Originally published in HSMG Journal, February 2008 By Sarah Bogle If your soap company is not generating the sales you expect, it may not be a reflection of your hard work. In fact, without the proper marketing guidance, your sales and profits may still fall well short of your potential. But it not need be that way! Through the institution of a simple but effective marketing plan, your company profits can grow steadily and substantially. Most soapmakers are experienced artisans just exploding with creativity and passion when it comes to their products. However, when faced with the business side of their enterprise they are decidedly less enthusiastic. By applying the following marketing principles, you will be on your way to focusing your efforts on the people who really count – your clients who want and need your products. It will also decrease the time you spend on slow pays, no pays, and clients who are not genuinely interested in purchasing your wares. As a result of concentrating on the exact client profile for your company, your sales will increase and profits will soar. The goal to increase profits is universal, and a simple marketing plan contributes heavily to the success of your company’s sales. But which plan should you use? As many marketing plan templates exist as gurus who write them. Templates can also be big business with many software options available – for the right price, that is. Save your hard earned dollars because you do not have to spend a small fortune to locate a successful marketing plan. In fact, a superb marketing plan already awaits you. My simplified plan is adapted from The Marketing Plan for Independent Inventors, and has been personalized to fulfill the needs of most soapmakers. The four components of this plan include: Identification of the Ideal Client Profile, Meticulous Examination of the Competition, Branding and Image Development, and Promotion and Marketing Action! I: Ideal Client Profile & Analysis Defining your target market is crucial to increasing sales. Considerations for this section include narrow identification of your ideal client profile, the overall size of your target market, competitiveness within that market, and the factors to evaluate when defining target clients. Instituting these concepts into your marketing will provide a focus for your efforts that will pay off with bigger, better profits. This is due to the fact you will be selling to highly qualified clients – clients who are both interested in your products and who also have the resources to afford them. Define your ideal client. Is your client an end user, wholesaler, or retailer? If you are selecting more than one, what is the percentage of each? Estimate the size your of target market through research. Is there enough foreseeable growth to sustain your goals? Examine the competitiveness of your target market. Is there little competition, moderate competition, or a high level of competition? Do you expect those current circumstances to change or remain the same? Define your target clients through product offerings, demographics, and industry identification. Make it a priority to know what product lines your clients want. Offer products specifically for their interests such as vegan, organic, all natural, dye free, or fragrance free items. Also, consider the demographics in terms of education, income, age, and location or geography. Aside from your individual clients, do you cater to specific industries such as spas, hotels, or bed and breakfasts? Which ones? Characterize the potential for the overall size of your desired market. Is this market growing enough to sustain your business both short and long term? Ideally, your market strategy should prove successful for at least a year. II: Meticulous Examination of the Competition This second aspect of your marketing plan requires work and energy for research, but the reward far outweighs the work. Why reinvent the wheel? Learning from your competitors allows you all the insights of their trials and errors without actually making those mistakes yourself. Additionally, you can gain knowledge about what is working in your industry and what your consumers are eager to purchase. Please do resist the temptation to perform a superficial analysis. If you have thoroughly researched your plan, your financial rewards will follow. Examine at least three competitors in depth. The importance of this research cannot be overly emphasized. List your competitors. Provide corporate names, addresses, websites, and any general information that may be helpful. Determine how long they have been in business. Are the approaches of these companies similar or different based on longevity and years in operation? Examine which specific lines are offered and profitable. Stay abreast of trends. Learn by someone else’s trial and error – what lines are successful and what lines fail? List which services they provide. Are they a retail storefront or web only? Does one type of establish-ment tend to have better longevity or profits? Pinpoint their pricing strategy. Is their price point low, moderate, or high compared to the rest of the market? Are your competitors at the high end, moderate, or inexpensive end of the pricing scale? How do their pricing strategies compare to each other? Take into account value vs. cost. Consider the value of both product and service for the price point offered. Sometimes cheaper is not always better. Clients will often pay more if the customer service, ingredients, or shipping services are better with a slightly more expensive company. Rate the competitiveness of this market. Is it low, moderate, or high? If you choose a highly competitive market, extra effort will be required to differentiate yourself. Are you prepared to spend additional resources, both monetary and time wise, to be successful? Scrutinize the competition in terms of strengths, weaknesses, and differentiation. Scrutinize your competition’s products. List three to five strengths and weaknesses that are applicable. What is appealing about their products? Where do their products fail in terms of quality, packaging, shipping options, customization, selection, etc.? Scrutinize your competition’s services. List three to five strengths and weaknesses that are applicable. How do they work to satisfy their client’s needs? Evaluate their hours of operation, speed in processing orders, friendly customer service, return policy, guarantees, and ease of use for website, etc. Study their marketing and advertising tactics. How do they target their customers in terms of marketing and advertising? Are they focusing on print, television, and radio that broadcast to a large number of people or do they concentrate on person-to-person selling? Observe and identify their resources. Compare their time, talent, and dollars spent to your expected resources. Can you compete? Mitigate and manage possible threats. Unexpected threats will always exist, but with some prior risk management their impact can be diminished. Which threats face your market? Governmental. The number of federal guidelines grows and grows by the year, or by the day for that matter. Do you foresee changes in labeling guidelines, waste removal, zone changes, or taxes? Legal. Do you need insurance? Is litigation a concern? Speak with other soapmakers about their experiences on forums or in person. Check with an attorney if you have questions or concerns. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. External. Some threats are unavoidable. Stay current on news and events about fuel costs, increasing costs for supplies, and shipping and freight changes. Strategize how to make these impact your business as minimally as possible! Other soapmakers may or may not want to share their secrets with you, but there are other sources to ask for advice. Contact partner companies – such as soap supply vendors – to inquire about how they deal with increases and possible obstacles. III: Branding & Image Development Now that you have defined your target market and competitiveness within that market, it is time to determine exactly what message you want to convey about your company. The goal is to create a distinct brand or image (both services and products). Consider Nike, Coke, and M&Ms. An instant picture appears in your mind. This is your goal – to create the same reaction for your products and services. This component is crucial to differentiating yourself from the rest of the market. Explore what makes you so unique and fantastic, and then shout it from the rooftops! Make your brand (corporate image) crystal clear. List five words to describe your product and services. Tailor all communications and marketing to serve that purpose. Not sure where to start? Begin with cost, services, products, niche markets, and corporate personality. Sell the benefits not the features! Features do not excite clients into purchasing items, but benefits do. What’s the difference? Soap void of chemical additives is a feature. Decreasing the amount of chemicals polluting our environment is an eco-friendly benefit. Similarly, packaging your products with renewable materials is a feature. Decreasing waste in our landfills is a benefit. Emphasize the three to five benefits of your product and tout them religiously. Analyze your pricing strategy. Is it in line with your competition? If not, what steps will you take to convince clients of your quality or value? Is this strategy profitable? If not, your strategy may need to change. IV: Promotion and Marketing Action! By this time you have been diligently hard at work, and you are headed down the home stretch. With a welldefined client, a knowledgeable grasp of your market, and a clear message to convey, all that is left is to start promoting yourself at every available opportunity. Make a commitment to actively pursue marketing opportunities bimonthly if possible and, at a minimum, at least once a month. Ensure your marketing message crystallizes your brand in every marketing effort. Is your soap farm fresh, country made and just plain good? Reflect that in your products, services, promotional graphics, testimonials, photography, website, etc. Set a realistic budget. It sounds like a simple principle, but can be difficult to follow. If your budget doesn’t measure up to your dreams just yet, don’t despair. Start with a reasonable number with the goal of increasing a certain percentage each year. Besides, after incorporating your marketing plan you’ll have to do something with all that extra profit! Make a date with your marketing calendar. Business events can be like making time for ourselves—something we put off endlessly because everybody else comes first. Now is the time to put you first! Mark your calendar for time to assess and create your marketing materials. An investment in marketing is an investment in your business profits, so keep your appointments. Decide on the methods to deliver your message. Bigger budgets can accommodate television, radio, billboards, convention booths, and print ads. Smaller budgets can explore the options of networking, offering demos, teaching classes, simple website creation, pay per click online advertisement, door hangers, sales parties, blogs, YouTube videos, and more. Put that creativity to work! Re-evaluate your marketing plan annually. Ensure the method of delivery narrowly targets your ideal client profile, and if it does not, then try again. Remember, a good marketing plan should be in place for a year. After that, it is likely there will be some change in the market, your client profile, or some external threat. Adapting to new market conditions is key to longevity so make sure it is one of your strengths. Successful marketing can change the way your busi -ness operates for the better to make you more profitable. By focusing on your ideal clients, taking advantage of the weaknesses of your competition, touting the benefits of your products and by delivering a clear message effectively, you will see your sales and profits soar. My four-component marketing plan will help you achieve these goals and more. Make this marketing plan your own roadmap for success and enjoy its rewards. About Sarah Bogle Sarah Bogle is a freelance writer and soap artisan in Dallas, Texas. With an entrepreneurial spirit she formed In the Soapdish, a handmade soap company, while in college. After earning her degree in Fine Art from The Art Institute of Dallas, she designed interiors for hospitality projects including restaurants, night clubs, and entertainment complexes. The passion for soapmaking led her to a full-time commitment to her soap company. As a soap artisan, her primary goal is to assist brides and wedding consultants in the creation of extraordinary custom favors and gifts.