Does It Get Easier?

I recently received an email from a business owner in the middle of ramp-up stresses. She asked, “I guess I should ask you of all people, who has achieved what I consider to be the greatest of success… does it get any better? Is there light @ the end of the tunnel???” I ended up writing her a small novel and after I hit the ‘send’ button realized that if she had this question, perhaps other people did as well.

Does it get any easier?

Here was my response:

I’ve been sitting on your email for a few days, really pondering it and trying to come up with an answer that is truthful. Of course, being self-employed, the ‘truth’ about job happiness, job satisfaction and job competence varies by the day, the hour, even the minute. But overall, running a larger company [compared to a start-up] is easier in some ways, more difficult in others.

What gets easier:

(1)    All the ‘little details’ get easier. There’s a theory that if you do something for 10,000 hours, you become an expert in them and therefore, they come easier and more naturally. This is certainly true of little things in business. The longer you do it, the more times you come up against situations. And, you have more data points to refer to that help you figure out how to handle the situation. For example, the first time we had a mis-delivered package, we were stressed out. Now that we have 15 years of experience under our belt with mis-delivered packages, we have a large set of data points to help us make decisions about what to do with the package. Ditto employment decisions. Ditto banking and finance issues. And any number of other business issues.

(2)    Leadership. Over time, I’ve come to embrace the idea that I am a leader within my family, my company and my community. It took a while to get comfortable with this idea. Now, I actively read and learn from other leaders. I strive to be intentional with my leadership style. Many things that make a good leader can actually be learned (though where you find one person saying that, you will find others saying that leaders are born only). Working hard on it makes you a better leader.

(3)    Confidence. This comes from doing the same thing, day in and day out. I am reasonably confident that many decisions I make are sound business decisions. This was not the case when I was a new business owner. I second-guessed everything (*everything!*) and that led to stress, worry and sleepless nights. I still make poor business decisions but I’d like to think they’re more few and far in between.

(4)    Boundaries. After one too many late nights at the office, snapping at your spouse because you’re sleep-deprived, listening to your friends talk about an event they attended but you couldn’t because you were working and having your jeans not button because you’re burning the candle at too many ends, I have gotten better about putting my own life jacket on first. I still work more than most people but rarely does a day go by that I don’t work out for an hour. Most days of the week, I get my baby boy up in the mornings and put him to sleep – and spend quality meal times as a family together daily.

What doesn’t get easier:

(1)    Firing people. This never gets easier. I hate it. I hate the look of pain and anger and failure that flashes across peoples’ faces. I hate the feeling that I failed them, that I could have tried harder at coaching, knowing that they’ll be out of a job. I hate it. Hate it. Hate it. And, I still do it. I mentally go over what I’m going to say. I set an intention for how it’s going to go. I take a deep breath. And, I do it.

(2)    Giving negative feedback. Sometimes, you have to tell someone that they simply don’t have the underlying skills or abilities to do the job. And sometimes, you have to tell someone that they’re not a good fit for the company because of attitude, work ethic or other issues. Often, this clashes with the employees’ world view. This is a difficult (but necessary) message to convey. But, it does not get easier (at least, not for me).

(3)    JAQQ. The interruptions do not stop. The ‘Just a Quick Questions’ come faster, more often and from more people. This causes a massive loss of momentum for any and all projects which means everything takes longer to do. Finding precious focus time becomes more difficult.

(4)    Missing stuff. Despite having clear boundaries, you can’t do it all. I can’t do it all. I say ‘No’ to fun opportunities a lot. But if I don’t say ‘No’, it inevitably leads to tears and fatigue.

(5)    Being lonely. Sometimes, the buck does stop with you. There is no one to complain to. Many people do not want to hear your problems because they don’t understand them and as far as they’re concerned, you choose to have the worries you do because you are self-employed. As you grow, the numbers get so big that the number of people that have ‘been there, done that’ get less and less. Sometimes, you really do have to shoulder the stress yourself, make the tough choices and move on.

(6)    The criticism. The bigger you get, the more exposure you have to more and more people who all have an opinion on something you did (or did not do). And, when people can be mostly anonymous thanks to the great wide interweb, they can be more mean, more harsh or more cutting than they would ever dream about being to your face. I read things on the internet about myself or my company that take my breath away and feel like a punch in the solar plexus.  Often, they’re unfair or downright wrong but there’s not much to do about it.

(7)    Cash flow. Cash flow does not change magically when you get bigger. What was a $100 problem 10 years ago is a $10,000 problem now. What took $5000 to stock up inventory for the holiday season 15 years ago would buy 1 or 2 fragrances only for the holiday season now. Cash is always king, no matter if you’re big or small. Finding that cash is always the name of the game.

I think being self-employed and following your passion (or in this case, my passion) is absolutely the best job in the world. I would not trade it for anything. I feel like I’m making a difference in the lives of others every day and positively impacting my community. It’s all worth it and if your job still thrills you daily, you should keep plowing forward until you reach that next plateau. I’m here for you. Keep me posted on how your business journey goes.

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  1. Angie says

    I have just stumbled upon the joys of home made soap and lotion making and LOVE BOTHOF YOUR WEBSITES! I am so excited to find what may be a second calling and your advice, ideas and product are awesome! placing my first order with Bramble berry today and am so excited! can’ t wait to pick your brain :)

  2. Becky with Bombshell Bath Co says

    While I am not new to making soap, I am new to the business side of things. Just recently breaking out on my own, investing and creating my own company. I cried while reading this, not because I am sad, but because I am just so happy that I feel supported. Thank you so much. Love the recipes, love the blog, love love love it all. It feels great knowing there is a community out there for me in my new venture. PS Made my first $250.00 this weekend!

    • says

      Hi Becky – Thank you so much for your comment. I am absolutely delighted, thrilled and thankful that you found this post helpful. I’ve had lots of long days, that led into weeks where I felt alone, tired and dejected. And ultimately, it’s all worth it to be self employed in a job I love, working with people I respect and admire. I hope you will get to this place in your business as well. Your first $25 is definitely on the way there! =) Congrats on a successful first weekend!

  3. says

    Ann-Marie. You have been a total inspiration to me for years. I have admired the way you have progressed over the years, and with a young family. I did not start soaping until 1997′ at which time I was in my forties. It has taken me a long time to get where I am, but it’s people like you who have inspired me, and made me want to keep going. I love your blog and all the helpful advise that you freely offer!!

    • says

      You are so sweet, Darlene! I’ll make sure that this gets passed onto A-M. We are so happy that you are soaping and have been able to be so successful over the years. Good luck for the future and Happy Soaping! =)
      -Becky with Bramble Berry

  4. says

    Hi Anne-Marie, I just wanted to say that you inspire me! I started soap-making as a last resort to my daughters eczema and it did wonders! I am a Pharmacist and also have an MBA but was too scared to “make the jump”. I have been following your blogs and website since last year and i finally did it! I have just opened my own soap making business here in Tanzania! I hope i make it!

  5. Michelle Meert says

    Dear Anne-Marie:
    I want to take the time to tell you how much I appreciate all your blog posts especially the Wednesday, February 27th ‘Does it Get Any Easier?’ entry and to comment.
    Thank you for all you do to continually inspire and encourage women, entrepreneurs, and soapers. You freely give of your experiences and knowledge to fellow soapers out of your love for the craft not profitability. Your websites are indispensable for help, inspiration, and honest talk. I am at a point where I need to decide how large an audience I want to attract without giving up the fun aspects of making the soaps. These comments were very helpful in putting the inevitable and not-so-fun business practices into perspective.
    The Brambleberry Company has been a pleasure to work with for ordering supplies. The website is easy to use and Helpful in the many ways you can link to recipes, ordering, Soap Queen, and videos.
    It really struck me when you blogged how the criticism never gets easy and can be very harsh and cutting. Although it won’t erase those remarks, I just wanted to tell you how many of us appreciate all that you have done to advance the craft of handmade soaps and you are such a super-star. You do it with all your heart, mind and soul and you do it very WELL.

    • Anne-Marie says

      Thank you for your kind words =))) You are at a difficult place in your business – to grow or not to grow.

      Maybe this experience will help a little bit; Bramble Berry is located in Washington State. We are perhaps the most inconveniently located soapamking supply vendor (ever!). Four years ago, my COO and I got super serious about how we could grow the business and we decided the most viable way would be to open up a TN warehouse (centrally located, fast shipping to the entire nation etc…). We scouted houses and warehouses in TN. We planned the logistics (flights to TN, who would go, who would set up the warehouse, the budget etc…) but when it came time to pull the trigger, neither he nor I wanted to spend 1 week per month in TN, away from our families. We both knew that we were (and are) giving up possible sales but we also decided that there is a price to put on our satisfaction, enjoyment and fulfillment with work and life. And, the reality is, nobody loves your baby like you do; so just passing off the location to someone to run is a lovely idea but probably not practical in practice for our complicated supply chain and shipping model. So, while I’m not saying we’ll never do it (situations change, circumstances vary), we came to the conclusion that work/life balance was more important than growth for growth’s sake.

      I’m not sure if this situation is at all relevant to where you are in your business but I wish you the best of luck as you continue to travel down the wonderful path of entrepreneurship and self-sufficiency. It IS worth it; I swear =)

  6. Lolita Perez says

    My two favorite things to make are soap and salsa. There’s nothing sweeter than to see the family enjoy both!

    I love your army soap that you made. Although the campers tend to prefer the real Army Soap found at That’s the one for outside adventurers.

    Soap versus candle making? My vote is soap! Soooooo much more appreciated. 😉

    • says

      Soap and salsa? Sounds like a fabulous combination. You can always create your own Army Soap that is similar to that one, the skies the limit with all the creative things you can do with soap. =)
      -Becky with Bramble Berry

  7. Lori says

    First and for most-Thank you for your time and all the information you give out.
    My dream is to one day come to the yearly soap weekend I have read about. I have helped my husband run his shutter business for over 10 years and your info is right on. I have been making soap for about a year now and have started to do the craft fairs. I love it.
    Due to health issues my husband has been unable to work in the shutter business for a year now and may not be able to go back it is nice to know that my soap is a help. I my self am unable to hold down a normal job due to taking care of my mom who lives with us and home schooling my kids. Making soap is a passion. I love the art side of it and also the science side (I majored in bio chemistry in college). So this is the blend of both things I love. Loving what you do and turning it in to a business is hard work,yet if you love doing it then it really is not work at all. I am so excited about all the new ideas and products that you have showed me. I really want to get into a lot of it right now. I am going to first perfect my cp soap and a few other things be for I expand my line of inventory.
    You are such an encouragement to me. I am so excited if I am not making soap I am on you web site learning as much as I can. I can not get enough. Thank God I have a very understanding husband and kids. They help me a lot and are very encouraging. Thank you again for all you do, you are changing lives.

    • Anne-Marie says

      I so agree with you that loving what you do and turning it into a business makes it not like work at all! I can easily work long weeks because I am so passionate about my “job”. If there is anything I can do to help you perfect your CP soap as you expand your inventory and continue to support your family, let me know. =) I love that you have the flexibility to make soap work for you as your family is in this time of transition. You have a lot going on!

  8. Lavonna says

    I’m just getting started and am excited by the creativity that you bring and how easy you make it seem.
    Thank you for taking the time out and responding to us all.

  9. says

    I’m Italian and here it all seems so complicated .. bureaucracy and regulations regarding the manufacture and sale of soap are complicated and restrictive but passion makes me look forward to fulfill my dreams and my future! In my future there’s soap!
    Thank you Anne-Marie for the inspiration and encouragement you have given us :)

    • Anne-Marie says

      Yes, the EU does have significantly different regulations that appear to be a barrier to entry for many people looking to start a small, handcrafted soap or cosmetics company. I am so glad that you have the passion to push through. Making handcrafted, small batch cosmetics is a wonderful business and a great outlet for creativity.

  10. says

    Iam so dependent on your posts. It seems that just as I am heading into a pity party for myself or when I am feeling very overwhelmed one of your posts will get me out of my funk.
    You are a voice of reason and hope. I can’t begin to tell you how much and I always print your posts so that I can read them again on times of stress or self doubt.
    I can not believe that someone would say something mean about you but I guess it takes all kinds to make up this world.
    All I can say is THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR YOU.

  11. says

    This is a great post Anne-Marie. I know it was not an easy one to write either. It is applicable to many business fields as well. While I am still a baby in the soap business, I was a teacher for many years and the leadership roles are similar. Many good things including our own personal growth and the contributions we make to the growth of others. On the flip side there are many things that will never be easy to handle (i.e. letting someone go, or telling a student that they are not passing). Written from the heart and I thank you for that.

  12. Michele says

    So completely inspirational and eye opening. Thank you for this.
    I too,love your business musings-I’d love to read even more of them as I struggle to put good business practices in place-let’s face it for me, I’d rather be making soap-it’s my real comfort zone.I’m working towards “loving” the business side as well-you’re articles are always so helpful.

  13. says

    Excellent and well written. I am going to print this out and keep it at my office. It’s true in all types of business! Thank you for this!

  14. Nicole Aretz says

    Dear Anne-Marie,
    Thank you very much for posting the 4 Points of “what get’s easier”. I like especially Points 1 and 3, they give me comfort.
    I always love your “Business musings” and of course all your other Posts, too.
    All the best wishings for you,
    Nicole, Germany

  15. says

    Wow, what a blog post to read with my first cup of coffee! My business and personal profile sounds very similar to Joanne’s above; our business is 13 years old and my husband and I work from the studio next to and in the gardens around our house. While I don’t aspire to being the next BB or even to running a brick and mortar shop, I am a workaholic, always thinking about how to grow and market my business, fit in everything I aspire to accomplish in business, personal life and community, and find balance within the boundaries and goals prescribed by age and place in life.

    As a longtime customer of BB, I have been fascinated by and learned a lot from watching your growth as a business and a young woman. On the surface of things are the useful tips and recipes you share for product development. Beyond that, I like to study and puzzle through the many examples of marketing, multimedia, multitasking and balancing work,family and community. Some examples are spoon-fed blog posts like the one today, but there is much to learn from thinking about what it must take for you to do what you do. I get so much inspiration thinking about all the ways you connect the dots, and how I might apply your model to my own skill set, tools and circumstance.

    Thank you!

  16. says

    Thank you for this, and all you do to share with others.
    You and your stuff are nothing short of amazing.
    I’m just starting out (9 months in March) and all of you have been there no matter the question, issue, problem or concern.
    It is an uphill battle starting from scratch and only having yourself to depend on for everything. It is nice to know that, even when I feel alone and want to stop the uphill climb, there is somewhere to go for advice and guidance!

    • Anne-Marie says

      Start ups are an uphill battle. I was never more tired yet strangely energized during the start-up phase. It was at the same time demoralizing yet invigorating; such a contradiction in experiences every day. It was definitely a roller coaster ride.

      My biggest and best lesson from those days is that little things lead to great results … eventually. Just make teensy amounts of progress daily and you’ll be amazed at where you are in one year, five years, a decade =)

  17. says

    Goodmorning Anne Marie,
    I totally agree with every comment posted here, or at least the ones I’ve read. You are my life line to soapmaking. I am a “one-man show soap business”, meaning that I do everything myself. I am 64 years old and have been doing this for about 15 years. Since I started rather late in life, I never had big loafty goals of a brick & mortar store, or becoming a wealthly person. I love doing crafts & ever since I started making cold process soaps, have become completely addicted & more & more curious about everything to do with making this type of soap. I work out of an old shed we have on the property. It is not properly insulated & that makes year round production on a small island of the coast of Maine, in the North Atlantic, very difficult to be experimenting & perfecting new ideas 12 months of the year. So I’m sitting here, on a very cold & dreary winter morning trying to muster up some creative juices. I’ve been reading your tutorials & collecting all the ingredients to make bath fizzies (cupcakes with frosting especially) & bath melts & salves & whipped body butters & lip balms, etc. I’m
    excited & nervous, at the same time, to be trying new things to add to my soaps. I did get a chance to make some of your Avacado, Mango Balmy Salve & some Lip Balms for the pre Christmas Flea Market we have here in Portland, Maine & I must say I got a lot of positive feed back, especially with the Salve.
    I probably under priced it: 4oz.’s for $20 & then put it on a Xmas Sale for $15, but I really wanted people to try it & ended up selling lots of it. I myself use it every day on my dry winter hands. Anyway, so when I opened up your post, it was just exactly what I needed to read today! I too, can not believe that anyone would have a bad word to say about you. I love you & I don’t even know you personally. Your blog, your tutorials & Soap Queen T.V. have given me so much help & all the information I could possibly need to make the different products & use all the wonderful techniques – things I would never be able to do without your help. How you find the energy for your family, who by the way is incredible – Jamison is a very lucky boy to have you & your husband as parents, and time for your business & time to stop and give sympathedic advice to those in need, is so huge I can’t find the right word for it. I personally want to Thank YOU, VERY, VERY, VERY, MUCH for all of your support & kindness. You are my inspiration to keep moving forward. Brambleberry is a great company & if I lived in Bellingham, WA. I would love to work for you, but since I’m married to a Maine Lobsterman & live on Cliff Island, I will remain happy just to be able to take advantage of all the incredible information you share with us! Have a great day & always know how much appreciated you are!! :)

    • Anne-Marie says

      Mustering up creative juices is definitely a process, isn’t it? How do you do it? I have 38 magazine subscriptions and love Pinterest, Etsy, and a whole host of creative blogs. Pictures definitely help me – and even going to the paint store and looking at paint color palettes.

      Salves are a great product to sell. They are a bit of a revelation for people that have never used them because they are so concentrated and in my opinion, so effective.

      I’m so glad that you find value in this blog and my posts. I love being a busy Mom and Entrepreneur and it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun without awesome readers, friends, customers and fans like you! =)

  18. Jackie says

    Thank you Anne-Marie for the inspiration and encouragement you have given us over the years. We have all enjoyed your innovation and leadership in this growing, quirky industry of ours. I notice many entrepreneurs have grown their businesses away from the craft shows we started with and in to wholesale and large scale production and it’s lonely out here. Constructive criticism is impossible to come by, so you only know you’ve mad a mistake when it comes up and bites you. There is business advice but it never seems appropriate to what we do.

    So, please excuse us looking to you for guidance, from all over the world it would seem, I’m in Canada. We need to hear that others have good days, great days and should have stayed in bed days (love that!). It’s nice to know there is someone out there who has survived and thrived.

    • Anne-Marie says

      Isn’t that the truth? You only know when you make a mistake when it comes up and bites you. I’ve definitely survived the ups and downs of a business (thus far!) and know that others can too but it’s definitely not always easy. I have a very fond place in my heart for craft shows. That’s how I made money during college – selling soap at craft shows – and I think it’s a great way to earn a living. =)

  19. Bonnie says

    Hi Anne-Marie. Thank you for an excellent post. I have enjoyed and appreciated everything I have seen in your tutorials and posts and I think Brambleberry is a great supplier. I find it difficult to believe that anyone would have mean things to say about you or your company.

    Your care and concern shines through and it is obvious that you train your employees to have the same attitude. One thing that has stood out to me is how positive you guys are. You always find something good to say when someone posts on your Facebook. I noticed that you read other soapers blogs and are just as positive and encouraging to them. Yes you are a leader.

    • Anne-Marie says

      Thank you for noticing that our team is awesome, Bonnie. I am so proud of them and think that they are truly an A+ team that loves being involved in this industry. I am lucky to work with them every day.

      Thank you for being a reader and a kind supporter =)

  20. says

    I agree that you have nailed it in this great post. Thanks for this as it puts together what that light at the end of the tunnel actually is in all its glory ~~ following your passion and your bliss with all the ups and downs. And thanks for answering this other just a quick question! :o)

  21. says

    Excellent post! I would like to thank you for sharing so much of your business as well as personal experience and feelings with us. You don’t have to do that and put yourself out there, but you do. I find it motivational and very easy to relate to, balancing business and babes and all things life. Its nice to know that someone else out there struggles too, but comes thru successful and happy and can do it! Thanks again!

    • Anne-Marie says

      It’s a big balance beam – some weeks are awesome, some are a struggle but as long as we have more good than bad, it means we’re headed in the right direction =)

  22. Doris says

    to the question,is there light at the end of the Tunnel ? for each individual it depends one how bright you want the light to be.

    • Anne-Marie says

      Oh! That takes my breath away – thank you! And what a fun turn of phrase you have =)))

  23. June says

    Despite being extremely busy with your business and family commitments you still find time for anybody who asks for your help and advice -and you find time to exercise! I live in the United Kingdom and there is no one like you here. I would love to meet you someday – meanwhile, I eagerly await your daily posts in my inbox each morning. You are an inspiration.

  24. June says

    Despite being extremely busy with your business and family commitments you still find time for anybody who asks for your help and advice -and you find time to exercise! I live in the United Kingdom and there is no one like you here. I would love to meet you someday – meanwhile, I eagerly await your daily posts in my inbox each morning. You are an inspiration.

    • Anne-Marie says

      Thanks June! I may be a bit obsessive but for me, exercise is my keystone habit – everything rolls upwards from there. If I get a workout in, the day starts out right and I know that life is manageable (after all, I had time to work out, right?!) =) I’m on day 225 of working out and while I know I’m going to need to break up my streak to give birth, I’m going to keep it up as long as I can =) Thank you for the encouragement.

  25. says

    Xxxx to a lovely, intelligent, inspirational woman who has inspired me to learn soap making. I operate a small bed & breakfast in Austala and am now making my own soaps with aspirations of a soap making business. Learning my skills with your tutorials is exciting, fun & educational. Thank you so much. Business skills are always made easier with mentors which you are to me and many more people. Hugs from Australa.

    • Anne-Marie says

      That is so cool! I love that you’re making your own products after reading this blog. YEAH! That totally makes my night. =)) You have the perfect venue with your bed and breakfast to get a dedicated fan base and clientele.

  26. Carlyn says

    Hi Anne-Marie…..

    I am truly flabbergasted that anyone would say anything bad about you. I think you have been great and offer a customer service that is lacking in a lot of companies today. You know I have been a customer (not so much since I’m overseas now)since you began. I’ve watched it grow from a somewhat small number of products to the online store you have today. If I was back in the states I would seriously be ordering most months. I always see something I need, or at least THINK I need. You or your staff have never failed to answer my questions via email. When I need information your websites are the go too sites for me.

    Keep up the good work.

    • Anne-Marie says

      Oh you are so sweet. Gosh, you’ve been a customer/friend for what, a decade now? =) The bigger we get, and the more public this blog/our YouTube channel get/followers we add on Twitter etc…, the more opportunities there are to upset, offend or generally just rub someone the wrong way. But it is kind of you to say that =) Continue to enjoy your time abroad =)

  27. Janet B says

    I couldn’t agree more with this. I’ve been in business now for almost 4 years. My primary is wholesale, but I’m slowly gaining retail customers, and am hoping to one day get the heck out of the garage and craft show venue and into a brick and mortar store (goals are something every business owner should have going for them.) Today was one of those “JAQQ” days. If it’s not questions for the business itself, it is for the children, wrong numbers, telemarketers, or people who are looking for the folks that last had my phone number (after nearly 5 years!!!) All of that means you put in more hours, sometimes put off things you wanted to get done today, or sacrifice a couple extra hours of “me” time to get them done. Or all three. At least it wasn’t an “ISHSIB” (I should have stayed in bed) type day.

    All business owners need to remember that we’ll have those kinds of days. It also becomes very important to remember the days that make it all worth it. If that’s achieving your goal, or making that customer happy, or hearing that you will never ever hear from that telemarketer again, so be it. Sometimes that’s all we have, so never take those days for granted.

    • Anne-Marie says

      Interruptions – they are hard for me because they really break my concentration. It really makes me so much more motivated to give complete instructions the first time so no one needs to bother me for anything =)

  28. Susan Kolbauer says

    Hi Anne-Marie….I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read your blog posts. I love visiting Bramble Berry on line store, even though I will only rarely (like when I’m visiting my sister in Washington once every 3-4 years) order anything because of brokerage fees for importing to Canada. I have never taken the time to let you know how much I appreciate the cool project ideas and inspiration I get from your blogs, your project posts on Teach Soap etc. I just wanted to take a minute to tell you how great I think this particular blog was. About the advice? I think you nailed it and I for one really appreciate the time and thought you put into each post.


    • Anne-Marie says

      Thank you SO much for letting me know that you read this blog – and find it useful. It it so nice to read that. =) And, I’m so glad that you found the advice helpful. I think we do entrepreneurs a real disservice when we try to pretend it’s always easy and aren’t authentic with some of the challenges we face daily =)