Coffee Consulting: Starting Research & The Concept Paper

My computer and notebook ready to goI’m slowly learning more about all the [free] resources that are available to entrepreneurs and how to utilize them. It brings to light how much opportunity we have here in America to succeed and make a better life for ourselves– which is one of the reasons my parents decided to come here from communistic Europe. Without knowing any English, they started their own businesses, and throughout all the ups and downs they are to this day working for themselves. It’s interesting how Ernest, Pop, and I are all immigrants, and all have parents who are entrepreneurs. They’re always saying, “if we could do it –without any resources or even English skills– you definitely can!”

One of the resources we checked out and want to share with you today are the free consulting sessions from the Denver Metro Small Business Development Center (SBDC). I actually stumbled onto their website when I was thinking to apply as an administrative assistant in their office, wanting to get into the consultant industry (in fact, I was also applying for other corporate consultant jobs at the time). So after finding the SBDC, Ernest and I met up one of their experienced consultants for his computer business MacforCash. I asked our consultant how he got into the industry and he told me it was totally different than the corporate consulting positions I was applying for at the time. To be a corporate consultant you need a degree, but to be a SMDC consultant, you need experience. In fact, you’ve had to own more than 3-5 businesses, and he says he even has Masters’ business students coming to him for consulting. His advice to me? Start a business myself instead!

Anyway, because Ernest and I had used their consulting services for MacforCash, we decided to go with Pop to take a first step for our future coffee shop. First, we requested an initial appointment online by giving some basic information on our business, where we are at, and the type of services/consulting we are looking for and needing help with. They matched us with a consultant in our industry (coffee/restaurant) and the areas we needed help in (start-up), then set up an appointment for us.

The first session is a good introduction, where they help set goals and point you in the next direction to get there–so bring a list of questions and topics you want to discuss. They help with various things from “conducting a market and feasibility analysis, developing a business plan, determining your legal structure, licensing and financial requirements, and setting up accounting and other management systems.”

Our First Meeting with Denver’s SMDC

We met with Jeff, a consultant with more than 15 years of experience, specializing in start-up and business planning, the restaurant-retail industry and financial analysis. He’s owned more than 10 businesses over the past 25 years! Here are the main points of our meeting, and what we learned from it!

1. Think realistically & be prepared to tough it out.

Jeff first asked us the vision of our business, really challenging us with the fact that so many aspiring coffee owners also want to start their own coffee shops, and 92% of them fail to succeed. What will set us apart? How will we beat the odds? He liked how we were coming at him with our replies, and encouraged us to do more research and PROVE in the business plan that there is indeed a market, and we really can make it happen.

2. Learn the industry

He also encouraged us to get into the coffee industry. I’ll admit at first we thought we could just buy an espresso machine and teach ourselves the craft, but there’s countless other things that you can only learn through the experience of being in that atmosphere. Pop has restaurant experience, Ernest has started his own business, and I have business school experience, but we need the coffee experience! So I’m looking to get a job at a coffee shop and learn a little bit.

3. Research

Next, Jeff advised us to put a lot of time and effort into research:

  • Market and customer demographics
  • Coffee industry
  • Coffee shops– by visiting them and comparing them to our ideas.
    Ask: What do you like and not like? What vibe are you going for compared to these shops? How can we be different and fulfill other needs in the market?

One other thing that was stressed was the importance of getting an objective idea of how busy coffee shops in the areas we’re thinking of REALLY are, so that we’re not just perceiving a need that might not be as strong as we think. To do an accurate count, go to a coffee shop each hour of each day of the week, and count how many people come in and pass by outside (including cars).

4. Write a Concept Paper

Jeff lastly introduced us to the concept paper. In business school, we’d go directly to writing a plan, but the concept paper is great for initially getting your concept on… well, paper– especially when there’s more than one owner involved.

How to Write A Concept Paper for a Coffee Shop

Writing a Concept Paper for a Coffee Shop

Unlike an in-depth business plan, a concept paper is a brief summary of your business. In order to get on the same page, we were recommended to each write a one page, two to three paragraph paper on the description of our ideal coffee shop to get a feeling for what it’s like walking into it. Here are some main points to hit on:

  • Vision & Ideas– What do you envision? What are your leading and inspiring foundational ideas? What needs are you filling in the market? What sets you apart from others?
  • Writing a Concept Paper for a Coffee ShopDecor & Atmosphere– What do you feel like walking in? What do you see? Colors, tones, feeling, atmosphere… what look are you going for?
  • Ideal Customers– What is your ideal target market: teenagers, college students, families, businessmen, middle-class, upscale, etc. What are they doing: studying, business meetings, grabbing morning coffee, hanging out, socializing, reading, etc. What need are you primarily filling in the community? What are the demographics of the market and community?
  • Tasks & Roles– What do you see yourself doing everyday and in the long-run? What do you see your co-owners, co-workers, employees doing? How will the tasks and roles be divided up?
  • Goals– What are your short and long-term goals? How long do you see yourself there? Do you plan to expand or stay local? How do you plan to grow or change?
  • Day-to-day- Make sure you describe the day to day expectations of the coffee shop. How do you envision every day being like for the employees and the customers?

The idea is to get all your ideas on paper without any limits–dream big! Then get together and narrow down the individual concept papers to one page. That summarized one-page concept paper will then be used to write the business plan, and the business plan itself will over time provide limitations according to research and other reasons.

The biggest thing in this phase is to research, and Jeff emphasized that this is the time we can enjoy and have fun with exploring other coffee shops and getting a feel for what we really want. And we are certainly planning to enjoy this process! We’re planning a trip to Portland, Oregon, hub of the coffee craftsman to get inspired from all the local coffee places that are all around. We’re also planning a trip overseas to get some international inspiration as well, and we’ll let you know  all the details of where we decide shortly!

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  1. This is a great post! Very informative and inspirational 🙂 Learned a lot!

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  2. ths u for sharing information , learned a lot and in the future i hope can invite u come my Coffee shop , ths u so much.

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    • Julia

      Glad it helps! Good luck with your continuing research and hard work, and I do hope to visit one day too!

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  3. Thank you so much for this. Good luck with everything.

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    • Julia

      Thanks! Good luck to you too =]

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