Welcome to a new and hopefully successful mini-series here on Frugasaurus!
As many of us know, reaching financial independence, in a nutshell, is about reducing your expenses, investing what you save, and if you can, earn more money. The latter does not have to be taking extra shifts at work or working overtime until you keel over. On the contrary, many financial independence enthusiasts would rather suggest that you diversify your income, just like you would diversify your investments. That way, if one income stream dries up, you have one or more other ones to turn to, making your economic situation a lot more robust and hopefully, less stressful too.
In the following series, I would like to relay to you my fails and (hopefully) wins as I try to start up a small, physical side hustle. I realise the advantage of having a digital side hustle that just requires a laptop and a WiFi connection, but I’m one of those people who just likes to make stuff. If I am tired from a long day at work, I might be too mentally exhausted to sit down to write, but I am often not too tired to make something with my hands.
While I have dabbled at soapmaking as a hobby previously, this is not something I started years ago which is already successful and I’m just telling you the story bit-by-bit. No, I really just started this project, and it could be a fluke just as much as it could become anything self-sustained. I wanted to show an honest, warts-and-all attempt as a complete beginner tries to transform her joy of making into something that can help provide financial independence and personal fulfilment.
As you might have guessed from the picture above, but also a previous post, my chosen venue is that of cold-processed soap making. As someone with a chemistry background, it is easy for me to understand the health and safety aspects related to the use and handling of lye, so I felt little apprehension about it. I also find it fun to boot, and it is one of those things that, even if they do not sell, we will still be able to use up or give away to friends and family. These considerations were all part of why I eventually landed on soap making, as opposed to, say ceramics (expensive to start up, plus, we can only use so many dishes), although that is also something I enjoy.
In my opinion, soap making is a reasonably cheap hobby to start up. If you have a stick blender, a couple of plastic or stainless steel containers and spoons plus some sort of mould (silicone or parchment-lined anything), then you only need some sort of oil/fat, lye and a fragrance of your choice.
One last consideration that was important to me, personally, was to buy organic fats and oils. This is not because I think organic is inherently healthier or better for you. I simply think organic agriculture is a step in the right direction for our planet-in-crisis, and I wish to encourage more organic production by buying organic whenever I can. This will put my products in a price range perhaps not everyone can afford, but the idealist in me would have it no other way. As a side note to that, it also gives me access to a smaller niche within my niche of sustainable and organic-focused potential customers.
Your process for why and how to start something might look very different, but these were a couple of the different thought processes I went through before feeling confident with my final choice.
In order for everything to be well-structured for tax-reasons right off the bat, I went and opened a new account in a new bank. To this account, I transferred 5000 NOK (about $600 USD or £450), which I classified in my head as my hobby fun money and a startup loan from myself to my new business.
Of course, you do not have to separate it as rigidly as I did. I just wanted a clear division between the money I had earmarked for my sidehustle, and all my other savings and bills. I told myself that, if I can’t earn at least some of that 5000 back before I need more money, then maybe this is not such a good idea. That way, I don’t just keep pouring money into something without making sure it has a potential.
Then I went online and found myself a reasonable soap mould (300 NOK), looked online at recipes, tried to think about what sort of fragrances I would like to try first, and spent a whopping 4000 NOK on my raw ingredients. Another 300 NOK went into buying 3kg of lye, 150 NOK for a stick blender on sale, and the remaining 250 NOK in my account is sitting around, waiting for me to figure out what to do with them.
I have spent no money on marketing, logo design or printing of labels. If I funnelled several thousand more into my project, that would probably be a good idea. But here is the thing, I want my experiment to be low-risk and low-stress. I would rather start small and potentially add those things later. Just like I have not spent 5000 NOK on organic certification. I figure I can consider that later if things really start to shoot for the sky.
Soaping is a patient player’s game. Once made, it takes between 6-8 weeks on average to cure (unless it’s pure olive oil soap, which can take up to 6 months). Which is why, as soon as I received my oils, I made a batch of forest-scented soap. The following week I made another one with warm orange and spices. Of the raw materials I bought, I think I should be able to make at least two more batches, which will hopefully create a modest but reasonable range to start with.
Even though none of my soaps are cured and ready for sale yet, it would be a great mistake to not start trying to build a social media platform. Now, I will admit that I am not the biggest social media wiz, so I simply started an Instagram account. Instagram is great for small makers and visual crafts, so it seemed a good place to start. Once my first soaps are done curing, I will open up an Etsy account and see if I can sell anything. In the meantime, I am trying to think about scent blends and design and whether or not to make a wrap-around label or a business card or just go zero-waste for more idealism. The opportunities are many!
Just starting without a clear view of how and where you are aiming is almost a certain recipe for not getting things done or loosing focus. That is why I tried to establish a handful of small, hopefully realistic goals. These are all concrete goals, not vague “sell lots” or open-ended “get rich” goals. Keep your goals specific, and you’ll actually be able to see if you’re able to reach them or not!
If I manage to reach a couple of these, I will add some more ambitious ones. I don’t want to aim too high, too quickly. Slow and steady wins the race!
Do you have a sidehustle, or want to start one? Let’s tackle it together!
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