I love visiting the DSO Soapery and Such booth at my local Saturday Farmer’s Market. It smells so good and Donna, the owner/mixtress is always happy to share a bit of lotion or sugar scrub.
To speak with Donna you’d think her business came about as organically as her handmade soaps (and such). She is something of a serial entrepreneur and spent a large portion of her school years using this hobby or that to make money.
“Really, I was just waiting for the one that I really latched onto so I could make it big and quit my day job.”
Donna’s been fiddling around with soap-making for over a year, and, while she still has her day job, this hobby may be the one. You might be surprised at the tool she’s relied upon in taking her product line to the next level. It isn’t cetyl alcohol or a specific essential oil.
It’s a ledger book; one of those big, hardbound jobbies used in accounting!
Except, Donna doesn’t use it to keep finance records. She uses it to keep recipe records.
“I used to have most of it in my head and the rest on paper scraps scattered any and everywhere.”
One day, though, she made a batch of body wash for what felt like the millionth time and it turned out… “not right.”
“I tore my house apart looking for the paper scrap with the recipe while racking my brain about what could have gone wrong. That’s when I knew I needed a better tracking system if I wanted this business to succeed.”
First, she tried an Excel spreadsheet, but when she changed laptops some of her records were left behind so she still couldn’t find them when she wanted. So, she went with dead tree record keeping. Her journal starts with a table of contents and recipes are recorded in date order based on success. That is, they make it into the book only after they’ve demonstrated a certain amount of market success.
The top three advantages to keeping a big book of recipes are:
- The ability to make notes on how each batch turns out to help identify things that might make a difference in the final product.
- A timeline showing the frequency at which she mixes up any given recipe, which gives a feel for year-round and seasonal best sellers.
- A shopping list for each product makes it easy to research recipes with similar ingredients, thus discovering new products to make and try.
Number three is where that organic business growth comes in.
“Shopping for one thing often leads to finding another and saying ‘oh, why not.’”
For instance, while buying ingredients for her shaving soap, Donna saw that cetyl alcohol was on sale. A quick search of cetyl alcohol uses revealed that adding this one ingredient to another recipe would yield her a totally new product. Since she already had the other ingredients on hand and the alcohol was on sale… well, why not?
After a few such shopping experiences the DSO recipe ledger and product line have both gotten pretty fat. I’d say Donna’s well on her way toward quitting that day job.
Have you quit your day job? Maybe you’re still making your hobby into a real business. Either way, I’d love to know about the tools that help you stay organized.