Let’s face it. Who hasn’t thought about setting up their own business? The freedom of working for yourself, the creativity, the work/life balance, the potential riches! It would be amazing wouldn’t it? But, then how many of us have never got past the dreaming phase? Turning what you think is a great concept into an actual business can seem incredibly daunting, which is why we wanted to find out exactly what it takes to turn an idea into reality. And so, we asked Charlotte, Claire and Emily Wiltshear, three sisters who did it (pictured above from left to right with Flossie, Joe and Daisy). Love Soap was one of our most exciting new discoveries of last year (you can read about why here), but just what did it take to make it happen? Emily tells us how…
When did you first come up with the idea for Love Soap?
It was something that we’d wanted to do since becoming parents. We really wanted to use products we could trust and there just wasn’t anything quite right on the market. All of our children have quite sensitive skin and most of the products we tried irritated them. We were aware of the health benefits of organic products, but much of what we came across was quite misleading, claiming to be organic or ‘natural’ but perhaps only containing a small percentage of organic ingredients. The truly organic products we tried just didn’t have the performance we wanted. And so we decided to create our own!
It wasn’t until Christmas 2012 that we finally said let’s actually just do this! And we haven’t stopped since. So after months of damn hard work, exciting times and some tears along the way – our website and first product line launched at the end of last year.
What were you doing before you launched Love Soap?
We were full-time mums. One of the motivating factors for setting up our own business was that we wanted to work, but in a way that we could fit around our children and not the other way round. We still put in the hours but not necessarily in the conventional 9-5 Monday-Friday sense. Sometimes our working day starts at 8pm when the children are asleep or we’ll make up fresh batches of soap at the weekends, when our other halves are with the kids.
Before becoming parents Claire was a Veterinary nurse and Emily was an Occupational Therapist for the NHS. Charlotte has worked alongside her husband Tom in his soap making business for the past 12 years, so she knew what to look out for when it came to young skincare, what ingredients would work well, how to make the products, what equipment we would need and supplier contacts etc. Emily and Claire had also worked in the soap business during their holidays when studying – so we all had a little bit of background knowledge when it came to making soap!
Is this the first business idea you’ve come up with or have you thought of other ideas before?
This was the first idea! It seemed like a relatively low risk venture as we were able to develop our business from an established model and supplier network. We share a workshop with Tom so our initial start-up costs have been relatively low. We’ve been able to pool our savings to cover these costs rather than relying on a loan.
How did you start the process of turning an idea into an actual product?
We did our research. We knew we only wanted to use organic plant derived oils but some essential oils, for example, are not suitable for young skin, so it was important that we got things right. We had fun in our workshop trying lots of different combinations of oils and we tested them out on our family and friends. Our children have very sensitive skin so we were confident that our products would be suitable for others.
We were lucky to have a well-established and reputable network of suppliers through Tom’s contacts, so we were able to get short runs on oils to trial. He also guided us through the process of getting our products cosmetically tested and certified. It took about 9 months from the beginning of the idea to having the finished product, which seemed like an age when we were waiting for results back from the laboratory, but in hindsight, was actually pretty quick.
Was there any point in the process when you were tempted just to give up? If so, what kept you going?
Yes, lots of times! And we still have many of these moments. You often feel like you have just overcome one challenge and run headfirst into another. It sounds a bit cheesy but what kept us going is each other. If one of us is having a ‘what were we thinking?’ kind of a day, then the others are there with the reassurance that we’ll figure something out. It’s like bringing up small children – everything is just a phase, it will pass!
What are the pros and cons of working with family?
The pros are that we are all very open and honest with each other, so communication is really good, which is really important when you’re busy managing different aspects of the business. We also support each other, so if one of us needs to go to a supplier meeting for example, another will look after the children whilst the other processes orders. We all work together and it’s lovely to know that our children get to have fun with their extended family whilst we work. Grandma is an enormous help too.
The cons are having boundaries about when to stop talking about the business. It’s very easy to slip into business talk over Sunday lunch, so sometimes we need to be a bit better about saying we’ll talk about this at another time otherwise there is never any time away from work stuff – which is important for everyone. The whole point in having the business is that it fits around family life and so sometimes we need to be stricter about that. It’s all about balance.
How do you juggle being mothers with launching a new business?
Juggling all the demands of life is difficult for any parent. We are lucky to be working together and so we can support each other with childcare or work tasks so that our work fits around our children and not the other way round. We are lucky to have supportive family around us too. It does mean that we have made other sacrifices though. Sleep being a major one! We often respond to emails, manage the accounts, update the website etc late into the night to free up time for other tasks and be with our children during the day.
What’s the best thing about running your own business?
It gives you a great sense of freedom. To be able to choose a working schedule that suits your family is amazing. It’s hard work but then, becoming parents already prepared us for that. We surprise ourselves sometimes at just how many things we can now do in just one hour!
What’s the worst thing about running your own business?
Having a huge sense of responsibility for making the business a success. We’ve had many sleepless nights about finances, generating sales and cash-flow issues. It can also be difficult to switch off from thinking about work.
What have you found most enjoyable about the process of setting up Love Soap?
The creative process of developing our products and the design of our labels and our website. We were very much involved in every step of the process and we are extremely proud of the finished product. And of course working together. We have always been close but it’s lovely to have regular daily contact again.
Where do you see yourselves in two years time?
We hope to have grown our number of stockists in the UK and to have established a regular and loyal customer base. We also have plans for expanding the range to introduce new products and a range for parents.
What advice do you have for people wanting to launch their own business?
Go for it! If you have an idea and you are passionate about what you do then just give it a go. I know it’s a cliché, but it really is better to have tried and failed than never to have tried at all. We have great admiration for anyone who runs their own business and strive to work with other small and local businesses wherever possible.