three times the charm

As cliche as it sounds, it’s hard to believe that another season of farmers markets has gone by. It’s tough- the heat, the missed naps, God help us if it rains…

But the farmers market people at the three weekly markets we sell soap at have become like family to us! They have watched our kids grow. They have worried about me through a difficult pregnancy. They have seen us at our sweatiest and stinkiest. Evie has essentially spent every summer of her life at the markets, for some perspective.

Our first summer we worked our behinds off to get out of debt. The second year it was all about the beach vacation. This year, we went because we love those farmers market people.

We missed a lot of markets this year. The Tuesday market concluded a couple weeks ago. Attending that market involves yanking kids out of beds from naps and surviving for an hour or so by myself while helping customers until Brent gets off work. We were so blessed to have sweet friends, the Vines, in the booth next door this year. Between the two of us, we had 9 kids roaming around!

Then we have a day off to prepare for the next market of the week.

Our Thursday market is on the Alabama campus in Tuscaloosa.

::::::::::ROOOOOOLLLLL TIDE!!!::::::::::::

Anyway, yeah we go because we are big fans. And they are big fans of our soap. And I kid you not, big burly football dudes totally love the Happy Thoughts soap. 

This market is a family field trip day. Brent takes the day off, we skip naps altogether, and roll with the punches in the name of adventure. You might recall this was the epic scene where AAA totally let me down.

Even though the market is still swinging, we had designated last Thursday to be our last. We have a big markdown sale on the last market and folks stock up like its Y2K. A really dirty Y2K. Of course our last Thursday had to be just one.more.adventure. Because our lives have been totally boring lately.

We had just finished setting out ridiculously large piles of soap on our table when lightening struck and a squall broke out overhead. Tents flew everywhere. Tree branches sailed by. After we ran circles around the table screaming “What do we do?!” and wringing our hands, we settled on throwing the edges of the burlap table cloth over the soap and lowering the tent like a big giant umbrella. It took both of us hanging on to keep it from blowing away. And when you’ve got several hundred dollars worth of soap on a table in a monsoon, you will do whatever it takes to keep it relatively dry.

And would you believe our loyal customers ducked right in and bought soap anyway?

It’s good people in Alabama.

The kids were still in the truck when the storm hit, thankfully. Except Titus, he was in his exersaucer and I threw him in the way-back and shut him in. Evie stayed in her seat and peed gallons all over herself.

Once the storm blew over we raised the tent, let the kids out, and cleaned Evie up.

Now, I’m not the mom who ever has diapers, wipes, or spare clothes on hand. But Ezra is a unique little boy who always packs three changes of clothes for any day trip.

So Evie was dressed like a boy the rest of the day.

We concluded the trip with our favorite dinner destination: Five Guys. I broke my diet and ate there too, out of sentimentality.

Today was the last Saturday market for us. The market director nearly cried when I told him we were possibly moving. I enjoy this market a lot. Even though it involves leaving the house early, and sometimes 100+ degree weather.

I’m normally giddy at the thought of putting away all the market signs and boxes at the end of the season. It’s exhausting, restocking three times a week, loading up three times a week, unloading three times a week, etc.

But it’s also familiar. Farmers markets are good for the soul. You can be having the crappiest day, but by the end of the market, life is just peachy.

I hate not knowing if we’ll be back next year. I hate not knowing what two months from now looks like. I get queasy at the idea of not having my home school support group. I get nervous at the idea of relocating our business. Atlanta is really honking big.

But there is also a tiny thrill at the unknown. Elation about living near family and old friends again.

Three days until the interview! We are sitting tight.

A is for adventure

I could never be described as a cautious person I suppose.

Most people would just stay home and watch lots of preschool television in their pjs if they found themselves home for a week with their two smallest children, and the rest of the family out of town. I guess?

Me? I saw opportunity! I could finish touching up the house to get it ready to sell. I could move plenty of stuff into storage. I could handle the farmers markets just fine with the littles.

I worked myself silly moving boxes, sanding and painting, and staying up all night with a teething infant and potty training toddler. I had forgotten to figure that into my equation.

By Thursday I was super pooped but I still had a lot of painting and a farmers market an hour and a half from home.

I rushed through the morning painting and greeting soap customers with their pick up orders and quickly threw babies and soap in the truck for the market. An hour and a half from home.

I was feeling pretty positive as we hopped the curb onto the market lawn. And then my truck sputtered to a stop smack in the middle of the farmers market. I hopped out and called for able bodied men to come to my aid. Luckily, this market is on a college campus and there were plenty. They pushed me to my spot and I quickly set up to sell soap. I could set up for a market in my sleep, we’ve done it so many times. Which is good, because I was super tired.

At some point I called AAA to come give me gas, in between helping customers and doing hostage negotiations with my two year old who was clearly suffering emotionally from the little bit of transition our family is experiencing right now.

Brent has me covered with the most expensive premium package AAA provides. Because I throw caution to the wind as a habit.

AAA came and put gas in my truck and it still wouldn’t start. So I had this big muscled man who makes a living working with automobile emergencies telling me that I needed a new fuel pump and would have to get towed. This is similar to going to the ER for abdominal pain and being told you needed to have your appendix out when really you just had gas from some cauliflower you should have avoided. But you believe the man in the dr. smock with the nerdy glasses because he’s a surgeon.

When really they just didn’t give me enough dang gas.But I didn’t find that out until much later.

Are you still wondering how the police and chickens come into play? Good. Keep reading.

At this point I wept into the tail of my baby sling like… A baby. I had been trying so hard to be strong and not complain about how tired I was. About the anxiety that I battled with every box I packed and stowed away in our storage unit. About the sweet hand prints on the walls that I was painting over, erasing every sign of a happy life lived in our home. Trying to be strong and show Brent that he could trust me to do important things while he was out of town working equally hard to get this new job. And now I had to call and tell him I had majorly failed and I was stuck overnight at least until a mechanic could fix the truck. And did I mention that I was supposed to leave the next day to get to my other children? Yeah. I was devastated.

Brent found some sweet people for me to stay with. They recommended a trust worthy mechanic to have it towed to, and chauffeured me to Target for clothes, diapers, baby wipes, pull ups, and food. I was very grateful to have a place to stay and kids for Evie to play with.

Sometime the next morning the mechanic called with the news: it simply needed more gas.

I don’t have anything nice to say. Which is why I haven’t called AAA yet to let them know, for future reference, that 3 gallons of gas isn’t enough to restart a Suburban.OH AND THANKS FOR CRANKING IT SO MANY TIMES THAT YOU ALSO KILLED MY BATTERY AFTER YOU DIDN’T PUT ENOUGH GAS IN.

Ahem. See? No nice words.

I finally made it home. 24 hours late. The babies were exhausted from a very long and sleepless night so they dozed in the truck for quite a while. I was happy just sitting in the driveway. Eventually Titus woke and I took him inside, leaving car doors open for Evie while she slept in her car seat. Oh, and my wallet and iPad in the front seat. And my change bag stuffed with cash from the market. See previous statement about caution and wind.

I got distracted as I was unloading when I remembered we had chickens and I hadn’t tended to them before leaving the day before since I had only planned to be gone a few hours. Not 24. I didn’t see any of them and their water was bone dry.

I rushed out there, leaving the front door standing open, and was happy to find them alive and cackling angrily at me about their thirst. I let them out and filled their water dish while they circled my ankles. I’m pretty sure they think I’m the mamma hen.

I decided to circle back around the outside of the house to check on Evie who was still sleeping in the truck.

Imagine my surprise to find a cop standing in the doorway looking alarmed.

I snuck up on him and said, “BOO!”

Just kidding. But that would have been awesome. I did surprise him when I poked my head around the corner to ask what I could help him with.

He inquired whether I knew I had left all my car doors open with valuables inside and my front door open with sweet baby playing.

“Oh. My chickens just needed water real bad or they were about to die,” I explained. And, realizing that made no sense I added, ” I just got home. I was stranded in Tuscaloosa because I ran out of gas and AAA killed my battery and I was in the middle of unloading when I remembered I had chickens.”

Because all of that made me sound really credible, he cancelled his call for back up.

Whew.

Evidently there has been a rash of car and home burglaries in our town and he was sure he’d caught the perpetrator in the act.

I was just glad he didn’t realize I had a sleeping two year old in the truck because cops in our town are really bossy about leaving your kids in the car in the drive way in case a pervert comes down the street. True story. A cop said that one time.

“As long as everything is okay?” the cop said cautiously. I assured him it was and that I was gonna finish unloading. He smiled and left and I know he was thinking, ” Did she say chickens??”

it was just like the mall, only it wasn't...

… And we didn’t get anything free.

But you know there was lots of poop.

After the Tuscaloosa farmers market we took a picnic to the park.

Doesn’t that sound so ideal?

We were almost done eating and just about to unleash the kids on the playground when the Potty Pilgrimages began.

After the third trip we determined we were done eating and had just enough time for half an hour of play on the playground.

Just as we got settled on a nearby bench and the kids ran off to play, Ezra shouted and began to trot back towards the bathrooms. Brent handed Titus off to me and I got to witness the big girls do monkey bars for the first time while Brent was with Ezra. There. You know, the potty.

Just after I captured that photo, I noticed Evie standing on the monkey bar deck looking guilty.

Can you even believe what I found as I neared???

A doodle. Dumped. On the deck.

Deck dumping doodle.

How does this happen?? She was wearing a pull up! I do not understand.

She had stepped in it. And smeared some on her dress.

I quickly texted an SOS to Brent, who was still in the potty with Ezra.

He came running. We couldn’t leave it there for another kid to step in! And to make it worse, some other parents were sitting on a bench with a front row seat.

Brent grabbed a baby wipe and did doodle duty.

And of course, I was glad again that at least we weren’t at the mall.

Now Brent had to take Evie to the truck for clean up and wardrobe change.

He got back with just 5 minutes till time to go. And right as Titus was filling his diaper.

Final count, best as I can tell, 4 out of 5 kids pooped at the park. 1 kid pooped on the park.

Thursday is thus known as Poop in Public Day. Who wants to come play??

while I'm sitting here sweating

Well, now, there were several blogs swirling around in my head. And I figured since Titus was insising on some post-work out sweaty booba, I’d blog one.

But the problem is, I can’t remember any.

So, how about I revert to bullet points like last summer and we will see where that takes us.

  • We started farmers markets this week. Our Thursday market decided to start a couple months before all the others. It happens to be our busiest market, so this is a good sopping wet dry run to see how market life with five chil’rens goes. It was a little messy. A little bit like Brent and I each juggling one baby (either Titus or Evie) and calmly urging the other three to act normal since we were in public, while asking people to please give us just a minute to finish setting up so they could shop, answering questions, and doling out soap in paper bags, while doing higher math equations to make change. Yep. One of the kids took a behind the scenes photo:
  • The good news is, the farmers market was successful. It looks like this is going to be a promising year. The bad news is that our sink broke that morning. Welcome to adulthood, right? You make money, something breaks. Reminds me of that montage in Up! with the sweet couple and their money jar.
  • Titus is rapidly producing teeth. We totally skipped that season where you get decent sleep. You know, the one that falls a couple months after they are born and lasts for a few weeks before they start teething? That’s okay though. We survived a baby who never slept, so this isn’t as bad. However, my brain cells are short circuiting. I’m like an alzheimer’s patient some days. So, don’t be surprised if you catch me wondering around Target naked. Or wandering even.
  • Brent and the big kids have left me and the little people here again by ourselves. This means that another big box was purchased and Mamma is cleaning out the down stairs like a mad woman. We just have too much stuff for our small house. I’ve pretty much gotten rid of or donated everything we don’t need. So, now I’m boxing up stuff we do need, but maybe can live without, and sticking it in the attic until we get new digs. Or is that diggs?
  • Speaking of digging. We expect to be bursting out of these seams next fall. Anybody want our house? It smells good!!!
  • We attempted to do school at a local public park this week until the local elementary school came and kicked us out. It has taken me several days to come up with something nice to say, because it sure was a lot of work getting all our school and lunch stuff together and all set up and cleaning up a certain poopy britches child and getting settled, just to be be made to leave by a school who has their own play ground that I pay for with my taxes and also when the kids knock on my door and ask for money for their government supported school even though I pay for every dime of my children’s education. But gee golly I sure am glad that those kids got to get out of the walls of their school and be free range for an hour or two! No really…. I am!
  • Also, we realized that if we only had three kids, we’d be owing money on our taxes. This is because we are living the American dream by owning our own business. {{snort}}
  • I should probably tell you that I cut out all sugar, in addition to being sleep deprived. And it’s making me a little grumpy.
  • Hey, look at these cute kids!
 Mary is still around! She's all dolled up in honor of the A Day Game today. ROLL TIDE, Mary!

Mary is still around! She's all dolled up in honor of the A Day Game today. ROLL TIDE, Mary!

 Charis and Arwen got four stickers on their chore packs. This means they got Yogurt Mountain! (And they did Peeps as a topping? Gross!)

Charis and Arwen got four stickers on their chore packs. This means they got Yogurt Mountain! (And they did Peeps as a topping? Gross!)

 Ezra has really reached a challenging time in his development into a big boy. We are encouraging him daily to grow strong on the inside. Having two older sisters is tough! Any tips, boy moms? We have a lot of tears these days...

Ezra has really reached a challenging time in his development into a big boy. We are encouraging him daily to grow strong on the inside. Having two older sisters is tough! Any tips, boy moms? We have a lot of tears these days...

 Evelyn adores the book Go, Dog, GO! We read it over and over and over and...

Evelyn adores the book Go, Dog, GO! We read it over and over and over and...

 And occasionally I remember to bathe the little one 

And occasionally I remember to bathe the little one 

leveraging assets

Brent is making me watch and I are riveted by these entrepreneurial videos that we’re watching. (There is a long history of Brent trying to show me educational/doctrinal DVDs… and me falling asleep almost immediately. I have tried caffeine, chocolate, folding laundry, etc. It seems I have narcolepsy.)

Anyway, what I watched before I fell asleep was very informative. (Does this already sound like a boring school book report?) Dude was talking about starting businesses and the qualities that make a good entrepreneur. Aside from the fact that he seems to think only men can be entrepreneurs, he listed Assets as a good leveraging tool for a successful business.

I may or may not have mentioned, but when I started making soap, Cheeky Maiden Soap Co was not anywhere near even a twinkle in my eye. Everything has happened somewhat by accident. I’m living proof that success is 90% Diligence. I have not read books on starting, owning, or operating businesses. I occassionally check out websites for mompreneurs, WAHMS, or whatever else you want to call them. But I quickly get bored. My husband on the other hand… he loves reading about that stuff. But always insisted that making soap was for girls.

Before Evie (our fourth child) was born, I was praying for a business partner. I knew we were headed in a big direction. Bigger than I could imagine, since I’ve never actually penned a “business plan” or had any goal other than keeping up with Cheeky Maiden’s growth.

Then, she made her grand entrance, and life as I knew it fell to pieces. Recovery took longer than ever, and Brent somehow found himself managing the website and packing all the orders. I’m fuzzy on the details, but I think it had something to do with me being confined to our upstairs bedroom for 7 days. I recall waving a flag out the window when I got hungry, begging passersby to stop and feed me.

And quite accidentally, we discovered that he was the best business partner for me and I couldn’t be happier.

My greatest asset? My husband. Hands down. I’m not quite sure how Cheeky Maiden got as far as it did without him. Up until October 2009, I did all the web design, the label design, any other marketing, order shipping, labeling, making, selling… whatever. It turns out that what he’s not good at, I am, and what I’m not good at, he is.

We still have the balance of working together and being husband/wife. The struggle that comes with this being “my” business and the idea that he works “for” me. (In reality I view it as “ours” and we work “together”, but I understand how he feels. I did it for four years on my own, and it is called “Cheeky Maiden”. Not exactly the manliest sounding joint to work for, huh.) He discovered that making soap is hard work, too. You get sweaty and dirty, have to lift lots of heavy stuff, and sometimes you get lye burns.

My man is currently in the process of redesigning all of our packaging.

Ahem. Anyone that has ever been over to “help” in the soap room will bemoan the tedious task of labeling the soap. Each bar had a front and a back label, which were printed on full sheet avery label paper. (Usually around 15 labels per sheet). Then, we had to cut the labels out. By hand. Brent’s first purchase was a paper cutter. It revolutionized the process. I could cut labels three times as fast. But it still took a lot of time. And afterwards we still had to peel the backing off of each little label (front and back for each soap, remember) and then stick it on the soap.

It’s also good to remember that I work in 15 minute increments, usually with a baby either on my back or at my heels, and children asking me a dozen questions a minute. In other words, I’m distracted and in a hurry. Labels get cut short or crooked, and then slapped on the soap by a 5 or 6 year old. And… it looks like it usually.

Enter Brent. He redesigned the labels so that all the information fit on just one label per soap. Then we found a nifty company that made label paper with the labels already cut out,like a sheet of stickers. So, all he had to do was line our newly designed labels up on their template and print. Then it’s just peel and stick. JUST PEEL AND STICK!

Not only do we not have to peel that stupid backing off with our fingernails, but we don’t have to cut anything out. And the paper is half the price of the full sheets we were buying before. HALF THE PRICE!

Half the stickers, half the price, half the work.

Tada! New packaging:

(This is officially the worst product photo you will ever see. Camera is long overdue for a trip to the shop. My apologies)

Here’s a side by side. My old label is on the left and his is on the right. (Remember the old version also required a label on the back of the soap, not pictured for obvious reasons.)

This is just one of the areas that Brent has made more efficient in our work.

Not only is he handy, but…

he’s cute…

…and he’s good with kids…

So, Mammas. Who do you have sitting in your very own home with untapped abilities?

If you are thinking of starting your own family business, have you considered the skills that your husband and children have that could be assets?

and now I will make everyone feel very good about their housekeeping skillz

It all happens in the home. In our 1200 sq foot home. School. Work. Birth. And everything else.

If you have never been in the middle of eating breakfast with your kids and suddenly jumped up at the realization that a customer was due any minute and you are still in your pjs with mascara under your eyes and the pony tail that you slept in, you have no idea what I’m talking about.

If you have never raised both a business and a gaggle of small children under the same roof, you have no idea what I am talking about.

It’s not even just that we have a home business. We have a home business that involves manufacturing, marketing, and selling product. Everything isn’t nice and tidy in computer files or even file cabinets. Cheeky Maiden spills out of the soap room. My little artist l o v e s to sneak out there and snatch wraphia and tape. Which is why I had to ask her for some of her own personal stash of scotch tape to adhere a shipping label to a box this morning.

It’s chaos and insanity. THAT is what I’m talking about. The likes of which would make Martha Stewart tremble.

I’m not complaining, but this part of lives is so incremental to who we are, to who our children are being shaped to be, that is must be documented.

Large whole sale orders are being placed as our retail folks strain to meet the demands of holiday shoppers, local people stop by almost every day to pick up their orders, and of course the internet customers are going to wait until the very.last.minute and have me chugging around here on Dec 20th packing their orders to get them delivered by Christmas time.

It’s November 30th and I’m realizing that I have done zero preparation for our advent lessons this month.

I have a dresser and an electric sander sitting on my front porch, covered by a holiday vinyl table cloth because I was in the middle of refinishing it when tornado weather blew in. I figured if it was going to sit out here I might as well try to make it blend in with the Christmas decor.  There is a broken discarded dresser sitting in the middle of my living room and the kids are having a fabulous time climbing all over it until I figure out what in the heck to do with it. You know, in my spare time.

Not to mention the gift buying and making that has to be done for our own loved ones.

It’s challenging and C R A Z Y.

So, how do we make it all work? (Sometimes it doesn’t.)

We involve the kids as much as possible. This is why sometimes the soap labels are crooked or upside down or cut lopsided. This is why sometimes the bows are not tied perfectly. This is why it might take me 2 hours to do something that should have taken 30 minutes. But oh my word, the heart strings are being tied and the family bonds are being strengthened, and they are learning about economics and entrepreneurial…stuff.

We have boundaries. We know when to stop working and just accept that something isn’t going to get done. If the kids are needing some Mommy time, there is no hesitation. The door to the soap room is closed and out of site/out of mind. This is why there is a shortage of all of our holiday soap this year. I just didn’t have the time to make it and I really hope that I have enough to last until our last event.

I have to let go of some of my standards. The dishes are going to get piled up this time of year. School is on hiatus until January. We are going to use disposable diapers. A lot. At the same time- soap ideas I have don’t get to happen. I can’t tie a ribbon around every bar of soap that goes out the door anymore. So, we make priorities and we do those first.

And this is why I sat down to have coffee and look at a magazine surrounded by this mess:

 For shame!

For shame!

sink.jpg

where we are

Originally published July 21, 2010

 This is your first hint in this game of  “Where in the World is Cheeky Maiden?”

This is your first hint in this game of “Where in the World is Cheeky Maiden?”

Notice I’m not the only Mamma selling at the famers market. The tent next door sells no-sugar-added fruit butters and they are awesome! (Don’t mind my expression, it’s HOT out there!!)

 See? I smile when folks come up to chat or sniff. =)

See? I smile when folks come up to chat or sniff. =)

And there is the whole gang. (Brent was taking photos.)

The kids pretty much treat our old car like an amusement park ride. And I love having them there with me!

So, you see, while it’s hot and it’s hard work, we still have a lot of fun. And we aren’t the only folks who like our kids enough to bring them with us. 

This particular market is in Helena at a park with a trail, playground, and a cool sparkling creek just perfect for splashing in!

how to get your husband to beg to buy you azalea bushes

Sorry to leave off on such a disparaging note the other day! I hate to give the impression that things are toil and drudgery around here, because real life couldn’t be further from the truth! Yes, it’s stressful, exhausting, scary, busy, and extraordinarily entertaining. But there is a simplicity that is woven throughout each day. Yesterday, while the other kids napped upstairs, I sat in my chair downstairs nursing Evelyn Rose. As she slept a tiny booger at the edge of her nose flitted in and out with the rhythm of her deep breaths. I sat and watched it for a good 15 minutes. And I loved it. I loved that tiny booger and the tiny nose it was stuck to and the fat face that tiny nose was stuck to and the wiggly little body that fat face was attached to. I loved the little crevices in her fingers. I loved her teeny tiny eye lashes.

But this is about how to get your husband to beg to take you on a shopping spree in the garden section isn’t it? Really, we had done that the day before, on St. Patrick’s Day. We started our first family tradition! From now on we will pay homage to [whatever it was he did- we'll learn that next year] with green Peeps and newly purchased green plants. I was having such a good time browsing plants that Charis declared it Mother’s Day. Fine with me! We picked up just a few things…

In fact, I hit “publish” on that last blog and headed out the door for my shopping spree. And then yesterday happened. And this is where you want to pay attention if you hope to get your husband to buy you nice plants for your yard.

  1. You’ll need to sign up for your local Freecyle.
  2. You wil then keep a watchful eye for anyone in your area offering 10 year old azalea bushes for free. (The caveat is that you have to come dig them up.)
  3. Bat your eyelashes and forget to mention that these plants have been in the ground for 10 years when asking for help digging them up on your husband’s day off.
  4. Gather shovels and buckets and head on out.

This is where you’ll see your results.

We drove up to our fellow freecycler’s house with great anticipation. You just never know what you are going to get yourself into when you take the bait of some great sounding goods. Sometimes you get a lemon, and sometimes you get a treasure. But the experience makes it totally worth it.

The car in the driveway had a handicap license plate and a Betty Boop bumper sticker that said, “If you are going to ride my tail, at least pull my hair!”

Great.

Next, there was a dog on the path to the front door. A small, stinky looking dog. You know how I feel about dogs. Brent talked me past him and I knocked on the front door. “YEAH?” I heard it. But I wasn’t sure where it came from. Standing very still and small I said, “Ummm. Hello?”

YEAH?” There it was. I looked to my left and saw a door standing wide open. In fact, now that I think of it, I’m not even sure there was a door in that frame. I poked my head in and spotted a big man with no legs sitting on a couch with a laptop computer. I announced our arrival and intentions to dig up his front yard and he gave his approval.

Then we started digging. Now, the poster on freecycle had said that there were four azalea bushes (est. 10 years), “other flowers in the flower bed”, and ” a small oak tree”. I was mildly curious what she meant by that last one. Small oak tree? Umm. What was actually there was a large chunk of land that stood about a foot taller than the rest of the yard. At some point I’m sure it had some kind of wooden box or border around it. At each corner was a ginormous azalea bush and in the middle was an oak tree stump that stood about 3 feet tall and was about 2 feet thick. Yeah, let me just get right on digging that up for ya with my little hand shovel here, ma’am. Brent wrestled about half of an azalea bush out of the ground while I tacked the one flower that I found. It was some kind of bulbed plant and I’d like to call it Buttercup, but I don’t know if that’s the actual name.

Then I attacked the second azalea with the hoe, to try to loosen up the dirt around the roots and give Brent a shot at actually getting the entire plant this time. Did I mention that all of our children were in the van this whole time? Evelyn got hot and started to scream. Then we both tackled the second azalea bush.

It was at this point that Brent started to question ‘xactly how much does a bush from the store cost.

“It’s not free!” Was the best I could do. That was all we could fit in the back of the van anyway.

Plus, we had to get home in time for this.

Which had this inside (the oil drums, not the kids, sassy pants.)

Each drum weighs over 400 pounds. (and yes, we do have a major project up our sleeves. Are we crazy? Probably.)

Now that he had recovered from the morning landscaping, it was time for Brent to get each one of these in the front door. First he rocked it off the pallet and scooted it up onto the porch. Then into the front door and scooted across the living room floor. Finally across the threshold of the soap room and to its final resting place. Three times. 

There was already one in there, so that makes four. That’s over 1600 pounds of oil (Olive, Palm, and Coconut.) And we even managed to get some flowers planted, all in the same day.

 This is not a photo from 1995. I bought myself some linen overalls at the thrift store for $3.48 for my gardening this year. I think the neighbors will appreciate it. 

This is not a photo from 1995. I bought myself some linen overalls at the thrift store for $3.48 for my gardening this year. I think the neighbors will appreciate it. 

Howly Dog, Growly Dog (alternately titled: Boundaries)

I told you the happy version of the story. Now it’s time for reality. We learned a LOT of lessons the hard way with this project and have definitely counted the wisdom gained as the most valuable profit to come out of the whole thing.

Our very biggest problem was that we totally ignored our own boundaries because we were so excited about the largeness and high profile- ness of this request for dog soap.

Tip #1: Know your boundaries and state them plainly. Soap takes 4 weeks to cure. Period. There is no getting around that. When a customer calls and requests thousands of bars of soap in less than three weeks, my response should be nothing short of “NO”. It’s impossible. I knew that was a boundary with handmade soap, but I also didn’t want to lose the order. I figured that if I made it all in the first week, it could sit for two weeks with a dehumidifier and be fine. I also knew that it would have plenty of time to cure before it actually made it to anyone who was going to wash with it.

One other small boundary we ignored: my current handicap, aka pregnancy. Small detail, I know. But we forgot to calculate that a very very pregnant lady cannot lift heavy jugs of oils or heavy pots of soap or heavy molds filled with soap. And even if I could, doing all that myself would take way more than 3 weeks because I’m big and slow at this point.

What are your boundaries? Timelines, pricing, minimums, payment schedules, details, details, details. Think about it and write it down! What is a reasonable time line for your business? What is the best competitive pricing you can offer (remember to pay yourself!)? What is the smallest amount of work/product that will make the project worth your time? When and how do you expect to be paid? What are you going to do if you are paid late? To establish boundaries, go through a project for your business, in your mind, start to finish. If you know any super anal retentive people, you should enlist their help in this. Try to imagine every little detail that may need to be covered and cover it. This will establish good communication between you and your client. You can never assume that any small detail is common knowledge for anyone. People are crazy.

For instance: a photographer should have already written out and stated their sitting fee and how many photos/poses that includes. That’s the very bottom line. But what if you have a client that wants all ten poses to be in different outfits for their one year old? Have you already established a limit on the number of wardrobe changes permitted for a photo session? If not, you may be looking at a very long afternoon that will end up not being worth your time. What if they want you to meet them an hour away? It can be awkward when you’ve already stated your fees, and then the client mentions they would like the location to be far away. Now you have to figure out how much you are going to charge and change the quote on them. If you know your boundaries, you would have already stated, “My sitting fee is x for on location, x hours, x number of wardrobe changes, and an additional x for distance locations, an additional x for every x minutes, an additional x for x or more wardrobe changes…”

Tip #2: Be Firm

I’m not trying to toot my own horn or anything, but I have a really high quality product that I’m offering. I have chosen the top rung and don’t do any part of it cheaply. This is a big deal, and I should be confident in it. Without me, these people have no wonderful awesome dog soap on a rope. They are paying me, so they call the shots, but I respond equally as aggressive with my limitations and requirements as well.

Now, I’ve done business before with folks who had a list of policies a mile long and rather sassy quips all throughout their FAQ section. It was a real turn off and I wondered what made them so grumpy and difficult to work with. Now I know. My soap studio became a sweat shop over the last two weeks, and it was rather unpleasant. Don’t get me wrong, I think that we should bend over backwards for our clients and customers and duh, work is hard sometimes. But even that can go too far, and it sure did with this project.

I should have responded and said, “NO, but I CAN do this in 6-8 weeks for you.” What other option do they have? They’d have to find another soap maker equally as skilled enough to even figure out how to get rope into that many bars of soap, and formulate a recipe specifically for dogs. I guarantee you there are not many others out there. That makes ME the commodity, not just my product.

Going back to the photography example: If the person cannot afford to pay the extra for the distance location, you will have avoided their embarrassment of having to state that to you if you told them up front of your extra charge, before they even asked for it. You give them your policy statement, and they can gauge their request to what they can afford. You don’t go to a restaurant and order from the menu and then find out how much the food costs, do you? No. You know exactly how much it costs to get cheese on that burger or extra guacamole with your burrito because it’s written for you right on the menu. And if you can’t afford it, you don’t order it.

Mammas, take pride in your work and be confident. Yes, we are little mammas churning out wonderfulness from the comfort of our own homes. But if you let someone walk all over you, it will very quickly become un-comfortable.

Now, for the story….

The very first thing that went wrong was that it took forever to get some of the pertinent ingredients to me. I did not have enough essential oils on hand to do 2500 bars of soap. And most essential oils cannot be overnighted due to their flammability and combustibility (can you believe that’s a real word?) So, I had to wait for them to make their way here, all the way from Ohio, via UPS truck.

Then, since I had to go with a different rope company in my hurry, the rope I got was all wrong! When I cut it, it frayed like cotton balls and was so fat and hairy I couldn’t force it into the soap. I had paid a LOT of money to have this rope practically overnighted from Chicago. I had my mother and grandmother come to town to watch the kids for a very limited two days. I spent most of that time troubleshooting the rope issue. By the time I found the local rope company that solved all my problems, it was time for my helpers to leave!! I had solved one problem, and now had a new problem on my hands…

Which I solved by enlisting Aunt Ellen, who lives 10 miles away, as honorary soap maker… for four days. Her muscles were strained, her skin was burned, and I don’t think she totally comprehended how much work it was to make soap up until that point! (I hadn’t either!) She and I worked side by side for about 30 hours in those four days. My fingers were literally bleeding from inserting so many pieces of rope into raw soap. It was hard to get the rope in right with gloves on, and my fingertips kept grazing the surface of the soap. I finally did find some gloves that were tight enough on my skinny fingers to not be bulky.

I managed the last few batches on my own last weekend when Brent was off all weekend. Then I had to start slicing. It was too much. I was exhausting myself and almost literally went into labor at one point. Midwife demanded I slow down…way down. That wasn’t so much of an option, because if they didn’t get the soap on a certain day, I wasn’t getting paid. And we were in it for good now. So, we bought more slicing supplies and Brent and I sliced together while our kids got educated and doted on by Dora and Steve (from Blue’s Clues). I think their brains actually shrunk and fell out of their heads, but we’re working on fixing that now.

Oh, and did I mention that we hadn’t been paid one pretty penny for any of our work clear up to the day the soap got shipped out?!? I kept asking for a check and they just kept either totally ignoring my requests, and eventually saying they had mailed it. We did finally get the check, and it wasn’t even for the original amount I had quoted them. What moron makes and ships out $9,000 worth of soap without getting paid first?!?! Me. We haven’t been cheated, don’t worry. They understand that they have to pay the rest within a certain amount of time. And if they don’t, I’ll be tacking on late fees. I don’t mind working with people, but I went way over the “favor limit” with this one.

Even boxing it all up went wrong. We stayed up late the last night, wrapping stacks of soap in bubble wrap and brown paper bags when we ran out of the bubble wrap. We had totally gotten shafted on boxes, and paid like $50 for 9 or so of the strongest ones around. They started falling apart when we went to move them to the driveway for pick up (each box had about 150 pounds of soap in it). We had to buy more boxes and repack them in the driveway. And by “we”, I mean “Brent”. He spent about five hours in the heat repacking all the soap, when the 18-wheeler was set to be there at any moment that day. Fortunately, he finished in time, with a couple of hours to spare, and the trucker got there right before the rain began!

The entire thing was miserable and we never should have attempted it. It literally ruined my life for three weeks straight. I started to feel like I was stuck in a nightmare or something.

Yeah, the profit is still really great, but was it worth it? Yes and No. Yes, in that we really learned our boundaries and can plainly state them now, as requests continue to roll in for other projects. Yes, in that we are thoroughly equipped with molds and such to handle any size order.  No, in that it really disturbed our peaceful little life here and ate up the last few days of energy that I had left to get my life in order before having a baby. I may never recover by the time I go into labor!

Now what?

I have typed up a very detailed policy statement for whole sale, bulk, and custom orders and will be contacting all of our whole sale accounts this weekend with the updates. Life is changing for us. Baby #4 is very quickly on the way, and I’ve always said that if anything becomes a burden, it will be the soap, not my family. They are first. Very first. And this project put them second and it made me mad. Totally my fault, and now we will fix that so that it doesn’t happen again. I’m sure that most of them will be very happy to comply with some of our new minimum requirements and such.

Happy, Lappy, Licky Dog

I am probably as sick of the words “dog” and “soap” as everyone around me is of hearing them, but I’ve just got to record this venture in our lives.

There are two versions to this story. I will start with the happy one.

Somewhere around a year ago I had a doggie company ask me about making a dog soap on a rope for them. It sounded really fun and I created two bars of dog soap that they really liked. They took the samples to some trade shows and mentioned that a national retailer was interested. My mind couldn’t comprehend at the time what that meant… 500 bars of soap? 1,000?? When the economy looked perilous, evidently this retailer’s interest waned and the entire project was put on the back burner.

Meanwhile, we renovated the soap room and I got pregnant. Really, really pregnant.

About three weeks ago I got an email that this national retailer (anthropologie) was ready to go and needed 2,500 bars of soap in three weeks. At the time, I was working on building up my own stock of soaps so that I wouldn’t need to worry with making much at the very end of my pregnancy and shortly after baby came. It’s important to know that soap takes at least 4 weeks to cure after it’s been made. If you are really tricky you can make it 3 weeks, but a minimum of four is best. They drove a hard line and said three weeks or not at all. My mind quickly calculated the profit, the time, the supplies I would need to order. Then I wrote it all down and talked it over with Brent. We knew we’d be crazy to miss this opportunity. We estimated that with enough soap molds I could manufacture 2500 bars of soap in about 4 days.

Brent began making the molds.

Each mold was comprised of three log cavities. Each log cavity held a 5 pound recipe and would produce 15 bars. So, each box would produce 45 bars of soap. We already had 2 boxes, and Brent made 16 more for a total of 18.

My mom came to help tame the kids… more like they tamed her!

In case you didn’t realize, it takes about 1000 pounds of vegetable oils to make 2500 bars of dog soap, and slightly under 100 pounds of essential oils. Throw in about four pounds of ground oats, 2 pounds of spirulina, almost 150 pounds of lye, and about 4,000 feet of rope and you’re all set!

Orders started rolling in. I swallowed hard when one person on the phone asked if my neighborhood could accommodate an 18-wheeler.

Folks, THAT is what 1300 pounds of vegetable oil looks like. There’s a 55 gallon drum of coconut oil hidden behind those boxes. It’s still on the front porch until we figure out what to do with it! My mom and grandmother had to help the trucker tote the pallet up the driveway, which sits on a slight incline. Now you know where I get my super human abilities.  My mom hoisted each bucket and box of oils (each weighing between 35 and 50 pounds) onto a little red wagon and together we toted them back to the soap room. I really can’t think of anyone else who would be willing to do that for a crazy pregnant lady! Thanks, Mom!

Surprisingly, it all fit into my work space. We had to purchase shelves for the soap to cure on and began putting those together.

We  immediately ran into our first problem. My supplier for rope was not able to accommodate my urgent need for (what I thought at the time was) 2500 feet of rope. I went with a new company and paid big  bucks to have the rope shipped in from Chicago. Big mistake, but we’ll go more into detail in my follow up posting on this adventure.  The rope they sent me was horrible quality and frayed everywhere, like giant cotton balls. In other words, it was not going into the soap. After an entire morning of talking to rope guys who clearly thought I was insane, I found a local rope company that had enough rope and a rope cutter on hand for what I needed. A short 45 minute drive brought me to rope paradise. Ya’ll. I know a LOT about rope now. If you’ve got rope questions, I’m your girl. So, we bought this handy dandy rope cutting machine that sears the edges all nice and stuff. 

We had to make a couple more trips for rope after that, and I think the grand total was 4,000 feet that got cut up into around 18 inch strips to be inserted. This was a group effort. I cut a little, Brent cut a LOT, my mom cut a little, and Brent’s aunt Ellen cut some too.

Next it was time to start making the soap!

Once all the oils, lye water, and other additives made it into the pot, it weighed somewhere around 25-30 pounds. After making around 500 bars of soap (filling 11 boxes) it was becoming clear that I could not make all this soap on my own. Aunt Ellen came to save the day…actually about four days, hefting those big jugs and boxes of oils and measuring them all out for me. All I had to do was stand up, mix, pour into the molds, and sit back down to insert the ropes…one by one. Thanks, Aunt Ellen!!!

pouring into molds.jpg

Each filled box got stacked on the floor and pretty soon we had some pretty tall towers going. It’s best to insulate the soap in the molds for at least 24 hours to make sure that it has thoroughly and evenly begun to saponify.

soap molds filled and stacked.jpg

Once the soap cooled, usually around 36 hours later, it was unmolded and ready to slice.

logs of green soap.jpg

Eventually, we had to buy some more slicing supplies and Brent and I sat and enjoyed many hours of each others company while slicing soap.

We ended up fitting almost all of the green soap (1250 bars) onto one rack, but the lavender oatmeal soap got spread out pretty much everywhere…

soap man.jpg

Some of it got to sit and cure for a while, and some of it just had to be shipped raw. It will have plenty of time to cure as it goes through the packaging phase and the shipping phase and the warehouse phase, I’m sure. We really weren’t that comfortable with such a short deadline, and for sure won’t do it again!

We rolled stacks of soap in bubble wrap and brown paper and packed it securely in boxes. Brent spent several hours getting it all onto the pallet and ready for the 18 wheeler to come back to pick it up.

finished pallet.jpg

This project literally took over our lives for 3 weeks and we are so. relieved. it’s. done.

We made a lot of mistakes, did a lot of troubleshooting, and learned a lot of lessons (which will be maybe tomorrow’s post). There should be an awful lot of clean and pampered pooches out there though. 

WAHM Tips: Dealing with Discouragement

I’ve been really excited lately because we’ve put an extra push into expanding the soap business. I’ve been D R E A M I N G of the day that Brent came home from work and said he was ready to renovate the garage into a super cool Soap Studio for me. And it happened on my birthday back in April! We have finally gotten the transformation complete and are in the process of moving all my STUFF into the new studio. Now that all the soap is out there, it doesn’t look like I have that much and it’s exciting to think about having all that space to fill up with stock. Now I can start pursuing more whole sale orders and I’ve even had one really close attempt at getting the soap into Whole Foods Market. (There is a bit of a conflict of interest because my husband works for them and deals directly with buying body care items…) This is a really huge really big deal for me! 

One of the first things I did was buy a giant area rug to cover the old garage floor. One of the first things the kids did was spill an entire bucket of paint on it. Can I be really candid here and admit that I cried like a baby as I attempted to scrub the paint out? I did. I was so frustrated! This was just like the time last year that I decided I was going to do a bunch of craft festivals and bought a fancy tent. I was doing a trial run of setting it up in the backyard…by myself…with all three kids underfoot. A big wind blew up and nearly took the tent, and me hanging onto it, into the side of the neighbor’s house. The tent got all bent up. “How am I going to go do this in public by myself with the kids?” Was my first thought. Obviously, I couldn’t. I sat in my yard with my crumpled tent, totally frustrated that once again I was going to have to give up my hopes and my dreams because I had kids. As I scrubbed the paint out of the carpet, I pretty much reconciled my mind to that all over again. “Who do I think I am? I can’t run a business AND keep having all these kids. I should just give up now!” Then there was the added pressure of the rather growing expense of renovating the garage- it was time to put my money where my mouth was.

Yesterday Brent went to the big meeting where they (Whole Foods Market) revealed all the new product they are bringing in for the holidays. I won’t lie- I get some of my best holiday ideas based on what he comes home and tells me.  In this business, you start preparing for the holidays in May (I start in July). He informed me that they were bringing in a line of soap- created by my idols. That’s right- I aspire to be like…other soap makers. (LOL) Mind you, their soap is not better than mine- I know because I’ve tried it. (Random tip here: Know you competition! If you are going to be successful you’ve got to know what other people in your field are doing and offering and how it compares to what you’ve got. I find this out by ordering soap from others.) Anyway, these gals have done a stellar job with marketing their product. (It helps to know that one of them has a stinkin’ degree in marketing.) I quickly got online to find out the scoop and realized that they were going NATIONWIDE in all Whole Foods! While I’m so super excited for them (truthfully, they have worked very hard), I was really…well, jealous I guess. These ladies started the same way as me. Their standards and style are the same. But neither of them have children that I know of, not to mention there’s two of them. They recently announced that they were taking their soap business out of their parent’s basement and into a 2,000 square foot warehouse! (My next step after I outgrow the new studio.) 

The new studio. With the paint stain on the carpet, which is currently buried somewhere under a pile of giant legos and other random toys.

I started to feel that nagging feeling again. These ladies had spent the last five years making soap. I spent the last few years making….babies? people. “I’m going to work harder! I’m going to stay up late and work my fingers to the bone! I’m not going to let the fact that I’ve got children hold me down!”  were my immediate thoughts.

I said as much to Brent, my wonderful awesome encouraging husband, who responded. “They spent the last five years building a soap empire, but YOU spent the last five years building castles and kingdoms in the hearts of your children.” I wanted to cry. My discouragement and frustration was quickly wiped away when I glanced down and saw some sweet little monster paper dolls that Arwen had quietly made that day and slipped onto my desk. They had sweet toothy monster grins, and she even gave each one a belly button. 

It’s easy to get overly ambitious. We all have different paths to travel and mine involves lots of little people. Brent pointed out that we only need enough for today. I don’t need to have my soap in every Whole Foods Market in the nation! I only need it in a few stores. Seriously, that would set us financially, just that little bit. 

It’s easy to take our eyes off of our real job and our real business- sculpting souls and nurturing spirits and minds. These kids are the most important thing I can do today. Yesterday I did nothing but hang out with them, coloring, singing, reading, going to the library. They reciprocated with gifts showered on me (like the monster paper dolls and wooden hard boiled eggs from their kitchen)… and Ezra body slammed me repeatedly, which is apparently his official love language. =/ 

And of course, I’m not giving up! These kids are not a hurdle to my success. They are stepping stones! They inspire me (you may not know that Arwen helped me create the Happy Thoughts soap, and it’s named after her- her name means “happy thoughts”, and Charis was the inspiration for the Hello, Sunshine! Soap.), and one day they will (hopefully) be my faithful apprentices and make it all their own.

Having a huge successful business is not the be-all and the end-all, mammas. We just need enough and if we end up with more than enough- that’s great too! We work from home for a variety of reasons- I do it because it’s important to me to be constantly influencing and teaching my children and to help take the financial load of an always growing family off of my husband. It helps to be busy with my hands- it keeps me out of trouble.  And I do it because I like it! 

It takes time. Lots of time. And lots of hard work to build a business. Years. Mistakes. Restarts. Slow down and don’t forget to enjoy your children and your family along the way.

making room for the maiden

Yesterday, Brent’s dad and contractor friend showed up to begin renovating the garage into a work room for me. I can’t even express to you how grateful I am! Cheeky Maiden has really taken over the house! I get behind because of  not being able to store all my supplies in the same location. I may have to go to three different rooms to get all the necessary stuff to make one item or one batch of soap. I’m always having to tote the 35 pound buckets of oils from the dining room to the kitchen and back, etc. Then once the soap is made it hogs up 95% of the counter space until I get a chance to unmold and slice it, at which point I have to trot up the stairs with all of it stacked precariously in order to store it until it is ready to be packaged. Then I have to bring it back downstairs to ship it out. Things are done all over the place, in other words. This new beautiful room will give me one room to do it all. And it will give my family back the living room, dining room, kitchen, laundry room, and also an entire bedroom upstairs. Whew!!! 

The guys started by installing two windows along the back wall.

new windows outside.jpg

Monday we should be picking up a storage shed for all the garage stuff that won't be sold in our upcoming yard sale. Nevertheless, I've got two big windows for lots of sunlight!

And finally, they inserted a faux wall in front of the garage door, which is now deactivated. We don’t have the funds for converting this into an actual outside wall yet, and also wanted to leave open the possibility of reverting back to a garage for any future owners. Who knows, if we stay here long enough, we may go ahead and finish this part off, but for now we’ve got an insulated wall there.

 So, the garage door is on the other side of this.

So, the garage door is on the other side of this.

Beautification measures are to be taken on Monday, and hopefully once that is finished I can start moving in! 

The bad news is that I won’t have a super stellar utility sink like I wanted/needed. All I need the sink for is washing out my big pots, which don’t really fit in our kitchen sink. There is some problem with working out the drainage for this, since more water going into our yard is just not a good idea… although I’ll be washing the pots out with a hose out there anyway probably. 

I’M SO EXCITED TO HAVE MY KITCHEN BACK!!!!

Thanks a million zillion to my wonderful husband who loves me, my FIL who at least adores his grand kids enough to help out their parents (Oh, I kid!), and to Mr. Malone who drove all the way from Georgia to provide us with his wisdom and building advice.

shutting it down

There is a big vacuum in my living room. It sucks me in if I come near it. It “dings” at me to let me know I’ve got new messages. It teases me with the opportunity to shut out my four year old’s never ending supply of questions, or my toddler’s endless teething pains. And we won’t even talk about the temptation of Facebook!

It’s the computer.

This week tip: You’ve got to set boundaries. Know when it is time to work and time to play, and know when to shut it down.

Trying to start a business is consuming. There is always something that needs to be done and always the nagging feeling that if you don’t do it your business is going to fail. I could work nine hours a day on Cheeky Maiden Soap and never run out of things to do. But that would sort of be missing the point of being a Work At Home Mom, right? I work from home because I believe it is vitally important that I am investing in my children’s lives for more than just a couple of hours a day. I don’t want strangers to raise them and teach them about the world. I work from home because I enjoy working for myself, and honestly don’t respond well to being told what to do. (Shocking, I know.) Working from home also fits in with my beliefs about the way that God designed the family to operate best.

Up until recently, I didn’t have set working hours. I worked all the time. Here a little, there a little. It was difficult to know when I should be spending time with my kids and when it was okay to let them watch a quick video so I could answer emails. Some days I would get sucked into the mass of email in my inbox before I even had a chance to make breakfast!  Other days I would get so caught up in their cuteness or what was on t.v. that night that not much work would get done at all and I would get behind.

Things have changed. I have a set time for answering business emails. I have a set time for filling orders. I have a set time to make soap, and it is all designed around my family’s daily routine to fit in so naturally that I usually don’t notice I’m even following a schedule.

When I finish checking my email and I click on “Shut Down” I feel so satisfied…and excited! I’m excited that it’s not work time anymore! I can go outside and blow bubbles, bake bread with my four year old, or lay down and take a nap without any concern of how many orders have come in or who emailed with questions, etc. 

There is a black screen and no hum of an idle computer waiting to entertain me. It’s liberating. 

Put your work away when it is play time! If it’s not the computer, but something else that lures you- put it away- out of site! Make it inconvenient to have to get it out again or turn it on again. If all I have to do is plop down and jiggle the mouse to read new messages, I’ll do it every time I walk past the computer with the thought of “Oh, I’m just going to check…” But really I end up sitting there for 30 minutes. If I know that I have to sit down, turn on the computer, wait for it to boot up, and then open my email client, wait for emails to download, etc., I’m way less likely to even start the process.

Set reasonable, realistic times for yourself to work in and stop when that time is over with. You won’t get burnt out and your work will be more purposeful and accurate.

WAHM: Getting Started Part II

Go Easy and Take Your Time

Depending on how many kids you’ve already got, and whether or not you have already mastered your craft, starting up may take some time. Just remember- Haste Makes Waste!  If you try to rush through things, you are going to regret it! It takes at least 2 years to get any business off the ground, and can take even longer if you are not able to work at it full time. Set yourself some reasonable goals. Make sure that you learn the ins and outs of your craft and make yourself an expert at it! Give as much of it away as you can! Generosity never goes unpaid!!! Just give your stuff to folks and don’t tell them you are thinking about selling it. You’ll get the most honest responses and critiques that way.  

My business has taken off faster than I ever expected and I’ve been scrambling to keep up since day one! So, possibly you should plan for this! Don’t put your name out there until you can keep up with the demand. I had no idea how many dirty people there were on this planet that needed hand made soap. On the web, there are so many sites to buy handmade soap from that it just baffles my mind how anyone finds me! With the exception of blogs of loyal customers who have put my link on their sites, I really don’t advertise. I don’t advertise because I can’t keep up with the demand of just returning customers, let alone seeking out new ones! It’s all surreal to me, still. I’m getting sometimes several orders a day right now and I feel overwhelmed with gratitude! 

Setting a Price

This really varies depending on what you are selling or what service you are offering. The number one raw material that gets used up by WAHM is TIME. TIME TIME TIME. Hopefully, you are not sacrificing time with your kids to do your work, but any time you spend working on an item or service is precious. Most likely, you are giving up some sleep even, and sleep to a Mamma is important time!! You need to be compensated for your time.

If you are, say, a photographer and you spend 1 hour doing a photo shoot and twice that (2 hours) editing the photos, you should charge for 3 hours of your time. Depending on what skill or service you’ve chosen, and how important and thinly stretched your time is to you, you will come up with a different dollar amount. I’d say a photographer is worth at least $50 an hour. You’ll need to charge at least $75 dollars as a sitting fee for a one hour sit. If you are able to do really fantastic special effects and such in your editing, or have some aspect of your photography that really sets you apart, you should charge more. Poor people do not hire photographers to take their portraits. Period. Don’t feel bad about charging a fair amount.

Personally, I consider my time spent making soap to be worth $25 an hour. If you are making a commodity item, here is where it gets beautiful: The better and faster you get at making the item, the more you can do with your time! So, while the quality of my soap has increased greatly since I started making soap, I haven’t really had to raise my prices all that much. I can make 20 bars or 60 bars in thirty minutes, and I’m figuring $25 into the price of that batch of soap, so I might as well make 60 and up my total profit margin. For only 20 bars of soap I’m at $1.25 per bar just for my time, not counting other raw materials. Making 60 at a time cuts it down to a cost of $.41 per bar for my time. I charge $5.25 per bar all the same, but my profits are greater when I make more soap at one time, because I’m spending less time.

You’ll need to consider your overhead. Eventually you’ll have a website which will incur hosting fees, fees for processing credit cards, etc. You can even consider water or energy usage in your home as overhead. Office paper, ink/toner, etc also factor in here. You need to roll these costs into the price of your product or service. I did this by estimating how much paper/toner/water I used per month, in addition to my monthy fees for web hosting, shopping cart, and credit card processing. I added all that up, and divided by the number of bars that I thought I would reasonably be making per month with those resources. That gave me an amount (at the time, now it’s much much lower because I’m making more soap and using a more efficient printer) of $.60 per bar. So, once I figured out the cost of my time and raw materials, I added $.60 per bar to cover all my bills and label expenses. Make sure you’ve covered it all, or you won’t make a profit.

Of course, in the beginning your profits may not be that great. To some women, it is important that their family finances not take a hit for the sake of their WAHM business, but that is up to you. We spent our spending money getting me starter supplies, and I even requested soap making equipment for my birthday one year! (It should go without saying that you shouldn’t even try to do this without your husband’s support!) In my business, I save vast amounts of money by ordering my supplies in bulk, and I really imagine it’s that way for most businesses. Once you get going and have an idea of the demand on your product or service, you’ll be able to order more supplies at one time and up your profit.

WAHM Tips- Getting Started- Pt I

I’ve been doing this for going on four years now, so I think I’m qualified to pass on tips.  Plus, I get asked the same questions a LOT, so here are the answers, for the record.

When I first realized that I wanted  needed to work with my hands creatively I began getting a lot of opinions. Some told me that I shouldn’t try to start up anything like that while my children were small (Arwen was under 2, and Charis was either still in the womb or a newborn at the time… my memory is fuzzy). This, for me, turned out to be the worst of the advice I got. 

Turns out that while my kids were so little they napped a lot. Really, when they are that small it’s mostly play time and nap time all day. I’m so glad I didn’t wait until I was in the throws of homeschooling, or mother to five to get started! (That’s not to say that you couldn’t get started now, if you are in those positions!)

When I say that I needed to work with my hands I don’t want you to think that mothers who do not operate a creativity-intense business from their homes do not. Mothers have always worked with their hands, we just do it a lot less now. We have machines to wash our clothes, machines to wash our dishes, machines to bake our bread, etc. Mammas almost have to be trying to be creative on purpose these days! I ignore my breadmaker most weeks and kneed the dough with my hands. I ignore my dryer and hang at least the diapers out to dry. I shun the idea of buying a mass produced bathroom rug at the store and opt instead to make my own (which is why the kid’s bathroom has no rug yet). We are made in the image of a Creator, and we are by definition “creative.” Every single one of us! I had this intense longing and need and desire to make something. And if someone wanted to pay me to make it… even better!

A Good Idea

So I thought a lot about what I wanted to make. I considered raw materials, I considered time and maximum output. I considered the space I had to work with (which was actually a lot bigger than I have now!). Think about what you love. If you don’t love what you are doing it will be hard to be successful at it and to do it long term. Consider whether you want your children to be involved in your work, and if it is something you see yourself passing on to them one day. Consider your time- your time is precious and you should be compensated for it. If you can’t get compensated well for the amount of time that a craft is going to take you (unless you just really REALLY love doing it), then you might not want to pick that one! Lastly, and most importantly, consider whether people really want what you are offering for sale. You can make all the beautiful toothpick bird houses you want, but if no one wants them they are not going to buy them! Check out etsy.com or ebay to see what is selling and how much it is selling for (you can check on ebay by clicking on “completed items” in the search terms). Even better, do an internet search for the item and check out the websites of those already doing it. If the web design is poor and the pictures ugly, you probably don’t want to take much information from that site. Look for sites that appear professional, and even better, ones that are sold out of stuff- that indicates people are buying it all up! These sites will give you valuable ideas, but please be respectful of the creativity of the owner of said site. Don’t go stealing ideas! 

A Good Name

Accidentally, I started making soap. A lot of people liked it and a friend signed us up for all these craft shows. I needed a name, so I turned to my trusty thesaurus. I knew that my soap would be “pure” and “natural” but also a little bit “sassy.” I didn’t want to give off a stinky vegan vibe, if you know what I mean.  As it were, “Cheeky” is a synonym for “sassy” and “Maiden” is a synonym for “pure”. And Cheeky Maiden Soap Company was born! Brand identity is super important. It’s how people will remember and recognize your product. If you want to do an array of items, try to pick something broad enough to cover all items and/or services you wish to offer.