Tips from the Experts: Selling Handmade Lip Balm Online
You want to enter the lip balm market, but where do you start? We surveyed some of the top lip balm sellers on Etsy for expert advice on running a successful lip balm business. Hear from Carol of Snows Cut Soaps, Kim from Dirty Diva Soaps, and Allison from Epically Epic Soap.
What are your favorite ingredients for creating lip balm?
Carol: Beeswax was my go to until this past year, when I reformulated with soy wax. There is no flavor distortion and I use the same soy wax for my candles, which is a savings factor.
Kim: I like to use fresh natural and organic butter and oils in our products. A new favorite is MuruMuru butter. I just started incorporating it into some of our products and I just love it! It's deeply moisturising and imparts a glossy shine. I'm working on a hair conditioner with it now actually. I just introduced a shampoo bar with it and a new product, lip butter. I'm always on the lookout for new things and ingredients to use.
Allison: My lip balm formula has changed over the years, as I'm always looking for little improvements. The formula I currently use has candelila wax (a plant-based alternative to beeswax), organic olive oil, olive butter, jojoba, olive squalane, virgin coconut oil, and vitamin E. Flavored balms have a natural stevia sweetener, flavor oils, and essential oils.
How do you come up with your lip balm recipes?
Carol: A lot of trial and error goes into my recipes – and tasting horrible decisions! I also look at the trends. Since my shop is geared towards geekery, I ask a lot of younger people what shows they're watching, their favorite characters, and scents/flavors they find intriguing. Then back to the internet for additional research and follow-up.
Kim: It's trial and error for me too. We do a lot of testing on willing family members before anything ever hits the shop. Recipes get tweaked here and there if I find a new butter or oil I want to incorporate. I'm always thinking of new things I'd like to make. I keep a big master book of my recipes. I actually typed them up and put them in a binder maybe a year ago. I used to have them in about a dozen notebooks, mad-scientist style.
Allison: Lots and lots of study, followed by experimentation!
Where do you create all of your lip balm products?
Carol: I create all my products in my kitchen at home, though the concepts come to me everywhere. Me and my daughters go to conventions as vendors, and we are always observing the most popular characters people are dressing up as and lining up to meet. If it seems like something that will stick around for more than a year, we try to create a unique item that honors that. And, of course, our love for particular shows, movies, games, and such definitely have an impact on our product line!
Kim: When I first started out, soap was the very first thing I made and I mixed it up right in my kitchen. I started out with four scents and four listings. Now we have a dedicated studio/workshop in my home. It began as one room downstairs and now its the entire floor.
Allison: I'm fortunate to have a room in my house that makes a perfect studio space. It has an easy-to-clean tile floor, bright lighting, and a lockable door to keep my kids and pets out.
How do you ensure your lip balm stands out against competitors?
Kim: I use fresh-quality ingredients and everything is made in small batches. I still do a lot of made-to-order products that I custom-scent. It's a little time consuming but you know you're getting a fresh product! I also offer a huge range of scent options and I'm mixing and creating new scents all the time so we always have something new to offer.
Allison: There has been a lot of temptation to go with a more rustic or dark look with my branding and label design. Those styles sell well, but they're just not me. So I'm sticking with bright, colourful, fun, sometimes silly, labels.
Can you describe your lip balm production/labelling process?
Carol: A lot of groundwork and hours of doodling go into our labels. It's not good enough to come up with a new product. Anyone selling on the internet knows that it's all about marketing and how it looks on the shelf or in your product photos. You have to set yourself apart from every other product out there – whether it's the ingredients, design, packaging, etc.
I've tried to make all our products with simple, fun designs: cartoonish and graphically appealing. I measure the space on the final product and go to OnlineLabels.com to find something that will fit the bill. Often, I see an option that will make me rethink the design. It's a virtual candy store of ideas and choices!
Each label is determined by use. Online Labels offers their labels in gloss, matt, waterproof, clear, white, and colours. I need waterproof labels for my sugar scrubs, gloss labels for lip balms that stand up to being shoved in purses and pockets, matt clear labels for scent/ingredient listings on my soaps, and photo-quality labels that adhere to my candle jars.
Once I have the design nailed, it's easy to print quality labels right from my ancient computer! The best part of printing my own labels is that I'm not stuck with hundreds of labels when I get tired of one design and what to refresh it. As a graphic designer, I constantly tweak my labels.
Kim: Many of our products are made-to-order or custom scented. I create the labels that we buy from Online Labels – I have templates for each product saved and I can then change scent or the colour of the label before I print it. I package everything in biodegradable shrink wrap after labelling.
Allison: I design my labels in a old version of Adobe Illustrator that I'm comfortable with. I use the full-sheet glossy waterproof labels from Online Labels and can print 15 lip balm labels per page. Each one is cut out and placed by hand. It's definitely not the easiest way to to do things, but I find it enjoyable and relaxing.
How does branding and labelling play a role in your lip balm business?
Carol: Branding and labelling totally play a role in my business. I know my products have to stand out. My ideas are certainly not new and hundreds/thousands of people have similar products. I try tons of different ideas out to see what is successful, and failure is no reason to quit. Yes, I lose money on some ideas, but it makes me work harder to figure out what sells. But what is most important to me is that I make something visually appealing to myself, and something that I'm proud to sell.
How do you package your lip balms for safe delivery?
Carol: It is very important to me that my products make it to the buyer in the best possible condition. Instead of sticking it in an envelope, I wrap everything in tissue paper and put it in a reasonably sized box. And I always include a little freebie soap. Something as simple as end-user presentation can make the difference between meh and WOW!
Kim: We use bubble wrap as well as bubble mailers. The post office generally does a pretty good job, but things can get damaged from time to time. Anything breakable gets double bubbled.
Allison: I like to use simple packaging: plastic bags of various sizes, a copy of the customer's receipt, and a business card in a bubble mailer. I hope my customers will re-use the plastic bags for jewelry storage, snack bags, etc.
To what do you credit your success?
Allison: I'm always trying make new and unusual lip balms flavors to keep it interesting for my customers. So far I've offered more than 200 flavors at different times over the years. I'm happy to listen to customer ideas and often make the flavors they suggest. Here's a list of all they flavors I've made as of September 2018: Every Lip Balm Ever.
What do you recommend to lip balm newcomers?
Carol: To all lip balm newcomers - DO WHAT MAKES YOU HAPPY! Make something you would buy. If you are selling on the internet, NEVER let your orders build up. Dispatch immediately. Go the extra mile. Always listen to feedback. Grow your brand by always trying to make your products even better. Always be open to change and quit trying to make everyone happy.
There are vendors out there that make similar products and I would be lying if I said I'm not jealous of their success. Realistically, I can't fill 10,000 orders a year – I'm one person. But I strive to find a niche that balances my capabilities and the amount of hours in a day I can stay awake and vertical. I've made products that sit on the shelf and say to myself, "well so-and-so made something almost exactly like this and theirs are flying off the shelves"! Sometimes just renaming the product or even redrawing the label is the answer.
Sometimes success is not monetary, but ending each day with the feeling of having done the best you can.
Kim: Have fun and experiment with flavors and come up with your own unique versions of things – our newest lip balm is chocolate espresso, made from a blend of three flavors. Use good ingredients and people will keep coming back.
I think being adaptable to change is helpful. Keeping up with trends, new scents etc. I also love doing it. I work hard but it doesn't always feel like work because I enjoy it so much.
Allison: As with starting any business, if you really love it, you can do it! Be true to your vision, don't chase trends, and always listen to your customers.
Channel your inner-entrepreneur and share your lip balm ideas with the world. Get started with our lip balm labels or check out these other great articles for more Etsy seller advice and lip balm tips: