Teaching (and Me)

February 22, 2017

teach tell involve

This is a fundamental I live by when teaching.  My soap classes are all hands on.  They’re small classes because I have my students MAKE everything and I’m there to instruct and guide them.  Even with my college kids I still try to formulate all exercises and homeworks and even in class work so that they are involved and have to figure out ideas/concepts/whatnot rather than me just “preaching” to them on topics.  This is how I learn!

I love teaching.  It’s funny though, as a kid I never once wanted to be a teacher.  There are a number of reasons why that I can point to, reasons that I thought wouldn’t make me a good teacher.  Looking back now I can say that many of those reasons shaped me into the teacher I am today.  Funny how life works.

Anyway, my mom always thought I’d be come a teacher (I think she was thinking more grade school level, but still).  I never considered teaching until I became a TA in college and even then my motivation for becoming a TA were the extra credits I earned.  I did realize though through the experience that I enjoyed helping others learn.

A couple years after graduating I was approached by a college to teach an evening college class.  To my surprise I loved it.  What surprised me even more was I was good at it.  The first class I ever took on soap making (some of you might know my story) was not because I wanted to make soap, but because I was doing research for an article I was writing about the history of soap.  That class was a small all day intensive class.  There were just two of us.  We made everything ourselves and the teacher just guided us.  I can say without hesitation that if that class had been a lecture styled class I’d never have gone home and made soap after that.  I wouldn’t have had the confidence. That was back in 2009!

I have since that first class been a student of soap making–constantly learning.  I have a collection of soap books, I have binders and binders worth of notes, handouts, and recipes, I follow blogs, and YouTube videos.  There’s so much I don’t know, but I do have a pretty good knowledge base at this point.

I started teaching in 2013.  And while my handouts and how I run classes have grown over the years I still teach my class very much the same way I did my very first class: HANDS ON! There’s something extremely rewarding to see a student conquer a fear, or get excited over their first soap, or start to make connections on information they’ve previously read.  There’s one thing I will continue to always do and that’s teach. I will always help anyone who emails me with questions.  I remember when I had those questions and was eternally grateful for those that helped me out.  And I’m still learning too.  And I appreciate those who take time out of their day to help me with my questions.  It’s one thing I love about my soap community: for the most part people want you to succeed and are willing to share their knowledge.

Hopefully I’ve made a small difference in the soaping world with my teaching. 🙂

 


2017: A Look Forward

January 3, 2017

2017: A Look Forward

What are my goals for 2017? Well I’m glad you asked!  What do I want to accomplish in 2017?  Oh quite a lot!  You know overachiever that I am. 😉

  1. Increase my profit by 25%.  To do this I have to bring in more sales, which means I HAVE to have help…i.e. I have to have an employee.  I can make the product, but I need to sell more, to do so I need to do more events, which means double booking, which means I have to have someone to covered those events.
  1. Higher a part-time employee. <– This looks calmly typed and doesn’t portray the excitement/fear/anxiousness/giddiness of how I really feel ha!
  1. Each year I’ve introduced new products (and removed those that weren’t selling). At this point I’ve about got my set up set.  I know what fits in my display, what I can travel well with from event to event, what holds up in the heat…you get the picture.  I really don’t have anything I want to introduce or anything that I feel is a good time to introduce with where I am.  So, I don’t have plans to have new products this year.
  1. However, on to point four, I do have plans to experiment with new products. Shaving soap, liquid soap, foaming bath whip, and cream soap.  Most of these are all things I need to know for the Master Exam and to further my soapy knowledge (for my own personal satisfaction).
  1. Grow my online sales. This has been a long slow tedious process that I will continue to work on year after year!
  1. Grow my sales for custom wedding/shower (baby & bridal) showers.  I did do more favors this year than last year, but I need to find ways to get them out there in front of the target customer. Part of that involves me getting out there and partnering up with local florists and caterers and seeing if they’ll be willing to work together with me.  Definitely a plan I need to spell out and set clear goals for myself.
  1. Continue to grow my teaching classes.
  1. Start forming the Local New England Soap Guild Chapter. As secretary, much of this will fall on my shoulders for getting it started and initiating everything.  It’ll be a challenge and I’ll have to make sure I schedule time for it, but I’m excited about it.
  1. Take (and pass) the Advance MP certification test…since I didn’t get it done last year.
  1. Submit a class proposal for the 2018 Soap Conference. Nope, I’m not telling what the topic is yet. Ha!  And yes this is a different idea/class than the one I submitted two years ago, which wasn’t accepted.
  1. Sign up for the Master CP Soap Exam. And start really PREPPING and studying and learning all that I need to pass said exam.
  1. Continue to save a percentage of every sale for future plans.

A Year in Review: 2016

January 2, 2017

A Year in Review: 2016

In January I posed my goals for 2016.  Well it’s come time to review those goals and see how well I did with them.

1. Increase my profit by 50%.  Last year’s goal of doubling my profit was a big one, and a big step up in my business. I did it.  This year if I can increase it by 50% it’ll  be a good year.  If it so happens I can increase it more I’ll take it! But an increase like that will mean I’ll  have to re-approach how I make things because there’s only one of me and only so many hours in the day to get stuff done!

I increased sales by 25% (which if I was being honest with myself last year I would have said 50% was probably impossible…but I believe in setting high goals!)  The biggest problem with trying to increase by 50% was there wasn’t enough “me” to make that happen.  But, I’ve got plans to address that in this year’s goals (post coming after this one)!

2. Grow my customer base. Yes, this is the same goal as last year and it will be a goal next year and the year after and the year after that…you get the point.

I continue to do this, both online and locally.  It’s never ending work.  This coming year I need to create some specific goals on how I could increase my customer base.

3. Introduce some new products.  On my list of new products: shower tabs, cream soap, liquid soap, foaming bath whip, and maybe a shampoo bar.  There are many other things I want to experiment with, but this is the list for this year.

Hahaha! Ummm yeah none of that happened.  I did play around with shower tabs, but came to the conclusion they weren’t worth the effort for the profit return on them.  Everything else…yeah that’ll be on the list again this year. Honestly I ran out of time.  I have a precious 3-4 months January through (mid) April to experiment before show season starts to get into full swing, and at that point it’s about just keeping up with what I have, forget experimenting.

I want to do a better job this year. I’m going to pick two or three items and try and focus on those during my off months and not get distracted with “too” many things on my list to fully focus my attention on anything.

4. Grow my online sales.

Accomplished 🙂

5. Grow my sales for custom wedding/shower (baby & bridal) showers.  I started that this year and I had so much fun making these custom favors. I hope to continue to grow this side of my business.

I’ve made progress, but there’s more still I need to do with this.  I have some definite plans for this which will be on my 2017 Goal List.

6. Expand the number of classes I teach (and where I teach).

I only taught five “more” classes than last year, but I did expand where I teach this year.

7. Attend the 2016 Soap Conference in Tampa.

Accomplished.  That was another fun experience where I learned new things and had a great time!

8. Take (and pass) the Basic and Advance MP certification tests (at the soap conference). This shouldn’t be hard.  And while MP is just not my thing, I do teach and I think having these certifications is a must for me.

Well I had good intentions to complete both tests at the conference, but I only did the basic. I didn’t have my act together enough before I left for Tampa to have my soaps made and tested.  There was so much going on with show season starting and turning the conference into a vacation also (so all that planning) I just ran out of time.  I’ll get that Advanced MP done this year. I don’t really need it as I’m a CP girl, but I feel since I teach I should get it.

9. Start working/prepping for the CP Master Exam.  My goal this year is to get my act together. That means learning how to make liquid and cream soap.  It means deciding on the topics I want to write/research for part 3 & 4 of the test.  It means starting to study the essay questions and know the answers backwards and forwards.  Because come 2017 I plan to register to TAKE the Master Exam!

I started.  I have not accomplished much…but I can say I’ve started.  My goal is still to sign up before May 1 for the exam, which should motivate me a lot more this winter to get with it when it comes to studying and learning.

10. Save a percentage of every sale for a really BIG (potential) goal that is (potentially) years away. (Yes, this goal is back and will continue to come back until I reach said goal!)

Accomplished.  It’s going to take a long time to get there, but every little bit makes a difference.

A few other things I’d like to add to this list of accomplishments from 2016.

  • I made a little over 4,800 bars of soap this year. Down by about 500 bars from last year, but the slight decrease in sales in bar soaps was made up with a (significant) increase in sales in Hand Balms and Bath Bombs.
  • Speaking of bath bombs, I made 10 times more than I did last year!  In November someone told me they were the “in product” this year.  Apparently, they weren’t kidding!
  • I did 77 events this year. (Up from the 69 I did last year).
  • I taught 28 classes.
  • I made over 30 new soaps/designs.  And I rotated out only one standard soap (Vanilla Oak).  All the other standards sold well enough I’m keeping them all this coming year.

So there you have it!  Not a bad year. I’m excited to see what 2017 brings!


Looking Ahead to 2017

December 14, 2016

I’m starting to put together my 2017 calendar, goals, and wish list (to accomplish) and that means starting to plan blog posts for the year.  I do like to put together tutorials.  This year I managed to do some large tutorials and some mini ones and it was fun!

I want your feedback.  What would you like to see? I know there’s so much out there already on just about every topic, but we all approach things a little differently and so I still think it’s worth doing tutorials.  Anyway, I want to hear what you want!  Let me know and I’ll start trying to work that into 2017’s Plans!


2016 Soap Conference

June 3, 2016

Another Soap Conference is in the books–my third.  It’s three days of craziness, but an inspiring craziness.  I learned some new things, reinforced some known things, and overall felt that my knowledge as a soaper has grown.

I attended a variety of classes from Good Manufacturing PracticesProduct Regulations, Bubble Bars, Cream Soap Making, and Making Shaving Soap.  The two I was most excited for were the cream soap and shaving soap. I’ve been doing a lot of research on those two topics in particular and I’ve just not make the jump to “start” experimenting.  I think part of my problem is I’ve read TOO much.  So much so that I get overwhelmed by all the (conflicting–at times) information out there.  Basically I need to experiment and discover my own methods that work for me.  That’s what I’m hoping to sit down and do this June.  If I put it off June will become July, and then August…and then it’ll be 2017!

I didn’t have my act together completely before I left.  I’d planned to take both the MP Basic and Advanced Certification Tests at the conference.  (I don’t do much with MP–mostly just teaching it with kids–but I figured I do teach it and I should get those two tests done and out of the way.)  I took (and passed) the basic, but I didn’t have my soaps made in enough time in advanced to take the Advanced.  I’ll finish up the soap testing this month and then just go to a local test center and take the Advanced test to get it out of the way.

Then!  It’s full force ahead for the Masters.  I’ve started studying (i.e. doing research and experimenting) with many of the portions on the test, but now it’s time to REALLY turn my focus to learning ALL aspects of the Masters Exam so I can officially register for it next year.

The venue was a beautiful place.  The weather was hot (which I wasn’t complaining about seeing as I was coming from raining cold 50-60 temps).  I made an awesome new soapy friend (we roomed together). And overall had a great time.

My goals for the next month:

  • Make Cream Soap
  • Make Shaving Soap
  • Take Advanced MP Certification
  • Experiment with natural Deodorant
  • Continue to put together my “long term goal” plan

Those are some good goals and my goal is to make blog posts about them as I go.

 


What is your “Brand Story”?

May 19, 2016

The annual Handcrafted Soap & Cosmetic Guild’s conference officially started today.  It’s always a fun event.  This is my third conference now  (Raeligh, Tuscon, and Tampa).  The keynote speaker was Jerrod Sumner and he talked about Beyond the Label and Logo: Are Telling Your Best Story?

Normally “inspirational” type speeches aren’t my thing.  When we sat down I thought this would be another type speech.  It was, but it was much more than that too.  I walked away from the lecture pleased with what I’d taken away from it.

If you make or sell anything then you’ve probably heard the word “branding” come your way a time or two.  When I turned my hobby into a business I’d already been using the name “Jennifer’s Handmade Soap.”  I realized at the time that it wasn’t the most creative name, but when I suggested changing it everyone was like oh no! It’s fine.  This is how we know you! (The maybe 100 or so people I had following me at the time).  I didn’t fight it, or put up much of an argument for changing it.  1) I didn’t know what else to call my business.  2) I liked the name “Jennifer’s Handmade Soap.”  And I figured if I was ok with it, then I was going to go with it.  I had this idea for a logo at the time.  A very vague idea that I described to my best friend and said: “Hey could you create a cool logo for me.”

What she came up with was better than I could have even imagined.  I loved it.  I, to this day, love my logo.  It’s me.  People see my logo and the recognize me and my business.  I didn’t really think much beyond that when it came to branding, because I always felt I had done a decent job.  I knew there was more I could do, but overall I felt that branding wasn’t a priority at the top of my list.

Listening to the lecture today I took away so much more and realized that “branding” and your “logo” hold a hidden story. And that there’s a difference between your Brand Story and your Brand Identiy.

Branding is not a logo or your products.  Branding is a promise to your customers.  It’s a promise to deliver quality products, it’s a reputations, it’s a promise, it’s your story.

People buy products, but they join brands.

We were asked the following two questions:

  1. Why do you do what you do?
  2. What do you want to be known for?

Answering these two questions I realized wasn’t a simple one sentence answer.  And they’re actually questions I will explore in another post once I get home, because those two questions really are the heart of who I am as Jennifer’s Handmade Soap.

Make it matter to you before it matters to them.

We explored the idea of brand storytelling in the seminar.  It’s the first time I have ever heard that term, and I like it.  It’s really quite a cool way to think about who “you” are as a business.  Brand storytelling is what motivates me, and my customers that value my product  (and who tell everyone far and wide what they’re missing out on by not buying my soaps–thank you! You all are the best and put a smile on my face.).  It’s a relationship building tool, a look into who I am as a company, and the heart of who I am as a business.

Good stories give big voices to even the smallest brands.

We discussed many ways to tell your story.  Many which I do to some degree, but many more I can do or do more of.  My business has a voice.  It’s in my style of soaps.  My photos.  My blog/FB posts. My method of teaching.  How I interact with my customers.  It’s in all the little things and I hope that that voice shines through.  I want people to see how much I love what I do.  I want people to feel like they’re along for the ride on this crazy journey of mine.  And so, my challenge to myself this year is to strengthen my voice and tell my branding story.  It was a good start the conference.  And I’m ready for more!


What type tutorials would you like to see?

January 14, 2016

Last year I wanted to do some tutorials…and then life got in the way.  This year I want to be better about it.  I have a few ideas for tutorials that I want to do, but what would you like to see?  Share with me!