Welcome! I'm glad you're here for the first installment of my Women in Business Interviews!
I've always enjoyed learning from and following other business women, whether they were in my field of soapmaking or not. I feel like there's so much cross over with different businesses. There are things we all struggle with, and maybe someone (possibly not in our particular field) has the answer! This series will have interviews with women in a wide varieties of fields: Soapmakers, Realtors, Dog Groomers, and many more. Everyone has something interesting to bring to the table, and I'm honored to use my small platform to shine the light on these amazing business women!
With that in mind, I'd like to introduce you to someone that I greatly admire (and feel like we have so much in common haha): Laura from Northanger Soapworks!
Tell us about yourself!
Hey! I'm Laura, currently a stay at home mom to three little kids. I'm 36 and live in Madison Wisconsin. I have worked both as an earthquake engineer and a maps librarian in the past.
How did you get started soap making?
I got chronic hives after my second child was born, and in my search for wellness I somehow ended up with a few pounds of beef suet that I didn't know how to use. I googled it and found out I could use it to make soap. I had never come across handmade soap in my life before so it was very intriguing. I was also pretty depressed at the time and was excited to have a mentally engaging "project" that actually interested my left-brain chemistry-loving self. I'm not one for arts and crafts, so the science of soapmaking was what drew me to learn. That was in 2014.
What made you take the leap to turn this into a business?
My standard answer to this question is "Jane Austen made me do it," and it's the truth. I never wanted a business. On occasion I would briefly consider selling soap, but I was not passionate about selling soap for its own sake so never had the desire to begin. Once I made my first batch of Jane Austen inspired soap, however, all that changed. I desperately wanted to get more Jane Austen soap into the world, and starting a business became a necessary evil (semi-joking but really business is hard and I don't like a lot of things about having one.)
How did you decide to go into such a niche market? How did you decide on your business name?
I didn't decide so much as I fell into it. For years I thought soapmaking was only ever going to be a hobby for me, that I was a scientist, not a saleswoman. But then, the idea to do Jane Austen soap just hit me one day when I was staring at a bottle of vanilla fragrance oil. I got the idea to replicate Elizabeth Bennet's famous muddy petticoat with it, and that was the moment that changed me into an entrepreneur (if a somewhat begrudging one, haha!).
As for the business name--several months before I thought to make Jane Austen soap, I decided to create an instagram account where I could post pictures of my soapmaking hobby. I named the account Northanger Soapworks because it was meaningful to me, named after a favorite Jane Austen novel, Northanger Abbey. Northanger Abbey is the first Jane Austen novel I became acquainted with after seeing the film at age 10, which was the beginning of my lifelong fascination with Austen's works. I remember thinking that my friends were going to think me so nerdy for naming my hobby account after Northanger Abbey, but little did I know just how appropriate that name would become not long after! It was the perfect name for a Jane Austen soapmaker, and so after deciding to turn pro, I kept the name and made it official.
What are some struggles you’ve faced in your business, and how did you overcome them?
This is a tough question because I feel like my entire business is a struggle. But I am a very laser focused person and sheer relentlessness is how I overcome most challenges. It is exhausting and takes a deep toll, and then I have to overcome the struggle of burnout over and over again by taking a step back. Asking for advice from other business owners, trial and error, research, and hiring help (specifically regarding taxes) are some of the mechanisms I use to solve problems, or mitigate them. I get burnout less and less the more experience I have and the wiser I get.
Time is a huge struggle for me, as I don't have much time to myself and with no child care assistance it's a constant frustration for me when I want to get business things done but can't because my kids need me. I'm always juggling and dropping balls.
Another struggle I face is a result of my super duper narrow niche. My product only does well in select environments and getting it into those environments is really tough.
If you were starting over again, what would you do different?
I can't see myself doing anything else different. Everything I did helped me learn and become better.
Do you feel that you have a handle on work life balance? Why or why not?
Not at all. It's pretty much a catastrophe because I have very little solo time, so I have to take time from what would otherwise be family time.
Where do you find your inspiration?
My inspiration comes solely from my love of Jane Austen's work. I have documents full of ideas and notes, enough to last a lifetime.
What is your favorite technique?
I prefer simple designs and don't have much interest in special techniques. I do have a couple of soaps that look like landscapes of land and sea though, and I'm pretty proud of those. In the pot swirl is a favorite technique since it's simple and elegant.
When you were 10, what did you want to be when you grew up? Would 10 year old you be surprised to see you now?
I wanted to be an astrophysicist. 10 year old me would be extremely surprised, but would probably think my business name a good choice.
What are you most proud of in your personal and professional life?
Personally, I'm proud of my kids. Professionally, I'm proud that I inspire people to read.
What tip would you give to someone starting out?
I would say to make sure you are passionate about what you do. Business is really hard and only that passion will get you to keep showing up every day.
Where can we find you?
You can find me at northangersoapworks.com and on instagram & facebook @northangersoapworks.
I hope y'all enjoyed getting to know Laura as much as I did! Don't forget to give her a follow on social, and if you're interested in being featured in an interview contact me here!