Ian Abadiano shares his learnings from starting his coffee business with a mobile café, and gradually expanding to three stores across Brisbane. It is not just about setting up a shop; it is also about setting up the right mentality.
While there are many guides out there and tips on starting a cafe, there isn’t much around preparing yourself mentally for starting and running your own coffee business.
For me, having the mental resilience is critical now more than ever particularly if you are new to the game. There are many considerations in starting a café ; but even before you start planning, it is important to ‘calibrate’ your mind to be able to tackle this challenging, yet rewarding journey.
What I wish to share is my experience as a small business owner on what has worked for me in starting and sustaining my business for close to 10 years.
What is your purpose in starting a cafe? Whether it is to give yourself a job or have more flexibility with your time, you also need to ask yourself which parts of running a café will be an extension of your passion and interest?
What do want to be known for or recognised for in the industry? This will determine the kind of café – a coffee shop serving just coffee or a restaurant café if food preparation is an interest.
Or if your purpose is to enjoy the last few years of your working life before retirement, then a mobile café may be your thing.
Having a general idea of what your ‘greater goal’ is, and where you plan to take your business over the long haul will keep you focused on the business model you want to develop. Create a mission statement in mind, as this will drive you to get out of bed everyday at the crack of dawn.
The thoughts we repeat in our mind can have a powerful influence on our behaviour, attitude and actions. It could be as simple as the satisfaction you get talking to customers while enjoying their cuppa. Remember there is more to just pouring coffee and making a profit. If you understand and embrace this concept, then the rest will follow.
For me, I saw Coffee Mentality as a way to change people’s mentality through coffee with our values statement ‘People, Passion and Planet’. As cliche as this may sound, in practice it is about building my team and staff to pursue their own goals and passion while working with us; it is about educating our customers about coffee and the end-to-end process of how it is grown and produced so they appreciate the drink more; it is about sustainability and experimenting on how we can lessen our carbon footprint by growing coffee closer to home, rather than sourcing them from across the world. Our urban coffee project was established with this goal.
Having been in the industry for close to 10 years and operating three coffee shops has taught me that there is no secret to growth – you gotta put in the hard yards. When people come to me for advice on how they can start their own café – my first question to them is what is your motivation?
When I dig deeper, I realise it is to fill an emotional need. Some of them want to get out of their 9-5 job, others are fed up of doing the same work in the last 20 years. Yes, owning your own business can have many advantages, but to be effective at running one, you need to head in with the right attitude and mindset.
Carol Dweck a Professor of Psychology at Stanford University says “individuals who believe they can develop their talents through hard work, good strategies and input from others have a growth mindset“.
Be prepared mentally for the hard work, especially if you are an owner-operator and have limited budget. Your job will not stop when the café closes. There are supplies you need to take care of, staffing, bookkeeping, social media and advertising….the list goes on. Unless you are prepared to do the hard work, give up many weekends, then this may not be for you. If you are serious about it, spend some time with a café owner, learn how to make coffee, upskill and do some barista training. You need to know the basics to build it ground up.
Making small steps with your goal in mind, and being passionate about what you do, are the foundations mentally and emotionally. You must enjoy what you do, otherwise it will be no different to your 9-5 job.
The most common question I get about starting a café: how much money do I need? I can tell you that you don’t need thousands of dollars or a bank loan. I am a firm believer that if you are logical, you can be resourceful and work within your budget.
There are strategies around this in terms of your choice of location, fittings and business model. It is quite easy to get emotional and carried away with building your dream café, splurging on the best machine, shop fittings and sound system. These are all nice things to have in your shop but if you are working with a limited budget, being logical will help you stay on track.
You can purchase things second-hand or hire if you need. Or if you are handy, you can do some of the work yourself – painting, tiling and decorating. The main thing is to start. You can slowly improve the café once you are getting good returns. You must be prepared to prioritise and compromise. For example, if your goal is to be known for specialty coffee, then prioritise a good coffee machine and premium beans. These are things you can’t compromise on. Remember you don’t want to start out with a big debt. Work with what you have, be creative and stick to it.
Starting a café can be a daunting process but I believe that these three principles can help prepare yourself mentally. If you are prepared to be in it for the long term, jump in with the right attitude and let logic rule over emotion, then you are off to a great start.
Let’s not forget we all want a good return on investment, but we need to be realistic and adapt. Cultivating the right mentality and focusing on your purpose and that of any café – creating a place for customers where they want to return and be part of your journey will be what counts.
Enjoying those little conversations with customers everyday will show and what will keep them loyal (of course in addition to serving good coffee consistently). There is no magic formula to running a successful café. There will be good days and bad, just like with any other business. With the right mentality, this will help you turn up everyday with a smile…. now you have the right ‘coffee mentality’ to start your own café .
Coffee Mentality partners with early-stage cafe founders to help start and grow their own businesses through our wholesale coffee offering. Get in touch with us, we’d love to hear from you!