This Is What You Need To Watch Out For When You Start A Supplement Brand

Table of Contents:

The BackStory 

Welcome back FireFortuna.com where a simple personal philosophy has literally given me a life of total Financial Independence.

  1. Start a Side Hustle
  2. Scale it into a Legit Business
  3. Make a Million Dollars

Let me give you a little background. Cast your mind back to a quieter time of 2014, before we’d ever heard of COVID, TikTok or ‘quiet quitting’.

Imagine my good self, 7 years younger; I was working on a freelance basis for Guinness World Records whilst figuring out how I can turn my passion for natural hair and beauty solutions into an actual business.

The following year involved meticulous around-the-clock research. If a new research paper came out about the efficacy of a new supplement, you bet I’d already read it. On June 5th 2015 (a historically lucky day for me and my Grandma’s birthday) I pushed, ‘Go Live’ on the ItReallyWorksVitamins.com Shopify store. The following day my very first order came in. 

How I Set Up My Supplement Brand

The next 7 years were a total roller-coaster: exhilarating highs and stressful lows. All the tough lessons and painful experience were well worth it. In June 2022 I sold my startup and retired. 

Here Dear Reader, you find me, sitting in the sunshine on a July afternoon, writing this blog post. 

Would I do it all again? In a heartbeat. But, there are things I wish I knew before launching a supplement brand. 

Without further ado, let’s just dive straight in with the heart-stopping subject of….(dramatic piano plays…)scams. Over the years there are two incidents that stuck out in my mind. 

The Mentorship Scam

*Queue fluttering harp playing and a wavy flashback* 

Let’s head back to 2014. I was a bright-eyed bushy-tailed first-time entrepreneur searching the interweb for a mentor who could guide me as I make all of those tricky decisions in my very first business.

I went online and was delighted to find a gentleman who presented himself as a veteran entrepreneur. 

Let’s just dive into the red flags shall we?

1. The Meeting Place 

The mentor invited me to meet with him at the East India Club, this is a sort of old money private members club in Central London. In all honesty Dear Reader, it was really intimidating. The club had private butlers and huge beautiful artwork, marble floors and walls and I kind of felt very small when I walked through there to sit with him. 

He then proceeded to share with me the successes he’s had in mentoring other first time entrepreneurs: he pulled out a silk handkerchief from his blazer pocket and explained how he was responsible for their worldwide success. I couldn’t help feeling on guard.

 

2. ‘Sweat Equity’

He went on to explain that as I’m a first time entrepreneur in order to receive his help I would have to give him 30% of my company: yes, you read that correctly Dear Reader! 30% of a company that is worth literally nothing. Hmmm, what a deal! He referred to this as, ‘Sweat Equity’.

I looked at him, slightly open-mouthed.  He was serious. 

3. ‘Mentorship Fees’ 

He went on to add that, due to his many decades of experience, his fee would also be £350 per week. AGAIN DEAR READER! My business had only just made £32 in revenue *not profit* Where did he imagine this money was going to come from?

I thanked him for his time, and said I’d like to think about it. Of course he agreed, before continuing to share how experienced he was. When I eventually managed to get away and back on the train, I felt drained. 

4. Incessant Messages

STOP CALLING MEEEEE!

By the time I reached home I received a whatsapp from him. Later that day a phone call. By the end of the week, he called me at least a dozen times. By the fourth or fifth call, I let my phone go to voicemail. That was when he started leaving long, trailing voice mails. This is from a ‘So-Called Mentor’,

I ask you Dear Reader, would you like to be mentored by this nutter? 

I’m using this bizarre story, as an example of what you might be facing, especially as a first time entrepreneur. 

There are a lot of vultures out there so please do keep your guard up. No one should ever try and intimidate you with how wealthy they appear to be, nor ask for a portion of your company (without actually giving you any funding!) And you shouldn’t be paying exorbitant fees.

A few years down the line, the spectre of the scam artist loomed again. Now let’s discuss….

The Legitimate Businessman Scam

Two years into my It Really Works Vitamins journey, I was delighted to see the huge numbers of Indian customers my brand received. The main issue I faced was unfortunately the Indian customs department. My customers were experiencing long delays in receiving their orders, and even once released from customs, a large customs fee was presented to my customers. 

I needed a fulfilment centre in India that could take away this headache and give my customers the perfect delivery experience. 

Little did I know that an intriguing opportunity would arise through a government agency here in the UK, connecting me with a company capable of unlocking the vast potential of India’s biggest marketplaces.

Picture this: I arranged to meet the representative from the company in a cozy coffee shop. I brought along my laptop, to show my features from my website and share a little presentation! 

And here come the jolly little red flags.

  1. Unprofessional Language

As I attempted to connect to the Wi-Fi, an ominous message repeatedly flashed on my Mac screen, warning of potential hackers trying to steal my personal information. To my astonishment, the company representative erupted into a torrent of expletives. Wow wow wow.  Why? 

  1. Being Angry with me for Checking References

Despite this unsettling start, I persevered, and our meeting progressed reasonably well. The representative shared a contract, and at first glance, everything seemed promising. However, I knew the importance of due diligence, so I eventually found the name of someone who had dealt with this individual before and reached out to them. Shockingly, they revealed that he had taken £7000 from them without delivering any promised services. 

But the story doesn’t end there. To add insult to injury, the representative then bombarded me with a scathing email, written entirely in capital letters, demanding to know why I hadn’t yet signed the contract. Wow wow wow.

  1. Threats of Legal Action

And just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, the representative resorted to threats of legal action, attempting to intimidate me into compliance. 

Reflecting on this rollercoaster ride…

it serves as a stark reminder to remain vigilant and thoroughly investigate potential business connections especially when you are recommended by someone you actually know and trust

Me, a quote from me. Fortuna xx

As an entrepreneur, it is vital to trust your instincts. In the rush of trying to get things ticked off your to-do list, and get your product to market, don’t make any hasty decisions. 

With all of this out of the way, let’s actually talk about the nitty gritty of running your own supplement business.

Trust Me, You will need an Accountant 

I can see you now, Dear Reader with a flourishing supplement brand, you’re managing everything yourself and for the first few months, business is making a nice little side-hustle level income, but little do you know that tomorrow afternoon, your business is about to start making dream-level income.  Tomorrow an influencer will post about your brand, and you’ll make ten thousand dollars in one night.  

YES YOU DO NEED AN AN ACCOUNTANT. Brian Baumgartner, Oscar Nunez, Angela Kinsey in THE OFFICE

And with giant revenues, *potentially* comes a giant tax bill. So trust me, before your brand becomes massively successful – you need a professional in place who will assist you in managing your tax affairs, and literally the majority of your finances.

I started my brand in June 2015, on November 16th that year, a viral post on Instagram took off. A little later my tiny brand was featured in Forbes. So trust me, get all your ducks in a row, get registered for VAT, and before you’ve made a fortune and get an expert on your side.

Before and Afters: It Really Works Vitamins

Marketing Messaging: What Are You Legally Allowed to Say? 

When establishing your supplement brand, one of the crucial elements to pay attention to is your marketing messaging. It’s important to understand what you’re legally permitted to say about your products. For instance, when developing, It Really Works Vitamins which focuses on hair health supplements, I was permitted to say that the vitamins can improve the health of hair, but direct claims about hair growing faster could potentially land you in hot water with advertising standards agencies. 

The fine line between promoting the potential benefits of your product and making unsubstantiated claims is one that every brand must navigate with caution Dear Reader!

Often your suppliers, who are familiar with the industry regulations, can provide valuable guidance on what you can and can’t say in your marketing materials. Understanding and respecting these boundaries is not only a matter of legality but also a way to build trust with your customers.

Speaking of Suppliers…

Suppliers: Do Your Due Diligence: Check Their Credentials & Visit Their Facility.

So by this time you have an idea for a vitamin product in mind. It’s likely that you have two options. You can either approach a manufacturer and have a customised formulation made. Or you can go for a generic white label supplement. White labelling is when a company places your brand name onto their packaging. 

Now, it may seem tempting, and quite frankly, much less work to go for white labelling, but trust me, having a bespoke formulation can do wonders for your brand.

 A wholly unique product allows you to compare yourself to other supplements – showcasing how your formulation is head and shoulders above the competition. Your brand should be unlike anything else, and so the price should reflect this.

When creating It Really Works Vitamins, I opted for scouting out a supplier and creating my own formulation. 

If you follow this route, or choose the white-labelling option, I really strongly recommend that you undertake serious due-diligence on your chosen manufacturer. I wouldn’t choose a manufacturer that was abroad. You want to be able to physically visit the plant. In fact,  your chosen manufacturer should be actively inviting you to visit, check out their machinery, have a look at their processes. They should be very proud of everything they’ve achieved and should want to show it off!

Here is a little tour of the It Really Works Vitamins facility from back in the day! 

If you’re still considering the white-labelling route, don’t rush in. Be the detective, delve into their online reputation. Check their reviews, see how they react when the going gets tough and they receive negative feedback. Leading on to reviews…

For Everyone You Work With Google Their Name Followed By The Word *Reviews*

When starting out in your first business, you’re literally doing everything yourself. Website Designer? Here I am. Customer Service Manager. Hello! Marketing Executive. How Are ya? I ordered labels to be placed onto the packaging of my hair supplements and the text on them was  so small, you could barely read it. My manufacturer rang the labelling company on my behalf and the labelling suppliers were so rude to the manufacturer! I couldn’t use these cruddy labels – so I lost hundreds of pounds. If I had googled the label company name and then the word ‘reviews’ I would have seen literally hundreds of bad reviews. That was a very painful lesson, but one that I’ve never forgotten.

A short movie, by my good self: How I started My Supplement Brand!

Can Your Packaging be Heat Sealed? (Double-Check!)

We’re going down the supplement rabbit hole here, but bear with me.  If you are sourcing your packaging from one supplier and supplements from another supplier: I strongly urge you to get lots of samples of the packaging and to send them over to your vitamin manufacturer and also the supplier who will be putting vitamins into your packaging (if this is not the same as your vitamin manufacturer) 

Allow me to tell you a not so funny story:

I purchased 1000 letterbox friendly pill boxes from a supplier, only to find that the lid of these bottles couldn’t actually be heat-sealed by my other supplier. HILARIOUS. What followed was a long-winded operation, sourcing ultra strong sticky labels that secured the lids in place and also looked great. The labels were expensive, in terms of both purchasing them, and the labour involved by the team sticking them on. If only I tested whether the bottles could be heat sealed, I wouldn’t be embroiled in such a faff.

LetterBox Friendly Packaging

Packaging is another thing you can get clever with. Think flat and letterbox-friendly. It’s a win-win, really – you not only charm your customers with easy-to-receive parcels but also keep a tight lid on those pesky shipping costs.

With Bulky packaging comes heavier shipping costs!

Letter box friendly packaging can save you a small fortune!

Postage costs

Are you settling for Royal Mail? For an individual retailer this may not be the best value for money. Compare shipping companies and source quotes.

Get Your Products Barcoded Early on

Getting your products barcoded early on might seem like an odd step to prioritise, but it serves several important purposes. As your brand grows and expands, you may need to collaborate with a fulfilment centre for efficient pick, pack, and dispatch processes. Having barcodes simplifies this considerably. 

Secondly, there’s always the chance that retailers may take notice of your brand. If they express interest in stocking your products, having them already barcoded can expedite the process, meaning you’ll be retail-ready in no time!

Prepare for Rapid Growth

When you’re just starting out, it feels like you’re wearing all the hats – playing every role yourself. But from the get-go, you need to envision explosive growth, thinking big in terms of scaling up. It’s the E Myth success mantra: envisioning the end goal from the beginning.

Even when I was doing everything myself, in the back of my mind I was planning to outsource: 

Customer Service Management:  Maintaining a stellar rapport with your customers is paramount. So plan for how you’ll manage as numbers grow.

Fulfilment Centre: Initially, you might be looking at options within the UK. But keep your eyes peeled for options in the US too, as global expansion is part of that big vision. Be sure to check all the small print, so you’re clear on their various fees – and speaking from experience I really do mean that. My first fulfilment centre seemed affordable, until I had to factor in a huge number of different fees. 

Keep Testing Your Website 

Everyone seems to overlook their website. By the time they have perfected the product and marketing, the website is always the last thing on their list. And It might look perfect to your eyes, or, enough to suffice – but there could be glaring issues that you’ve missed. I once had a currency changing app on my store that didn’t integrate properly with a recurring subscription product. Customers couldn’t checkout, costing me a small fortune over just a few days. Keep in mind that over 70% of your customers will be shopping from a mobile device, so regular testing is essential. Get your friends, family, or anyone who can provide feedback.

A Little Summary of Everything We’ve Learnt

And there you have it, folks. These are the key points to be vigilant about when you’re about to dive headfirst into launching your own supplement brand. From sleazy scam artists to the unending need for website testing, the journey is as thrilling as it is daunting.

Remember, an accountant isn’t just good to have, it’s absolutely essential. Those financial ins and outs can get complex, and you want someone who knows the ropes.

Take a hard look at your packaging too. Can it be heat-sealed? Double-check that, because you don’t want to learn the hard way. Also, consider letterbox-friendly packaging. It can significantly simplify the delivery process for your customers and help you save on postage costs.

As for suppliers, you need to do your due diligence. Check their credentials, pay a visit to their facilities if possible. You’re entrusting them with your product quality, so you want to ensure they’re up to the mark.

Getting your products barcoded early on might not seem like a big deal, but trust me, it’ll smooth out your scaling process when the time comes. It can save you a lot of hassle in the long run, especially when dealing with retailers and fulfilment centres.

Always, and I mean always, Google the name of everyone you’re considering working with, followed by the word ‘reviews’. It might just save you from a ton of regret and financial loss.

Keep fine-tuning your website, because it’s the first touchpoint for many of your customers. Remember, first impressions count, and a seamless user experience can go a long way in customer retention.

Lastly, be prepared for rapid growth. When it hits (and with your drive, it will), you want to be ready to scale up efficiently.

In the world of supplements, it’s not just about what you’re selling, but how you’re selling it and who’s got your back in the process. Stay vigilant, stay proactive, and here’s to your future success!

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Disclaimer: This information is provided for general informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as specific advice. You should consult with a professional before making any decisions or taking any actions that might affect your personal business or finances.

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