Tell us a bit about you…
Hello, I’m Leanne and I create natural handmade soap and skincare products. My little business is called Birch Lea Soaperie, which I run from home and sell online and at local craft fairs and markets.
I’m from South Yorkshire and moved to North Norfolk, in 2015 as me and my boys wanted to live by the sea! My boys are husband, Jamie, sons Reggie (5) and Jasper (2), and dog Steven, (collectively known as my world!)
How long have you been self-employed, and why did you start?
I worked as a vocational trainer in customer service skills for 11 years before becoming self-employed.
In 2014 I was about to start my maternity leave when I had the idea to make soap. I’d felt for a long time that I wanted my own business, but none of my other ideas stuck. Once I thought of making soap I was super excited and just had to have a go straight away! I attended a training course and was instantly hooked, dedicating any spare minute I had to practising, researching and networking. Once we decided to relocate I gave up my job as a vocational trainer and focused on Birch Lea Soaperie. For now, it is a part-time business as I want to spend as much time as possible with my family, but maybe when my boys are both at school I may open a seaside shop!
Let’s talk mornings – are you an early bird, do you have a set morning routine, and what do you do before you start working each day?
I’m up early for the school run and then once it’s nap time for my youngest I have a couple of hours available to work.
I have a routine consisting of daily jobs, for instance, Mondays are for admin, like writing a to-do list for the rest of the week, any updates to my website, bookkeeping etc. Tuesdays are for making soap, and so on. I find as long as I stick to a routine most things go to plan (usually!)
Where do you work from?
I make my stock and manage my online sales from home, then I attend fairs and markets at weekends.
I have a desk set up with easy access to my laptop, printer and a filing system. All my ingredients and equipment are stored together in my kitchen, and my stock is stored separately ready for sale. (A home office is a dream for the future!)
What does your typical working day look like?
I only really work when my eldest son is at school and my youngest is napping as I like to be able to dedicate my time to them and my work separately. If I am busy with orders I make extra stock on an evening once my boys are in bed and I also use evenings for networking on social media.
Let’s talk evenings – what time do you finish working? Are you a night owl or do you wind down early on?
If I’m super-organised through the day I like to unwind on an evening and watch a film with my husband, but sometimes I do find I need to make stock in the evenings and I almost certainly will pop in and out of Instagram and Facebook!
Tell us – what’s your favourite thing about being self-employed?
Definitely the feeling of pride when making a sale for something I have created myself from my own ideas and hard work, and hearing my customers’ positive feedback.
And your least favourite thing about being self-employed?
The lack of security. Not having a guaranteed wage is a big risk and I don’t earn as much money as I used to (yet!)
What do you wish you’d known before starting your own business?
It would have been handy to know all the best suppliers and places to sell my soap to save making mistakes and wasting time and money.
Did you get any start-up support, and where do you get support from now?
I haven’t received any support apart from financial support from my husband as he works full-time. I really should have looked into this possibility earlier on!
What tools/apps/products/services make life easier?
I’m old school – I just write down all my ideas, dates and plans!
I do find some networking pages on Facebook very helpful for selling, such as the Etsy sellers page, as everyone shares ideas on what works for them and lessons learnt. Joining in with the networking pages is also one of the most productive ways of getting your name out there.
What do you do for ‘me time’ or to take time out from running a small business?
We go out for family days with the dog, either at the beach or take a picnic to the park. I also like to get stuck into an addictive TV series, like Peaky Blinders!
If you could start your business again, what would you do differently?
I would have planned my products more carefully. I have since discontinued some of my recipes as they don’t fit my ethos of natural with rustic charm. For instance, I used to sell banoffee bath melts, but now that I have a strong vision of my image I prefer scents like lavender & chamomile. In the beginning, I was more excited than organised!
What advice would you give to other women thinking of becoming self-employed or starting a small business?
For me personally, the financial implications are the biggest factors to consider. Careful planning and budgeting is key to preventing mistakes that cost time and money. I now fully work out income and expenses on a regular basis and try to take action on areas that aren’t financially viable.
Where can we find you online?
Pop over to the Birch Lea Soaperie website!