Thursday, January 25, 2007

How did we get here? Dec '05/Jan-Feb '06

Starting the business plan was a bit daunting. All the internet research and forum scouring and book reading in the world won't tell you how to do it in a way that makes sense for you. But one of the best pieces of advice we heard came from Kent Holloway of Fox Hollow Coffee who gave a great presentation at CoffeeFest. He recommended starting the (business plan development) process by writing a letter, like to a friend, telling them all about what you're going to do. I think it's really a brilliant idea as it takes a lot of the pressure of formality and format off the task and allows you to just get something down.

So I start that way and it isn't long before I just start copy/pasting the text into an outline format where I can just create placeholders for information that we would need to fill in later. Then I can see what needs to be thought through or researched more or just decided, in order to get the plan done. My graduate work in planning definitely comes in useful at this point, in terms of developing the framework for the plan and even putting it together in an effective format. I start putting together the financial projections and meet with our accountant to learn more about income and cash flow statements, balance sheets, etc., and of course I'm still reading anything I can get my eyes on.

While examples are super helpful, they're extremely hard to find. For those that are interested, here is a glimpse of an early outline I created for the business plan (click to enlarge). The black text represents content I had already drafted at that point and the grey represents that which I still needed to work on.

This, on the other hand, is a glimpse of the "final" outline that we developed for the business plan. I'm not too worried about whether it matches any particular "template", but rather that it covers all the areas we felt that we (and any others who would need to review the plan) would need to understand to make decisions. [Of course, this is the format and order that made sense for us to figure out and tell "our" story and isn't a good model for anyone else probably, but I always like seeing how other people think and work.]

So the first draft plan is coming together pretty well by the end of January, beginning of February. We have a much better sense of how much the endeavor is going to cost, and how much we'll need to borrow, but we don't have a very good sense of whether any banks (and SBA) are going to want to work with us, so before we start our more serious location search (we've been informally looking around for moths already) we need to know if we're wasting our time. So I contact some banks and set up preliminary meetings to discuss our plans in February. The feedback is great... very encouraging indeed. We seem a good fit with one of the banks in particular and based on their feedback, in early/mid March we meet with and engage our real estate agent.

Meanwhile, just before x-mas we upgrade the kitchen gear, we retire the espresso machine and the Pro-Line grinder and finally get ourselves a Rancilio Sylvia and Rocky (pictured). A new tamper, some basket adjustments and a new bottomless portafilter get us on the road to making better espresso (and better latte art) for the new year. Our friends start to mock our set-up.

In January, I volunteer at the Great Lakes Regional Barista Competition here in Chicago. I end up as a Scorekeeper, sequestered in a kitchen (the competition was hosted at a cooking school) tabulating the Judge's score sheets (technical.pdf + sensory.pdf). Though I miss seeing a lot of the baristas compete while I work, I get to read the judges comments and learn about the judging criteria.

We also move away from the MuJo [Coffee + Milk Bar] name. We really want to emphasize the craft... and the attention to detail, leveraging our design background. Within a few weeks and a few variations, we've got it: The Coffee Studio.

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