Sunday, June 7, 2015

A Bit of Backstory: My Business Plan

In my first-ever YCIYWT post I stated that in the next year or two I plan to open my own business. At the time I chose not to go into detail, because the specifics of my business plan weren’t strictly relevant, and frankly, I didn’t want to show all my cards at once.

Now, however, I think it’s time to share. 

Coffee has been a big part of my professional life. A weird, circuitous path took me to it, but at twenty-eight, I’ve spent more than a third of my life studying it. I’ve crafted a skill with it, and over time I’ve learned more and more to appreciate it. My favorite coffee table book (aptly named) is Blue Bottle: The Craft of Coffee by James Freeman—I read it over and over and never find myself skipping over the boring parts. And although I’ve had decently-paid positions in retail management and administration, I keep returning to the brutal atmosphere of food service so long as it puts me near coffee.

I’ve actually struggled with whether I ought to pursue a career in coffee because I wasn’t sure if it was an acceptable job. When you have relatives that are doctors and computer engineers and colonels and strength-record-setters, you wonder if maybe your creative abilities might be better spent elsewhere. However, with time, I’ve come to some conclusions that have helped me get over this hump.

I’m a proponent of three basic principles when it comes to work. If I don’t fit within at least two of them, I know I’m not in a job for the long haul. When it comes to coffee, I am fortunate to work comfortably within all three principles, and that is a telling feature. 

The first principle is, you work to live—you don’t live to work. If I have to work, then I might as well work at something I enjoy so thoroughly that it rarely feels like work, or else work at something I can leave at the time clock when I punch out for the day. When I work in coffee, it rarely feels like work.

The second principle is like the first. If you love it, it won’t matter if you never get rich. I’m like any other young person with some version of the American Dream in her sights. I could work a corporate job and “have it all,” and I know it. I also know that if I did choose that path, I’d never leave work at work, I’d often be on the verge of a nervous breakdown, and I’d always live in fear that the life I’d built for myself could disappear in an instant. 

By the same token, there is almost no money in coffee (which is why Starbucks charges an insulting amount for iced coffee that is essentially ice with some coffee thrown in for show), but I sincerely love it. In a job I once had that I hated (selling mattresses), I learned that as human beings, we spend roughly a third of our lives sleeping. Extend that piece of insight and we realize that another third is spent working. If the work is fulfilling, then one-half of our waking hours is accounted for. Let the nerd in me show: I never feel unfulfilled crafting an excellent cup of coffee. If that was my job for the rest of my life, then one-third of my life would be full of contentment.

Which leads me to my third work principle. Pick one thing, and do it well. The small business owners I know whose products I love are the ones who chose to do one thing and then went after it with their all—the ones who created strong brands around their products and made their products the best they could possibly be.

I’ve had a lot of bad coffee. (Haven’t we all?) But therein lies an opportunity. An enormous part of the world’s population buys coffee on a regular basis, wanting it to be good, or investing in its perks (it’s warm, it wakes you up, it tends to smell comforting even if it tastes horrible). While coffee shops continue to pop up like weeds in many cities around the country, most of these tend to offer the same products and the same quality coffee. Very few offer true artisanal coffee, because it’s difficult to do, and a great deal of time, trial and error, and education go into making it possible.

I happen to have a skill set that can make delicious coffee possible. I know the rules, and I know when to break them. I know the trends, and I have discernment when it comes to which ones make sense and are valuable, and which ones are cheap fixes that compromise the goal (or elitist solutions that don’t actually end with a quality experience). I have developed recipes that break all the rules but taste incredible. And every day I continue to hone my skills and add to my knowledge.

Looking over my three principles—you work to live, you don’t live to work; if you love it, it won’t matter if you never get rich; and pick one thing and do it well—I can see that if there was ever one business I was destined to be in, it’s coffee. 

Of course, coffee isn’t my whole business plan. There is no purple cow in “coffee.” There would be no incentive in “coffee” for anyone to show up at the doorstep of my shop on opening day rather than a week or a year after—which is why I have developed another skill as well, a skill that makes the whole concept of “coffee” much more interesting and that I hope will make the final hours before I open my doors ones that are filled with anticipation and excitement.

Here, though, is where I need to play my cards a little closer to the vest (“… and wear a coat over the vest, or you’ll look like a jerk”—Alexei Volkoff). Although when the exact location is secured, because the funds have been raised and the brand has been discovered and the stars have aligned in the universe, I will absolutely share my second skill, for now, I have to keep it hush-hush. As of yet, no one has done what I intend to do. I’ve looked. It’s sort-of an exciting thing for me, to have thought of something first. I don’t want anyone to scoop up the idea and run off with it.

However. I do have a sane reason for sharing all (or half) of this with you. As I continue to take steps to launch my business and those steps appear on this blog, in between interviews with business owners and photographs of beautiful shops will be coffee stories, coffee reviews, coffee photos, and occasionally, coffee recipes. If this were a lifestyle blog, no one would be surprised; but as it’s a small business blog, you might wonder what coffee is doing popping up all over the place.

My business will be small, and my business will be coffee. With all the information I compile and log on YCIYWT, I will be thinking of how that insight lends strength to my business plan in coffee. It is only natural that this thought process will spill over onto the blog. If you love coffee, too, well, you’re in luck! If not, I hope you read it, anyway, because I’ll never focus on coffee alone, but on small business concepts that integrate fluidly with general theme.

That’s all for now. Time to caf up.

1 comment :

  1. The "Alexei Volkoff" quote made me laugh out loud. Great post.