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!

Jolly December

I love how everyone seems to think doing a 4 day a week HR job in London and trying to run a small craft business on the side is one big jolly. I’m so jaded with tiredness right now and have been on the receiving end of a few throwaway comments recently 😦

*Keep going, stay positive*

I think I’m going to have to focus on the bigger goal of eventually concentrating on The Soap Cabin full time and retain a thick skin in the meantime…

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