March 21, 2018

How to Start a Specialty Coffee Business With Little Funding


Starting your dream isn’t easy. It’s even harder with the “appropriate backing” that many people think you need. But it is doable – and it’s worth every bit of effort you put into it.

My business partner and I have successfully started, and currently run, two women-owned and operated coffee businesses: a coffee shop and a roastery. We have always operated in the black. We have scrounged, scrimped, and saved. We’ve used personal funds and any means necessary to see our passions and dreams become reality.

I can’t tell you how to get rich quick. But I can tell you some of the things I’ve learned about how to start a specialty coffee business with almost no funding.

Lee este artículo en español Cómo Empezar Un Negocio de Café Especial Con Poca Inversión


In the heart of the warehouse. Credit: Uncharted Coffee Co   

Pare Down Your Dreams

For many of us, when we start writing down plans for our dream coffee business, we want it to be perfect. We picture the beautiful lighting, the colors, the sounds that our roasters make, and the hissing of an espresso machine in a bustling coffee shop.

Beware of this kind of dreaming. I’m not saying you can’t achieve this. But, to begin with, strip away everything but the bare necessities from your plan. 

Next, ask yourself: “What is my first machine going to cost me?” “What is the cheapest and most efficient space I can buy/rent?” Esthetics is important but it doesn’t need to be costly. Pinterest is a low-budget coffee shop owner’s best friend, closely followed by Google and “how-to” articles.

In the beginning, without a lovely $250,000 in your bank account, how are you going to purchase the necessities and also turn a profit quickly? It’s all about the nitty-gritty when you don’t have much money to spare.

However beautiful our dreams are of being in the coffee industry, being realistic is the most beautiful road to success I have found thus far.

You might also like Coffee Shop Marketing: Why You Need to Understand Your Customers

women in coffee

Co-owner Cherie Wisniewski, Head Roaster Alyssa Heckart, and Co-owner Sharayah Harper hold one of their first batch of beans. Credit: Uncharted Coffee Co

Hold Off on Upgrades

Be wary of growing out of your means. We started our coffee roasting business, Uncharted Coffee Company, with a 2lb roaster.  It was great for learning but we quickly realized that it was not sufficient for much else. But instead of panicking, I asked some friends of mine if they had any equipment they were looking to sell. 

Because I asked and used my resources, I managed to find our wonderful 5lb roaster. Before you go ahead and buy larger equipment, see if you can secure some sales from friends, family, local businesses, and even people on coffee forums. You’ll be surprised by what people have lying around that may be perfect for you.

Making even small upgrades, such as going from a 2lb to a 5lb roaster, isn’t easy. One of the biggest pieces of advice I have to offer is to grow steadily and at low cost.

Wait to expand until you are completely maxed out. Squeeze every bit of profit out of what you have before upgrading or expanding. Don’t get me wrong, I love the latest and greatest – if you can afford it and you have the volume, go for it! 

But if you’re trying to become profitable quickly and pay off any start-up debt, then this is my advice: hold off on getting something “bigger and newer” and, instead, milk what you have for all it’s worth.  

coffee roaster

Alyssa Heckart roasting outdoors during the early days at Uncharted Coffee Co. Credit: Uncharted Coffee Co

6 Keys to Saving Money

Finally, let me share with you six keys to saving money.

Key one:  Strip it down to what you absolutely need. Buy used! It’s not one of our favorite things to do but it’s also the way we’ve found success in a budding coffee business.

Key two: Be prepared to put in some serious sweat equity. Not hiring employees right away and doing it yourself is one of the best ways to preserve precious cash and so start a successful business.

Key three:  Every dollar counts. And I mean every dollar.  So, when making decisions for purchases, calculate, research, and don’t forget to consider hidden costs.

Key four: Use all the financial resources available to you. Think beyond loans: ask your local Chamber of Commerce to direct you toward alternative small business funding. Reach out to family and friends. Don’t be above seeking out investors. Have a great business plan and project confidence so that people want to get involved. And save, save, and save!

Key five:  Get yourself a good support system.  You’re going to need your friends, family, neighbors and mentors – and not just for emotional support. Ask lots of questions. Use what’s in your circle and ask for help when you need it.

Key six: Get a good accountant. (This is not a must, but it will be helpful.)

Two single origins and one espresso blend from Uncharted Coffee Co. Credit: Uncharted Coffee Co

This will be hard. But you’re up for the challenge. Wake up knowing you love what you do. Work for you – because you know best what your business needs. Believe in your dreams.

Believe in them enough to know that you can achieve them, even without large amounts of funding.

Enjoyed this? Check out Coffee Shop Marketing: Why You Need to Understand Your Customers

Perfect Daily Grind is not affiliated with any of the individuals or bodies mentioned in this article and cannot directly endorse them.

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