This post is part of a series on tea entrepreneurship for individuals seeking to start a business in the tea industry.
If you are looking to start an online tea company, the first place to look is inward. While there are a lot of articles on the internet about being a self-starter or keeping a cot in your office – there is a lot more that goes into understanding how you perceive yourself as an entrepreneur than your ability to indulge in your entrepreneurial desires.
There are a lot of criteria to think about when you sit down at your kitchen table with your favorite teacup and a notebook. These are things you should take seriously and ask yourself about, because in the long run they will impact your life, your relationships and your business.
Each of the major topics about personal analysis will get their own post, but they are summarized as personal issues (including job security, money, lifestyle, power, age, health, location, investment, and attitudes); family issues (includes balancing commitments and working with family members); risk issues; and business issues (size and growth, sources of money, your position in the system, ownership, control, legal strategy, compensation, and tax strategy).
In this post, we’ll be talking about the best place to start – the personal issues. If you see yourself as the owner of a tea company, then a little bit of self-assessment is required to see if you are really the right person for the job.
Do you want your business to replace your day job, or should the income from it simply supplement your current income? Understanding your needs for employment and income early on is important to understanding what you want from Your Little Tea Company. There are so many levels to consider as you think about how much or how little influence your company has on your personal income level and your own employment.
How much money are you expecting (hoping) to earn? As above, are we talking about job replacement or job supplement? Exactly how much money do you currently spend in your household or how much money do you need. Is money the most important issue for your business. If creating wealth is not your first goal, what is? Are you more interested in cultivating a novel brand of tea that breaks boundaries and finds its way into markets that have been hard to penetrate (something like that might make money for you naturally while still fulfilling your goals)? Perhaps you are motivated to sell tea that is socially- or environmentally-conscious. Give thought to where money sits on your list of priorities for your business and how much of it you need to bring in to meet your needs.
Your business is going to have a significant impact on your life. Just like your day job or a passionate hobby, getting a grasp on the role it will have in life is important. Running even the smallest and simplest one-person operation can quickly become so overwhelming that it will impact your social life, your family life and even any job you may currently have. Knowing that you value your business to the extent that your free time will be impacted and understanding what that impact might be is crucial, sometimes though, working on a business is just a more productive way to spend an evening than sitting in front of the television.
Power and influence
The tea industry in America is evolving. Is your goal to eventually make an impact on that industry, or do you want to be a minor player happily working part-time from a spare room in your house? Are you desiring to be a subject matter expert invited to speak at the World Tea Expo? Remember that a desire for power is often driven by the ego, which can easily be a negative trait. As your company evolves and your influence grows, will you stop listening to your advisers and mentors and thinking that its all better done on your own? If power and influence is important to you, what checks and balances are you going to keep around as a safeguard to protect not only you, but also your relationships with your family, friends, and business associates from the impact of your ego?
You would be wrong if you thought that age doesn’t matter as you approach this. You could be young or old, but your age talks about the stage of life you are in. Let’s look at Jesse Jacobs, the owner of Samovar Tea Lounge, who left his corporate job to start a tea company that was in line with his holistic way of thinking about life and human connection. Age informs viewpoint and need. A younger entrepreneur may be able to start selling tea from a tea trolley on a sidewalk so he can buy a new guitar or amp for her band, while an middle-aged entrepreneur may want to start a small shop in a downtown district so that he can feel he’s created an establishment similar to creating a home. An older entrepreneur may decide that a 5-year exit strategy is in order so that they can retire after the sale of their small company and he may plan it from that point of view.
Starting a venture, no matter how small, is going to be stressful because there is always going to be something that you feel you have to do. Being in good health is important to get you through that stress. Fitness and health go hand and hand when dealing with stress. Are you able to get enough exercise to keep yourself feeling energetic, robust and healthy. Are you going to have to close up shop or go offline for a month because of an illness, surgical operation or other treatment? Have you thought about what impact your health is going to have on your business and what impact your business stresses are going to have on your health?
Do you live in a city like Chicago or Portland where there is an active and vibrant tea culture and market to enter into, or does your city not have a single tea shop in it and you will have to force your way into people’s kitchens? If you are only planning on selling tea online, perhaps it doesn’t matter very much where you live as long as you have reasonable shipping access to your chosen suppliers. However, if you plan to sell tea in a store, cart, trolley or mall – the city you live in and the existing tea culture may have a significant impact on how successful you are. Will you be jumping into an established market, or will you have to hammer away in a place where no market and desire exists for tea?
All businesses require money to start, no matter how small. How much money do you have to invest in it? How much money are you willing to take away from your household to pay for your business. In the best of all possible worlds your household money and your business money is separate, but for many entrepreneurs, that is simply not the case. Personal credit cards are used to finance many startup businesses. An advantage of paying for it all yourself is that you own the business and control it. Later on, when you need more money, banks and investors may look to see how much financial interest you have in the company as the entrepreneur. Your level of investment may payoff then, when they see that you have taken the initial risk yourself.
Your attitudes about certain things are going to have an impact on how you operate your business.
Use of debt – You may prefer to sell your car and finance the business with cash, or you may do it using credit cards or other forms of debt. Debt has different impacts on different people. If you are uncomfortable using debt, then perhaps you might want to sell that car, or find some wholesale customers and have them in-hand (having customers in-hand will be discussed in detail in a future post) and have them pay for your startup.
Values and beliefs – Your company may strongly reflect your religious, humanistic or moral values. Take again Jesse Jacobs whose stated company goal is not about selling tea, but creating a warm, comforting environment through which people can connect and enjoy their relationships over a cup of tea.
Employees and contractors – You may never want to hire part-time or full-time employees to help you package up tea. Having employees and managing people is a burden and business concern all its own. The same is dealing with contractors, these could include website developers, marketers or advertisers, packaging firms and so on. Your values about being a rugged individualist and going it alone or leveraging available help may have significant impact on your venture in the early days.
Are you ready?
Looking in the mirror at your life and your values is the first step to deciding how much and how far you are thinking about taking Your Little Tea Company. Taking the time to think about each of these topics as you dream about conquering the tea trade someday is an important step to understanding what your starting needs really are.
In the next post I’ll discuss an evaluation of family issues and the impact your venture might have on those closest to you.