1/27/2021Small Business Spotlight
From Hobbyist to Full-Time Business Owner: Ashley Marie Soap
Ashley shares how she developed confidence as a first-time entrepreneur and grew her Instagram account with over 65,000 followers.
1/27/2021Small Business Spotlight
Ashley shares how she developed confidence as a first-time entrepreneur and grew her Instagram account with over 65,000 followers.
We're excited to present this exclusive interview with Ashley Marie, owner of Ashley Marie Soap, an all-natural, handcrafted soap and bath products store. Ashley gives advice on investing in yourself and your business, and shares the social media tips she's used to reach over 65,000 followers on Instagram. Find Ashley on her Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, or shop her website.
Hello, and welcome to Hatch Small Business Spotlights, where small business owners share stories about getting started, lessons learned, and victories they've won along the way to building their businesses. Today we're joined by Ashley, the owner of Ashley Marie Soap.
Hi Ashley! Thank you so much for joining us today.
Hello, thank you so much for having me.
So I'd love to hear just a little bit about yourself and your business.
Sure, absolutely. So my name's Ashley. I started a business, Ashley Marie Soap, and I make all natural handmade skincare. I use only the most quality ingredients. I don't use anything synthetic in the soap and I'm just really passionate about all things natural. I love creating, so I just started this business. I started out for quite a while just with handmade soap, but in the past year, I've incorporated things like bath bombs, body butter, lotion, bars, and bath salts.
You sell quite a range of products on your website. Do you have any favorites?
My favorite products are my handmade soap. The other things that I make are just a side thing, just to add to the bath experience. But my favorite, I would say my two favorite products that I make are my lavender bar and the sweet orange hibiscus bar. The reason why the lavender is my favorite is because it took me a lot to figure out how to get that scent of lavender to stick in the soap. Because when it goes through the chemical process of saponification, it used to lose its smell. Like the scent would last maybe a couple of days, and it would be gone. No matter how much essential oil I used, it would be gone. So I went and took a class on essential oils and learned. So it's just always so fun to, a month later, go smell my lavender bar and it still smells just as strong then.
I would love to know a little bit about your creative process, because I noticed on your website, you have more traditional types of soap, like the lavender you just mentioned, but you also have such creative types as well, such as the rum & bay. How do you come up with different types of soap?
I love the outdoors. I love hiking a lot. Whenever I'm outdoors or anything, suddenly I'll think of a certain scent or something that I don't already have. So like I recently in the past year created one called Zion and it's because I live right by Zion National Park and it's kind of like a desert sage kind of smell. And I use red clay to match the red rock where I'm from here in Southern Utah. But honestly, like my bay and rum shaving bar, I knew I wanted to make a shaving bar and I just kind of researched what men like, kind of different scents they like. And I get inspiration off of Pinterest, other soap makers on social media. I follow a lot of other soap makers. And I think you'd be surprised how many soap makers are in this country, but I just get inspiration from them. And I have a lot of books. I read a lot of soap making books. I have probably eight soap making books that I like to read and just get inspiration from.
Wow. That's incredible.
So to circle back a little bit, you talked about expanding your product line. How did that come about? What did you do in order to expand your products and build on your business?
Well, I was making only handmade soap for about three years and that's all I focused on. I went to this Handcrafted Soap and Cosmetic Guild in Dallas, Texas. And it's pretty much a conference for people that are into handmade skincare. And take classes on all kinds of different things like different products that you want to make. When I was there, I had no intention on taking classes on other products, but when I got there, there was so many opportunities. I was like, "Why not just go learn how to do some of this stuff?", and so I got inspired by other people as well because they not only made tons of soap, but they also made bath bombs and all this stuff. And I wanted to sell gift boxes. So Valentine's Day would come up or Father's Day or Mother's Day.
And especially around the holidays, Christmas time, I want to have a gift box with a little bit of variety. Like the bath bombs, I started making them only during the holidays because they're kind of time consuming and I don't have a lot of time, but I'm like, "I need to add that to my gift boxes so that they look enticing." Most is for gifts and just to have variety for people during the holidays and during special events. So that's what made me get inspired to start making other things. But then once I got started, I'm like, "This is so fun." And people love variety. They love to pick and choose and have other things to choose from than just body bars. So there's other things in my mind too. I'm like, "Hmm, I would love to create a liquid hand soap because there's some people that do not like bar soap." And I haven't gotten there yet because I'm all busy and everything just takes so much time, but I do want to do that.
I think a lot of small business owners can relate to feeling like you kind of have to do a little bit of everything, like you're your own business development department, you're your own social media marketing team. Would you agree with that?
Absolutely. And you're like a jack of all trades. They say the greatest self-development or the greatest personal development a person could ever get or ever have is owning their own small business or to be an entrepreneur because it makes you grow in every area. It's not just making the product. It's keeping track of inventory, keeping track of expenses, costs, accounting, shipping, packaging; it's nonstop. Never ending. Never ending. I wake up every morning with a to-do list, just the size of Texas. And I try and balance it all out and just schedule in things and, plus make time for free time. It's important to not get too overwhelmed, if not, you just get burned out.
Definitely. And you've been doing this for five years now?
I've been doing this since actually 2015. So I would say almost.. Okay, it's going to be about five and a half years. So this will... Six years. But I can't count that money. I kind of would just sell it to friends and family and just give it away for like two years, but that's when I was learning. I didn't even know what I was doing half the time. But yeah, so for an actual business, like making a living off of it where I quit my full-time job, it's been four years.
What was it like for you to turn something that was a hobby originally into a small business?
It was really scary. I felt like because I had had success selling the soap... And when I had it as a hobby, I went to a trade show, just a little farmer's market, and I sold really well there. It gave me confidence because I thought, "Oh my goodness, I actually have a product that sells." That's when I realized that I could actually do this. It gave me confidence that even if it wasn't this big business, I could at least pay my bills if I went to farmer's markets every weekend or something. It was super scary, but the job I was working at was so unfulfilling to me that I was willing to take the risk. I was like, "I don't care what I have to do. I'm going to make a living off of this."
But it was really scary and I had to overcome a lot of things. They say it takes a certain character to have a small business. Not everyone can do it because it's so much work, and I really have worked like crazy and put my whole heart into it. It was really scary at first, but the reward of overcoming the fear and just pulling through that fear and doing it anyways- that feeling is so incredible. The reward that you get when you overcome the fear and just do it, even if you're scared. So it is really hard to start your own business and quit your full-time job is scary, but it's very rewarding.
What were some of the early struggles that you faced? You told me you work a hundred hours a week for yourself so that you don't have to work 40 hours a week for someone else. How did you overcome these challenges when you were starting out?
Number one is not being afraid of spending money. Because if you're starting a business, you have to spend money. And that was scary for me because I had a certain amount of money saved up that it's like, "Hey, I have this amount of money," so I had to learn how to manage my thoughts, and not be afraid to spend money on what was necessary. It's like, "If I'm going to do this, I have to spend this money. I'm not going to sit here panicking about it, regretting it, or feeling stressed about it. I'm going to spend it. This is what it costs and I'm just going to do it." But, oh, there was so many struggles. Just not having a place, not having a facility, where I was going to create it. My best friend, her husband had this rundown shop that wasn't locked.
It didn't have any door knobs on it. And I just went in there, cleaned out a room and I would tie it with a little wire and I had all my soap in there, all my equipment. I just started making the soap and it was far away from me. I would drive like 40 minutes every day to go make soap. Just like not having a place to make it in and then... And also just the unknown. You have to overcome the feeling of being afraid of the unknown, like the future, like what if it doesn't sell? What if I can't make a living off of it? What if it costs too much? What if I can't afford to pay the bills? The way it started for me is like once I went to my first trade show after I quit my full-time job and I remember selling like a thousand dollars worth of soap and I was like, "Okay. I can do this. I'll be able to pay my bills."
It's just that leap of faith. Then once you have a little bit of success, you get that hope that you'll be able to do it. But I don't know. There's so many obstacles to overcome. Just not overworking yourself. I mean, there was times where my shoulders would just burn. Late at night, I'd just go take a hot bath because it's the only thing that would relieve the stress because it felt like it was never ending. Every day I woke up, there was so much to do. I had to get my business registered. I had to make the decisions of either registering it as an LLC or a sole proprietorship, and then signing up for trade shows and paying all those fees and making all the products and just everything. It was just so much work.
I think the main thing is learning to just be present. I kind of wish that I would have known that when I first started my business: learning just to have the discipline to be present in the moment and to just have that trust and faith that it's going to work out. Just trusting and just being present. I feel like I would've had a lot more fun in the beginning if I would've just been more present. Because what I would do is like, "Oh, I have 50 other things to do." So I'd be working on one thing and I wouldn't enjoy what I was working on because I want to hurry up and finish it because I need to get onto the other 50 things I had to do instead of just focusing, enjoying that, finishing it and moving on to the next. Just step by step, taking it slow. I was trying to speed through everything.
Absolutely. Well, on the flip side, what are those great rewards that you experienced being your own business owner?
Well, you experience the joy and satisfaction of running your own business and making it successful. The joy that comes from knowing that you're in charge of yourself. You don't have anybody to ask permission if you need to take a time off. And I do work a lot of hours. I really do. But I also take time off whenever I want. I just went home for the holidays for Christmas time for three weeks and I just thought about it. And I'm like, "I remember when I worked those 9 to 5 jobs." You can get two weeks off a year of paid time off. I remember feeling so stuck in that. I have such a big family. There's so many weddings going on in my family. There's so much going on all the time and it's like I couldn't make it to any of that because I couldn't get off work. But it's so rewarding to be an entrepreneur because, like I said before, it makes you grow in every area and when you're growing and progressing, that's what brings joy. It doesn't have to be perfect.
It doesn't have to be like you're making millions and you can go buy your own dream car and your big dream house. It probably isn't like that. But just the fact that you're running your own business and you are paying your bills and you're passionate about what you're doing and you love it, that is the joy. It doesn't have to be that you're so successful financially. If you're successful where you're doing what you love even if you're not making a lot of money, or just even just growing. The growth that comes from it brings so much joy because you definitely have to overcome a lot of fears and you have to be willing to work hard and put a lot of work into it because it's not easy. And there's going to be times where you waste money. There's times where I made investments where I wasted money and I was like, "Oh my gosh. Money I don't have. I don't have. I don't want to... I don't have time. I can't afford to lose that money right now." It's like that.
And there's been times where things don't go well. I mean, there's plenty of trade shows that didn't go good for me. I remember I went to this vegan event in California and I was selling there and I think I, by the time I did all my counting, I lost $150. I was in the hole $150. So all the expense, cost of making all of the soap, the time of everything, and when I got there, it was just an epic fail. But I learned and the next year, I didn't sign up for that trade show. You just learn and as the years go on. That's one thing that I always tell small business owners and stuff, when they first get started, that as time goes on, it gets easier. In the beginning it feels so overwhelming. It feels so hard. And sometimes you wonder if you're going to make it, but then you learn the lessons you need to learn.
Completely. It sounds like you've experienced this incredible growth throughout your journey. Would you like to speak a little bit more on that? When you think of the person you were seven years ago, how has she changed into the person you are now?
Oh my. Wow. I've achieved so much. When I first started my business I, like I said, it was just scary. You're insecure, just not sure. And everything's scary and you're just intimidated by everything and every little thing that holds you back, it makes you wonder if you can go forward. It's tempting to just quit. So many times I just wanted to quit. I'd get so overwhelmed and just be like, "Oh, maybe I should just go get a real job." No, I didn't consider my little soap making job a real job. On my social media, if people follow me on my social media, my handle is Ashley Marie Soap, if you scroll down to the beginning of my posts, it's actually comedy.
Like the way my soap looked in the pictures, and just how non-professional I was. And Tthe soap itself was not good quality because I didn't have good recipes. I was just inventing and following recipes and kind of tweaking recipes that I found. If you scroll down through my Instagram, it's just incredible, the progress, like going back up. With any entrepreneur, if you look at their social media, you can see where they first started and how much they improved. What was number one for me in my growth was when I finally made the decision to go to this Handcrafted Soap and Cosmetic Guild in Dallas, because I had known about it for two years but I did not want to spend the money. It costs $800, plus your ticket and your hotel and everything. And I just didn't want to spend the money. It just felt like way too much.
But I finally decided to go and it was a game changer for me because when I got there, I learned so much about what I was doing wrong in my soap making. I learned about my recipes. I understood how to use essential oils, what essential oils make the soap go really hard too fast, which kept happening to me. And I kept wasting ingredients because I couldn't get the soap in the molds fast enough. And just challenges with essential oils. And just so many things about business, about marketing, about Instagram, social media, making videos. So in the Handcrafted Soap and Cosmetic Guild, they talked to us about making videos and I was always too nervous and scared. "Oh my gosh. I don't want to make a live video." But this lady, she gave a whole class focused on it and I got so inspired.
I was like, "I want to get rid of all this soap. And I'm going to start from scratch”. I learned so much. The number one thing is the willingness to learn, because there's an explanation if you're not having success in your small business, there's a reason why. So if you're willing to do the work and dig and figure out, "Hey, what's the solution for this problem?" and figure it out, it will make your business grow exponentially. And that's what I finally did. Once my products looked way more beautiful and I was way more confident, it gave me way more confidence with my recipes and I knew that I had a product that was better now. It made me gain confidence to raise my prices.
I made bigger batches of soap and I started having more confidence in selling it in stores. And just another thing too, is not being afraid to make changes because one thing that held me back for probably two years of my business is I was unwilling to make some changes. Like for example, on my labels. If you scroll down on my Instagram feed, I used to label my soap with lace and buttons and burlap. And it would take hours to sit there with a glue gun and glue each one. And I remember just feeling so overwhelmed. It's like I had all these beautiful bars of soap made, but I still had countless hours of tagging to do. I was just afraid that if I changed my labels, they weren't going to sell, but that wasn't true. I finally couldn't handle it.
I could not handle doing the lace and burlap. It was just taking so much time and I'm like, "This is ridiculous." And I did think that people weren't going to buy my product. Well, I made the leap. I invested tons of time in a graphic designer. We designed individual labels for every single different scent of soap I make. We spent hours. It took me two months. When I changed those labels, I think maybe two people mentioned it, but no one else even cared or noticed. And I raised my prices by a dollar and it was just a game changer for me. I think one of the lessons I learned was to be open-minded and if your business needs a change, don't stay so focused and hooked on one thing when it's not working for you.
Yeah, 100%. It's awesome that you're able to make that bold choice, and now your packaging is still beautiful.
Thank you. It's easier. Way easier. And people don't decorate their bathrooms as much with my soap. Before, they looked so cute and so just like dainty that my soap would just sit on people's shelves and I'm like, "No, I want my soap people to use this so they can buy more so they can experience the amazing feeling of good quality soap." But anyways, it was really a game changer for my business to switch labels. And it just took an open mind. If it didn't sell, if anything, if I have to get all new clientele, I don't care. I want to target people that use it, not decorate their bathrooms with it.
Yeah, definitely. You did mention social media briefly and how your Instagram has developed. Do you have any advice for people who are struggling to create a strong online presence or a distinctive brand in the way that you have now?
So the way that I started with social media is I just started posting and I didn't even know what I was doing. And, of course, I was struggling, but when I went to this Handcrafted Soap and Cosmetic Guild, they talked about doing live videos. And so when I got back, I'm telling you, my first live video, I was almost choking I was so nervous. I had knots in my stomach and I was so afraid I was just sweating. I remember just sweating profusely because I was so nervous. Making live videos is what helped my online presence grow a lot.
But also another thing that I did was I watched videos on YouTube. How to grow your Instagram following. I just typed in that. I just got on YouTube and type in grow your Instagram following 2019. We're in 2021, you can just type in how to grow your Instagram following 2021. I don't know if things have changed, but what I learned is learning how to do hashtags. Learning what hashtags work for your business and knowing what times to post at. So what I learned was posting every day around 5:00, around 7:00, 5:00 PM, 7:00 PM and 9:00 PM, or like at 5:00 in the morning, because those are the four times that most people are online, when they're home from work, when they're just relaxing, taking a break, and that's when people see your hashtag and stuff.
Another thing is learning how to use hashtags. You kind of want to get hashtags that are similar to the amount of followers that you have. So let's say if I just typed in soap, there's going to be probably 5 million hashtags of soap, so your hashtags can get lost into the algorithm. But if I type in all natural handmade soap or soap making products, maybe, like soap making products, then maybe there's about 75,000 hashtags with that. So that's the more close to my range of followers around 65, 75. So I'll put that hashtag so that those kind of people... so that my hashtag doesn't get lost in the algorithm. So you don't want to use hashtags like, let's say, love or Valentine's Day. Whatever. I'm just thinking any type of hashtag that has over a million tags you don't want to get that because unless you have over a million followers, then it's going to get lost in the algorithm.
Then posting every day, being very consistent with your posts. Sometimes I will take a break from social media. If I'm on vacation, I will not get on social media because I will reach burnout. I have to take a break. But even over the holidays, I did take two and a half weeks off of social media. But once you're on it, you be consistent. Every single day post on there. Every single day. And mix up your hashtags. Don't post the same hashtags every day. You can probably post the same hashtags like once every two weeks. And consistency is key.
Also adding videos to your Story. So you don't want to just post on your feed, but post to your Story, the ones that like disappear after 24 hours. I get so many people that view those way more than people that actually like my posts on my feed. So Stories is where it's at. And especially if you're running a business where you're actually making stuff. If you're making stuff, then people like to see the behind the scenes. Any kind of craft or handmade products, or even just even blogging or anything, if you post the behind the scenes of what's actually happening, people know that you're real, that you're not just like a robot, and they will see that.
That's such great advice. Thank you so much for sharing that. Do you have any closing thoughts or advice that you'd like to give other people who might be starting out?
Yes. So I didn't tell you guys about how I even learned how to make soap, so I want to tell that story really quick, because I thought it'd be a way to inspire people. I had never even made handmade soap in my life. I didn't have even a clue how it was made. And I just one day... like I had in my mind that I wanted to make handmade Christmas gifts for my family instead of buying them, because it's hard for me to buy everyone a Christmas gift and half the time they don't even like what they got. And it's just like, "I want to make something special." So I kind was thinking maybe fudge, like a really cute dessert plate with cookies and homemade desserts and homemade caramels and all that.
Well, I was just on social media, I was on Instagram, and a friend of mine from college, she posted a picture of her handmade soap, and I don't know what went off in my brain, but I was like, "That looks amazing. How does she do that? I know I want to do that. I want to make soap for my family for Christmas." And so I didn't have a clue how to start, but I bought on Amazon and I just bought a book and I just typed in soap making for beginners. I didn't know what I was doing. I just bought the book. I ordered it, it arrived in the mail and I read through it. And I read the ingredients. I read the safety precautions you have to take. I read about all the materials I needed. Soon as you go ahead and just order the ingredients and things that I needed. And I will tell you that it was so scary because when you hand make soap, you work with lye and it can be very caustic.
You could actually go blind if it got on your eyes. So of course the book exaggerates it to the maximum capacity, like how burned you could get if you're not careful. So I was so nervous. In my first batch, I blew up a bowl. It was so scary. I screamed as loud as possible. If I would have been being filmed, I would have been on America's Funniest Home Videos. But I just bought a book on Amazon and taught myself how to do it. I never learned how. I just want everybody that is interested in being an entrepreneur, or they have a passion or they want to start something on their own, or they're interested in making something. Don't be afraid to try it. Just buy a book, take a little course, watch some YouTube videos and just give it a try.
It was so scary for me, my first batch, I seriously was shaking, but I made it. And the next morning I woke up and I looked in my pantry because that's where I sat the soap and it had actually turned into soap. And it was the most amazing feeling. It was so rewarding looking at it and thinking, "I made that." It was just so amazing. So I want... just let people know that. If you're willing to make the effort, and if you're willing to put the effort into learning how to do something, you can do it. All you need to do is get on Amazon and buy a book and teach yourself how to do it. And here I am running my own business and I'm doing great. I'm saving money. I'm not a millionaire, but I definitely am living a comfortable life. And who would have ever imagined from a book on Amazon? So that's it.
Wow, that is an incredible story! Thank you so much for sitting down with us today.
Well, thank you so much for the opportunity. I really appreciate it. It's been such a joy to be on here with you and I look forward to seeing what's ahead in the future.