His great inspiration came from the author Samuel Smiles, whose book "Self - Help" the young Lever received for his 16th birthday and became his guiding philosophy. Smiles wrote prolifically the inspirational works the Victorians delighted in such as "Self - Help" published in 1859 and "Thrift" (1875). Such maxims as "the shortest way to do many things is to do one thing at a time" and "a place for everything and everything in its place"still in common usage today, are examples of Smiles' wisdom. In his later years, Lever gave this book as a present to any impressionable young man he took an interest in.

"Seizing the opportunity" was also a tenet of Smiles' teaching. Seeing the expansion of the market for basic goods and soap caused by the growth of towns and rising standard of living, he hit on the idea of branding and packaging soap calling on a trademark and patent agent in Liverpool to come up with a selection of brand names from which he chose "Sunlight". He used this name to market several soaps manufactured by firms such as Gossages of Widnes, Watson's of Leeds and Hazlehursts of Runcorn. Dissatisfied with these manufacturers, Lever bought the lease of Winsers of Warrington, keeping on Percy J Winser, a trained chemist and Edward Wainwright, the Soap Boiler, thus establishing the manufacture and distribution of good quality soap, which grew into the great and prosperous firm of Lever Brothers.