How To Start A Makeup Line With No Money (Checklist)

The best time to learn how to start a makeup line was yesterday. The next best time is now. That’s because the entire beauty and personal care industry is booming. Even if all you did was ride that wave, you’d see more progress than most entrepreneurs. 

With that said, you still need a smart business plan.

However, unlike most articles covering this topic, I’m not going to talk about all of the bureaucratic, time wasting steps like trademarking your brand name or getting a bank account for your new cosmetic line.

You can worry about that later after you’ve made money.

Instead, I’m going to give you an actionable, step-by-step checklist you can follow to start your makeup line and have it launched in the next few months. It doesn’t matter whether you want to sell lipstick, moisturizer, foundation, concealer, or anything else beauty related.

This checklist will help.

But first… 

How Much Does It Cost To Start A Makeup Line?

The goal for this report is to help you launch a makeup line with no money. However, it’s important to know the economics behind the makeup business anyway as it will dictate all of your decisions moving forward.

So to start, the short answer is “it depends”.

The long answer is that there are tons of things that can directly and wildly affect the actual cost to produce, market, and ship a makeup product.

In general though, it’s safe to say you can expect to invest between $5,000-$25,000.

The biggest factors that affect startup costs include…

Number of SKUs
Product type
Customization
Minimums
Manufacturers
Paid Ads
Packaging

In all cases though, the best way to start is to minimize the amount you need to outsource. This means starting with 1 product instead of 5, talking to tons of manufacturers to find the right one for your budget, minimizing your packaging needs whenever possible, so on and so forth.

But there is a “free” way.

It’s the same way that Kylie Cosmetics and Glossier started.

No, it’s not literally “free”. There is no going around paying manufacturers. However, the key is to make sure that money comes from other sources of funding rather than your own savings and all while making sure you don’t let go even 1% of equity to some VC.

So let’s talk about that.

Starting a cosmetic line checklist coming in 3… 2… 1…

Step #1: Build A Small, Loyal Audience

Most guides like this will tell you to start thinking about your brand or products. However, if you want to start a makeup line with no money, you have to play a new game with completely different rules. And the first rule to this new game is to work on the marketing before you work on the product.

You do this by using the content and commerce business model.

In other words, instead of trying to build your own Drunk Elephant or ColourPop, you need to build your own Vogue magazine first and then later launch your Drunk Elephant. This can come in the form of a blog, Instagram, newsletter, TikTok, Youtube, Facebook group, or anything else.

In this media property, you want to talk about makeup.

For example, you want to cover makeup tips, product recommendations, interviews with beauty experts, and more. In addition, you also want to document the behind-the-scenes of you starting your makeup line. About 80% content and 20% behind-the-scenes is a good ratio to maximize audience growth. Later, you can flip that around when you’re getting ready to launch.

This audience is the key to making sales without paying for ads.

Think of how Kylie Jenner launched Kylie Cosmetics.

She didn’t start with her cosmetic line then later became famous to sell more lipstick. She first became famous and then later launched Kylie Cosmetics to her audience. Of course, you don’t have to be nearly as big as she was when she launched.

So how big of an audience do you need before launching?

This is highly dependent on the next step we’re going to cover, but assuming you’re only starting with 1 SKU and have reasonable minimums, here’s what I would recommend…

500 email subscribers on a “hot list” waiting for you to launch.

Preferably, you’re building that email list on Klaviyo instead of Mailchimp.

Now, there are many situations in which you’ll need more subscribers before launching. For example, if your manufacturer’s minimum is 5,000 units, you’re going to need a much bigger list because there’s no way you’re making 5,000 sales from 500 people.

So please plan accordingly.

With that said, the strategy doesn’t change.

Build an audience of people highly interested in your topic by using free methods like Youtube and TikTok. Then ask your audience to subscribe to a pre-launch list so they can be the first to be notified when you launch. It’s the slow route, but it’s free. Later, you can worry about running Facebook ads yourself or hiring an advertising agency to do it for you.

Step #2: Brainstorm Your Cosmetic Line

While you’re working on building your audience, you can start thinking about the actual makeup products you’re going to be selling, what makes them different, and the brand that ties them all together.

The key here isn’t to just think of what to sell. It’s to create a product line that can help grow your business from 0 to $1MM in the next 12-18 months. Luckily, doing so is not nearly as hard as it sounds.

The reason?

Your competitors have all the data you need.

They’ve already spent millions trying to figure out what sells, so use it!

Here’s how…

First, make a list of your top 10 direct competitors. These competitors should be the 10 brands you most want to be like in terms of their branding and specific product lines. For the most part, that’s going to mean popular direct-to-consumer brands instead of billion dollar legacy brands like Mac.

From there, you want to analyze their best sellers.

This means literally using the “rank by best seller” category on these websites. If they do not have one, then you can just add this extension to the URL if they’re using Shopify to host their stores…

“collections/all?sort_by=best-selling”

Once you pull up their best sellers list, you want to find the similarities.

What product types sell best?
What features and benefits do they use?
How much does each product type cost on average?
How much does shipping cost?

From there, you want to make your own theoretical best sellers list.

Based on everything you are seeing from your top 10 competitors, what are the top 3-5 products you could sell and feel confident will become your 3-5 best sellers 2-3 years from now?

Once you’re done, pat yourself on the back.

You now have a complete makeup line with a very high chance of performing well.

Step #3: Pre-Sell Your Hero Product

By the time you’re ready for this step, you’ll have a strong list of makeup products to sell and an audience ready to buy them. Now, it’s time to actually make some money.

Remember, the goal is to start your makeup line with no money.

The only way to do this is to use your customer’s money instead of your own. And the only way to do that is to pre-sell your product before it’s available and then immediately reinvest it into producing the product.

This is exactly what Kickstarter is for, but they require prototypes before launching.

Since we have none, you’ll want to use Shopify and a pre-selling app.

Before you start promoting left and right though, you need to pick a hero product. This product is the one you want your brand to be known for and the one that is most likely to sell well at a profit.

So go back to your list of best sellers and pick one based on that criteria.

Once you make your choice, you want to reach out to different manufacturers and ask for costs, minimums, samples, and any other questions you may have. The goal here is to figure out if this hero product is doable with your current audience and to nail down all of the features and benefits to your product.

Once you have everything you need, make your Shopify store.

You want to set it up EXACTLY like if the product already existed. This means using stock images to show people how life with your product would look like, writing all of the sales copy, having an official price, have a graphic designer mockup your product, and more.

Just make sure you clearly state you are pre-selling the product.

And to further make sure you don’t get screwed, make sure the Shopify app you’re using to pre-sell your product has a meter feature. This way, you can show you need to make a certain amount of sales before you can start production.

Once you reach that goal, you can officially start your makeup line and grow from there, such as appearing on Shark Tank, starting a pop up shop, or using Amazon to get more sales.

How To Find Makeup Manufacturers

A plan on starting your own makeup line wouldn’t be complete without a section on how to actually find makeup manufacturers. This is especially true considering finding the right makeup manufacturer can make or break your ability to start your business.

The good news is that the process is not complicated.

The bad news is that the process takes a long time and can be frustrating.

So with that said, there are essentially 2 ways to find a manufacturer.

The first is with Google. Just start googling keywords like “private label makeup” and “makeup manufacturer”. Then open every manufacturer on a separate tab and start contacting every single one of them through phone or email with your questions.

The second is through networking. Basically, you just want to ask anyone who you think may have an idea of who to talk to. This can be anywhere from FB groups with other people starting their own ecommerce businesses all the way to asking some manufacturers for referrals to others if you two aren’t a good fit for each other.

From here, you want to pick the best partner for you.

The best partner is the one who’s going to let you start small and fast with the product ideas on your best sellers list. In addition, you also want to be sure that they can handle some scale so that if you do succeed, you can work with them for years to come.

Again, this is not a quick process.

Most of the time, you’re going to hit a lot of walls. Reasons for this include sales reps not replying to your messages, manufacturers replying back with insane costs, no one can make the unique feature you want your product to have, and more.

For some people, this process can take a few weeks. For others, months.

But don’t stop. 

Remember, it costs you nothing to talk to them. So keep going. There is no secret hack around this. It’s just the way things are, so embrace it as a barrier to entry that will keep low level competitors from ever starting their businesses and stealing sales from you.

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