Tell us about yourself and your business
I am Emma Heathcote-James, Founder and CEO of the eco-savvy, multi award winning Little Soap Company. The Little Soap Company began life on my kitchen table back in 2008, when I would make soap on the Aga and sell at the Cotswold Farmer’s Markets, to then becoming the first organic soap to line the supermarket shelf. Our products are now stocked in all the top end supermarkets, chemists and online retailers.
What would you say are the key elements for starting/running a successful business?
Tenacity, sheer determination, hard work and passion. Oh, and a thick skin! And exercise, I learnt this late into the game but looking after yourself is key – don’t burn out!
Who inspires you?
Perhaps not so surprisingly… Anita Roddick. And all strong women leaders. Sheryl Sandberg’s book and organisation, Lean In, is a brilliant advocate and inspiration in helping females to take on more leadership roles in their careers.
What motivates and drives you?
One of the things that drives me is being told I cannot do something, for example, “the soap market is saturated – you’ll never make a business out of it!” or “How can you compete with the big boys? How will your voice be heard?”.
“CAN’T” isn’t in my vocabulary – I honestly believe we can all do anything we want if we work hard and make it happen.
The whole organic movement is hugely important to me – what you put on your skin is as important as what we put into our bodies. However, many people don’t realise what they are spraying around the house, or rubbing into their skin, is full of unnecessary (and sometimes harmful) synthetics.
Receiving emails from people who have tried our products and found it’s helped their skin condition or hearing about people who previously couldn’t use soap but can now use ours… all that drives me! I want to get the message about ‘green living’ across and to try and help.
I truly believe the business of a business is to try and help the world. That’s why from day one we only use recyclable packaging, sustainable oils, natural plant-based fragrance and no nasties. Soap that goes down the plug hole won’t adversely affect the planet, it’s all totally pure and biodegradable.
What challenges have you faced within the organisation and how have you overcome them?
At the start breaking into the main supermarkets felt like a brick wall. We had a legal challenge early on, which entailed a name change, and have had all the usual roller-coaster moments of any small business.
In 2016, our main factory went into unexpected administration, resulting in a cash flow crisis, as we had to suddenly stockpile to see us through the factory transition with a six-figure shortfall. There was nowhere to access such an amount of money in the time-frame, so I managed to privately sell my home with the deposit going towards the shortfall… That is how much I believe in the business. A few months later I’d paid myself back but did have to forego my dream barn conversion for it!
What advice would you give to people aspiring to a successful career in business?
People do business with people. You alone can make (or break) your business.
Always say yes. Even if you don’t know how you will do it, work the logistics out later. ‘Yes’ is a word that opens doors and enables the magic to happen. The more it scares you, the more vehemently you should seize the opportunity with both hands.
What would winning WOTY mean to you?
2018 is such an important year for us as it’s the 10th anniversary since I started making soap to sell. What started out as a hobby has turned into such a successful business, still with vast potential. As Business Woman of the Year, I would encourage other women and show them that you can create anything you want if you focus your mind on it, have enough tenacity, determination and passion.
WOTY has allowed me to be enveloped in a such a support base of amazing women who I have learnt so much from. Professionally, winning the accolade would mean I can connect with more people and thus help more people and create positive change on a far bigger scale.