The Courage (or Insanity?) to Say, "Next!"

Today just happens to be the 30th day of a 30-day Blog Your Brand challenge I participated in,  sponsored by Indie Business Network.  The challenge required thirty consecutive days of writing a blog post, minimum 300 words plus at least one graphic.  When I complete this challenge, the primary reward is that I accomplished something that 1) was pretty scary to me (every day is a big commitment!), 2) required a fair amount of discipline and planning, 3) helped to hone my writing skills, and 4) will help me to build my micro-business by providing my customers with helpful and interesting information that’s absolutely free.

Now at first glance you might think that I am the primary person to benefit from this endeavor.  It’s true, in the sense that whenever any of us extend a helping hand to others, often we also get unexpected rewards.  I did a lot of volunteer work when my kids were little, and one of the personal benefits was getting to know other people in the community and making new friends. 

I started out with a plan, and stuck with it for about the first two weeks.  After that I just went with the flow – if I felt like it was a good topic, I ran with it.  At least a couple of times I looked at my list of topics and thought, “That was dumb – I have nothing to say about that,” and then just started typing; within a few minutes, I had a paragraph written and then the rest of it seemed to write itself.

This weekend I spotted something on my Facebook feed that grabbed my attention: Amanda Aaron was starting a new coaching business, Makerpreneur, and looking for some lucky volunteers to form a beta group.  This small, hand selected group would be coached on how to write an ebook, with lots of planning structure, guidance, and general hand-holding, so that in eight weeks a finished product would be ready for publication.

Me, me, me!  I want to write, I’ve been talking about writing ebooks for years!  As fast as I could type, I responded back with the required answers and waited to hear back.  Yes, I was accepted into the group – this is fantastic!  Just one little thing.  The start date for this amazing opportunity to get coached by an experienced blogger, book author, speaker in the soapy industry was August 8 – the same day as the last day of the blogging challenge.

When I announced that I was starting a new group writing project with deadlines, the reaction from the two humans that live with me was less than enthusiastic. (Side eye does speak volumes, doesn’t it?)  It just might be because I’ve been counting down the last few days of the blogging challenge with comments something like, “Only five more days and I’m done!”  “Only three more days and I promise I’ll cook dinner again!”  “Two more days, unless I have to get checked into the psych ward!”  (No, just kidding about the last one.)

Today was a busy day, and I even made dinner (notice that the word "cooked" did not appear in this sentence.)  So far, I’ve picked a topic and title for my ebook, and I’ve also made a mock up for the book cover.  I wasn’t too happy with the cover, but after posting in our little group, and explaining what I didn’t like about it, I was sent a re-worked version that I like a lot!  By the end of this week I have to get an outline done.  I can do this.  And I know that I can do it because I’ve just spent the last 30 days writing, anywhere from an hour to 2 ½ hours every day.  Instead of letting my fears crush my dreams, I crushed my fears: I finished the blogging challenge.  This isn’t the end, though – it feels more like the beginning, and I’m saying, “Next!”

Lovin' Soap Project & Soap Collaborative Magazine

A few years ago I stumbled across a fantastic soapmaking tutorial that was presented in a high quality format, with lots of photos to explain each step.  It showed how to make a flower pattern on soap – and the instructions looked so easy, I wasn’t afraid to give it a try.  The quality of writing and photography was just head and shoulders above anything else I’d ever seen before to teach about soapmaking.  The name of the writer of this tutorial kept popping up, here and there, as she started churning out more and more innovative techniques and well-written tutorials.  Soon, a publication of hers emerged, something I had never heard of before: an “eZine” or electronic magazine.

About a year later, I signed up for a seminar for soapmakers and was thrilled to learn that the author of these spectacular tutorials would be speaking at the seminar: the eZine queen, Amanda Gail.  At that seminar she did a demo of her now-legendary Peacock Swirl, and along with all the other seminar attendants, I was in awe of the technique and the person who created it.

By now I was an avid follower of Amanda’s blog and eZines.  I read about her first trip to Haiti, where she traveled to teach soapmaking to a group of women in Port-au-Prince. These women and their families were still living in tents after a 7.0 magnitude earthquake devastated Haiti and left over a million Haitians homeless.  Out of this trip, Lovin’ Soap Project was birthed.  More trips to Haiti would follow, as more instruction would be needed to teach the women how to turn their new soapmaking skills into profitable businesses that would provide food and shelter for their families.

Lovin’ Soap Project was incorporated and filed for non-profit status in 2013 – and also gained a new team member, Benjamin Aaron, who joined Amanda in her soap-teaching adventures to remote places.  As a successful soapmaker and entrepreneur, Benjamin’s focus is teaching the business side to their students.

Amanda and Benjamin with their students in Uganda, holding certificates from completing classes from Lovin' Soap Project.

Amanda and Benjamin with their students in Uganda, holding certificates from completing classes from Lovin' Soap Project.

In 2014, non-profit status was approved, and the Soap Collaborative was born – a new version of the earlier eZines, with a variety of writers, offering all sorts of information in the form of articles about entrepreneurship, practical business advice, industry news, social media, and more tutorials.  The “how-to’s” were not just for soap, but a wide variety of products, including candles, scrubs, lotions, lip balms, and so forth.  But the most exciting part of the Soap Collaborative is that the revenue generated from it would go towards providing supplies and funds for more trips.  More trips meant that Amanda and Benjamin could go to teach women in other places around the globe, having now traveled to Uganda, Senegal, Tibet, and India, to empowering women through the economic opportunity of a soapmaking micro-business.

When Amanda asked for volunteers to write for the Soap Collaborative, I jumped on the opportunity to help.  Soon I was writing articles and tutorials on a monthly basis, and I was having a lot of fun with it.  Writing was an early passion of mine, starting with a journalism class in high school, where I learned so much about publishing.  The journalism staff didn’t just write articles, but we learned how to proofread using the proper proofreading symbols, did the page layout and paste-up (this was before the digital era), and sent each issue to our own print shop. 

I must confess that I still have a proofreader’s eye and can spot typos, misspellings, and grammatical errors even when I’m not trying.  This led to my offer to Amanda to proofread the Soap Collaborative for her, which she was more than eager to accept.  And then around the end of 2015, I got an email from Amanda.  With all her new and ongoing responsibilities, she was looking for someone to take over the job of editor of the Soap Collaborative, and would I be interested?  After several emails and conversations, I accepted, and started with the issue that was published in March, 2016.

Being the editor of the Soap Collaborative has been a joyous task – it’s work that brings a tremendous amount of satisfaction.  Each issue has an update on what the Lovin’ Soap Project has been doing, and it’s always my favorite article.  Seeing the photos of the classes and the local environment makes it all very real and tangible; reading about the successes (and struggles) tells me that our work is important.  Each writer, each article, each subscription all come together to stretch our hands across oceans and continents, teaching the art of soapmaking and micro-business ownership, to those who need it most.

Want to learn more about Lovin’ Soap Project?  Do you want to become a subscriber or learn more about the Soap Collaborative magazine?  Check it out here.  We'd love for you to join us!

My Most Memorable Customers

Selling my soaps at craft shows, farmers market, online, and to wholesale customers has given me the opportunity to meet people from many different walks of life.  Each setting has a unique group of customers with different objectives and different shopping needs.  But of all these selling scenarios, I have to say that selling at craft shows is my favorite.

Craft show shoppers are my people: they appreciate the value of handcrafted artisan-made products, and most importantly, they come to shop.  If you can fulfill their shopping needs, you will make a sale.  And make no mistake – I love craft shows, but when I go to a show as a vendor, I come to sell.

One of my first shows was at an outdoor festival, and I was so excited to be invited to sell my soaps.  My first customer approached my booth in tiny, shuffling steps, an older gentleman whose face lit up in delight when he saw my soap display.  A few steps behind him was a middle-aged woman who followed him up to my booth.  His hands had a slight tremor as he reached for a bar of soap and he put it right up to his nose – no, I realized in horror, he put it right ON his nose – and inhaled deeply.  The woman who was with him roughly grabbed his arm and said, “Come on, and put that down!”  He started to put the soap back on the table and a string of snot was attached to his nose and the other end was attached to the bar of soap.  And so…that was the moment I decided that I would start wrapping each and every bar of soap.

Now that was a memorable experience, and not a good one.  The old man didn’t mean any harm, and I felt sorry that his companion or caretaker handled him in such a rough way.  I tossed the bar in the trash immediately, but I’ve only had to throw away merchandise maybe a couple of times, which is really not bad at all, compared to most retail settings. 

And then there are the kind of people who just say whatever pops into their heads, like a petite young woman who once came up to my booth and walked up and down the table, smiling and looking at each basket of soaps.  After a few minutes, I asked her if I could help her with anything, and she looked me straight in the eye, still smiling, and said, “Your soap is very ugly!”  Then she laughed and walked away.

Another person who apparently speaks before thinking was a man shopping with three teenagers standing next to my booth.  He grabbed a bar of soap off my table, sniffed it briefly, and then held it up high to show the kids with him.  He proclaimed loudly, “Hey, guys!  This smells like stink bugs!”   Before I had time to think about it, I walked over to him, snatched the soap out of his hand and told him, “Teaching kids to be rude and disrespectful just isn’t cool with me.  Get out of my booth.”  Although these incidents are really the only times I’ve had to deal with very rude people or unintentional damage, the negative tends to be memorable – in a horrifying, nightmarish kind of way.  And then there are the customers that make me feel like I’m the best soap maker in the universe.

Like the customer who bought $120 worth of merchandise, and then came back two hours later and spent another $100.  She just raved about everything, how her family and friends were going to love their soapy Christmas presents so much.  And there’s the customer who was a classmate of mine, who found me on Facebook and has been a loyal and adoring fan for many years now.  Though we barely knew each other in high school, I get regular orders and lots of great feedback on Facebook from him.

And then there’s this little guy in the photo.  He belongs to a friend of my daughter’s. His mom sent me the picture with this explanation: her soaps were in a bag tucked away in a corner, but her baby kept going to the bag and taking the soap out to smell it.  She would put them up, and before she knew it, he had gotten the soap out again. His little face says it all: words are unnecessary.  Yep, he’s my greatest customer ever.

Make It Miniseries: Household Cleaners

Because cleaning house has never been one of my favorite things, anything that helps to make it easier, faster, and cheaper always catches my attention.  If I can avoid using products that make my eyes burn from the fumes and my skin itch and turn red, that’s even more important.  After using my own “homebrew” household cleaners for a few years, I’ve developed the opinion that most commercially made products are way too specialized (do I really need a product that only cleans my glass stove top?), way too strong or concentrated, and have way too many dangerous ingredients.  Specifically, ingredients that have VOC’s (volatile organic compounds), many of which are harmful to the environment and cause health problems with long term use.  VOC’s have a high vapor pressure at room temperature, causing a large number of their molecules to evaporate into the air.

Save some money, save your family’s health, save the environment and put away the industrial cleaners – try some of these ideas and be amazed at how well they actually work:

All-purpose Spray Cleaner - add 1 tablespoon natural liquid soap (Dr. Bronner’s or a handcrafted one) and 1 tablespoon white vinegar to one quart of water.  Spray and wipe with a damp cloth; since there’s only a small amount of soap there’s no need to rinse.  Works great on greasy and oily surfaces.

Scouring Paste – mix equal parts salt and baking soda with enough vinegar to make a paste and use the foaming action to loosen and lift grime and soap scum.  Add a few drops of lemon or orange essential oils for an extra cleaning boost.

Water Spot Remover – to clean chrome faucets fixtures in bathrooms and kitchens, use isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol.)

No-Streak Glass Cleaner – mix 1/4 cup white vinegar, 1tablespoon cornstarch, and one quart of warm water in a spray bottle.  Use crumpled newspaper or a coffee filter instead of paper towels for a lint-free shine.

Mold and Mildew Cleaner – combine 2 teaspoons of tea tree oil with 2 cups of water in a spray bottle; shake well before using.

Multi-Surface Disinfectant – use peroxide for a multitude of cleaning and disinfecting surfaces, including: cutting boards, kitchen counters, refrigerator shelves and interior walls, soaking sponges, and spray on tile surfaces to prevent mold and mildew growth.

Other Uses for Peroxide – use ½ cup per load to whiten and disinfect white clothes, spray on organic stains (blood, sweat, coffee, wine) to remove completely (but be careful with dark colored fabric, it may bleach it), disinfect and deodorize lunch boxes, disinfect and deodorize your re-usable cloth shopping bags.

Metal Polishes

Silver Polish Soak silver in one quart of warm water with one teaspoon baking soda,
one teaspoon salt, and a small piece of aluminum foil.  Or, rub toothpaste on silver, let it dry and rinse off.

Copper - Rub lightly with fine table salt wetted with vinegar and lemon juice.

Chrome – Rubbing alcohol, or a small amount of ammonia with hot water. Also, use white flour on a damp rag.

Brass – Equal parts salt and flour, with a little vinegar.

Furniture Polish – Rub toothpaste on wood furniture to remove water marks.  Mix two parts olive oil to one part lemon juice. After rubbing the mixture in, let stand for several hours and then polish with a soft, dry cloth.

Do you have your own household cleaning tips or recipes?  Feel free to share them in the “comments” section - I'd love to hear from you!