Not just another WordPress.com weblog

Business Lesson: Young entrepreneur brews her first success

Six months ago, Heather Mantione opened her first business, the Blue Spoon Coffee Company in Manhattan. Opening a business is tough, especially your first one, and Heather chose a difficult industry in a difficult location.

Even more challenging, Heather is only 26 years old, and her parents took out a home equity loan to finance her dream.

I’ve been tracking Heather’s progress as her business grows. And I’ll check in with her from time to time to share lessons Heather is learning what can help you and other entrepreneurs succeed.

The good news? Heather is doing well — very well — for a start-up. The Blue Spoon Coffee Company is breaking even financially. Of course, that’s with just Heather and her brother as employees. It’s unusual for a company to break even that quickly.

Heather did her homework before opening. She developed a thorough business plan and took a class on how to run a coffee shop. Still, planning a business and running one are very different.

“You can’t know what it’s like to open a business until you actually open a business,” she said. “There are so many things you have to worry about.

“One thing that surprised me is how much I think about the business,” Heather continued. “When I’m in the shower, I’m thinking about the business. When shopping, I’m thinking about the business. When I’m out to dinner, I’m thinking about the business.”

Like most new entrepreneurs, Heather had to readjust her product offerings. She planned to only sell coffee drinks, but she quickly realized she needed to add lunch items to survive. That’s typical; within six months of starting my company, I dramatically changed the type of consulting I offered. Once you actually interact with your market, you have to be flexible enough to react to reality.

A nice surprise for Heather has been the relationship with her customers. “Some I now consider my friends. For the most part, they’re really nice people, and we have a sense of community. They really want to support independent businesses.”

Some lessons Heather learned in her first six months:

Do one new thing at a time. Heather started by serving coffee drinks. She added desserts and packaged sandwiches. At the same time, she was learning “latte art” — the process of pouring and steaming milk to create artistic images on the foam, such as roses or hearts. It was too much.

“Don’t try to add too many things at a time,” said Heather. “It confuses your customers and overwhelms you.”

It takes time to build word of mouth. “It took more time to get customers than I expected,” said Heather. New entrepreneurs always expect business to grow faster than is likely.

Networking is critical. Heather has learned a lot by asking others for advice and contacts. “I’m doing research because I’m going to make sandwiches on premises …Through one of my customers, I received a name of a man who owns a gourmet shop … and he gave me a bunch of tips and numbers for the distributors that he uses. This is information I never would have found on my own. It’s good to have people to talk to who are in the same situation as you.”

Your job is never done. Although Heather’s cafe is only open five days a week, she finds herself working all the time. “On weekends, I have to do bills and there’s stuff you always have to work on. I don’t have anyone but myself — ordering, bills, it all falls on my shoulders. You have to be prepared to do everything.”

Get emotional support. Heather turns to her parents to help handle the stress. “They’re my support. I’ll have a bad day, and my dad will tell me to keep my head up.”

With all the ups and downs of a new business, Heather is very glad she took the plunge. “I have those days when I wonder if I’m going to fail, am I good enough? But I’m definitely proud of myself … This place is me — it’s my blood, sweat, and tears.”

I’ll check in with Heather again in six months, and let you know how she’s doing. Together, we can celebrate her first anniversary!

source: http://www.usatoday.com/money/smallbusiness/columnist/abrams/2006-03-31-coffee-entrepreneur_x.htm

January 7, 2009 Posted by | Business, Entrepreneur, Life, Uncategorized | , , , | 2 Comments