caught out last year – retail outlets wanted to stock Christmas items immediately after Halloween, so really, I’m only just ready…

The Christmas Line Up 2017

The Christmas Line Up 2017

The rest of my time has been spent wrapping and labelling LOADS of bars for the *crosses fingers* Christmas rush.

Oh, and I think I have redesigned my labels.  I’ve not been totally happy with mine for the longest time, and I’m quite excited about the new look, but all will be revealed in due course.

Thanks for reading – I’ll be back tomorrow, hopefully reinvigorated and ready for another fortnight of daily blogging!

Vickx

The 2017 Christmas Line Up

There are three Christmas specials this year, Candy Cane, Frosted Christmas Tree & Warm Gingerbread:

The Christmas Line Up 2017

The Christmas Line Up 2017

Candy Cane is fragranced with a buttery/vanilla-y peppermint, and smells just like the Candy Canes that decorate the tree at this time of year:

Candy Cane Handmade Soap

Candy Cane Handmade Soap

Frosted Christmas Tree is a cooler, ozoney scent, with hints of pine & fir (of course!) and green leaves, topped with a star, just like the real thing 🙂

Frosted Christmas Tree Handmade Soap

Frosted Christmas Tree Handmade Soap

And finally we have Warm Gingerbread.  Smells mouthwateringly as you would imagine – freshly baked ginger, cinnamon and notes of vanilla:

Warm Gingerbread Handmade Soap

Warm Gingerbread Handmade Soap

Each bar will be decorated with a festive ribbon and will be available from the end of October.

 

 

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