Seven years ago, Steph Wood was travelling the coast of central America with her partner Luke. While chasing and catching waves she wished she had a chemical-free and reef-friendly sunscreen that could withstand the long hours surfers spend in the sun and water.

When they returned to New Zealand, Steph couldn’t find a sunscreen that met her requirements so started experimenting, making zinc face protection in the couple’s Kuaotunu kitchen.

“What started as a small idea – making zinc at home for us and our friends – has evolved into a brand that I am incredibly proud of. We are now in our fourth year as a business and have launched our mineral sunscreen which has really put Sol on the map as a sustainable sun care brand here in New Zealand,” says Steph, Sol founder.

Sol products – zinc, sunscreen and re-hydrate gel – are now all created in a lab, meeting regulatory standards, while staying true to Sol’s ethos of low-waste and plastic-free packaging.

With her husband Luke running popular Coromandel restaurant, Luke’s Kitchen, Steph says that Sol is very much her baby (the couple also have two young children).

Like many small business owners, no two days are the same for Steph who manages Sol’s admin, accounts, marketing, socials, packing orders, musing new ideas, creating the website and more! Depending on the surf and demands of her children, Steph will often find herself packing orders or answering emails at night, once the kids are in bed. Steph has a small amount of assistance – Sol has a sales rep and recently outsourced a virtual assistant to create blogs and newsletters.

The crazy hours and flexibility are Steph’s favourite part of being a business owner.

“I love that I can wake up and choose what I need to do. We live for the surf so I will pretty much drop anything to get waves if the surf is up! Although it can be challenging to motivate yourself at times, not living a 9-5 is the best.”

Starting a business hasn’t been without its challenges.

“I haven’t owned a business before, so have made some silly costly mistakes and that’s really hard to keep going and come back from. However, I have also learned so much from these mistakes, and that’s also a part of the journey.”

Steph says that her business highlight so far was launching its sunscreen: “Not only did we create a safe and effective sunscreen, but we worked really hard to create packaging that is good for the environment. I truly believe this is what sets us apart. It was so important to us to create our sunscreen in plastic-free, waste-free packaging. Better yet, we are trialling sunscreen refill stations and plan to be able to allow our customers to refill their jars making it truly sustainable.”

While Steph had made good progress with Sol, she realised that Sol needed some help to scale up and grow so applied for funding through the Regional Business Partner (RBP) programme. Businesses can receive funding of up to $5,000 (which the business must match) for management capability training.

Steph received funding to work with Rachel Klaver from Identify Marketing.

“The funding helped immensely to be able to begin this journey and give me clarity on how to build my brand consistently. Rachel listened to everything I had to say about Sol and what we stood for. She created a strategic marketing plan for Sol and guided me through it piece by piece. It has been amazing. It’s like a bible I can look through and follow,” raves Steph.

During her training with Identify Marketing, Steph also realised that it was impossible to undertake every aspect of running a business by herself so recently hired a virtual assistant to relieve some of the overwhelm.

As for her experience with Soda: “Angela, one of the Business Growth Advisors from Soda, was fantastic. She listened to what I had to say and where I was at in my business, then put together some options of businesses she thought could help me. I love that I was still able to choose the direction I wanted to go in but was guided by a professional who wanted to see my small business succeed. I cannot recommend Soda enough.”

Check out Sol's products.