Soapmaking takes time to master, but how do you know when you've mastered it? It takes time and research to get your business up and running, but never stop learning and improving your craft.
Unlike other professions in the United States there is no mandated testing, governing body or federal certification. So how do you learn and how do you know your products are ready for market?
Soapmaking is a learning process. Think back to days when you learned to ride a two wheeled bicycle. It wasn't as easy as the other kids made it look. There were so many elements involved that you never considered; balance, technique, skinned knees and elbows and coordination. It did not happen overnight but with much perseverance, you succeeded.
Soapmaking is much like learning to ride a bike. First you watch the experts. There is a plethora of soapmaking tutorials available on the internet; some are fantastic while others are incomplete. The trouble with learning online is that you must know how to separate the good practices from the bad. Does the videographer employ safe and proper practices; gloves, ventilation mask, eye protection, sterile equipment and skin safe ingredients? If the answer is no, you should move on without watching. Look for video instructional videos that are complete, precise and thorough.
While videos are a great way to get your feet wet, they do not take the place of hands on learning. Maybe there is an advanced soapmaker in your area that will take you on as an apprentice. Or search out soapmaking classes in your area. Many of the local soapmaking stores offer beginning classes. Other venues include adult continuing education classes at your local schools or art councils. These classroom structured courses are designed to not only teach you the basics but also give you hands on supervised experience under a seasoned soapmaker. Soapmaking is not a competition sport; there are many experienced soapmakers in online groups that are ready and willing to help.
Take the proper time to research, study and formulate the ingredients. Are you familiar with the properties of oils you are using? Knowing the attributes of fatty acids is one of the most important aspects of soapmaking as this is what makes up the bulk of your homemade soap recipe. Using the right combination of oils is what separates a mild, lathering and bubbly bar from a harsh and crumbly mess. It may take a bit of recollection from your high school chemistry days and a whole lot of trial and error but perfecting your formulation will happen.
Testing your soap recipe is one step that should not be taken lightly. Once you have derived a soap that you feel is perfection, test it and retest it. You can ask for volunteers from your family and friends. Chances are these are your most willing participants but may not be the ones that will give you the best critique, as they tend to want to please you so ask them for honesty. Use any negative critique as an opportunity to improve. When I began soapmaking I created a soap of the month club with my testers. Each month I sent a bar of soap (varying the recipe and additives) to my panel and waited for their responses. After my year long experiment, I knew not only which blend of oils was most preferred but also how to better streamline my processes and packaging.
During your testing phase, search out ways to incorporate your business. Will you be a sole proprietor, a limited liability company (LLC) or any of the other numerous types of incorporations? The Small Business Administration (SBA) can offer you advice and resources that will help determine which is right for you, www.sba.gov. This is also the best time for you to seek out insurance. Product liability insurance not only protects your customers but also you and your assets. Many homeowners insurance brokers can point you in the right direction for adequate coverage.
After the learning, testing, researching and legalizing, are you finally ready to start selling your soaps? Maybe. There is no finite length of time that tells you when the market will be accepting of your soaps. This is simply the nature of your niche customer base. Just like learning to ride a bike, it takes time to build up speed and momentum. With soapmaking, take time to test, study and research the market. Never stop learning and improving.