Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in personal care but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Judith Sweeney, Co-Founder of Bubbles & Balms, located in Lower Norton, NB, Canada.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
We serve the skin care needs of people with dry and sensitive skin through the best-smelling, naturally derived, science-backed formulations in zero-waste packaging.
Tell us about yourself
I've had eczema and atopic dermatitis for the majority of my life. I was uncomfortable in my skin- in every sense. I struggled to feel confident and sexy, and as a young woman, being limited to unscented products or smelling like oatmeal, well, it was a bummer. I wanted to smell great and feel even better. And then I found that comfort in a small shop that sold natural products made with essential oils and butters. I indulged in aromatherapy and was never far from a bottle of this or a butter for that.
In 2014 my partner and I made the move across the country to Alberta, where I worked as a geriatric and palliative care LPN. We no longer had access to the natural whipped butters that I had come to view as my saving grace. The dry mountain air left my skin feeling so raw and painful that my regular bathing routine was limited to sink baths with a washcloth. Baths were where I could decompress- and not being able to have those moments was nearly as painful as eczema itself.
I didn't want to feel like this. I hated feeling like this. So, my mother and I went to the local library and checked out every single book on natural product making. We started with soap, and I fell in love with not just how my body felt but the creative process too. I was hooked. I'd read countless articles and tried various riffs on products (there were a lot of failed attempts in those early days, but I had the passion and a drive to keep going. Dig deeper. Search harder. Do better.) And my skin and sanity thanked me endlessly.
Our cupboards were overflowing, and I had already gifted several products to everyone I knew. My husband (and partner) encouraged me to begin taking the products to local markets. As an introvert, it was the scariest thing I had ever done. But the support and love for the products grew quickly, and within a blink of an eye, we opened up our first boutique in December 2014.
There's a lot more to our story. The move back to New Brunswick, hanging up my LPN career for entrepreneurship, our search for sustainability, education, the hurdles of the pandemic, impact investment, switching to e-commerce, the challenges of parenthood, mental health struggles, and diagnoses... but my passion and drive remains the same. There are enough people who feel extraordinarily uncomfortable on the inside. I don't want them to feel uncomfortable on the outside too. That's what keeps me motivated to make the best-smelling daily care products for dry & sensitive skin.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
Being here. Today. 9 years from where we started, seeing the evolution of our brand, the hurdles we overcame, and the failures we've learned from (there are always a lot of those). But most of all, it's knowing I've made a difference in other people's lives because I chose to take charge of mine.
I had this customer I met a few years ago who said something that has stuck with me since. A mother with tears in her eyes was thanking my partner and me. Her child could finally enjoy a bath without tears and pain because of our products. That touched my soul. How can any other accomplishment or award beat that? (It most certainly can't).
What's one of the hardest things that comes with being a business owner?
The biggest challenge for me is change. You have to embrace it, and it's not always easy. Branding, algorithms, marketing strategies, regulations, industries, staff members, partners. They all change in some shape or form as society evolves- as YOU evolve. You also need to let go of things that no longer serve you and jump into things that scare you sh*tless. Change is inevitable- and I've gotten a lot better at accepting it than when I first started, but I know I still have a long way to go.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Document all processes as you make them. Update them ASAP when things change. This will make it a lot easier to hire someone down the line, even if you think it will be "just you" forever - you will absolutely want an up-to-date Process Doc. (We keep ours digitally so it can be updated quickly).
- Keep your head down and do your work. Don't look at what your competitor is doing so frequently that you lose faith in what YOU'RE doing. Find your differentiator/niche and hit a home run. (Also, be kind to your competitors, they can become the best allies - there's room enough for you both.)
- Talk to people. Our business began to grow best when we looked for customers & mentors to get feedback from. As an introvert - it was painful the first few times to make that initial outreach, but I promise the more you do it, the easier and better it and your company gets.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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