The Written Word

Sorry! I feel like I haven’t written much on the blog lately! Maybe it is that Winter get-your-head-down-and-get-through-it thing. Now the days are getting longer; lighter mornings, lighter evenings, and suddenly I feel like I’m getting the ‘spring’ back in my step, if you’ll excuse the pun. (I also do Tap Dance, so…)

I was also wondering recently if there is also the aspect of our hyper-connected age, where we have access to so many blogs, that we can almost be intimidated by the really good ones, which then makes us hesitant to write our own because it’s not as interesting/funny/cool etc etc. (It can be the same with a business or product).

I try not to be too bothered about what other people are doing, but I’ve found when looking for ideas that I have been drawn to blogs written by seemingly ‘successful’ people sharing their amazing stories of starting their own business or going freelance. People who quit their day job to travel the world and earn tons of money from their blog, which they write by the pool…when they feel like it… This then breeds dissatisfaction in the reader. How did they do it? Why I am still stuck in the same job/routine? Why do I not have thousands of Twitter/Facebook/Instagram followers like they do?

But then, I drop back down to earth. Social media is full of people bragging about how great their lives are and how successful or good-looking they are, and very rarely, if at all do we see the real person with personal struggles, sleep deprivation, writer’s block, lack of inspiration to make or design or just a season of really poor sales!

What do you think? Is hyper-connectivity swamping you?

 

Things I’ve Learned Watching Dragon’s Den

I regularly tune into to watch BBC’s Dragon’s Den and have been watching it ever since the days of Levi Roots’ Reggae Reggae Sauce. Business owners, entrepreneurs, inventors and wheeler dealers go on the show to pitch their business or invention to the panel of Dragons, which have included business power houses such as Hilary Devey, Kelly Hoppen, and Peter Jones for a large investment and a percentage of equity in their business.

Someone asked me jokingly if I would be applying to go on Dragon’s Den with The Soap Cabin. Firstly:

  • The Dragons want the finished, already hugely successful product or business. It should already be turning over LOTS of money and you MUST know your figures!
  • You cannot remain ‘handmade’ or ‘British made’. For the dragons to see a return on their investment, you HAVE to go big or go home. You just cannot compete with cheap manufacture in China or Taiwan if you want to scale up. Scaling up to national or international level means mass production to meet demand and therefore you can kiss truly handmade production goodbye. Many of the pitchers have been disappointed because they thought the Dragons would just give them money and then guidance on producing their product quicker. They wanted success immediately, so the Dragons ask if they are willing to move production to India. They say ‘no’ and it’s over.

You HAVE to go big or go home

  • We want to remain a handmade, British cottage industry, small batch producer with a personal touch, which is why we firstly aimed at our local area to build relationships through face-to-face interactions and word-of-mouth, therefore building the significance of our web presence, rather than it just being another cold website among millions. We are also currently able to cope with our orders and adjust as we see fit. Handmade is in. People increasingly want to know how their stuff is made, where it comes from and what’s in it; probably a reaction to mass production. Several handmade businesses who went on the show were actually advised to just keep doing what they’re doing because otherwise it would mean moving production abroad and their products would no longer be British, bespoke or unique.

Handmade is in

  • Less than half of successful pitches on Dragon’s Den actually get investment. Many pitchers have dropped out after their TV appearance brought them interest and increased sales, or they received a better deal from elsewhere after the TV show airing. There are also the cases of people being overwhelmed, changing their mind about handing over equity in their business, not wanting to go that big immediately, or the usual issues with patents. Read more here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2016/02/11/half-of-dragons-den-investments-fall-through-after-the-show/

I read an article this week by a lady who had a handmade soap business in the USA. In the article she was actually explaining why she had closed her business. To sum it up, she wanted instant success and went too big too soon:

  • She went on TV with her soaps, orders increased beyond what she could fulfil
  • She had soaps in loads of stores nationally and…orders increased beyond what she could fulfil
  • One store she pitched to wanted her to drop her price to fit with their range. This will ALWAYS happen when you try to put your products in a national chain. Margins will be squeezed!
  • She was told she needed to have more than just soap in her range, but wasn’t interested. I learnt this fairly near the beginning of our Soap Cabin venture when doing our first ever market stall, because it is strikingly obvious on a stall table when you only have one type of product. Variety and type of product draws people in. We expanded to making body butters, aromatherapy oils, bath bombs (have since dropped these) and selling bath accessories. The lady in the article took the advice to mean mugs and T-shirts?!?

I don’t believe real success is instant, and I believe success is in the eye of the beholder. The reason I’ve been thinking about this is because someone at a party recently asked if I was interested in getting into department stores because they have many buyer contacts through their work. It is great to be presented with that opportunity, but I am keen to stick with our ethos of handmade, small batch for the time being. Also, as mentioned above,there is the practicality of fulfilling the quantity required. I have seen the national store thing work for Neals Yard and Tisserand, who are both in Waitrose and John Lewis, but they have been going for quite a while on the aromatherapy scene and work quite well in that environment. But I notice other natural soap-type products in those stores gradually creeping to the dusty bottom shelf; they are like a small fish in a big pond and I’m not sure I want The Soap Cabin to get lost in that environment.

Anyway, lots to think about; but we’re definitely not applying to Dragon’s Den!

Website vs Facebook

When you have a business, it is a good idea to have an online presence, like a website, and perhaps a few social media sites.
Your website doesn’t have to be big and flashy with moving images and music, but it should have basic details that someone may be interested to know:

  • Business name
  • What you do/provide/etc
  • How can you be contacted
  • Location plus opening & closing times if you have a physical location

I was sitting in traffic recently, behind a car that was branded really nicely with the owner’s business (I think it was mobile pet grooming), but when I looked for the web address, there was a long-winded FACEBOOK address, that I forgot as soon as they moved off and some random @hotmail address.

Now there is nothing wrong with having a Facebook business page. We have one. Many people do. But that is not our main thing. It’s all about our website, http://www.thesoapcabin.co.uk. For us, Facebook is mainly for publicising the events we will be at, photographs of our products, sharing articles, news and fun stuff and pointing people to our website, shop and blog. These days it is soooooo easy to create your own website using platforms such as WordPress 🙂 or Moonfruit to name just two, and you can design it in your own unique style, or use an existing free template. It’s not like the days where I was sat down at a desk with ‘Learn HTML’ trying to figure out how to script a website on Afro Hair. (Actually, I still have those files on Floppy Disk LOL).

On quite a few occasions I have been interested in a small business I have come across, but when I search for them online, all I’ve found is a Facebook page which hasn’t been updated in 4 years, and there aren’t any apparent contact details, which leads me to wonder if the business is still in existence.
In that sense, Facebook can actually end up being bad publicity for your business if you don’t update it regularly, or respond to posts quickly enough. With a website, once the information is up, it can stay as it is until you want to update it again. (However, this is not true of blogs, which will also reveal that you haven’t written anything recently).

Facebook is also a huge pond for both big and small fish and a place to get easily distracted onto other things. I have ‘liked’ several friends’ business pages on Facebook, but it doesn’t really make me visit their page, their posts are rarely high up on my newsfeed and I’ve never purchased anything through Facebook, plus not sure I want to. If anything, it becomes another one in a long list of social noise.
Likes do not necessarily translate into sales.

Facebook also controls how many people see your business page posts, so if you want a guarantee of big views, you’re going to have to cough up the cash to ‘boost’ or promote your post. I heard it was something like only 15% of people* will see your posts otherwise. You are also at the mercy of their constant privacy changes, layout changes and other tweaks. Or they could just pull the plug one day…

If you really want to get some extra publicity and genuine interest, start a blog, chat about what you do and get people looking at your website.

I know I am a bit of a rebel, and people have been getting on at me lately about Whatsapp (Whatsthat?), but I feel really passionate about this – stop relying on Zuckerberg to do the work for you!

Useful reading:

*http://www.websitetooltester.com/en/blog/facebook-page-vs-business-website/

http://www.senseimarketing.com/your-business-doesnt-need-a-facebook-page/

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20140407174550-13892448-why-you-don-t-need-a-facebook-page-for-your-business
http://www.adweek.com/socialtimes/can-a-facebook-page-replace-a-small-business-website/623907

Spotlight on Hay Fever

Blossom

Hay fever is a real pain in the backside. Itchy eyes, ears, nose, throat, permanently bunged up nose, headaches…it can ruin your summer and disrupt your day to day life. My poor mum used to suffer terribly and got to the point of having to get the hay fever jab before the Spring arrived. I also get the symptoms when the Spring begins, but it varies from year to year how bad it is. I had an allergy test at the doctor’s a few years ago and the results said I was allergic to grass pollen, tree pollen, dust mites and nickel. Reading around, I realised that the allergy I developed to raw apples and fruits with stones (like peaches and plums) were linked to the allergy to birch tree pollen as they share similar proteins.

When do your hay fever symptoms appear?

  • Mid March-Mid June  = Birch tree pollen
  • Late May – Mid Sept = Grass pollen
  • Late Summer = Weed pollen
  • Autumn (mainly indoors) = Mould spores
  • April – May (in big city) = Plane tree pollen + pollution
  • All year round = Pet dander, mould spores, fungal spores, dust mites etc

(50 Things You Can Do to Manage Hay Fever)

Check out the pollen forecast for more information: www.pollenforecast.org

So how to manage it? Here are some tips I have collected over the years.

  • Wear sunglasses outdoors to protect your eyes
  • Put a layer of Vaseline around and just inside your nostrils to trap the pollen
  • Keep windows closed
  • Swap contact lenses for glasses during peak season
  • Drink chilled water before leaving the house to calm your system down
  • Dry washing indoors so it doesn’t get pollen all over it
  • When you got home, shower, change clothes and launder your outdoor clothes
  • Avoid damp woodland
  • Keep car windows closed and put air con on in re-circulate mode
  • Avoid gardening and mowing the lawn
  • Ask someone to brush or wash pets that have been outdoors
  • Vacuum regularly with a HEPA filter vacuum (Dyson do a good one)
  • Try drinking nettle tea
  • Try eating locally produced honey before symptoms usually begin
  • Avoid or reduce stress where possible
  • Avoid smoky environments or give up smoking!

I find that chemical household sprays make me sneeze, so I tend to use homemade cleaners . Good alternatives to have in your cupboard are borax, bicarbonate of soda, white vinegar, citric acid, olive oil and tea tree oil.

Perfumes and spray deodorants also tend to irritate the nose, so switch over to perfume oils (Body Shop does a good collection of exotic scents) or rollerball essential oil blends for something therapeutic (check out Neal’s Yard or Tisserand) and use stick or roll-on deodorants. (I would say switch to non-spray deodorants regardless of whether you have hay fever or not because of what you are probably breathing in on a daily basis).

For more tips, check out this great reading list:

Stock Photo courtesy of xedos4 @ freedigitalphotos.net

Spotlight on Lavender

Lavandula angustifolia/Lavandula Officinalis

The name Lavender comes from the Latin ‘Lavandus’ which means ‘to be washed’ and it was used by the Romans for bathing to help alleviate skin problems. Lavender is a perennial shrub, native to the Mediterranean, but is also grown in England, France, Morocco, Spain and Hungary, amongst other places. In England, you can find lavender grown at Mayfield Lavender Farm in Banstead, the Carshalton Lavender Fields, both in Surrey and also at the Hitchin Lavender Fields in Hertfordshire.

Lavender essential oil is extracted by steam distillation and has fresh floral top notes and herbaceous undertones. It is analgesic, antiseptic, anti-depressant, anti-viral, deodorant, sedative and decongestant, to name just a few of its properties. It is soothing, calming and relaxing and is used to treat insomnia, colds and flu (using steam inhalation), inflammatory skin conditions, such as eczema, headaches, indigestion, minor burns, flatulence, colic, stress, and the list goes on…

We use lavender in our Soothing Skin oils and balms to help alleviate skin conditions including eczema and dermatitis, Revitalising Bath Oil for relaxing after a long day, our bar soap which contains lavender oil and the dried flowers, plus we sell lavender bags on the stall, which are perfect for putting under your pillow for a restful night’s sleep, or in your wardrobe to keep away moths!

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Contraindications of Lavender: Avoid in early pregnancy, particularly if there is a history of miscarriage.

Lavender image courtesy of franky242 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Sources: Curtis, Susan, Neals Yard Remedies; Essential Oils, Winter Press, London (2014), Farrer-Halls, Gill, The Aromatherapy Bible, Octopus Books (2009), Mitchell, Charlotte, Plant Medicine: A guide for Home Use, Amberwood Publishing (2005)

 

 

 

 

 

Unsolicited Advice

As a craft or small business owner, do you ever find people are constantly giving you unsolicited advice? Do you appreciate it, or do you find it annoying? Since starting the Soap Cabin, I’ve had a heck of a lot of ‘you shoulds’.

  • You should get on Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest/Linkedin/Etsy/Folksy/Banksy/Boo Er yes, we are on the ones we consider important.
  • You should have a Facebook Shop We already have a shop…on our OWN website. We use Facebook for advertising purposes only.
  • You should apply to the Prince’s Trust for funding I’m too old to qualify?!!
  • You should rent a shop in xyz That costs a lot of money, and many small businesses have had to close shops.
  • You should do this event and that event We are already booked up with several events that work for our costs, schedule and aims for the business, and don’t want to spread ourselves too thin, but thank you.
  • You should make xyz product Actually, we used to make that product, but it didn’t sell, it’s not unique and we were wasting money on ingredients…also, most people have showers these days.
  • You should have an Etsy shop We did consider this, but with sites like Etsy, you are a small fish in a big pond
  • You should do wholesale At this point The Soap Cabin was in its infancy and we were just testing the market and wanting to develop our own line to begin with.
  • You should have a big banner on your stall saying… Are you going to pay for it?? LOL
  • We should go into business together NO WE SHOULDN’T
  • You should go on Dragon’s Den NO

The best one was from Ralph:

You should be wearing something brighter on your stall, not grey! There was no interest in our products at all, just ‘here’s my card’. Needless to say, I almost told this self-promoting performing arts-based individual standing in front of my stall where to go, but held my tongue – ever the professional! unsolicited-advice

The intention is usually well meaning, but when you’ve done your own research, you have a clear idea of your own goals and aims, have sought the advice of people who know what they’re talking about, and the person just seems to throw things out there without actually finding out where you’re at, it can be irritating! Some people are just born fixers and like to point out what you could be doing better all the time without actually listening to anything you have to say. They drop it on you and walk away. Some people just love the sound of their own voice, or do it to make you feel like an amateur compared to their vast knowledge.

Other people have offered advice because they have started something similar themselves maybe run their own business, mentor business start-ups, blog, or just make stuff and understand where we’re coming from and know how to give helpful feedback, like Marco who bought a bar of Lemongrass & Lime Soap to try, and then told us that it was nice, but the scent needed to be stronger, so we took his feedback increased our essential oil concentration in all our soaps, or a fellow stall holder who mentioned some fairs and markets that they had done that had great foot fall and said they could see our products fitting in there and give us the details if we were interested. Someone else suggested joining a local women’s business network – I’d never thought of that, so I checked them out.

#adayinthelife