When it comes to starting an indie beauty business, the phrase ‘small is beautiful’ is more than a cliche’. A glance at Formula Botanica graduate brands in our online gallery is testament to the power of one – the founder-owner beauty entrepreneur starting and growing a small beauty brand with success measured on their own terms.
In these social media times, it is easy to suffer from comparisonitis and feel you must raise thousands of dollars in funding rounds, grow a big-name beauty brand, and be stocked in large retailers. First, it is important to state that if this is your mission, then pursue it hotly, stay the course and fulfill your dreams.
We have a good many graduates who have done just this. BYBI Beauty is just one such example. Its duo of founders thrive on growing their brand in international markets and getting into retailers like Target in the US. With this path may come the pressures, for example, of financials to achieve and investors to please. Our graduate Sandra Velasquez, founder of Latino-heritage brand Nopalera, shows that beauty entrepreneurs can bootstrap a beauty business to success using whatever funds they can muster – and remain in control.
As you can see, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to launching a beauty business. One of the first modules in the Formula Botanica Diploma in Beauty Brand Business Management takes you through the various business models and asks you to assess what kind of beauty business and life-work balance you desire.
Advantages of starting a small beauty business
In this post, we discuss the benefits of starting a small beauty business from your home, keeping it small and fully in your control, and growing it organically one step at a time.
We interview some Formula Botanica graduates who have made “small is beautiful” their mission. They share their insights and give advice to help you make those first steps as a beauty business founder. As you will find out, staying small also offers a model that is sustainable for you.
The ideal entry-level business
We have heard time and again from Formula Botanica students and graduates how natural formulation has given them a new lease of life, a passion for learning and time and space away from other responsibilities. Many juggle a day job, whether part time of full time, with raising a family and studying with us. They may have other responsibilities, but they also wish to be entrepreneurial and have the drive to start a beauty business.
A small beauty business is an ideal, low-risk entry point as you can set your own goals within timeframes that take account of your personal needs and situation. You can cut yourself some slack and, for example, not give up other income streams or other aspects of your life. Listen to our podcast with our graduate Naz Bashir, founder of Solo Skin London, who talks about growing her business slowly, and even pausing it for a while when she had a new baby.
Start small with lower risk
It is perfectly possible to launch successfully with a hero beauty product. By focusing on one product and making it the best possible in its class, you can lower launch costs. One product means fewer overheads, fewer ingredients to buy and lower volumes of raw materials to store and use before expiry dates.
Think through the kind of range you may wish to bring on stream later as that impacts your choice of packaging and your branding. Starting with a hero product helps get your brand out there and saves you the stress of marketing a large range. You can test the market and start to gather a community of customers without overstretching yourself.
You are in control
One of the main reasons our graduates start a beauty business is to have something to call their own. They create a line of organic and natural cosmetics that resonates with them and their chosen target customers. Once investors are on board, you need to fulfill their demands and are likely to face the constant pressure of delivering growth to drive profits for them, rather than just earning some extra income for yourself. Investment may of course come from family and friends too. The decision of whether to seek outside investment is fundamental to answer at the outset when you are planning your beauty brand.
Selling is a personal affair
Small businesses need fewer sales to stay in business. A much bigger brand needs to sell so much more to cover its costs as typically it buys in raw materials in much larger quantities and is exposed to higher overheads and outlays. It may need inventory financing to cover the gap between sales in and money going out. Many large brands take years to become profitable, and that is fine as their risk vs reward is much greater. When you run a small beauty business, you can afford to have fewer sales, and possibly be free of your start-up debts and break even f faster.
Flexibility at your fingertips
One big advantage of starting a small beauty business is the flexibility it offers. Small business owners are typically more visible to customers and take a more personal approach to business communications. It is far easier as a small business to say you are away on vacation or will be responding and sending out orders later than usual as your child is sick. Your customers will understand so long as you communicate with them.
Time to build community
If you start a small beauty business with a hero product or limited range, you have time to focus on building your community. You can dedicate yourself to your customers and to understanding who they are (which may not be the target market you originally thought). You will enjoy being available, answering their queries, listening to them and finding out in the process what their skincare issues are. This may seem time consuming, but the silver lining lies in the insights your community offers. When you launch a new product, they will be the ones most likely to purchase first and give you honest and invaluable feedback.
Time to build your brand
When you start a small beauty business, you don’t need to do everything at once up front. You can continue to work on your branding, products and messaging while your first product or two is selling. Branding and marketing, especially if outsourced, can be costly. Until you have completely worked out your messaging, you may waste money on branding, marketing collateral and packaging that you then ditch.
It is common for small beauty brands and new entrepreneurs to be unsure and change their minds. Small brands with a limited range have the leeway to evolve and take their early customers with them. In fact, your first customers often end up as your best guide to what works and will be more than happy to give you advice. Seeing your brand grow in this way is fun and exciting.
Learn from the small beauty brand owners
Dominique Jolicoeur – Dewberry
Dominique Jolicoeur runs Dewberry Face from her home city of Ottawa, Canada’s capital. She completed the Certificate in Organic Anti-Ageing Skincare in early 2022. Dewberry is Dominique’s first and only product-based business. It offers a small capsule range of four products fronted by its hero product ‘Morning Dew Face Serum’. Dominique is the sole owner of Dewberry Face which is currently a one-woman operation.
How Dominique started her small beauty business
I spent a dizzying amount of time researching the benefits of individual botanicals and actives in sources like PubMed. At times, I felt my indecision was stalling my progress and I was close to giving up on my small business dream. I decided that I needed help and registered for a course with Formula Botanica; a worthwhile investment as it guided me through the research and development phase so I could feel confident knowing that my products were the best they could possibly be.
I started Dewberry Face during my maternity leave. I needed a creative outlet and had always wanted to start a business. Today, I appreciate that I can run my small business on the side, while working full time and spending time with my son. I never intend to grow my small business into something that would feel overwhelming to me. As it is, my business is a good compliment to my current lifestyle.
Dewberry has grown through my network and I now do very little advertising. My biggest accomplishment by far is hearing from my customers that they see improvements to their skin after using my products. Their feedback is my raison d’être for running Dewberry.
Dominique top tips: My advice to new beauty entrepreneurs would be to truly understand your ideal customer. It’s the foundation of your brand. Build your brand through storytelling. It will help you connect with your customers. My final piece of advice would be to surround yourself with a solid team. Your suppliers are a reflection of your brand, so choose wisely.
Alison Williams-Smith – Tigs & Moo Natural Skincare
Alison completed the Formula Botanica Diploma in Organic Skincare Formulation.
How Alison started her small beauty business
I had only minimal experience of dealing with finances. I thought I would need around £5,000 to launch. Realistically, I launched slowly with whatever money I had made that month; I’d use £200 to buy ingredients or equipment, and just buy for my business in stages. I ploughed back any profits that I made from selling products to family, friends and existing customers into growing the business. I decided not to run before I could walk, so it was one baby step at a time.
My priorities were buying ingredients in bulk in order to save costs, scaling up equipment, and switching from a free, one-page website to paying a website developer to create a proper online business site.
I launched on a shoestring budget and continued with my main job and running a family, which made me realise that time is the main issue. I often worked late into the night to get things set up. Patience and the help of family and close friends were very important in the scheme of things.
Due to the lockdowns, my business saw two years of slower growth. However, as a result, I have been able to collaborate with other new businesses in the same position as me. The biggest success so far is having repeat customers keep my business going as they love the products and keep coming back for more. My brand is gaining more recognition in the market, and by setting up a YouTube channel, I have been able to offer people advice about looking after their skin naturally.
Alison’s top tips: You really don’t need a fortune to get your business off the ground. Slow growth at your own pace with what you have is less daunting than throwing yourself in at the deep end with a lot of cash. This gives you time to grow your beauty brand at a comfortable pace learning from your mistakes as you go along.
Jo Klassen – Nudge Boutique
Jo Klassen lives in Norfolk, England and is a graduate of Formula Botanica’s Diploma in Organic Skincare Formulation and the Certificate in Organic Anti-Ageing Skincare and is now studying the Certificate in Cosmetic Stability Testing. Her brand Nudge Boutique has a range of seven products with variations. Jo’s best seller is her Cocoa & Avocado Oil to Milk Cleanser. Nudge Boutique is a niche range which stands out for using locally-sourced Norfolk saffron and upcycling the left-over crocus flowers in a clay cleanser, making it the first UK beauty brand to do so. Nudge Boutique recently won a beauty award. Jo is the sole owner and gets help from time to time from her husband and son.
How Jo started her small beauty business
I was starting over again in a new business at age 50 with a lack of industry knowledge and in an industry new to me. I had a lot of doubts and didn’t want to get into debt trying to succeed. I made a promise that the business would have to pay for itself from day one and it did. I attended lots of craft fairs and made use of social media. I listened to customers concerns and what they wished was on the market, and to their knowledge of green beauty and product feedback. I always put that information to work and that is how I build my brand and reputation with customers.
I don’t compare Nudge Boutique with other brands. That is the fastest way for me to lose confidence. I stay in my lane. I just keep breaking everything down into small steps, and keep on going.
I was diagnosed with some health issues, but starting my own beauty brand literally kept me going. I can go at my own pace and rest when I need to. The business has been growing consistently since launch and I know at some stage I will need to move premises and employ someone to help me. I prefer building a local brand and I have developed very good relationships with my customers. Not having to pay middle men/wholesalers means I can invest in rewarding customers through loyalty programmes. I can add the little touches and extras that I found I could not do when offering wholesale, which I tried, but felt wasn’t right for me.
Jo’s top tips: Small doesn’t mean a small amount of sales, a small amount of profits, or a small amount of success. You can scale up at any time. You need to know your own heart, why you want to start a small beauty business, and which business model makes sense to you. Running any type of business is about serving others and making connections. Customers need to know you care about them; at the end of the day this is the most important factor as they won’t really care what size business you have.
Therese Thull – Rese & Co
Therese Thull started her US-based beauty business Rese & Co after a career as a Certified Holistic Health Coach and is now on the Formula Botanica International Organic Skincare Entrepreneur Program.
How Therese started her small beauty business
Before finding Formula Botanica, I did some self-study and created some anhydrous products (many of which are still in my brand). I just started buying in small quantities and when others wanted the products, I was careful to price them correctly so I could grow. From time to time, I have had a bit extra that I could invest. I am obsessed with product pricing. This strategy is helping me realise a new product line that includes some active ingredients that I could have never afforded when I began.
At the very beginning, I honestly had no plan for turning it into a business. I made products and talked about a business but from there on, family and friends asked if they could purchase. I didn’t even have labels. To be honest, I had doubts and worries almost every step of the way. I feel I overcame the doubts easier because I worked hard at being in tune with my ideal customer; I think of them as friends and individuals, not as a customer base to build.
My company is rather small scale in comparison to what some might desire. I am the sole owner, and I hire people part-time only when needed. Rese & Co. is a line of six skincare products and a few bodycare products. As I further my studies with Formula Botanica, I am positioning Rese & Co. for a major shift to focus on a line of skincare for mature women.
I have enjoyed every bit of growing my business. Yes, there are challenges with learning and growing slowly, but I feel it has deepened my understanding of my products and my customer. I thrive communicating with my customers, listening to them, nurturing the connections with them and creating for them. At the moment, I have no plans to outsource manufacturing and also no plans to get into retailers. I feel retailers would simply create a barrier between Rese & Co. and our customers.
I love having a burning reason to get out of bed in the morning to work on my business, but I also love that it is not a mega-business. I still have some flexibility and time to do other things without having to answer to someone else’s demands.
Are there days I’d love to have an investor with deep pockets so I could purchase equipment and materials now? Of course. But my priority is that I want to enjoy it. I can’t tell you how great it feels to sell, save up and order that homogeniser. I still desire great prosperity, but not at the expense of what, to me, would be stress and great pressure. This is truly my dream job and I’m fortunate that I am positioned to create it, and adjust it if needed, so it fits me perfectly.
Therese’s top tips: Give yourself the gift of time to learn your materials thoroughly and connect with your products and potential customers. Realise that there is space for those of us who are happy with “slow and steady”. Don’t think for a second that you are not equal to those superstar beauty entrepreneurs who forge ahead, blaze a trail and accomplish it all in record time. The greatest thing with slow, small and steady is that you get to decide your business direction. Know your vision, know what you’ll compromise and what you want, but never underestimated small beginnings. Whatever model you opt for, set your own pace and commit to running your business with perseverance.
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Liz is Formula Botanica’s Content Coordinator and joined our team in August 2020. Liz worked as a professional blogger, journalist and site developer for many years and was also part of the Formula Botanica student community. Read more about the Formula Botanica Team.