In 2014, the wife of one of my college friends was looking to develop some type of business launch while she was at home nursing and raising their first child together.
She remembered that her grandmother had a family-famous recipe for face-cleansing soap that was passed down between the recipes.
Armed with the soap recipe, she began to create three-packs of the soap bars that she sold online in the usual places.
Because she felt a connection with her grandmother’s insistence on quality, and because she had the free time to do it right, she would discard any misshapen soap and offered a 100% refund guarantee to any customer that desired a refund.
She actually cared about the product she was selling and wanted everything created through this fusion of her own labor and the wisdom of grandmother’s ghost to be associated with high quality.
At first, she would sell the three-packs for $29.95 (she priced the product high to minimize shipping events.) Then, on some of the platforms, she would send a message to the buyer asking if the product can be improved, if they any specific requests, or if they would like to establish an ongoing monthly order.
The vast majority of buyers ignored these messages.
But the ones that did respond proved lucrative. Some suggested constructive criticism about softening the soap. Others sought her out for bridal gifts or baskets of bath bombs. Others wanted a regular shipment of “variety packs” on the first of the month.
Her husband called me to say that he couldn’t that his wife was making more money selling soap online than he did from his regular job. The other thing he couldn’t believe is that she managed to thrive in a marketplace with a gajiillion custom soap sellers.
Why do I think she succeeded, when nearly every other entrepreneur that attempts to sell soap online cannot manage to even earn the prevailing minimum wage, let alone a living wage that could enable her to fairly describe her efforts as a job rather than hobby?
She did two things well.
First, she didn’t run her online soap-shop as a business. She ran it as a labor of love. If you care about the product you produce, people can tell. The passion and attention to detail will shine through. People can go to the grocery store and get soap for $5, maybe even $3. If you want someone to spend real money on a good that can be purchased professionally for low cost, you really need to primp it up. And that’s what she did.
And secondly, she sent those annoying follow-up e-mails. No one wants to send an e-mail asking for feedback. You’re inconveniencing someone with your solicitation and inviting them to bruise your ego. Selling, especially something with such a personal connection, creates vulnerability because a rejection of an additional order can feel like a rejection of you personally.
What is interesting though is that she figured out the ‘yeses’ from the few respondents is all took to change her life. In her case, an average of ten orders per day amounts to $299.50 in revenue. The costs of the soap is about $10, and the shipping is about $40. The rest is $249.50 in profit as a reward for her labor/full ownership interest with her husband in the business.
Since I have a Samuel Johnson quote for everything, I might as well dig one up to describe her success. The great lexicographer once said: “The chief art of learning, as Locke has observed, is to attempt but little at a time. The widest excursions of the mind are made by short flights frequently repeated; the most lofty fabrics of science are formed by the continued accumulation of single propositions.”
Her success is the result of the continued accumulation of single propositions. Hey, would you like to buy soap next month? What can I do to make the product better? Did you like that bridal basket I sent you? “I know you ordered 20 bath bombs, but I sent you 25 because you’ve been a good customer.” Maybe setting up a shop on this new portal will bring in business, too.
The good news is that many large businesses hire MBAs whose only skill-set is cutting costs. “If we lower costs by $1 million, our profits go up by $1 million.” Therein lies the opportunity for those who care about what they create. If you are skilled, and if you labor with love, there will be accumulation. There will be surprising profits. Who would’ve thought you could make a third of a million selling soap over three years? At that price, ten customers per day is all you need.