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How to Run a Coffee Business: Brewing Power vs. Business Prowess

The Myth of Hustle and the Reality of Strategy

It grinds my gears to hear hustle culture state empty aphorisms like "you just have to put in the work" and "the most persistent wins."

Don't get me wrong, a successful business (coffee or otherwise) DOES take hard work and persistence – but that's simply one aspect.

It’s not just about hustling harder or putting in longer hours.

That’s a given, but it's not the entire story.

Relying on luck?

That’s like brewing coffee without measuring the beans – inconsistent and, frankly, a poor strategy.

It takes some of both: hard work and luck. The hard work is just what it sounds like, the luck part can look different, though. It can be pure luck (something you had no hand in creating) or manufactured luck (using your unfair advantages as often as you can).

The Unfair Advantage

What is this unfair advantage?

It’s your secret recipe, something inherently unique to your vision that others can’t easily replicate.

It's not simply a unique differentiator. Maybe it’s a sweetheart deal on your location, a revolutionary brewing method, or a partnership that taps into a community.

It’s not just about knowing coffee – that’s expected, the basic requirement.

No, this is about identifying and leveraging something that sets you apart in a crowded market where everyone knows the difference between Arabica and Robusta.

Identify your unfair advantages and use them.

Know Business or No Business

Now, let’s talk about how to run a coffee business.

Sure, the concept is simple enough to grasp, much like understanding the basics of pulling a decent shot of espresso.

In most craft businesses, the owner/operator spends more time running the business than doing the craft.

There's simply so much that needs to be done: payroll, scheduling, taxes, inventory management, negotiating with vendors, and so.

Unfortunately, too many first-time coffee shop owners know boatloads about coffee and only little about business.

Doubly unfortunate is that phrases like "Well, make a great product and it'll sell itself!" or "You'll figure out the business as you go" are often repeated by folks who mean the best but only hurts.

Knowledge vs. Execution

Understanding how to run a small business is straightforward.

It comes down to cash flow – earning more than you spend.

Executing on that knowledge is where complexity turns into art.

Have a bias towards action, because the worst thing one can do is simply to do nothing at all. At least, if you take action, whether the results are positive or negative, you've learned something.

The difficult decisions come when every choice seems right (or wrong). For instance, where to invest ad spend – Facebook? Google? TikTok?

Don't get bogged down researching the perfect method before diving in. Go for it and adjust along the way. Call it an "experiment" and test your hypothesis.

How to Run a Coffee Business: Act Now

This isn't merely a business—it's an adventure.

Seize your unfair advantage. Master the intricate balance of systems. And innovate far beyond a great cup of coffee.

Be bold and be ready to shape not just exceptional coffee but to pull levers that improve business operations one day at a time.

The moment to act is now—embrace the complexity, navigate the challenges, and do it.

This week, do at least two of the following:

  • Survey customers about their experience

  • Calculate the net margins on every product

  • Create Stand Operating Procedures that operationalize simple repetitive tasks

  • Update your website

  • Calculate the average ticket value by dividing revenue by number of transactions, then focus on improving average ticket value by 10%

  • Find a mentor or coach to work through your current problems

You got this!

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