by Joseph Molloy February 14, 2023 4 min read
Starting and running a coffee business takes time and effort. The industry is super competitive, and more competition is constantly popping up. A successful cafe needs more than loyal customers, slick latte art and excellent customer service (although those are necessary too), it also needs to be a profitable business.
To start, you'll need a business plan, the right location, a sweet coffee machine and a strong customer base. In the coffee industry (and all hospitality businesses) we fall in love with what we do from making coffee to serving customers, but we often struggle with the business side.
While learning from your mistakes is good, learning from someone else is always better. That’s why we keep looking around to find more knowledge and deepen our understanding.
I love to read, so I always start with books.
I meet with lots of people looking to open up their first cafe or coffee shop. After hearing about their new business over a coffee or three at our roastery, I always recommend What I Know About Running Coffee Shops by Colin Harmon.
Colin is a charming four-time Irish Barista Champion, owns a coffee roastery and a string of espresso bars in Dublin called 3Fe. He’s made all the mistakes and written all the lessons.
He covers business plans and business structure, coffee equipment and what to put on your menu. But he also hammers home that you need to be fast, friendly and efficient.
New coffee shops need to talk to their potential customers, so Colin explains the importance of a marketing plan and social media. And he also gets into one of the most neglected aspects of the cafe industry, the numbers.
If you haven't learned enough about your numbers from Colin Harmon, the next book we recommend is Count More Beans by Nadi Elias. Nadi is a growth accountant and coffee lover here in Melbourne. He’s actually co-owned cafes, so knows the truth about hospitality from the inside. He lays it all out in seven simple steps: from people and products to systems, pricing and finding your target market.
Back when we learned how to roast it was a dark art, probably because nobody knew what they were actually doing. Scott Rao changed all that. He’s one of the most experienced and knowledgeable roasting consultants in the world and literally wrote the book on how to roast. If you want to learn about how we roast coffee beans and why check out The Coffee Roasters Companion.
Before he became everyone’s favourite coffee Youtuber, James Hoffman was a Barista Champion, Roastery owner and an excellent writer. For years, his blog, JimSeven, was compulsory reading and his books are excellent. The World Atlas of Coffee spans the globe and will give you a sturdy knowledge base, while his latest, How to Brew Coffee at Home, will do just that.
After a little light reading, it's time to get to work. The first step for any business should be a business plan. Most coffee shop owners are terrific at the cafe part. They make delicious coffee and are fast and friendly, but don’t know that much about the business side. Rask has solved that problem with their excellent (and free!) Business Course. It covers the basics from setting up a business, and writing a business plan, to what types of business structures to consider, marketing plans, accounting tools and loads more.
If you are thinking about starting a business (of any kind) then you should run through this course. You can even listen to most of it as a podcast.
If you want to keep pushing your coffee knowledge forwards, then a subscription to Barista Hustle is where to go. They have an ever-expanding library that covers the entire coffee industry, from green coffee and how to roast it, to extended looks at the history of coffee machines and how to learn latte art.
Podcasts are an amazing way to learn about nearly any topic. Lucky for us there are some sweet coffee-related pods to help you out.
Owen from Rask (of the free course mentioned above) also runs a podcast empire. His small business pod is fantastic, and he even interviewed me for the first episode. If you want to see our roastery and hear me talk about the challenges of running a coffee business, have a look here.
Tim 'Timbo' Reid has been hosting this terrific podcast for over a decade and it is an exceptional resource for any business owner. In each episode, Tim interviews a small business owner or expert in a related field. They are fun and entertaining but packed with actionable ideas. From owners of household name businesses to operators crushing it in niches you never knew existed, this pod is a must-listen.
POH is based here in Melbourne and the host Sean de Vries has a long history in the game himself. Sean interviews operators from different hospitality businesses, from bakers to baristas to brewers.
It’s not just coffee people we can learn from, but any business owner. In this podcast, host Guy Raz interviews business owners and founders about how they built their businesses. Many of the businesses mentioned are international names and, on a scale, that dwarf your cafe. But the lessons are the same. How to grow and the problems that come along with success. Finding great people and getting the most out of them.
Most of the information you require will be online, from your local council to a food safety program and maybe even your POS system.
Not to toot our own horn too much, but we put out lots of quality coffee content. From, coffee basics like What is an Espresso Blend? and What Is Single Origin Coffee? to more business-orientated pieces like 8 Cafe Marketing Tips To Grow Your Business and How We Doubled Retail Sales at Cobb's Coffee.
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