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  • Writer's pictureDominique

How I started my small business

Updated: Jan 20, 2022

Between nursery rhymes and changing diapers, I managed to add the title of CEO to my resume. I launched a natural skincare brand called Dewberry Face during my maternity leave.

I’ve received quite a few questions about how I took my hobby and turned it into side hustle. If you’re thinking of making a similar leap, keep reading to get a behind the scenes look at how I built my small e-commerce business.

Understand where you stand out

Before you commit to starting your business, you need to come up with your unique value proposition. In other words what sets you apart from the competition? Spend some time researching the market you’re looking to enter. This will give you a good idea of the potential and will help you uncover any gaps that you can fill.

The international cosmetics market was estimated to be worth over $36 billion (usd) in 2019 and each year, clean and green products continue to take up more space. I analysed a dozen brands in this space and looked at everything from their values and customers, to their offering and price point.

From this analysis I was able to start making decisions on how Dewberry Face would be positioned in the market to add value to potential customers. Here are my early notes on how I wanted to position my business:

Dewberry Face will be a natural skincare line that targets the most common early signs of aging. The products will be designed with elements of yoga and mindfulness to give new mamas a grounding self-care moment in their busy day. My customers will feel good knowing that the ingredients they are applying to their skin are high-quality, organic and planet-friendly. Dewberry Face will offer a capsule line of luxury products that truly work, at an accessible price point (under $50).

Get to know your ideal customer

I wanted to be in the anti-aging category of natural skincare because they are most focused on performance. There are two distinct groups in this category – mature customers who want to reverse damage and signs of aging with potent ingredients and younger customers who want to prevent signs of aging with ingredients that protect and strengthen their skin.

I knew that my story would resonate more with the younger group because I had created my products to restore balance in my own skin during my post-partum period. With this in mind, I chose to focus on women in their 30’s to 40’s who are interested in natural products as my ideal customer with extra attention to new moms.

As a way to better understand my ideal customer, I reached out to these women in my own network to ask them questions about their skin concerns and skincare routine. This was valuable information as I began to design my line.

Research & develop with the help of others

I spent a dizzying amount of time researching the benefits of individual botanicals and actives in PubMed. I felt like my progress was stalled in indecision and I was *this close* to giving up on my small business dream.

I decided that I needed help from some experts and registered to an organic anti-aging skincare program with a top school in the UK. It was a worthwhile investment. They guided me through the research and development phase and I felt confident knowing that my products were as good as they could possibly be.

My biggest take away here is to find a mentor or network that has gone through the process of starting a business in your industry. There is so much value in bouncing ideas off of others and learning from their experience.

Now that I had completed my research, I could move on to developing my prototypes. I formulated a batch of serums that target the two biggest skin concerns of my ideal customer – protecting the skin from environmental damage (Morning Dew) and building up the skin’s barrier (Evening Bloom).

I delivered my prototypes to a group of new mamas and asked them to use the product every day for a month and report back on the changes in their skin. The results were in! My mom friends were reporting glowy, hydrated and smoother skin.

With their suggestions, I made a few tweaks (more organic ingredients and hassle-free glass bottles) and finalized my formulations. After all these months, my products were ready to enter the stability testing phase.

What’s your (brand) story?

I used an unconventional method to develop my brand. Instead of launching my brand fully baked, I decided to build it organically using storytelling. I did this by using a content first approach where my brand evolved through a series of blog posts documenting my journey into skincare formulation.

As I got closer to my official product launch, I solidified the brand with a Dewberry Face brand guide which included details on:

  • Voice and tone

  • Logo

  • Values

  • Visuals/Filters

  • Fonts

  • Colour palette

I also included highlights from Health Canada’s cosmetic advertising guide to make sure that any marketing copy that I produce adheres to their regulations.

When I was ready to launch my products, I upgraded my blog to include an e-commerce platform and began the website redesign based on the guide that I had prepared. Those of you who followed along in the early days may have noticed the rebrand as Dewberry Face transitioned from blog to shop!

Your suppliers are your brand

There were areas that I didn’t want to compromise on when working with suppliers and developed a check list to make sure they were meeting the highest standard in quality, safety and sustainability. Here are some of the items that made it into my checklist:

I was committed to using local suppliers who were able to meet my criteria. My bottle/caps and dried botanicals are from suppliers here in Ottawa, my raw ingredients are from suppliers in Ontario and Quebec and my labels are made in Ontario. This means that when someone supports my business, they are supporting other local businesses as well. It also means that less fuel was used during delivery which ties into my sustainability values.

Making it official

Now it was time to work on the finishing touches that would make Dewberry Face an official business.

  • Determined business structure (incorporation vs. sole proprietorship)

  • Bought business insurance (through an industry association)

  • Registered my business name (with the province)

  • Got a P.O. box (for labels and mailing address)

  • Determined a pricing strategy (with my accountant)

  • Opened a business bank account (to connect to my e-commerce platform)

  • Met Health Canada regulations (product forms and labels)

I think that covers it! Have you started a small business? Tell me about it in the comments.

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