Building your new business is about 25% business plans and product and 75% networking. Okay, I made those numbers up; but, networking is really, really important. Networking provides your new business with vital information and resources that will help you grow, sustain and succeed. It provides you with countless opportunities to develop new relationships and acquire new customers. Being apart of the coffee community around you, locally, nationally, and internationally, will keep you abreast of important trends and what customers are looking for, as well as the latest developments in technology, processing, packaging and more.
The National Coffee Association has been around since 1911 and provides countless resources for networking.
Their website has lists of educational and networking events. There is the annual Coffee Summit, which involves short presentations about the latest innovations in coffee, discussing personal experiences, success stories, and the trends everyone has been encountering. Coffee people getting together with coffee people and talking about coffee; the attendees include roasters, processors, buyers, coffee-shop owners, and more; as a coffee roaster, these are all important people to know. Topics of discussion also include business and leadership strategies, how to build an efficient team and successful brand. In 2016, there is a panel about SEO strategies and online marketing, which is vital for any new business in the 21st century. There are panels about Trade laws that are extremely important to stay up-to-date on and one’s with advice about how to find and hire the best people for your company.
In between coffee conventions, or in lieu of purchasing the somewhat pricy ticket, the NCA website also offers webinars covering similar topics, from industry issues to the latest trends in coffee production and preparation. Knowing the trends will help you stay ahead of your competition, or, at least, on par with them. It will allow you to offer the latest and best services and products to your customers, which will make them feel special and involved in their coffee community, which fosters loyalty.
NCA also has a newsletter for its members that provides this type of information on a regular basis. They also have a business-to-business directory that lists all of its members, which is a great way to find business connections. You can find coffee shops to offer your products to, roasters in your area to learn from and keep track of competitively, equipment and bean providers, and experts to recruit for your business. They also have a tremendous social media network that can further connect you to people in your industry and keep you informed.
There are also numerous coffee roasting competitions which provide similar networking opportunities. If you enter and win, you get tremendous recognition in the coffee community, with coffee blogs, magazines and news articles writing about you and your company; this is fantastic advertising. Even simply attending these types of events provides you with the opportunities to get to know your fellow roasters, to see what and how they are roasting, to see what people are expecting and considering the best in roasting practices, and to get your name and your brand out there. Having people talk about your company is a great way to garner more business. You’ll meet roasters you can collaborate with, or coffee shop owners you can roast for and sell to. There are also barista competitions for latte art and coffee brewing competitions; if you have a coffee shop attached to your roastery, you can enter these competitions for the same networking opportunities as the roasting competitions. You can also get involved in provided beans or equipment or space for such competitions, or local ones, which is a further way to get attention for your company and build business.
Then, of course, there is social networking, which is a vital component for any contemporary business. Starting with your website, which should be easily and intuitively navigable. Including a regularly updated blog is also highly recommended; this blog should include information about your company and your products and your participation in the above events, as well as expert information about trends, innovations, coffee news. Your blog can also include business advice, expert testimony, personal essays about your or your team’s relationship to coffee. As a coffee seller, you can include information about packaging and branding, which will draw other roasters and shops and businesses to your website. This is SEO strategy; writing about as many topics as possible increases your traffic from search engine results. This way, you’re not just relying on people searching your name or trying to find a nearby roaster; you’re drawing the attention of people who may not directly be looking for a roaster but who may end up wanting to buy from you or work with you because they found your blog about the best coffee packaging or the importance of happy employees.
Utilizing social media platforms is also key for your networking strategies. These allow you to build a community around your brand that can involve more than just your local customers. Twitter and Facebook and Instagram allow you to advertise your products, your deals and specials, news about your website; they also allow you to interact with coffee people around the world, getting involved in conversations about trends and innovations, getting your brand seen and talked about, and making connections that can serve your business well. On social media, using hashtags is a way to get more people to see your posts. This can include tags relating to coffee and the product itself, as well as popular tags that millions of people are looking at. You could post a picture of beautiful latte art one of your baristas poured and tag it “pic of the day” or “love,” if it’s a heart; these tags are some of the most used on Instagram especially and will garner more attention than the picture itself might. Some people spend their time just looking at latte art; I have personally found coffee shops I’ve wanted to visit by discovering their latte art online.
On Facebook, you can offer exclusive deals for people who like your page or share a certain post. You can also create events that are open to the public; on Facebook, you’ll get more people aware of your event than with just fliers or email notifications. On Twitter, you can tweet about news about your company, but also get involved in online conversations with other coffee people, or anyone, really. Retweeting and replying, keeping an active account, will garner more followers, and get your brand in the mouths of people who may not have otherwise known about you. Make sure to link your website and include information about your business on each social media page so that people can easily find out who and where you are.
No matter how amazing your product is, you cannot rely on it to sell itself. Building relationships is how you get new customers, loyal business, keep track of the latest trends, and discover what your next product or equipment investment should be. It’s how you learn where you could expand if you wanted to, who you can and should market your product to, how you can increase traffic to your store, and how you can build an international reputation with a strong presence, both online and in person. Networking is imperative to a successful business, and the more you do in many different areas the better your business will be.