Luisa, how can I start a cosmetic line with no money?
Simply put, you can’t.
Starting a cosmetic line is no different than starting any other business. You’ll face diverse expenses and therefore you must have some money to start off.
However, thanks to what you’ll learn in this article, you’ll minimize the risks and initial financial investment.
Ok, now we can start…Let’s see what they are.
Starting a cosmetic line with no money, tip #1: FORMULATE YOUR OWN PRODUCTS
Formulating and producing your own products instead of hiring a chemist or working with a manufacturing company will help you to save tons of money.
The bad news is that you really need to master the art of making cosmetics before the products you make are good enough (and safe) to be sold to the public.
Sorry, you can’t improvise.
While there’s nothing wrong in starting by formulating your own products, they might come out with an excessive “artisan” look that can discourage some buyers, if you have never done it before. Nevertheless, formulating your own products is definitely something you should attempt, when on a low budget.
Surely you don’t need to be a chemist to be able to formulate good quality products. You can be pretty successful as self-taught formulator. But, the point is that if you’re just starting out with zero experience in formulation or production , it’s going to take a while (months/years) before your handcrafted products will be good enough to be presented to the public.
Not only you need to learn how to properly formulate, but you’ll also have to learn how to make sure your products are safe for your customers. For example, you’ll have to learn what GMPs (Good Manufacturing Practices) are and put them in practice while manufacturing.
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Furthermore, you should acquire a minimum knowledge on how the beauty industry works, what makes a product a best seller, and other insights. Finally, you should have a solid understanding of some math and physics principles because you need to grasp them in order to formulate.
You might be tempted of buying some “Learn how to formulate” course online to scale up the learning curve fast.
I’ve seen so many out there. Some are even crazy expensive!
Online courses are great, yet they only scratch the surface of what you really need to know to properly formulate cosmetic products.
Let me explain.
At least once a week, I receive an email from someone who took the “XXX advanced course in formulating skincare” asking for advice.
The problem with these courses is that once they’re over, students are left alone trying to figure out whether what they’re doing is right or not. They turn to me for advice on how to finalize formulations, solving stability issues, etc.
They end up paying twice.
Yes, there are Facebook support groups where you can ask questions, yet the answers you’ll receive rarely come from the “professors;” they come from students like you so what’s the point?
Even if you are able to get in contact with the course professor, do you think he/she is going to actually take more than 10 minutes to examine your formula and explain where you did wrong? If you’re lucky, they’re just going to say, “replace X with Y” or “lower the amount of Z.”
Practice is what is going to make you good at formulating cosmetics. Not these courses.
So what can you do if you don’t have the patience or time to wait?
Keep reading. I’ll tell you how to breeze through the whole process!
Starting a cosmetic line with no money, tip #2: use “modified stock formulations”
Whether you’re aware of it or not, many formulators out there simply use stock formulations and make minor changes to differentiate them enough, one from the other.
What are stock formulations ?
They are formulations that anyone can use for creative cosmetic projects. Usually they’ve been developed by professional formulators and are contained in searchable databases.
If you have read my other posts, you probably noticed I always discourage people from using formulations easily found on DIY blogs. With stock formulations, like I mentioned, there’s no such issue, as they’ve been created by professionals rather than by hobbyists.
The downside of stock formulations is that they’re accessible to anyone. If you follow my content, you know that I always advocate for unique products when starting a cosmetic line. That’s why using stock formulations is not enough. Make an extra step!
Replace/remove some of the ingredients, add a nice custom scent, and the formula will become your own.
What really makes a huge difference when it comes to successfully selling cosmetics products are “marketing ingredients.”
They’re usually present at very low percentages, and this is why they rarely affect the formulation’s performance in a drastic way.
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Where to find stock formulations
Here’s a list of websites that offer professional stock formulations. Keep in mind that some of these formulas come from raw materials supplier; therefore, inevitably they’re trying to push their ingredients by including them in the formulas. Always remember that:
- Most likely not all the ingredients you see are 100% necessary (for the reasons above).
- You are free to look up an INCI name and find another supplier for the same ingredient.
Here are some websites with nice stock formulations.
Makingcosmetics (includes beginner formulations)
BASF (includes natural concept formulations)
How to customize a stock cosmetic formulation
To replace ingredients and customize a stock formulation, you must first identify those ingredients that are not 100% necessary, a.k.a the marketing ingredients. Then think of possible replacements for the other ingredients.
For example, let’s say you have a lotion formula with jojoba, almond oil, and a bunch of marketing ingredients. If you replace these 2 oils with equivalent ones, the effect on the final product will be minimal. On the other hand, if you touch the water content, emulsifier, % of main ingredients and so on, you are going to alter the whole thing (which you don’t want to). When you’ll be confident about your skills as a formulator, you’ll definitely want to move one step forward, but when you’re a beginner this procedure of making small changes can take you far.
As stated above, marketing ingredients are present in a very low % so that it’s very easy to identify them (see following example).
As a general rule, do not choose formulations with lots of ingredients. The more the ingredients, the more complicated it gets.
Being able to use stock formulations will allow you to save a lot of money. Formulation development is one of the most expensive steps in starting a cosmetic line.
Manufacturing & Sourcing ingredients
When it comes to manufacturing, it’s hard not to spend anything. This is one of the steps that definitely requires money.
To spend as less as possible, I would suggest the following:
- Manufacture yourself.
- Start with few units (250/500)
It’s also true that the simplest the product you need to manufacture, the easier it is to do DIY. So, again, be very careful, what product you choose to develop because it can make a huge difference. To learn how to set up a cosmetic lab for small/medium batches manufacturing read here.
And here’s a video where I describe 3 products that are super easy to make. Each one of them is a great starting point.
People object all the time when I say this; they ‘re passionate about a specific product and don’t want to develop another one only because it’s easier to make.
BUT you need to understand that sometimes compromises are necessary to succeed in the long term. Start small with a product that’s easy to make and has a simple formula.
Once you start making your first sales (one of the best moments of your life…) invest the profits into another product and so on.
When you want to start a cosmetic line with no money, you can’t expect to launch the perfect product!
Trust me, this is the way to start. Once you have some cash rolling in, you can focus more on product development, if that’s what you want.
As far as the ingredients, the best way I know to source them when you’re on a tiny budget, is to ask free samples to suppliers. You can use an ingredients database such as ulprospector.com to find suppliers within your country.
Lately I’ve seen a lot of common ingredients being sold on Amazon , too. The advantage of buying from Amazon is that you don’t have to pay for shipping which is super fast too.
Starting a cosmetic line with no money, tip #3: DIY LABELS
To save as much as you can for labelling and packaging, do as follows:
- Forget about US suppliers when it comes to packaging. Go to Alibaba.com or Aliexpress.com or DHgate.com instead. Oversea suppliers have a huge variety of packaging at a fraction of the cost. Always remember to negotiate the price and to ask for samples before placing a big order.
- Launch a design contest or hire a designer. Design contests are when you have designers from all over the world sending you unique ideas based on a brief. Price is around $600 for a contest, and I highly recommend the website 99designs. They also released a cosmetic branding guide that you can find here. If you prefer to hire a designer, the best way to save money would be going on Fiverr or Upwork.
- Use a website like Canva.com to design your own labels and then print them out using a professional printer and labels from Avery.com
- To check whether you have all the required information for the label to be FDA compliant, design the packaging according to this table below. Then, go to the store and buy the same product as yours to make sure all the information are there (and they’re in the right position).
From the FDA website
Starting a cosmetic line with no money, tip #4: Focus on what really matters and learn to save money.
While there are expenses you cannot avoid, some others are totally useless.
Completely useless are expenses such as: business cards, brand new Mac for your office, new desks and furniture, and, in general, everything that is not directly related to your cosmetic product, yet only serves the purpose of letting you feel like a “real” entrepreneur.
If you subscribed to my newsletter, you know that spending too much money on unnecessary things is what I consider the #1 mistake when starting a new business.
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For example, starting a legal business entity doesn’t have to be complicated and expensive.
When making the first steps, you definitely don’t need to hire a lawyer and you surely don’t need to waste months creating a business plan.
Websites such as Legalzoom allow you to create your business entity effortlessly with a few clicks. Legalzoom is the service I used to register my business so it’s 100% guaranteed.
Use all your financial and physical energies to focus on product development. Everything else needs to come (and will come) at a later stage.
If you have read this post, you’ll probably don’t have much money (yet) to invest in a cosmetic line. That is totally fine and shouldn’t discourage you. The good news is that if you have a job, you can start saving some money right away. It doesn’t matter whether you’ll be launching your line next week or a year from now; what matters is that you don’t stop pursuing your dream only because of money. Saving money requires sacrifices, yet is doable. Start by saving a little each month.
One passion I have, besides cosmetics, is finance. One app that has helped me tremendously to save money is Qapital. Qapital allows you to set automatic deposits and round up each transaction so you save money automatically and effortlessly.
The average annual amount saved by its users was $1,400 per year, enough to make your first steps in the cosmetic industry.
I want to spend a few words on credit cards. Way too many people end up in debt when starting a business. As minimalist, I stay away from debt; at the same time, I understand that sometimes it’s a necessary step to get started. My suggestion is to use your brain when making a decision. To be 100% honest, credit cards have saved me many, many, times because of the delayed payment. I’m also a fan of credit card bonuses which I regularly use to pay for flights or redeem as statement credit.
After reading this post, do you still believe it’s impossible to start a cosmetic line with no money? Let me know in the comments below!