How I Left My Job To Start A $2K/Month Skin And Hair Care Brand

Start A Skin Care Line
About The Company
Coming Up With The Idea
Building The Product
Launching The Business
Growing The Business
Revenue + Financials
Lessons Learned
Recommended Tools
Books & Resources
Advice For Founders
$2,000
revenue/mo
1
Founders
1
Employees
product
Aura Sensory
from COPLEY
started February 2012
$2,000
revenue/mo
1
Founders
1
Employees
7.1M
alexa rank
128
followers
Discover what tools Danna reccommends to grow your business!
Discover what books Danna reccommends to grow your business!
Listen to the audio version of this story!

Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

Hello, my name is Danna Norek and I am the founder of Aura Sensory. I am a company of one, supported enthusiastically by my husband who lends the occasional genius business idea. My company offers a growing line of safer, high-quality, effective skin, and hair care products that are universally affordable.

how-i-left-my-job-to-start-a-2k-month-skin-and-hair-care-brand

My flagship product is Natural Shine Enhancing Shampoo, followed closely by Nourish & Hydrate Face Cream. These two products have been around since almost day one, have attracted the most repeat customers, and continue to be strong performers, and attract the most significant volume of glowing reviews and unwavering customer loyalty.

Aura Sensory has a solid customer base of roughly 350 returning customers and is growing this list every day. Based on upcoming product and enhancement ideas, projections are to add at least another 200 returning customers by this time next year as new avenues of customer acquisition and new product ideas are explored.

how-i-left-my-job-to-start-a-2k-month-skin-and-hair-care-brand

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

The seed was planted so to speak, toward the end of 2011 to start a business with what had become one of my passions to live a healthier, more toxin-free lifestyle. I already had a side business of creating health and wellness content and unique websites and blogs to draw traffic and affiliate income. It was definitely a passion of mine to teach and talk about health, beauty, wellness, and natural alternatives to traditional medicine. However, I always had an underlying desire to create a brand and product of my own.

If you passionately believe in your product or products and business idea, it makes it a lot easier to tough it out through the hard times.

One day while on the treadmill during my lunch hour (day job), I had a sudden inspiration to begin formulating my own products. I wasn’t sure exactly what that would look like yet, but initially, I was thinking in the arena of nontoxic natural perfumes and air freshener sprays. The name Aura Sensory was actually based on this idea, and although I ended up going in a slightly different direction with it, the name still resonated with me, and I decided to keep it.

The inspiration for my first product came to while away on a business/pleasure trip with my husband. We had forgotten our normal brand of natural deodorant, so we had to buy a different natural deodorant at a big box store by a well-known brand. My husband ended up having a bad reaction to it, breaking out in blisters just a couple of hours after application. Something clicked and I thought, I can probably make a natural deodorant better than the ones we had been buying.

My goal was to create something that smelled great, was sensitive skin-friendly, did not have petroleum-based wetting agents, artificial fragrances and colors, or aluminum, and lasted all day long without having to be reapplied as natural deodorants so often require. I happen to be a really good cook, and believe it or not, making your own skin and hair care products isn’t that far off from knowing how to combine ingredients into a tasty concoction.

That doesn’t mean it all translates well though – there is of course still a learning curve. After many missteps, a lot of wasted ingredients, and what seemed like never-ending trial and error, I ended up with my very first product – a natural deodorant in a roll-up applicator.

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

The costs of designing my first core set of products were minimal, but not insignificant. Costs on equipment, ingredients, wasted batches through experimentation, the energy costs expended to make the product, and the initial packaging and labeling were in the arena of $800.

Factoring in the decisions that didn’t go so well, such as labels, bottles, and packaging that just didn’t fit the look and functionality I was going for, the total cost for initial product design and manufacturing may have just tipped $1,500. I wanted to get it as close to final as I could before actually launching the website and putting the small line of initial products on the market. It’s interesting to reflect now, that even though I thought those products were final when the business officially launched, they were enhanced tens of times over before they became what they are today.

Now it was time to delve into something I wasn’t familiar with – trademarking my brand name and figuring out what type of license(s) I needed to sell my own products. This was all unfamiliar territory to me. With the help of Legal Zoom, I was able to submit all of the necessary paperwork and supporting information to request the right to the Aura Sensory name for around $700 at the time. I knew I could have probably figured it out on my own and only paid the Trademark fee. However I felt a sense of urgency, and it was important for me to get it right and to also get it as soon as possible.

We did get one trademark challenge from a company based in France that had a perfume with the word “Aura” in it, however, this was never followed up on, and we were able to secure the name. The day I got the USPTO certificate in the mail, I went and bought a nice frame. It felt like a victory, and the beginning of something great, and it still hangs in front of my home office desk to this day.

After the trademark was successful, I committed full bore and began formulating what are now my flagship products, the Natural Shine Enhancing Shampoo and Nourish & Hydrate Face Cream. Not without complications, of course. There were many days of frustration, wasted batches, reformulation after reformulation, and even some scorched pans and exploded Ball Jars.

But I kept on. I also obtained a vendor’s license which I needed to sell products in the state of Ohio and got hard to work on my website. I knew these products would work really fantastically because I had exhaustively researched the ingredients and how they would all work together. I also knew that if I could keep the costs to make, label, and bottle them down, I could offer them at a very affordable price while maintaining a healthy profit margin.

Describe the process of launching the business.

Thankfully, working my day job in the insurance industry and having an already-functioning side business provided enough free cash for me to independently bankroll my launch from start to finish. I was able to secure the trademarked name, get the website domains I needed, find a web hosting company, and put a little money into some advertising to get things started.

Leveraging my experience writing for healthy lifestyle types of websites, I decided the best and most cost-effective way get the word out would be by requesting to post unique content on related websites. Since the articles would have a link to my website and a tagline, this would bring in somewhat targeted, virtually free traffic and help me start building a customer base.

I dabbled in other forms of advertising, such as banner advertising and some Google Adwords, but I found the ROI wasn’t worth the outlay of advertising dollars and tried instead to rely on organic traffic strategies. Although organic methods are time-consuming, it’s like striking gold if even one article or story goes viral. It’s better than any advertising you would pay for.

This is why free PR is invaluable in my opinion. I’ve consistently gotten the best ROI on organic marketing efforts that take a lot of time investment, but very little to no money. With the costs for search engine marketing and per-click advertising costs, this was the only viable option for my small, low overhead venture.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

It sounds cliché because it is so oft-repeated, but the customer IS always right. Although the return rate on my products is extremely low, I offer a no questions asked 30-day money-back guarantee on all products. This means customers know they can try my products essentially risk-free – they would just be out any cost of shipping if applicable.

Free shipping really does work. Free shipping on orders $35 and over was just added to the website six months ago and a lot of customers wasted no time in taking advantage of the new incentive. Of course, a whole adjustment had to be made to product pricing since this can cut into profit margins - and that is still an ongoing balancing act. However, I think I’ve finally gotten this calibrated to where it will be fully advantageous to both my business and my customers.

This incentive has resulted in higher average order totals and has squelched the distaste many customers may have felt in having to pay for something that is intangible and offers no real benefit or enjoyment to them. Shipping costs have been identified as one of the primary reasons behind cart abandonment for eCommerce businesses, so it’s well worth a look for any business looking to cut down potential customer loss.

While we’re talking about shipping, I’ve found customers really appreciate lightning-fast shipping. In the age of Amazon, we’ve all gotten used to virtually instant gratification after shopping online. When you have to compete with one of the most efficient, cost-effective, and fastest shippers out there, you want to be on your game and get orders out as quickly as possible.

Retention has been a strong suit, while new customer acquisition is one of the biggest challenges I face. As touched on earlier, I continue to look for free or virtually free avenues for new customer acquisition and unique, underutilized strategies for free or low-priced marketing and exposure. One of the strategies for this in the coming year will be offering new products to attract a different set of customers, and new sizes of existing products.

My customers love sales. I maintain a list of over 1,000 opt-in email subscribers. I don’t believe in sending out too many superfluous emails since people are so bombarded with emails and sales pitches every day. Once about every two months, I send out a sale email with any new details on new product offerings, upcoming offerings, or links to timely blog posts.

I also include any new glowing reviews that products have received to potentially upsell customers who have not yet tried these products. It’s always a great success and brings in roughly 5-6 times average daily sales. It’s a great way to not only bring in some extra revenue but to get your customers excited about new products or to even remind customers you’re there if they haven’t ordered in a while.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

Today Aura Sensory is profitable, and with the recent pricing adjustments, it stands to be even more profitable in the coming year. Costs of raw materials will need to be monitored continuously as the current supply chain issues caused by the viral outbreak have had an impact on some material costs – as well as material availability.

Monthly sales average anywhere from $1,500 to $3,000 depending on the season, level of exposure, and promotional sales. On the flip side, monthly costs run around $1,000, sometimes lower if materials and packaging inventory is steady. The pricing adjustments will likely increase the average sales numbers, and provide a better profit margin ratio in the coming months.

Having a generous spirit and knowing that without your customers, you wouldn’t have a business, is invaluable. It not only builds goodwill, but pays off in spades when it comes to how loyal your customers will be, and how many will be willing to spend their precious time to provide a rave review.

The majority of our sales flow directly from AuraSensory.com, however, we do have a secondary presence on Etsy. This brings in a new stream of potential customers and exposes us to a wider audience than just a direct website alone, so it’s been a great complimentary sales avenue.

With a more pronounced focus on organic search engine optimization through unique organic content and exposure on like-minded websites and introductions of new products and sizes, projections are to increase sales by approximately 15-20% by this time next year.

We also have a new product launch for something unique for the Aura Sensory brand in that it is designed to be a natural remedy. The new Herbal Relief Lip Balm targets fever blisters (aka cold sores) with a blend of lemon balm and peppermint oils. It has a higher price point than our traditional lip balms due to raw material costs, and hopes are high that this will quickly become a best-selling customer favorite that acts as a magnet for new customer acquisition.

how-i-left-my-job-to-start-a-2k-month-skin-and-hair-care-brand

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

I’ve learned that adaptability and a “roll with the punches” attitude are vital in starting any new business. You’re learning new things constantly, and almost always out of your comfort zone. This can be incredibly uncomfortable and humbling and at times exasperating. If you don’t have a naturally adaptable attitude, the likelihood of throwing in the towel goes up exponentially.

If you passionately believe in your product or products and business idea, it makes it a lot easier to tough it out through the hard times. Believing that your vision can one day be a potential sole stream of income, or even better – grow into a huge brand, really helps get you through periods of frustration.

One of my biggest mistakes early on was product inconsistency. I mistakenly thought that changing brands or vendors for raw materials wouldn’t make a difference in my end product. It ended up being one of the most costly mistakes I made as it impacted my product consistency in quality.

I ended up losing some potential long-term customers and I still look back at that period with regret. However, I’ve learned from that mistake and have made changes to the way I handle unexpected unavailability of raw materials or packaging. Being uncompromising on raw material quality has helped my products to maintain high quality consistently, which is huge.

Be prepared. At the beginning of my venture, I had written an article about natural deodorant options for a fairly popular natural health site. I submitted it without much of a thought and was quickly flooded with orders. More orders than I could keep up with. Many orders ended up being rushed with less than stellar quality or shipped late.

It was a lesson I learned early on to always be prepared for a big uptick in business and never to underestimate the power of “free press”. Any paid advertising has paled in comparison, and much of it is not affordable or realistic to smaller businesses as costs per click continue to rise.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

A happy accident occurred when my website unexpectedly was hacked about two years ago, destroying all content and forcing me to find another platform for my website and online store. After comparing the big three eCommerce platforms, BigCommerce came out the clear winner for my specific needs.

It was the best decision I made, and although losing my website created multiple problems in lost content and several days of being out of commission, in retrospect, it was a real blessing. Had I not lost my website, I may have taken a lot longer to make the switch I knew I needed to make. BigCommerce has a great shipping system that calibrates accurate shipping costs, a big deal if you want to offer the most cost-effective shipping costs to your customers. They are also very user friendly. You don’t have to be extremely savvy to build a basic, professional looking website with great functionality.

I also love using Fiverr and the BigCommerce partners for jobs that I simply don’t know how to do. Outsourcing things I’m just not that good at or don’t have the time to do has been great for freeing up my time to focus on my strengths at building my business. It also ensures the job is done right, by professionals who certainly know better than I. I’ve used these third-party services for tweaks needed on my website which involve coding, taking more professional pictures or editing them, and banner creation.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill was my earliest exposure to motivational “self-help” literature. It really made an impact on me at a young age. The book was written in the early 1900s and some of the the vernacular is a bit dated. However, the core lessons still hold. The main themes in achieving success are persistence, a positive outlook, resilience, and the conviction to keep going even when you just “don’t feel like it”. I’ve read it three times over the past 2 decades.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey is another one of my classic go-to’s when I need some motivation. Although this book is coming up on its 32nd anniversary, it contains timeless messages about how our habits really influence the outcome of our lives. He focuses not only on habits anyone can develop but also on how to really sharpen personality strengths. Empathy, constant growth and learning and always keeping future goals as your guiding light in times of doubt are just a few of the big lessons I’ve taken from his teachings.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?

My first piece of advice would be to make sure your idea is something you really believe in and enjoy, regardless of whether you were trying to make a business of it. I always think of the adage “if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life”. Now, of course, I can love what I do, which is making products that I believe in (and use myself), but there are definitely parts of owning a challenging business. That’s where resilience and fortitude really pay off.

BE GENEROUS. I can’t tell you how many great reviews I’ve gotten because I included something free in the order, or I’ve gone out of my way to help someone with their product questions, or have rectified a shipping or product issue promptly.

Having a generous spirit and knowing that without your customers, you wouldn’t have a business, is invaluable. It not only builds goodwill, but pays off in spades when it comes to how loyal your customers will be, and how many will be willing to spend their precious time to provide a rave review.

When you own your own business, and you are the CEO, the advertising department, the web designer, the accountant, and everything in between, there are of course some things that aren’t going to be your natural strengths. Work hard to sharpen your skills in the areas you lack or find good help you can hire to help you get those things done if your budget allows.

Always invest in yourself. Make ongoing learning a priority. If it’s not reading a self-help or business book, then listen to a great podcast on your way to your day job in the car, or maybe take some time out to take an online course.

Where can we go to learn more?

At our website AuraSensory.com you can read more about the business, the product line, and lots of educational articles in our blog, visit the Etsy store, or email me.

-  
Danna Norek,   Founder of Aura Sensory

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