Read as Michele Rosta talks about her career as a Soapmaker. Find her at www.funkychunks.net and on her Twitter feed in the sidebar of this interview.
What do you do for a living?
I’m the owner and soapmaker at the Funky Chunks Soap Company.
How would you describe what you do?
I develop and create handmade soap and body products.
What does your work entail?
Besides making soap my work also includes product development, customer service, sales, logistics, accounting and scheduling.
What’s a typical work week like?
A typical week is a 35-45 hour work week (during the busy season this can be as much as 60 hours). I start off the week with a full inventory of our products and supply inventory. Then I put together a production schedule for the week. We can make anywhere between 25 to 200 pounds of soap per week depending on our current stock levels and seasonal needs. In the soap business we are always working 2 seasons ahead. Even though it is the middle of the summer, we have just finished up pouring our winter/Christmas soaps and products. Each week I have a meeting with our outside sales representative to discuss market trends and sales prospects. I also meet with our media group to plan out promotions, social media ideas, events and building our brand. We also do all of our own packaging and shipping in house so there are a few hours a day set aside just for that. There are always phone calls, emails and other customer service needs to take care of daily. I wind down the week with paying bills, placing supply orders and studio cleanup. The week always ends with a team building exercise to keep it all lighthearted and fun.
How did you get started?
I learned the craft of soapmaking from my great grandmother when I was a child. I didn’t get started in the business until much later. I’ve always had a love for soap, but was disappointed by what was currently available to me. I wanted a wholesome product that was unique and fun. When I couldn’t find what I was looking for I decided that I would create it myself. I tweaked an old family recipe, let my creativity fly and made a product that I fell in love with. The best thing? Other people fell in love with it too…and The Funky Chunks Soap Company was born in 2008.
What do you like about what you do?
I love everything about being a soapmaker! I’m my own boss. I don’t punch a time clock. I get to let my imagination run wild. Every day is creative and fun. Sharing that fun with my customers is what I live for. There is no better feeling in the world than bringing happiness to a person’s day with a little bar of soap! There isn’t another job in the world that would bring me so much joy or make me feel as content as soapmaking does.
What do you dislike?
I truly don’t dislike anything about my job. If I had to pick one thing it would be clean up. It’s kind of like baking cookies. I love the process, combining all of the ingredients, mixing them together and baking them. But when you are done you realize that you dropped an egg on the floor, there is flour everywhere and it is going to take forever to clean this mess up. Soapmaking is no different. There are floors to scrub, soap buckets to wash, equipment to clean, ingredients to organize and there is just a mess everywhere.
How do you make money/or how are you compensated?
I sell my products on our website. We also have several retailers that carry our products. We recently began selling with Amazon as well.
How much money do Soapmakers make?
The general salary for an established soapmaker is between $32,000 and $50,000 a year.
How much money did/do you make starting out?
The first year that The Funky Chunks Soap Company was born, we lost over $3,000! Starting your own business is not for the faint of heart. Even now I rarely take a paycheck. I put every penny back in to expansion of the business and building our brand.
What education, schooling, or skills are needed to do this?
There are several classes and certification programs available worldwide to people wanting to learn the art of soapmaking. I suggest finding a mentor in the field and soaking up their knowledge like a sponge. There are many apprentice opportunities out there.
What is most challenging about what you do?
Juggling the every day tasks. As a soapmaker I wear many hats. Keeping organized can be very difficult when you have a creative mind. The most challenging thing is for me to stay focused on the more mundane aspects of my job.
What is most rewarding?
The most rewarding is bringing a fun and quality product to our customers. When I get an email or phone call, Facebook comment or Tweet from a customer who loves our soap I am over the moon for days! It’s amazing to know that you’ve made someone happy with something you made with your own hands. It makes all the hard work worthwhile.
What advice would you offer someone considering this career?
There is a lot of competition in soapmaking. Never be afraid of competition! Do what you love, make a product unique to you. When you love what you make and do, everything will fall in to place. The best advice I ever received was…”the harder you work, the luckier you get.” Just be aware that starting your own business as a soapmaker is a lot of work, very long hours and you will not get rich quick. It’s a labor of love and you will be able to slowly build a career to be proud of.
How much time off do you get/take?
I take off one week a year and the occasional day here and there. It is very important to find a work life balance. You need down time to recharge your batteries and to add fuel to your creative fire.
What is a common misconception people have about what you do?
People don’t think that soapmaking is a “real” job. Often when people ask me what I do and I tell them that I am a soapmaker…I get a blank stare and their response is “what??”. I find this to be true amongst craftspeople. Others don’t seem to understand that we enjoy having non traditional jobs.
What are your goals/dreams for the future?
My goal is to continue to grow my company and have a blast doing it! We are mainly on the east coast now and I would love to see our product expand through the rest of the country. My dream is to always enjoy what I do, continue to grow both personally and in business, and to share that with others.
What else would you like people to know about your job/career?
Like I said before, soapmaking is hard work. But it is very rewarding. If you are passionate about what you do and the products you make you will be successful. Surround yourself with like-minded people and learn everything you can about your craft. Find a mentor or two and ask a million questions. I am very lucky to have a job that I love going to every day. They say that when you love what you do, it never feels like work. That is definitely how I feel about soapmaking!