What does a soap maker actually do?

Sue McKenna, owner and creator of The Maldon Soap Company

I thought I’d give you a bit of an insight into what a ‘soap maker’ actually does.  But first, for anyone new to this site, a bit of an introduction.

I’m Sue, the owner and creator of The Maldon Soap Company. I started my business 10 years ago on 18th July 2013 from my kitchen worktop whilst managing the Maeldune Heritage Centre in Maldon.

In 2014 I left the security of the Heritage Centre and rented a little retail unit at White Elm Garden Centre and created my ‘Soap Shack’.  I started making soap full time there. It was huge a struggle at first with no safety net or support but I persevered.

I soon outgrew the soap shack so in 2017 I moved to a brand new studio on a local farm.  My studio is 3 times the size of the soap shack and is a wonderfully spacious, purpose made studio and I love it there.  It’s not very warm in winter but we get by.

For 8 years of running the business I worked alone but in 2021 my daughter in law Lauren started working 2 mornings a week for me, first wrapping soap then sending out my web orders and now she’s learning to make the products and doing an excellent job.

When I had the soap shack people would come in to watch me making soap and say “what a lovely little hobby you’ve got!” If only they knew!

So what do I actually do?

I come up with the original concept and design and fragrance of every product, I make test batches which I test on myself and willing volunteers.

I then get each product tested and safety assessed.

Then the products all get made from scratch by me.

I design and print all the product labels and source & design wrapping for my soaps.

My other ‘jobs’:

* Researching suppliers to ensure their cruelty free status and animal testing policies.
* Sourcing and buying organic, fairly traded, local, vegan, cruelty free ingredients.
* Purchasing jars, tins, paper, labels and everything else associated with wrapping and packaging my products.
* Stock control. At one point everything was in stock but now things are harder I have to make sure that I have the main ingredients and have to purchase some ingredients only as and when I can afford to.  It’s a fine line making sure everything is stocked effectively.
* Making each soap in small batches of 80 or 160 to ensure they are highest quality.
* I hand mix and pour each batch. When they have set, I split, hand cut and stamp every soap myself, by hand.
* Lots of washing up!
* I make every face cream, cleanser, hand cream, body lotion, shampoo, conditioner and all other products by hand. I use bowls, jugs, spatulas and a food mixer!
* I then fill the jars and tins by hand and label each one by hand.

Some huge companies claim to be ‘handmade’ even tho they use massive, industrial machinery. Most of the mixing, making, filling and labelling processes are automated, although some products are hand stirred or hand pressed.  So the term ‘handmade’ is a bit of an exaggerated claim, although I’m sure they started out being hand made.

When I’m not making products my other jobs are:

* Website creation and maintenance.
* Monitoring comments and reviews on the website and deleting thousands of spam comments that make it to the website every day.
* Product promotion in pages, groups and on my social media platforms.
* Researching and sourcing new outlets to sell the products in.
* Stocking, restocking and maintaining my outlets.
* Social media marketing.
* Creating original posts and images/memes to promote the business.
* Scheduling posts, writing blogs, writing the newsletter.
* Accounts, budgeting, targets, invoicing.
* Wages, book keeping, tax returns.
* Data analysys & market research.
* Customer service, answering emails & enquiries, doing skincare consultations to ensure customers get the right products.
* Going to craft fairs to sell the products.

Not bad for a “lovely little hobby”

What have I’ve learned in 10 years?

Running your own business alone, especially one making soap is bloody hard work!

They say that starting your own business means working 80 hours a week for half the wages so you don’t have to work 40 hours for someone else to line their pockets.

If I had to do it all over again now I probably wouldn’t! I think I’d prefer the security and safety of working for someone else.  But that’s the menopausal 56 year old me 11 years down the line.

When I first started my business I was all fired up and keen to break new ground and discover new territory.  Now I’d do anything for a quiet life!

But I’ve never been a quitter. Just because times are tough and you fall out of love with your business sometimes, it’s no reason to throw in the towel.  Tough times never last but tough people do!

To see the products I make and read more about the business click here

Lots of love
Sue xxx

2 Comments

  1. Pauline Leeder

    I so enjoy reading your monthly newletters and articles your hard work and possitivity shines through. Also your products are wonderful.
    Thank you x

    Reply
    • Sue McKenna

      Thank you for your lovely comments. So glad you love the newsletter. Xx

      Reply

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