How I Started a Natural
Artisan Soaps, Salts and Candles Brand
Hi! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hello there! My name is Harriet and I’m 22 years old and I am the creator of Antler & Fawn. Based in Cheshire, UK, Antler & Fawn is a small business which sells handcrafted goods all made by myself. We craft and sell artisan soap, bath salts, Candles, botanical wax melts, whipped body butters and more!
Our soaps are created using natural, skin-loving oils, each with their own benefits to the skin. We have a range of scented and unscented soaps so there is something for everyone!
Our scented soap is beautifully combined with essential oil blends giving a natural light fragrance. We are also very proud to say that we do not use plastic in any of our product range. I undertook lots of research when looking for alternatives to plastic. Using soap in itself is a more eco-friendly option to cleanse yourself!
What is your personal story and how did you come up with the idea?
Growing up and watching my mother run her own card making business always made me want to run my own business. I would help her out at her shows, exhibitions and her classes and it was so much fun! She has very much inspired me and gave me the guts to do it myself!
So many people ask me this question. “How did you get into making Soap?” “How did all of this come about?” and the truth is that my hobby is trying all hobbies and I kind of just stumbled into it.
I’m an extremely creative person. I love making things, decorating things, understanding ways of how to do things and so on. Before I made soap, I solely made candles. One day, I was shopping in my local craft supply shop and I noticed that the candle making equipment and the soap making equipment were right next to each other. I thought to myself ” the next time I’m in here I will buy some soap making stuff”. Safe to say that I told myself the same thing for a while!
Finally, a couple of months later, I bought some basic soap making supplies! I started off with a simple melt and pour soap base and some moulds – I was instantly hooked. After a couple of weeks and getting a few techniques under my belt I knew I wanted more! So I researched ways of how to make soap from scratch. There are a few methods for how to do this, such as cold process soap, hot process soap, re-batch soap and so on. I had chosen cold process soap and I love it!!!
What challenges did you face when creating your product/service?
I wanted to create a business without taking out a loan or borrowing money. As the saying goes ‘it takes money to make money’, and there is some truth in that. However, I accrued my supplies and made the first bulk of my products over time, using my monthly wages from my full-time job.
I have constant support from my family who will share my posts and help me get my name out there. This is something which I think is important to anyone starting a small business. (Tip – Never be afraid to ask questions, even if it means dropping a stranger a message!)
As my mum always tells me “if you don’t ask, you don’t get”) Instagram is my main social networking platform. I am constantly posting videos, photos and I am apart of the soap making community on there. I get great tips, advice and support from soap makers around the world. The number one thing about running a business account on Instagram is that you have to post consistently. Whether once a week, once every three days or once a day you must remain consistent.
It is also important to have professional, clean and crisp photos. Remember I said earlier that my hobby is trying all hobbies? Well, photography was one of them. In a previous life, I was a wedding photographer!
Research and learning are key. With the internet at most peoples disposal, it is extremely easy to research anything and everything. I have researched and found local suppliers. If I am not sure of certain properties and benefits of an ingredient, I will do as much research as possible. At the moment I am researching ways to be more active online. This involves finding alternative and additional selling platforms, social media tips and tricks, as well as how to expand a business. Research is everything!
Who is your target market?
At present, I am only promoting wholesale to customers with brick and mortar shops local to me. Whilst this is limiting to Antler & Fawn, I believe this is the right path at this moment in time. Things may change in the future and I could take a different route ( with lots of research prior!)
My first wholesale customer is a small, local farm shop. They sell little bits of everything: fresh fruit and vegetables, chocolates, plants, wild bird seeds and of course Antler & Fawn goods! 🙂
I am currently mostly working towards promoting handmade soaps as bespoke wedding favours with personalised labels designed by myself. I love the idea of being apart of someone’s most special day.
Antler & Fawn’s product range is diverse and I feel there is something for everyone. However, my typical customers are mainly women, of all ages. I create my products not aimed at a particular audience, I make creations based on what I love and what I love to make. I hope EVERYONE loves something in our product range!
How do you market your business and which approaches have been the most successful?
Marketing your Business – there are so many ways. Here is what I have found in my experience : Truth be told I have paid for advertisements on social media platforms and I don’t think there is any harm in that! I found that some people frown upon those who pay for ads but I completely disagree! It’s one of the best ways to get your business name out there, by simply paying a couple of pounds over a few days your media content can reach accounts that it wouldn’t normally – this leads to more likes, more followers, more interactions on your shop and resulting in more sales. (This is where the truth is in the saying “it takes money to make money”.
Back to the “If you don’t ask, you don’t get” saying – A great way to meet new people and get more interactions on your social media accounts is to find someone who you can gift a range of samples too for free and ask them for a review on their social media account. This is a great way to get some extra attention on social media platforms such Instagram, plus you get to make a new friend! (Don’t be afraid of asking – at the end of the day you are sending them goods for free and as a gift for a simple review in exchange!
Since you launched, what has worked in not only attracting but retaining customers?
I am extremely chatty on my social media and I am always more than happy for people to get in touch and ask me questions. This is a good way to initially build the first branch of a relationship with your customer.
If customers have questions about what to order, be honest and help them, find out more information about them, interact and most importantly be confident about your products. Its important not to push your customers into buying something from you, I provide my customers with as much information as possible and then allow them to make their decision.
My products are very unique – whilst there are lots of people who make and sell handmade soap, each soap makers recipe is different, the quality of the ingredients used are different and each soap maker has their own style.
I like to be as flexible as I can with my customers. For example – if I have an out of stock soap that they would like I would try and offer them the closest alternative or I would advise them of when the desired product is back in stock. I also like to ask my customers for feedback even if it’s constructive criticism, I will take that away and always try to improve. I also love to see customer photos of my products in their new homes – lots of customers like me to share what they have posted on my Instagram accounts!
What kind of culture exists in your company, and how did you establish it?
Since I work alone I try to make as aspects of my business as fun and calming as possible! When making soap I love to put my favourite music on and I just take my time and have fun. I love what I do and I want to enjoy every bit of it.
What software, services or tools do you use within your business?
I mostly use social networking platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, YouTube. My current selling platform is Etsy but I am currently looking into additional places online to sell my products such as Folksy, Online Markets, Amazon Handmade etc.
What are the most important lessons have you learned on your business journey?
Starting a small business is not easy work, there are plenty of ups and downs, mistakes and triumphs. When I first started making soaps I got far too excited and made so much soap before finalising my recipe but I just kept telling myself that its all an experiment and it’s all about trial and error.
Before I knew it I had 500 bars of perfectly good soap but it was extremely gooey when it got wet and a bar didn’t last very long – I felt like it was not good enough for me to sell as I didn’t want any unhappy customers. After lots of research, I found exactly what the issue was and I changed my recipe. I started from scratch and began to build up my stock again with the new recipe.
Wholesaling my products was something that I did not know how I was going to do. I understood the basic concept but I never knew how I was going to make it work for my business. Again, after lots of research, I had decided to present my small scale wholesale ideas to a customer who had asked the question about it. I made together with some documents and I had researched retail prices of what similar products were going for.
With handmade items people tend to think that it is overpriced but what people don’t keep in mind is the supplies used to create your products, the labour and time it took to make the products, finalising with branding. I presented my new documents with quantity discounts and my customer thought it was a great idea!
What is your favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
Becoming an entrepreneur, in my opinion, is quite daunting but very exciting at the same time. I have made my small dreams of running my own business come true and whilst I am at the start of my business set up I am very excited for the future!
My advice for anyone who is looking at starting a business would be not to give up and give it time. It took me nearly 2 months of having an online shop to get my first sale, and after that, it took around 2 more weeks to get my 2nd order. It is so important to just keep going! Being your own boss is also a great incentive!
What is your LEAST favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
My least favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur is the uncertainty of income but this is a risk that has to be taken of becoming a business owner, especially when making and selling handmade goods.
What books, podcasts or other resources have inspired and influenced your business journey?
With my research, I have come across lots of great material and resources to show me how to make products, try new techniques and provide me with lots of knowledge of different ingredients and materials. When I look for inspiration or tips on how to do something, my “go-to” is Anne-Marie Faiola who created Bramble Berry and also wrote Pure Soapmaking.
I think YouTube videos are a great way to gather inspiration and learn effectively. Bramble Berry creates very professional video tutorials and you really can learn from them. I would recommend them 100%.
Where do you see your business 2-3 years from now?
Hopefully, my business will be booming 2 – 3 years from now. I am hoping to do artisan markets and wedding fairs up and down the UK every weekend. It would also be great to see my products being available in more shops such as farm shops, beauty boutiques and even maybe some garden centres.
Having my own shop where I can teach people to make soap and hold weekly classes is also something I would love. I still imagine that I will be running Antler & Fawn by myself but who knows – I might have some employees doing my markets for me whilst I teach or be at another market! Exciting times are ahead!