I’ve met Robyn Bloom on LinkedIn, after answering one of her questions about getting beauty bloggers and journalists to write about her business, Purely Cosmetics and the line of natural mineral products she created. While talking to her, I wanted to know more about how life as a one-woman-show was in the beauty field. I had only read her LinkedIn profile and some information on her website before sending these questions. I am extremely glad they’ve lead to a great story about following your dreams and doing what you love.
You went from selling prescription medications to selling ad space in the Yellow Pages to then owning your own mineral make up company. Tell me how it all happened!
Most of my life is an accident. When I first went to college, my intention was to become a doctor – I’ve always been intrigued by science. After my first inorganic chemistry class, I nixed that idea. I started out in the fashion industry as a menswear buyer while I was in graduate school (worked in retail all through high school), intending to open up my own clothing store. My MBA was emphasizing entrepreneurship, and after going through the program, I decided I’d rather start new products with someone else’s money rather than mine.
Straight out of graduate school, I worked many years launching new products for large corporations. One of these was for GTE Yellow Pages. My boss at the time had suggested that my personality would be a great match for sales (I couldn’t see the similarities of selling new product ideas to the corporate honchos and selling a product to the end user when I was in my 20 somethings). I found that I loved it – if it’s a product I truly believe in, my excitement about the product can be contageous. I moved over to pharmaceutical sales, which combined my interest in science and my sales skills, when there was some geographical issues with continuing with GTE. It’s hard to get passionate about standard cardiac meds, and even harder to get a physician’s attention for something other than your free pens, so I went back to yellow pages and remained there until I developed back problems from carrying so many phone books! When I stopped working, I promised myself that I was going to give my face 2 weeks off from makeup to allow it to breathe for the first time in eons.
5 years later…. I still wasn’t wearing foundation because I hated the heavy feel of it. I was talking to a girlfriend about the crappy care I took of my skin, and how much I hated wearing foundation. She’s the one who first got me interested in mineral makeup. After wearing it and seeing the difference, I was hooked! It goes on quickly, it feels like you’re wearing nothing, and even my 14 year old can apply it without that visible line around her chin. I didn’t like the products that were out there – they were overpriced and carried ingredients I preferred not to have on my skin, so I decided to do it myself!
How’s life as a one-woman-show entrepreneur?
Hard! I work far longer hours now than I ever did working for another company. My day begins at 6am, and rarely ends before midnight. No days off for me – I’m online 7 days a week. I take pride on my customer service, and will bend over backwards to meet the needs of my customers, answer their questions, and ship over 90% of my orders same day. When I’m not filling orders, I’m formulating new products. Or reading blogs to see what others are doing and/or wanting in a product. Or trying to promote my own product line. There’s always something that needs to be done.
I know you have a sales and pharmaceutical background. How do you handle Marketing and PR when you’re not a specialist?
I do have a marketing background; working as a Product Manager in new product development for many larger corporations. But that was a lifetime ago, and it is vastly different when your advertising budget doesn’t have any comma’s in it and you’re used to someone else’s wallet paying the promotional bills.
As for PR – I’m winging my way through! I did an event for our local Domestic Violence Center making over women who deserved some pampering – got my photograph on the front page of our local paper – above the fold even! Wouldn’t you know, they put my own name in the paper, but not the name of my company
Up until now, I’ve been relying mostly on word of mouth from existing customers. My company will be a year old in August, and I’m only just now starting to focus on PR. I have a friend who always manages to be chosen to do giveaway bags for events like Miss America, the Oscars, etc. I want to be her when I grow up, and be able to do the bags for the Oscars.
How did you come up with your company’s name? Did anyone help?
Nope – that was all my own doing, combined with domain names that were available. I wanted a name that was descriptive of my business. My focus is on pure and natural ingredients, so I spent a few hours coming up with ideas for names, then started a domain search. Most of my initial names were taken, but I just started combining words trying to come up with something easy to type (wouldn’t want anyone to spell the name wrong and get someone else’s site!) and descriptive until I finally landed on Purely Cosmetics.
Tell me about the Purely Cosmetic site: did you hire a web design and development consultant? If not, who helped you build it?
I have no artistic abilities whatsoever. I can’t even draw stick people with a ruler. I outsourced the design to a firm in the Phillipines. I can’t start with a blank canvas, but once someone gives me a few design ideas, I can alter it until it has become something that I like. My programming skills are somewhat limited – html is about as far as I can get!
When it comes to promoting your business online, what has worked for you and what hasn’t?
Surprisingly, advertising on search engines didn’t help me one bit. I received a lot of hits, but a terrible conversion rate, not to mention the expense. It took me almost 6 months to bail on the idea; I was afraid no one would know I was there if I weren’t advertising. I never saw a drop in sales when I dropped the pay-per-click. I have written several articles that were related to mineral makeup – from types of ingredients used in many brands, to how to buy brushes. Those articles have brought me in more business than anything else to date.
I noticed you are active on LinkedIn. Has that helped you to grow your business?
I’ve actually been on LinkedIn for years, with a whole 1 contact. I’d totally forgotten about it until I received another contact request just a couple of weeks ago. It’s amazing how much LinkedIn has helped me so far – not necessarily directly translated into sales, but I’m getting some wonderful advice about promoting my business. I’m making some great contacts – from not only people directly in my industry, but generous souls such as you who are taking me under their wing to help direct me. I’ve even received interest from someone who is interested in carrying my line in the UK! For only 2 weeks of being active, I couldn’t be more tickled about the feedback and results I’m getting.
Purely Cosmetics has a Facebook profile. What kind of traffic does it generate?
Not as much as I had hoped for, but probably again, because I don’t know what I’m doing. Socal networking sites are new to me, and I really haven’t much of an idea how to best navigate them or promote myself on them.
What kind of women are more likely to buy natural cosmetics?
All types! I think that women as a whole have become more health conscious, and more aware of what they’re putting both in and on their bodies. They don’t want products that have been tested on animals, and are becoming more environmentally aware as well. We all want to protect ourselves from sun damage as much as possible, and products that contain zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide provide a natural sunscreen without clogging pores, feeling heavy, or stinging your eyes. When I was a teenager, we used to sit in the sun wearing baby oil and using aluminum foil to reflect the sun to our faces! It’s taken this long for the damages to start really hitting home – my husband suffers skin cancer from not having sun protection nearly 40 years ago.
One of the great things about mineral makeup is that it can appeal to all age groups. Depending on the ingredients used (and their particle size), you can have a quick way to makeup yourself and have a ”dewey”glow for those with younger skin, or a more matte finish that can hide fine lines for the more mature woman. Because mica has light reflecting properties, eye shadows can range from high sparkle to those made with iron oxides and are completely matte – with everything in between.
Who’s tougher to compete with: other mineral make up producers or high-profile, trendy brands that we see in ads everywhere?
Tough question. Overall, I’d say the household name companies that you see on QVC or even drug store brands. The quality is far lower than other small companies such as myself, but those are the names people know, so they naturally assume that they are the best. It’s hard to compete with those big advertising budgets, though I’m not sure how much I really would want to – I’d lose touch with my customers, and it’s meeting their needs that makes this fun.
You’ve been running your company for a year know. What would you recommend to someone thinking to take a similar path?
Be prepared to put in long hours and waste a lot of ingredients! I don’t even want to think about how much I’ve spent on ingredients that end up in the trash when developing formulas. It took me several months just to get the basic structure of my foundation base the way I wanted it. If you’re doing it because it’s something you enjoy, it’s very rewarding. But as of yet, it’s not paying for the food on the table!
Any major plans for your future and that of your company?
I’m ever-evolving. Maybe I have ADD, and can’t stand to see things just stay the same I’m always trying out new things – some may make it to reality, some get ditched along the way. Mineral makeup is still in it’s infancy, so there is lots of room to grow and change.