Emma Heathcote-James

Owner of Little Soap Company

Emma Heathcote-James first shared her career journey in 2014. Ten later years later, we were delighted to catch up with Emma once again, to find out how the last decade has panned out for her.

Emma Heathcote-James image

How did you find out about this latest opportunity? Was it, for example, through networking and connections you had? 

"This is the 16th year now of running Little Soap Company (founded 2008).

The business is now a multi million pound entity with a fantastic team of 15 core staff and many agencies and consultants who have worked with us on a long term basis.

As the business has grown and changed so has my position with it – from originally doing everything to building and growing the team, my role gradually took a step back to work on the business and orchestrate rather than work in it so operationally."

What competencies/transferable skills do you still use as CEO of your company that you learned doing your doctorate? 

"To run a business it is imperative you’re naturally a do-er. Initially doing everything from scratch yourself – identical to doctroral research (just without the mentoring and University support/community!)

All the skills from academia apply:

Time Management.
Problem Solving.
Data analysis.
Meeting deadlines.
Copy writing and the importance of the written word.
Research (eg new categories to launch in/competitor analysis/products)\
Coming up with original ideas"

What would you say are the benefits of working for yourself, that you wouldn't get in academia? 

"Writing books I wanted to write without restrictions, I am actually (after a 20 years break!) looking to write again…

Being able to be your own boss.

Working from home (really important for me and something I understand now more as a need, rather than luxury having recently being diagnosed Aspergers)

Setting your own agenda.

Following your own vision and not having constraints of funding or publishing targets.

Creating your own work/life balance without being restricted to set holiday days.

Also for me, the need to grow my own skill base too such as financial literacy and marketing, team work, people management and leadership."

With hindsight, is there any additional career advice (over and above what you gave us back in 2014) that you would give your younger self doing a doctorate, about your career? Or that you would do differently?

"I wouldn’t change a thing, my doctoral research opened so many doors. From it I worked in television, I wrote 4 best selling books before accidently creating Little Soap Company which was always meant to be a screen free hobby that went wrong! I thrive on variety and running this business, every single day is different.

LSC acts as a vehicle from which I can follow many passions. It has also enabled me to have a voice and I often speak at conferences, to the press and broadcast about areas that affect us as a business with things as far ranging as sustainability in business to Brexit, the menopause to sexuality and lack of gay women business leaders (role models are so important) and more lately autism. I have appeared on BBC News and BBC Radio, Sky News, in documentaries, and on stage across the world at events.

I have been involved with the APPG (All Party Parliamentary Group) at Westminster and work with Government on sustainability and small business solutions. I’ve been at round tables at number 10. I’ve been to Buckingham Palace when we won The Queen’s Award for Enterprise. Every single day is different whilst at the same time offering choice on every supermarket shelf of natural, ethical soap for consumers."

Thanks so very much for sharing your story update with us.


"I have enjoyed a bit of a roundabout route to setting up several businesses, taking the decision to quit my doctoral studies around the time I was writing my viva. I therefore don’t claim to have completed my doctorate, instead taking the decision not to continue when an extremely attractive alternative presented itself!

"My doctorate was based on those who have had religious visions and experiences of angels in the UK. My work involved a lot of in depth interviews, in the end producing around 400 stories. Having been approached by several publishing houses, I decided to publish my book Seeing Angels, which was essentially my doctorate but in layman's terms, available to the mass market. When the release date for the book was brought forward to being before that of the close of my doctorate, this unfortunately went against University regulations, which stressed that a doctorate needed to be ‘original work’, and thus I would be plagiarising myself. Despite my protests, this meant I had to take the difficult decision to stop the doctoral study and publish. Thankfully the book and its three follow-ons have subsequently done very well!

"While working on my doctorate, BBC Everyman got in touch asking me to make a documentary on some of my work, which I helped to make and present. Television has proved to be a highly rewarding and enjoyable aspect of my work. Really getting the bug for working in the area, I ended up working on kids’ TV, short films, local radio and feature films. One production arose which needed the creation of a company to secure the funding, and Spotty Dog Productions was born. Some time after this I keep securing PR work – mainly for development agencies – looking after media and design talent in the South West of England, and have run Spotty Dog PR for the past eight years.

"As well as having the PR work going on, I felt a need for a diversion. I created The Little Soap Company in November 2008, in the garden at the back of my cottage. I make luxury soaps and soaks in the workshop – we are now stocked in our eight local Waitrose stores and have several other good contracts, as well as supplying farm shops in the local vicinity. I also make bespoke soaps for the Evesham Asparagus Festival and the huge Pershore Plum Festival (asparagus and plums are huge in this neck of the woods!), and we support various charities and source all staff and services locally. Having my own company enables me to be creative and still work for myself!

"Because I have no retail or marketing experience at all, I have had to learn so much along the way! This includes marketing, branding, packaging, sales and the like. You do need to have a certain work ethic to drive through the completion of a doctorate and four books, and I think this has served me well in my working life too. Solitary working on doctoral studies prepares you well for setting up your own business, although it doesn’t prepare you for working with other people! That said, one challenge is the loneliness of setting up and running a business. I have set up a local networking group for Women in Rural Enterprise (WIRE). We all run our own businesses ourselves, and we get together every month to discuss issues relevant to running a business, so we’ve learnt a lot from each other. Another useful person throughout my doctorate, and subsequent decision to set up a business, was my supervisor. He realised, like me, that I wasn’t necessarily suited to academia, and encouraged me to take on alternative challenges. I love the fact that while others are terrified of the insecurity of losing their jobs, I feel more secure than most – even though I’m working for myself."