Below, Angela shares why she chose Etsy as a selling platform, her approach to sourcing materials and pricing products, and important legal considerations for those who sell cosmetics, along with sound advice for anyone getting serious about online sales.
Prior to opening LippincottSoapCo, did you sell soap anywhere else? What prompted you to choose Etsy?
When I first started making soap, I mostly just gave them away as gifts to friends and family. When I decided to start selling them I sold them at a few craft shows and fairs, but I found it to be too time consuming packing everything up, setting up tables and tents, etc. It just wasn't worth the time and effort.
I then sold my soaps on eBay for a few months. But eBay is more for customers looking for deals on items. I like that customers who shop on Etsy are actually looking for handcrafted, one-of-a-kind items and are willing to pay for those items. So now I sell exclusively through Etsy.
What advice would you give to other handmade goods sellers when it comes to finding good sources for materials?
In the beginning, finding reputable suppliers was really a guessing game, as well as, trial and error. I spent hours and hours researching online suppliers. I searched soap making forums for advice from other soap makers on which suppliers they used. I have tried several different suppliers over the years. After trying their products, I've found suppliers I can really trust and also afford.
My greatest advice would be to keep a calculator on your desk at all times while searching for suppliers. You may find 3 or 4 reputable companies selling the same material, but (since you want to make a profit) most of the time it's going to boil down to who has the best price. You have to take into account the price per ounce/pound, shipping and any discounts they are offering. I find myself constantly calculating how much I'm ACTUALLY paying once it's all said and done. You also should have a couple of really good suppliers on hand in case one is "out of stock" of something you need asap.
What methods do you use when determining the prices of LippincottSoapCo's products?
When calculating price, I keep a detailed list of ingredients (shea butter, lye, coconut oil, etc) with the price I paid per ounce. I can calculate how much it cost me to make a batch of soap or lip balm by the ounce. I can divide that up into how many bars or tubes a batch made and then add in the paper, labels, lip balm tubes, etc. But, I also have to take into account what other sellers are selling their products for. I might think my soap is worth $20 a bar, but that doesn't mean someone's going to pay it. I can only charge what customers are willing to pay. The best way to up your profit margin is to make sure you're paying the lowest price you can for your supplies.
Are there any legal issues associated with being a shop owner of which aspiring online sellers should be aware?
I can only speak for soap / bath and body when it comes to legal stuff. It's important to make sure you don't make medical claims about your products. The FDA will consider your product a "drug" if you claim your product does something other than simply clean. I recommend reviewing the FDA's overview of regulations regarding soap.
Are you able to support yourself entirely from LippincottSoapCo income? What methods would you recommend to other sellers who would like to live off their shops while also enjoying some level of financial security?
I do not live solely from my Lippincott Soap income. Although my plan is to someday make it my primary income, right now we depend on my husband's full time job.
Have you utilized any marketing efforts in the past that have been particularly effective? Has your Facebook page demonstrably driven sales?
I have tried purchasing ads through Etsy and on Facebook, but haven't really seen good results. The biggest "advertising" I get is through word-of-mouth and repeat customers. I also post on my Facebook fan page (which is free) whenever I list a new item. You have to be really careful with paid ads because they can eat into your profit very quickly. Free advertising through Facebook, Twitter, etc. is the best way to go when starting out.
My last bit of advice would be to make sure that you love what you are creating. If you are serious about starting a successful business you have to be ready to work on it every waking hour. Even if you aren't physically working on it, you're going to be thinking about it. Be ready to work nights, weekends and holidays. If you're trying to build a business on something you really aren't passionate about, you're going to get tired of it very quickly.