Keeping Batch Records



You have a terrific new recipe to make and are all set to go.  Looks like the product is just what you want and the scent you’ve picked smells divine.  Paperwork and record-keeping is probably the last thing on your mind at the moment … but NOW is the time to get out your notebook or file!

The recipe that you are following, whether it is new or a tried-and-true favorite, is generally referred to as a Master Formula or Master Recipe.  In a perfect world, it should contain not only the amounts or percentages of the ingredients, but also the exact step-by-step directions on how to make the product. It is what should be done.

The records you keep when actually making a batch of product from a Master Formula are called your Batch Record.  It should contain the details of the batch, what ingredients were used, the amount of each, and how you made the product.  It is a record of what was actually done.

So, what sort of information should be included in your Batch Record?

1.  Batch Number
Every batch should be assigned a unique number.  You could use the date or a sequential numbering system – whatever works for you, just so long as it is a unique identifier for that batch.  Putting the batch number on the label of the finished product is a good idea so you can look at a finished, labeled bottle or jar and know which batch it came from.  Keep in mind that while putting the batch number on the finished product is required as part of good manufacturing practices, it is not required to comply with product labeling regulations.

2.  General Information
Somewhere (usually at the top) of the Batch Record, note down the general information about the batch.  That should include things like the name of the product, the batch size, how the product is packaged, date the batch is being made, etc.

3.  Ingredients
Since the ingredients used in your batch are a key component of the success of the product, keeping accurate information about the ingredients is very important.   Several different types of information about the ingredients used should be noted:

A. Ingredient Required.  Your Master Formula should have the name of the ingredients.  Each one should be recorded on the Batch Record. 
B. Amount Required.  If your Master Formula is in terms of percentages, you’ll need to calculate the amount of each ingredient and note that down (otherwise record the amount specified in the recipe).
C. Ingredient Actually Used.  This is the place to record what ingredient was actually used.  If the Master Formula called for “fragrance,” this is where you note down exactly what fragrance you used.  If you have details to more closely identify the ingredient used in the batch, write them down.  That might include:
Name of the supplier.
Supplier’s lot or product number
Date of purchase
The lot number that you assigned to that particular purchase of that ingredient (if any)
D. Amount Actually Used.  Write down the amount of the ingredient that was actually measured out and used in the product.  Of course, it should be exactly what’s called for in the Master Formula, but if it ends up being a little under or a little over (by choice or by accident), this is the place to write it down.  Be honest here, even if it’s hard.  

4.  Production Details
Record how you followed each step of the Master Formula, and keep track of any specifics.  For example, if the Master Formula says to “Warm the oils to 100° – 120°,” make a note of the actual temperature of the oils when the step is completed.  

If anything unusual happened while you were making the batch, it’s important to note that as well.  If you were interrupted for some reason, or if there was anything odd about the way the product acted, record that in your Batch Record.

5.  Quality Checks
The Master Formula may contain checks (or you may have developed ways to check the product) to verify quality of the finished product.  For example, you might check the color, scent, texture or consistency of the product to make sure it’s right.  Note down what you find, so you have a record. 

6.  Packaging
Keep a record of what packaging was used for the batch (bottles, caps, wraps, etc).  If you know where you purchased the packaging items, record it.  Attaching a copy of the label to the Batch Record is often helpful when you refer back to it later, especially if you created a new or revised label for the batch.

Summary
Keeping a record of your product batches is more than just a log that lists that the product was made.  It should include all of the details listed above so you have an accurate records of what was actually done

If, heaven forbid, later on there is a problem with the batch, you’ll be able to go back and review your batch record and see what might have gone wrong.  

Maybe even more importantly, if you discover that the batch was even better than expected, you’ll be able to determine why and improve your product accordingly.  After all, some of the greatest discoveries were accidents … and the only way they could be reproduced because accurate records were kept of what was actually done.

Marie Gale (www.mariegale.com) is the author of Soap and Cosmetic Labeling; How to Follow the Rules and Regs Explained in Plain English and Good Manufacturing Practices for Soap and Cosmetic HandCrafter’s.  She has been actively involved in the handcrafted soap and cosmetic industry for over 10 years and is Past President (2004-2009) of the Handcrafted Soapmakers Guild (www.soapguild.org). 

Trends in Men's Skincare



Made-for-men skin care products and cosmetics are expected to hit more than three billion dollars by 2016, a more than 15% jump from this year. If your skincare company isn’t already catering to men, you’re leaving money on the table.

According to a new study from The NPD Group, Inc. titled Men’s Grooming Consumer Report, more than nine in 10 men (ages 18+) are using some sort of grooming product today. [1] This includes lotions, shaving products and hair care. However, only one-quarter of men are currently using facial skin care products such as facial cleansers and moisturizers, lip and eye products, and anti-aging treatments. This is attributed to a general belief that facial skincare products are not needed unless you have a specific skin problem such as acne.

Even though the interest in cosmetic products has skyrocketed, men want to remain discreet to preserve their masculinity. It is clear, however, that men today are joining women in the fight against aging. If big box stores are any indication, you can now find entire departments devoted to beauty products for men. You can even find subscription based beauty services like Birchbox that deliver the latest and greatest men’s products directly to your doorstep, hassle-free. [2,3]

Although the segment appears to be growing at a steady pace, there is a learning curve. Some men still have to unlearn the concept that their body care products, such as bar soap and body lotion, work just as well for facial skin. There is still difficulty accepting products that require multiple steps such as separate cleanser, moisturizer and toner. So the trend is towards multi-functional products like blemish balms (BB creams) and dynamic do-all creams (DD creams) which are proving popular in today’s market.

Women’s expectations are changing too. More women expect the man in their life to take care of his skin and to be well-groomed. So there is some “peer pressure” to look good and that in turn translates into acceptance of men’s grooming products intended to “boost” a man’s appearance. The cosmetics market, or makeup for men, is the fastest growing segment of the beauty industry. This includes “foundation” type products that even skin tone, concealer products, tinted moisturizers, bronzers, sunless tanners and lip products. In a recent survey of men in the United Kingdom, 71% of men surveyed admitted to using concealer to hide blemishes, dark circles and uneven skin tone.  In addition, a whopping 64% used lip gloss and 49%, eyeliner to enhance their appearance. [4]

There is a huge opportunity for men with skincare, and now that so many men are already involved and engaged, it is up to brands to maintain that interest. Tips for marketing to men include more masculine or unisex product names and descriptors like “camouflage”, “beard lube”, “turbo wash”, “power peel”, “refueling wash” or “facial tonic”. Packaging should have a clean, professional look in neutral colors or colors that allude to “prestige”. Black, blue or grey packaging and matte metal accents translate well to differentiate your men’s products from your regular product line. [5] Aim for more of an apothecary or laboratory appearance in labeling these products as men tend to lean towards products that look “clinical” in appearance. This gives the illusion of purchasing a product to “treat” skin rather than to “beautify”. Men are less comfortable buying a feminine looking product or a unisex version of an overtly feminine product. [6] 

If there were any lingering doubts that men’s skin care products have truly gone mainstream, households in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco received a newspaper insert comic book featuring Marvel’s Captain America hawking Kiehl’s new men’s anti-aging moisturizer, appropriately named, “Heavy Lifting.” [7]

http://www.marketingforecast.com/archives/20514
http://www.birchbox.com/men/
http://www.prweb.com/releases/2013/3/prweb10508561.htm
http://www.examiner.com/article/cosmetics-use-for-men-growing-the-uk
http://business.time.com/2012/06/25/hey-buddy-got-any-eye-shadow-i-can-borrow/
http://www.gcimagazine.com/marketstrends/consumers/men/138489574.html?page=1
http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/business/2013/06/captain-america-comic-pitches-skin-care-products/

Allison B. Kontur is an inventive scientist and educator specializing in natural cosmetic formulation and short-run, private label skincare. Since 2005, she has worked as chief cosmetic formulator, business consultant and CEO of various skin care companies. Allison is the co-founder of AliMar Labs, LLC, (www.alimarlabs.com ) a private label manufacturer specializing in ultra-low minimums, as well as co-founder of the Vegan skincare line, Sydni Monique (www.sydnimonique.com).


3 Reasons That Too Many Home Businesses Fail



Many outstanding business ideas are born from a spark of passion; that moment when a daydream stretches the confines of its world to become a true possibility. When a hobbyist, or someone who creates a product out of necessity says, “Hey, I might be able to make a little money with this idea.”  

But even the most creative, promising ideas are nearly impossible to fully bring to life. It’s true, we don’t know what we don’t know, but wanna-be entrepreneurs can easily get lost in the excitement and hope of building their dream and they fail (miserably) at doing their homework first. 

Here are the most common mistakes that I see newbie entrepreneurs make when taking their “kitchen table idea” to the market. Go ahead, build your dream. But do it the smart way!

1. They Don’t Do Real Product Research.
Come on, admit it. Your neighbor, friend—or mom—told you that your idea is the best one this side of paradise, right? And why shouldn’t you believe them? Everyone you know has jumped on the bandwagon with praise and encouragement, so they must be right. 

I’m going to be blunt. These folks have to tell you all of these good things. They love and care for you and want to support your dream. But they are not necessarily your ideal customer. 
You must test your idea. One of the best ways to do that is to take a simpler, less expensive version of your product to market. If you have created a full line of bath products, for instance, don’t wait until all of the branding, production, and packaging is done before you roll it out. Take just ONE of your products to every mini-expo, school fundraising event, and distribution opportunity you can think of. Create a dashboard that reveals trends, sales history, and any other critical information. Most importantly, get feedback from strangers! I know that’s scary, but you have to do it. Offer incentives for feedback on every aspect of your product. Then adjust as necessary.

2. They Aren’t Fully Informed.
I once coached, albeit briefly, an inventor who had a wonderful product ready to bring to market. Sadly, she invested her nest egg, mortgaged her house, and spent every waking moment for 2 years just to create a prototype, branding, and packaging. And her product idea was a good one. She even had purchase orders from two major retail outlets. But the days of a purchase order providing collateral for a loan are long gone. So here she was with a good invention and the interest of these mega stores, but with absolutely no funding to take her product to market. 

Too many entrepreneurs believe that if they can get the interest of a major distributor or retailer that it’s smooth sailing from there. But that’s just the beginning. Do you have any idea what it costs to manufacture and package a product? Do you know the minimums required by most factories? Can you even grasp the reality of the landed cost of your product? Costs of customs duties, tariffs, taxes, insurance, currency conversion, crating costs, and handling fees associated with importing are enormous! These are the things you may run into if your product is promising. Do your homework before you take your first big steps. 

3. They Lack Support
So you’ve done your planning, estimated your costs, and gotten product sales rolling. Hurray! Now you have a business, but why? Every entrepreneur I’ve ever spoken to is in business for themselves for one reason: freedom. Now, freedom has many definitions, but it’s at the core of nearly every small business.  Yet, these solopreneurs work 60-80 hours a week. What kind of freedom is that? Sure, this may be the reality in the beginning, but it has to change as your company grows. 

How do you fill your days? Do you do your own accounting, website management, packaging and shipping, and basic administrative work? If you spend 20 hours a week doing these things imagine the opportunities for growth that you are missing. If you could “buy back” those 20 hours how long would it take you to grow your company to the next level? Most people are shocked at how quickly this could be done if they outsourced the “little stuff” or the things they are not experts at. Find your passion, highest skill level, and key growth strategies. This is where you need to spend your time.

Can’t afford help? Think again. I promise that you are spending--wasting really--more money by trying to be an expert at all things, including the things you absolutely abhor doing. Stop the madness! Save every penny until you can afford one month’s pay for a helper. Then get to work and increase your sales so that you can afford to keep them on. 

Marla Tabaka is an entrepreneurial coach who inspires entrepreneurs around the world to attain what she calls, The Million-Dollar Mindset. As a result, many of her clients have achieved – even surpassed – the million dollar mark in annual revenues and are living the life of their dreams. In addition to running a thriving practice, Marla is a columnist for Inc. Magazine on-line, and hosts two international on-line radio shows, The Million Dollar Mindset and Million Dollar Mindset Tapping. Marla wrote this feature article exclusively for Debbie May.com (http://www.debbiemay.com/), an organization dedicated to helping small businesses succeed. If you would like to consult with Marla to learn how she can help you grow your business and better your life, contact her at Marla@MarlaTabaka.com.

Protecting Confidential Information



You may have business secrets that you want to hide from the general public and your competitors.  Some of the legal mechanisms offering protection are trademarks, patents, and copyrights.  All are forms of protective licenses granted by the government, but they take time and money to obtain.

Not all secrets fall neatly into a category that can get such a license.  There may also be legitimate reasons for not seeking a license, but there are still ways to limit who knows about your valuable secrets.  Two terms often used to identify them are “proprietary information” and “trade secrets.”

Trade Secrets
If you own your company, it’s your call on what information you want to protect.  Most trade secrets consist of a formula, design or process that’s unique to your business.  To qualify as a legally protected trade secret in most jurisdictions, the following three criteria must be met:
  • The information must enable a current or future financial benefit
  • The information is unknown to the general public, which makes the financial benefit possible
  • The information is protected by the owner using all reasonable means


There are significant differences between patents and trade secrets, and both have advantages and disadvantages.  One way to understand this is by taking a look at two of the most famous trade secrets in the United States – the formulas for Coca-Cola and Kentucky Fried Chicken.

While some assume these formulas are patented, they aren’t.  A patent is disclosed to the world and has an expiration date.  During the effective period of the patent, you have exclusive rights to its benefits.  Once the patent expires, anyone can legally copy your product and sell it.  If Coke and KFC had patented their recipes, the patents would have expired long ago and there could be thousands of copycats profiting from them.

Trade secrets are never disclosed and never expire.  They remain secret as long as they are protected by the holder.  Unlike a patent, a trade secret carries no defined period of exclusive use.  So if a trade secret is discovered through legal means, anyone can use it.  In the case of Coke and KFC, their formulas could likely be discovered by chemical analysis and reproduced by other companies.

Legal Remedies
It’s a federal crime to steal a commercial trade secret, and penalties apply to two types of activity:
  1. Theft of a trade secret of a product in interstate or international commerce that harms the secret’s owner
  2. Theft of a trade secret that could benefit any foreign entity


The criminal penalties for violating the Economic Espionage Act include imprisonment and fines.  A conviction also results in the forfeiture of moneys gained from the crime and all property used in committing it.

In addition, most states allow a private cause of action under the Uniform Trade Secrets Act.  Possible remedies imposed for civil liability include injunctions, as well as monetary and punitive damages.


Protecting Information
Do the easy things first.  Buy a heavy-duty, fireproof safe and lock up your important documents or put them in a safe deposit box.  Use a shredder whenever you need to destroy them.

If you have employees, there are several things you can do:
  • Exercise strict control over who has access to company keys, safe combinations, and computer passwords
  • Require employees to relinquish all rights to proprietary data and intellectual property created while working for you
  • Require employees to sign confidentiality agreements that prevent disclosure of company-sensitive information
  • For employees that leave their job, require a non-competition agreement that restricts disclosure of company-sensitive information, subject to reasonable time and location limitations
  • Meet with visitors in an area where exposure to confidential information is highly unlikely


Nondisclosure Agreements (NDA)
Sometimes you have to disclose secrets in order to do business.  This often occurs when you have suppliers who need to know your proprietary product specifications in order to accurately fulfill your orders.  The solution is to draft a NDA that specifies the nature and purpose of the information to be shared and how it will be protected.  It’s a legal contract that will remain in effect through whatever date you stipulate in the agreement.

NDAs can be implemented with suppliers, customers, and any other company or person with whom you have private business dealings.  NDAs are usually one-sided or unilateral where only one party to the transaction is disclosing sensitive information, and the other party is obligated to protect it.  The agreement can also be multilateral where the transaction involves multiple parties and some or all of them are disclosing information.

Bottom Line
It’s important to protect the data and information that make your company unique.  Many small businesses don’t have the need, or don’t want to spend the money and time to get patents.  That doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t protect your secrets through other methods that provide legal remedies if violated.

While a patent protects you from someone duplicating what you’ve done and profiting from it, a trade secret does not.  The key point is to protect that secret so that competitors can’t figure out how you’re doing what you’re doing.  Coke and KFC have done this successfully for several decades without the benefit of patents.

We’re living in an age of digital data that’s easily tracked and hacked, so protecting it is more important than ever.  Be very selective of the type of information you include on your website, catalogs, brochures, and marketing materials.  Secure your computers with firewalls, virus protection, and foolproof backup systems.  Change your passwords like clockwork and whenever an employee leaves their job.  Caution and common sense are two of your best weapons against compromise of your hard work to build your business.

Geoffrey Michael (www.geoffreymichael.pro) is a freelance writer specializing in business, marketing, personal finance, law, science, aviation, sports, entertainment, travel, and political analysis.  He graduated from the United States Air Force Academy and is also licensed to practice law in California and New Hampshire.  Geoffrey wrote this feature article exclusively for DebbieMay.com, an organization dedicated to helping small businesses succeed.

How to Build and Manage Your Online Reputation



Thanks to online maps and review sites like Google Places for Business, Yelp, and Yahoo! Local, in addition to popular social media tools like Google +, Facebook, Twitter, and FourSquare, there are many inexpensive ways to tell your prospects and customers what your business does, where you’re located, and what other customers think. Need proof behind the power of online word of mouth marketing? Recent research by advertising firm MDG indicates that 70% of customers use social media each month to hear the opinions of others. If the news they read about your business is good, you could be primed to lock in new customers, simply by leveraging the positive experiences of your already-satisfied ones. 

But what if you don’t please every customer—and they take their frustration online? That same research indicates that 45% of those who use social media to research a company discovered things online that caused them to change their mind about the business. Though you may not be able to win every customer’s referral, you can manage your brand’s image and reap the benefits of an online presence, by managing your online reputation. Here’s how.

Spread the positive news. 
Considering that 92% of those surveyed by MDG said they trust the online opinions and reviews they read, sharing customer testimonials can boost the likelihood that prospects will give your business a try. If you receive a note of thanks via email giving your business the thumbs up, ask the customer for permission to reprint their kudos on your website and other social media outlets. If you get rave reviews from customers on Twitter, publish them directly to your website by hovering over the “Tweet” with your mouse, selecting “Embed Tweet,” and copying the HTML code provided to your website. Form a template that you can send to established customers with a marketing promotion or coupon thanking them for their business, and ask them to share their experience on your Facebook, FourSquare and Yelp profiles (and include the links).  The more positive news your brand has online, the less vulnerable you are to a negative one.

Get automatic notifications when you’re mentioned. 
Set up a Google Alert using your business name as the search term and you’ll know anytime someone posts information about your business on a site that Google crawls. If you use TweetDeck or HootSuite, add your business name to the feed so you can easily spot information about your business posted on Facebook or Twitter. If can invest in online reputation management, sites like ReviewPush ($29/month) and Trackur ($27/month) monitor all activity related to your business on Google, Yelp, Foursquare, Yahoo, YellowPages, and more.

Respond quickly. 
If you do have an unhappy customer who makes his or her feelings known online, don’t let their bad feelings fester -- even if you don’t think you’re in the wrong. As soon as you notice the information, publicly respond to the person and apologize for the bad experience. If you have their contact information, contact them privately as well, and offer a solution that might remedy their bad experience. If you don’t have their information on file, follow their negative review with a request that they contact you privately for further resolution. Though many unhappy customers won’t wish to deal with you further, it shows the public that you truly make an effort to resolve issues. 

Know your rights.  
People can legally express their opinions, but they do not have the right to make false claims about your business or defame it. Keep tabs on what comes up in relation to your business name by doing periodic Google searches. If you find that something negative and false in regards to your business name, you can submit a formal complaint with Google, and potentially, work to at least hide the page results in a Google search so it doesn’t tarnish your image beyond repair.

Stephanie Taylor Christensen is a former financial services marketer turned stay at home working mom, yoga instructor and freelance writer covering personal finance, small business,consumer issues, work-life balance and health/wellness topics for ForbesWoman, Minyanville , SheKnows, Mint , Intuit Small Business, Investopedia and several other online properties. She is also the founder of Wellness On Less and Om for Mom prenatal yoga. Stephanie wrote this feature article exclusively for Debbie May.com (www.DebbieMay.com), an organization dedicated to helping small businesses succeed.

GMP and Ingredients


“Good Manufacturing Practices” (GMP) are the practices and procedures used in manufacturing that ensure a good finished product.  The ingredients you select and use are obviously key to a high-quality finished product;  therefore how you specify, purchase, approve, handle, store, track and use your ingredients is an integral part of Good Manufacturing Practices.  

The following guidelines outline best practices for your ingredients.  Whether you work out of your kitchen and store your ingredients in a designated shelf or cupboard, or have a dedicated shop, with a little thought and planning  these guidelines can easily be adapted for any situation. 

1.  Specify the ingredient criteria fully.
Often the ingredients listed in a recipe are somewhat generalized and when it comes to actually purchasing the item, you are faced with options.  For example, your recipe calls for “Lavender Fragrance”.  Is that Lavender 40/42 essential oil? Bulgarian Lavender essential oil? Lavender fragrance oil?  A combination?  Obviously the end product changes based on which “lavender” you choose.

Having exactly specified criteria is especially important when an ingredient can come in several different forms under the same name.  Cornstarch, for example, comes in various grades, particle sizes and treatments (all of which are called “cornstarch”).  Which one you use can drastically change your product.  You wouldn’t want a coarse or rough particle size for face or body powders, but it might be okay for bath products or as a thickening agent.

GMP Guidelines call for defining the following for every ingredient (or packaging material) you use:
Description.  What does the ingredient/material look like? Feel like? Smell like? What color should it be? How big or small are the particles? A detailed description is especially essential when dealing with botanicals.
Critical Criteria.  What criteria MUST be met in order to use the item at all?  This is generally criteria that if not met would make the product unsafe or unusable, or which are legally required.  Example: negative for eColi and Salmonella. 
Major Criteria.  What is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT criteria? This would be criteria that if not met could affect product quality or result in a lower quality product.  Examples:  Cornstarch particle size, purity of lye for soap, or whether a botanical is fresh or dried.
Minor Criteria.  What criteria SHOULD be met? These are things that should be met, but won’t adversely affect product quality.  Example:  Whiteness level of cornstarch.

Setting  exact criteria ensures that when you select an item to purchase, you know exactly what you need and can make sure you get the same ingredient every time, regardless of the supplier you purchase from.  

2.  Select a qualified supplier.
Select and approve suppliers for that ingredient in advance, and only purchase that ingredient from suppliers who have been approved  for that particular ingredient.

While price is an important factor, also consider customer service, return policy, shipping policy, and the information provided by the supplier (including technical specifications, quality assurance, usage information and MSDS sheets) when approving a supplier for an ingredient.

3.  Assign a lot number to every ingredient/material received.
When you receive an ingredient or packaging material, assign it a lot number. It can be anything that will uniquely identify the EXACT order you received. Keep in mind that if you receive 4 oz. of Lavender essential oil on Monday and another 4 oz of Lavender essential oil on Friday, they are two different lots and should have different lot numbers assigned to them.

Be sure to record the supplier invoice number and date as well as the supplier lot number (if any) so you can trace your lot number back to the exact order from the supplier.

4.  Check and approve each incoming lot before using.
Every time an order is received, check the ingredient/material carefully to ensure it meets your specifications.  Look at the shipping box – is it damaged at all?  Did you receive what you ordered?  Does the ingredient meet your critical, major and minor criteria?  Keep a written record of what you find.

If the ingredient is acceptable, approve it for use.  If not, set it aside – away from approved ingredients – and appropriately handle.

5.  Organize Stored Ingredients.
Keep all your approved ingredients stored in such a way that you can easily identify what they are, the lot number and the expiration date (if any).  If the ingredient is repackaged into a different container, label it clearly.  Don’t combine different lots of the same ingredient!  

6. Record the ingredient Lot Number when used in a product batch.
When you make a batch of product, make sure to record the Lot Number of every ingredient used in the batch. 

Summary
By implementing these steps, you will have certainty that every ingredient you use in your products has met your quality standards and you will have taken a significant step toward making sure your end products are of the highest quality – every batch, every bar or bottle, every time.

Marie Gale (www.mariegale.com) is the author of Soap and Cosmetic Labeling; How to Follow the Rules and Regs Explained in Plain English and Good Manufacturing Practices for Soap and Cosmetic HandCrafter’s.  She has been actively involved in the handcrafted soap and cosmetic industry for over 10 years and is Past President (2004-2009) of the Handcrafted Soapmakers Guild (www.soapguild.org). 


Hobbies That Make Money


Some people are fortunate to work in jobs they really enjoy.  Others spend a lifetime doing what they do strictly for the money.  They may have hobbies that are potential moneymakers, especially for those who need extra income after they retire from their full-time careers.

Many have taken their hobbies and made them into giant businesses.  Alexandra Ferguson started by making a couple of custom throw pillows for a friend’s birthday.  She made around 30 more to give as Christmas presents that year.  Just a few years later, she ditched her old job and is predicting annual revenues of a million dollars.  Niche products have an advantage because you can focus on specific markets and demographics.

Most of us have hobbies and some of them have the potential to bring in cash at some point in our lives.  In all cases, do thorough research on your local laws, zoning restrictions, licensing and insurance requirements, and tax implications before getting started.  Out of hundreds of options, here’s a short list that may stimulate ideas for other possibilities.

Baker
Before you head down the trail blazed by people like Debbi Fields, check your local health laws that regulate the sale and distribution of food items.  While there are lots of stories about people who started businesses in their home kitchens, many jurisdictions now require a separate kitchen before you can open for business.

If you’ve got the skills, enjoy cooking and have some secret recipes that have been handed down in your family, this is a way to turn all that into cash with a small initial investment.  Stick with just a few specialty products and make yourself known.  Local farmers’ markets and food fairs are a good way to get started.

Dance Instructor
Television shows like Dancing with the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance have popularized and rekindled interest in all types of dancing.  If you enjoy dancing and have taken lessons in the past, you may be able to parlay that into a steady income.  You don’t have to be an expert to teach beginners, and you don’t have to own a dance studio.  Some existing studios will rent their dance floor during their downtime to help pay their own bills.  If that option isn’t available, you might convert a room in your home or part of your garage.

Photographer
The opportunities for photography are almost limitless, but you’ll have to invest in high-quality equipment.  Freelance photographers can earn $2,000 and up doing weddings, depending on the specific package and photos desired.  The internet has created a huge market for stock photos that can be placed with stock agencies for a contracted period and specified commission.

Some photographers choose to fund their own shoots to give them the flexibility to select the subjects they like best.  They do their own marketing for the images they produce.  Others work with agencies on assigned shoots and are paid fees and expenses.  You can also sell your photos directly to the public through art fairs, boutiques, and flea markets.  It’s wise to understand copyright laws to ensure you’ve protected your legal interests.

Woodworker
People will pay for quality handmade items of solid wood.  If you’ve got a shop in the garage and the necessary tools, there’s a ready made market for wood furniture and custom-designed wooden objects.  There’s also a sizable need for the refinishing and restoration of all things made of wood including antique boats and furniture.  If you’re a woodcarver with a good imagination, you can create all sorts of things to sell at craft shows and online at websites like eBay.

Coach
You don’t have to coach a professional sports team to make some serious money in a sport that you love.  If you’re qualified, you can work year-round coaching seasonal sports.  The requirements at public and private schools vary by location, but there are also opportunities at country clubs and youth clubs such as the YMCA.  These include sports that aren’t continuously in the limelight such as volleyball, swimming, badminton, and track.  You can also freelance as a personal coach to athletes who want one-on-one training.  Depending on the sport, you may need access to an appropriate training facility and equipment.


Other Ideas
The best idea is a hobby that you love and are very good at.  Here are a few others that may spark some interest: personal shopper, blogger, sewing/knitting, web designer, dog walker, teacher/tutor, party planner, gardener, handyman, music teacher, musician, and homemade crafts of all types.

What to do
Turning your hobby into money takes some planning and marketing.  While the creative part can be lots of fun, it’s important that the business side is locked down before you get yourself in too deep.  Put together a system for tracking your expenses and sales, and devise a method for setting your pricing structure.  Design a creative logo and packaging scheme to attract maximum attention.

Social media and online advertising have made it easier and cheaper to get the word out.  Join online discussion groups that are interested in your products and use those to promote your work.  Professional photos also go a long way in showcasing your products and driving sales.  Personally interact with the local media, volunteer some of your services, and engage the chamber of commerce.  Word-of-mouth goes a long way to help get you started.

Websites such as eBay offer great platforms to sell products with minimal overhead cost to you.  The website of choice for crafts is Etsy, essentially the handmade version of eBay.  Craft fairs, galleries, flea markets, and state and county fairs rent space where you can set up a sales booth.  You can also host home-based fairs for friends and acquaintances who can spread the word.

At some point you may think of taking your hobby full time.  Most have found the best way to do that is by easing into it.  Test the waters and put together a business plan before making the final leap.


Geoffrey Michael (www.geoffreymichael.pro) is a freelance writer specializing in business, marketing, personal finance, law, science, aviation, sports, entertainment, travel, and political analysis.  He graduated from the United States Air Force Academy and is also licensed to practice law in California and New Hampshire.  Geoffrey wrote this feature article exclusively for DebbieMay.com, an organization dedicated to helping small businesses succeed.

4 Ways to Lower Your Business Costs


Though you need to invest in your business to fuel growth to some degree, you’ll generally uncover the path to profitability by quicker by lowering your business costs. Here are four ways to do it.


1. Test your ideas before you invest in them fully.  
Given that financing and business loans are so hard to come by for many small businesses, it’s no surprise that “The Lean Startup” by Eric Reis (which began as a book but launched into a full blown movement) has generated such entrepreneurial enthusiasm.  Though there are many different aspects to the Lean Start Up theory, it includes common sense ideas that you can apply to any small business—that can start to slash your business costs now. For starters, test your product and service ideas before you invest fully in them, or put your business at risk by making change you didn’t solicit customer feedback about. By putting your ideas in front of a customer focus group, which can be done informally, in person, or online, the idea is to test and learn about what your customers want—long before you bring a product or service to market. Even if your ideas get a big “thumbs down,”  little failures early on provide the necessary knowledge to make course corrections before they are too costly.  


2. Prioritize the skills you pay for. 
Time is money when you are running a small business, and while you can’t expect to expertly handle every aspect of business on your own, you’ll save loads of energy, time and money, by recognizing what you do well, and what is worth spending money for someone else to handle. To that end, evaluate the tasks that require an actual human against those that might be made quite do-able with the help of technology. For example, you may need to work with an accountant to handle your quarterly tax payments, tax strategy, and returns, but a simple web-based accounting system like Wave or QuickBooks might be a more cost-effective way to manage your basic monthly bookkeeping duties. If you love building relationships, for example, but know nothing about online commerce and web analytics, invest in a freelance web designer who can give you exactly the site you want—but take advantage of technology that makes user data easy to understand. For example, CrazyEgg starts at as low as $9 a month, and can show you where people click on your site. With that data, you’ll have actionable information you need to relay back to your designer, at a fraction of the cost you’d pay an online marketing consultant.


3. Minimize hard copy costs.  
If you’re hesitant to ditch your paper trail because you deal with contracts that require signatures and hard copies, you can streamline processes (and cut the costs of paper, printing and postage) by taking advantage of mobile technology.  For example, SignEasy, an app, available on both Apple and Android platforms, allows users to sign download, sign, save and return contracts and other paperwork sent by email, or from other cloud-based sharing apps like Evernote, Box, Dropbox, and Google Drive (formerly Google Docs). Try the basic app for free, or $19.99 for a year of unlimited use. If you tend to mark up package or product design documents and transfer them by mail, Skitch is a free app that helps you mark up your screen captures and images with shapes and comments, and transmit them to another person by email.


4. Ensure your products and policies are clear. 
Returns and chargebacks eat into your bottom line—and cost you money. According to payment processing firm e-onlinedata, a customer who disputes a charge with Visa or MasterCard can cost a small business at least $25 per event. Interestingly, all of the primary reasons such disputes arise (customers don’t recognize the merchant name on a credit card statement, expectations weren’t met, or the refund policy was unclear), are easily prevented. Review your product and service descriptions in your marketing materials and website and ensure you’ve done your due diligence: Are product functions, features, materials, colors and services named, described and depicted accurately?  Do you clearly state the process for returns, exchanges, and price adjustments at checkout-- before the customer completes the purchase? Lastly, is the name you’ve registered with your credit card processor congruent with your business name? If it’s not, add language on the checkout page so the customer knows how the purchase will be reflected on the credit card statement.

Stephanie Taylor Christensen is a former financial services marketer turned stay at home working mom, yoga instructor and freelance writer covering personal finance, small business,consumer issues, work-life balance and health/wellness topics for ForbesWoman, Minyanville , SheKnows, Mint , Intuit Small Business, Investopedia and several other online properties. She is also the founder of Wellness On Less and Om for Mom prenatal yoga. Stephanie wrote this feature article exclusively for Debbie May.com (www.DebbieMay.com), an organization dedicated to helping small businesses succeed.

How to Hire the Perfect Employee


If I suggested that you hire two new employees this week what would your response be? Let me guess: “I can’t afford it,” or “it’s more trouble than it’s worth”. Those are the two most frequent responses I hear from my business clients. And I’m here to tell you that neither is true.

Today we’re going to take a look at the latter: why does it feel like hiring and training employees causes so much pain? In most cases it’s because the entrepreneur is using a poor model for the hiring process. In fact, many business owners have no model at all. These new hires usually don’t work out if they are determined solely by skills and experience. This not only cost time and money, it’s frustrating to the entrepreneur, leaving them with the belief that employees simply are not worth the effort. 

But nothing is farther from the truth. The problem is that hiring managers (that’s probably you) are basing their decisions on what they see on the resume. But skills can often be trained. Emotional intelligence and personality type come from an innate ability coupled with life experience.  You cannot train for emotional intelligence!  If you hire an account manager with the hard skills necessary to manage your clients’ accounts but he is adverse to deadlines and has a limited ability to handle a conflict, it’s a recipe for disaster.   As another example, if you hire a customer service representative who can flawlessly enter one hundred orders in an hour but has no patience or tolerance for “difficult” customers, you won’t have to worry about order entry mistakes! 

To hire the right person for the right job, begin by assessing the personal qualities that your ideal employee would possess. If you are hiring a coder, you want this person to be focused, analytical, and creative. Yes, creative! The best coders are problem-solvers and that takes creativity!

If you are hiring for a sales position you’ll want someone who is a connector. They are personable, driven, and a great communicator. 

What are some fun questions you can ask your candidates to find out more about their personality and work ethic? Here are a few of my favorites. Adding this piece to your hiring puzzle will bring you much closer to your dream team!

Question 1. 
“Using your imagination, create your ideal co-worker. Tell me about that person. What would they be like?”

What’s interesting about this question is that your candidate is very likely to describe themselves! This will give you great insight to their work ethic and personal characteristics. 

Question 2. 
“If you came with a warning label what would it say?”

This question catches people so off guard that they blurt out the most honest responses, including those they would never admit to in an interview!

Question 3. 
“How would people communicate in a perfect world?”

If your candidate responds by saying, “by email only” and you are hiring for a sales position, you know this won’t work! Or if you require this position to report weekly to and about the client and they prefer texting, you will have a problem. Communication is key to success. Understanding how your employees’ best learn and communicate is a must. If your candidate’s style is not a match, move on to the next. 

Go ahead; make up a few of your own questions. Make the process fun and challenging. This will give your candidates an inside look at your fun and creative company culture, they may love it—or they may not. Either way upfront knowledge is the golden ticket to hiring success!


Marla Tabaka is an entrepreneurial coach who inspires entrepreneurs around the world to attain what she calls, The Million-Dollar Mindset. As a result, many of her clients have achieved – even surpassed – the million dollar mark in annual revenues and are living the life of their dreams. In addition to running a thriving practice, Marla is a columnist for Inc. Magazine on-line, and hosts two international on-line radio shows, The Million Dollar Mindset and Million Dollar Mindset Tapping. Marla wrote this feature article exclusively for Debbie May.com (http://www.debbiemay.com/), an organization dedicated to helping small businesses succeed. If you would like to consult with Marla to learn how she can help you grow your business and better your life, contact her at Marla@MarlaTabaka.com.

Manufacturing Sunscreen Products



Days are getting longer, the sun is shining, temperatures are rising and it’s days like these that get people in the mood for a little sun worship. But, did you know that skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States? More than 3.5 million skin cancers in over two million people are diagnosed annually[1]. Facts like these compel the common consumer to run for the sunscreen. This causes a chain reaction because skincare companies want a piece of the action, but they also know that consumers want a sunscreen product that is “natural” and doesn’t contain chemicals of concern.

It is certainly compelling for small skincare manufacturers who want to gain market share by offering “natural” sunscreen. However, use of the term "sunscreen" or similar sun protection terminology in a product's labeling generally causes the product to be subject to Food & Drug Administration (FDA) regulation as a drug. Some ingredients approved as "sunscreens" may have alternate purposes in a product, such as titanium dioxide to make the product white. To avoid consumer misunderstanding, if a cosmetic product contains a sunscreen ingredient and uses the term "sunscreen" or similar sun protection terminology anywhere in its labeling, the term must be qualified, in accordance with 21 CFR 700.35(b), by describing the benefit to the cosmetic product provided by the sunscreen ingredient (for example, "Contains a sunscreen to protect product color."). Otherwise, the product may be subject to regulation as a drug (21 CFR 700.35)[2].

There are two basic types of sunscreen products on the market: products that penetrate the outermost layer of skin to absorb ultraviolet rays, and products which coat the surface of the skin to act as physical barriers to ultraviolet rays. Both of these types are rated with a sun protection factor (SPF), which lets the consumer know how much protection against UVB rays the product provides. Any product that declares a SPF on the label, qualifies as a sunscreen and is beholden to FDA requirements for Over The Counter (OTC) drug products. OTC monographs define the safety, effectiveness, and labeling of OTC active ingredients. If a drug is in the OTC final monograph, companies can manufacture and market that OTC product without FDA pre-approval[3].

Regulatory hurdles pose the greatest barrier to entry into the Sunscreen Manufacturing industry[4]. In order to sell a sunscreen product, your company must follow one of two avenues:

To manufacture and sell your own sunscreen, you must follow the Food & Drug Administration guidelines for OTC drug products:

  • FDA Registration: Sunscreen manufacturers must register with the FDA, work under GMP guidelines, and update their list of drug products twice annually.
  • Labeling rules: All sunscreen ingredients must be listed separately in the ingredient list under "active ingredients" together with the concentration used in the product.
  • Validation of claims: Claims made on the label suggesting that the product offers sun protection (UVA and/or UVB) must be substantiated with clinical and/or in-vitro testing.   

Alternately, there are numerous private label manufacturers who can manufacture sunscreen products according to FDA guidelines and package those products under your company name. This process ensures the following:

  • FDA Registration: Sunscreen “distributors” are not required to register with the FDA. This is the responsibility of the sunscreen manufacturer. As long as you are distributing a sunscreen manufactured by a qualified contract manufacturer, it is that manufacturers responsibility to register the manufacturing facility and the formula. They must work under GMP guidelines and update their list of drug products twice annually.[5]
  • Labeling rules: All sunscreen ingredients must be listed separately in the ingredient list under "active ingredients" together with the concentration used in the product. Your contract manufacturer should provide you with labels that follow FDA labeling guidelines for OTC drugs.
  • Validation of claims: It is the responsibility of the contract manufacturer to ensure that the claims made on the label suggesting that the product offers sun protection (UVA and/or UVB) are substantiated with clinical and/or in-vitro testing. Your contract manufacturer should be able to provide you with documentation corroborating any product claims.

Offering sunscreen products is not an unattainable goal, but it is imperative that your small business be aware of the requirements prior to marketing this class of products. Failure to comply with FDA guidelines may result in regulatory action including (but not limited to) your product being classified as misbranded, mandatory product recalls and fines.[6]

References:


Allison B. Kontur is an inventive scientist and educator specializing in natural cosmetic formulation and short-run, private label skincare. Since 2005, she has worked as chief cosmetic formulator, business consultant and CEO of various skin care companies. Allison is the co-founder of AliMar Labs, LLC, (www.alimarlabs.com) a private label manufacturer specializing in ultra-low minimums, as well as co-founder of the Vegan skincare line, Sydni Monique (www.sydnimonique.com).

Clever Ways To Connect to Your Customers Through Email


Email marketing can be one of the most cost-effective means of reaching your customers, but given that New York Times estimates that corporate workers get at 105 emails each day, an effective strategy starts with getting your email noticed among the sea of electronic communications. Here are four clever ways to connect with your customers through email.
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  1. Tease with a provocative headline.  An email’s subject line is akin to a headline in a newspaper article: To catch reader attention, it must be  relevant, interesting, and to the point. Before you send out your next email, don’t just tell people what it is with stale phrases like “coupon inside” or, “new product announcement”; consider what the email ultimately does for the recipient. In the case of a coupon, for example, telling them the actual dollar amount they stand to save—and presenting the coupon once they open the email may be more impactful to your click through rate efficacy. Even if you’re simply sharing great “insider” content, tease them with the ultimate “payoff,” whether the information is geared toward making them feel more beautiful, creative, healthy-- or more wealthy, in the subject line.
  2. Ask your readers what they think.  The fact that it’s free and easy to use isn’t the only reason that social media has become a powerful form of marketing for small businesses; it has everything to do with the fact that its two-way communication facilitates critical customer relationship building that leads to loyalty, and referrals. Instead of just delivering an email and telling them your message, think about ways you can get them involved, and invite them to share opinions on the topic of conversation to other social media channels like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or Instagram.
  3. Say less, show more.  You may have a lot you want to tell your audience—but consider using more white space, and fewer words. Additionally, using color to communicate a mood, and the desired call to action, can be an emotionally impactful way to reach readers through email. If your promoting a new line of product that involves exotic or exclusive ingredients, for example, enhance design elements in your email with purple to evoke such a mood. If the email message is practical in nature, such as apologizing for a customer service snafu or announcing a change in prices or policy, stick to grays, blues, and browns to communicate intellect and stability.  If you want customers to buy, integrating yellow and orange hues into email design communicates a carefree and airy mood.
  4. Take advantage of professional tools.  The key to effective email marketing as a small business is to have a strategy and purpose to your messages, including when you send them. Though you probably don’t want to bombard customers with emails every day, you’ll benefit by building some kind of predictability to your email releases, whether they arrive in the inbox every Sunday morning, Friday afternoon, or the first of each month. If you don’t have enough worthy content to share on a regular schedule (or the time to develop it), turn to technology! Scoop.it, a content curating publishing platform, recently announced a new functionality that works in tandem with the email marketing tool MailChimp, allowing you to create professional, magazine-worthy newsletters using a variety of content from sources you select from the web—in addition to the option to include your own proprietary posts and promotions. The best part? Both offer free basic subscriptions.