There is a long list of things in life that we prefer to leave in the hands of professionals, even if we admit we are in love with that thing. Consider watching sports. It’s much easier to tune in from your armchair. Or better yet – what about making that golden-brown liquid, that glorious nectar of life that we all know and love – coffee? What if you want to take your immense love and respect for that bean-based beverage and start doing it yourself? You know you’re madly in love, but can you open a coffee shop with no experience?

While experience is clearly a plus, it is indeed possible to open a coffee shop with little to no prior experience. You can make up for your lack of experience in other ways, such as partnering with someone (or a team) that has the necessary experience or skills, starting small and simple, or considering an educational investment to get you up to speed during startup.

If you are serious about starting your own coffee shop with no experience, diving into the details of these three potential routes might help you gain confidence in your decision. Just like any business, problem-solving is a crucial trait that can make or break your coffee shop. Experience is an added benefit, but your success hinges on your ability to use the available option to solve this shortage.

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Basic Business Needs for Starting A Coffee Shop

Before we dive into the three options to consider for starting a coffee shop with no experience, it’s important to understand the basic needs for starting an effective business. Comprehension of these variables can significantly increase your chance for success and outweigh the lack of experience you may have.

Ability to Meet a Need in a New or Intriguing Way

When you start your own coffee shop, you have to consider that there are only so many customers out there. Your shop needs to either spark the interest of new customers or motivate existing customers to spend their money on you instead of their previous options. At the end of the day, you either have to create a new customer or steal a customer from competitors.

Differentiating your product in some way is the primary way to gain new customers. Maybe you serve only organic and fair-trade coffee beans, and that was not previously available in your area. Perhaps your neighborhood has a high Nicaraguan population, and you can cater to their needs by buying only Nicaraguan beans and using that as your theme. Whatever the case, identifying the customer’s needs and delivering a solution is a far more important variable than prior experience.

High Level of Interest in Coffee

Another basic need before starting a coffee shop is a love for all things coffee. That may seem obvious, but if the thought of learning new drink recipes, perfecting your latte art, and serving customers doesn’t intrigue you, it’s probably best to steer clear of the business altogether.

The reality is, when you own a business, your world revolves around that subject. You can’t get away from it. So, if you don’t love thinking about it, your shop is going to struggle. Experience as a barista or shop manager will never outweigh the burden of not loving what you do. A far more powerful motivator towards the success of your coffee shop is your vested interest and high level of passion for coffee.

Have a Plan

A strong business plan is the key to success for any new business. A business plan for your coffee shop is as much about understanding your customer as it is about understanding the coffee shop business. You should research and adequately understand the necessary background information for opening a coffee shop so that you don’t stumble right out of the gates.

The purpose of writing out your business plan is primarily to understand how you will make money. Also important, it helps you understand where your risks are, and identify how you will reduce them. If you consider a lack of experience to be a risk, having a plan for how to get around that barrier can be as effective as having the experience itself.

Now that the initial stepping stones of operating a successful coffee shop have been discussed, we can shift to three potential ways to open a coffee shop with no experience.

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You can also read more about the requirements for starting a coffee shop here.

Don’t Do It Alone

The first and most self-explanatory option to consider if you don’t have experience is to not open a shop alone. Regardless of your past experience, there are inevitably going to be things about opening a coffee shop that you aren’t good at. Leverage other people’s best talents to build an amazing shop. If you try to do everything yourself, you’ll end up either burning out or being ineffective because you are spending so much time on tasks that don’t highlight your strengths.

For example, it takes a very special person to consider accounting as their strongest skill. The natural response for the rest of us would be to think, “I’ll get an accountant to help with the accounting work.”

Well, why should it be any different if the one thing you aren’t fully experienced in is the coffee-making process itself?

Sit Near the “Smart Kid”

Consider hiring or going into business with an experienced barista or another coffee specialist who can bring those strengths and experiences to the table. Benefitting from the strengths of others is neither selfish nor weak; it’s good business. You get to come in with your own set of experiences and skills, and a good business partner can come in with theirs. The mutual desire to create a great coffee shop will allow you to learn from each other and pick up the “experience” that you were previously missing.

A principal rule of starting any business is that you should do what you do best, and delegate the rest. Just because you have less experience than you would like with running a coffee shop shouldn’t be keeping you from trying it out. The idea that you need to know how to do everything is ridiculous. Eventually, if you delegate properly and try to learn from the experts you surround yourself with, you will pick up on the skills you previously lacked.

Short-Term Help

Another option if you are concerned about having more background experience in your coffee shop is to hire a coffee specialist as a consultant (or independent contractor). Intentionally committing to a short-term role, this person can help you form the business in a variety of ways:

  • Build out a menu
  • Train you and your baristas on how to make each menu item
  • Give feedback on your business plan
  • Help you navigate around problems they have dealt with previously
  • Provide support in the crucial first few months of business

While consultants such as this can sometimes be a pricier option, the flexibility of a short-term role is appealing. Choosing a full-time business partner can be a daunting task and one that leads to a high amount of stress if things don’t work out. Using a consultant also keeps you in full control and ownership of your coffee shop. If you are not satisfied with your consultant’s work, you also have the option to discontinue the contracted services and find someone else who would better fit your needs.

All in all, the key to this first approach for opening a coffee shop with no experience is to benefit from the experiences of others. You don’t have to know everything in the beginning. Partnering with others who may be able to provide those strengths and experiences and teach you what they know along the way is an effective way to start your own shop.

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Starting Small and Simple

Perhaps you’re unsure how much risk you are willing to take by investing in something you don’t have tons of experience with. Well, I have good news – coffee shops are flexible.

There is no shame in starting small. No one said that you had to start a Starbucks-sized empire on Day One. Starbucks got its start when three friends decided to get together and sell roasted coffee beans. That’s right, they didn’t even make coffee at all! At that point in their lives, none of them had any experience as a barista. But it didn’t prevent them from opening a “coffee shop,” albeit probably a different definition of a coffee shop than you expected.

However, the message stands strong. You don’t have to lease a giant plot of land, construct a building, hire twelve baristas, and sell every variation of espresso humankind has tinkered around with. Instead, consider starting small and simple.

Among the various types of coffee shops you could open, here are a few smaller potential ideas that might ease your stress a bit:

  • Mobile coffee cart, effective for public spaces, events, and moving where the demand is
  • Coffee (and donut?) food truck, because no combination has ever worked better than donuts and coffee on the go
  • Quick service coffee bar, such as in a building lobby, ideal for serving out drip coffee right where it’s needed

Ideally, start with what you know. If you have very little experience running a coffee shop, utilize the skills you do have. Starting with something you feel confident in can give you the time to pick up new skills as the business grows. Learning as you go is, after all, typically more effective. The reason for this is because you are able to apply what you are learning firsthand. Certainly, you may encounter the stress of running into an unforeseen problem, but this is to be expected even if you had twenty years of experience.

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Consider an Educational Investment

This option may sound like I am telling you that the answer to “having no experience” is to “just get the experience.” But that is not the case. Say you simply can’t or don’t want to wait to get the experience of hours and hours on the job. You should at least take some steps to educate yourself ahead of time or as you get started.

Get Schooled

There are numerous barista training courses available in-person or online, to help you get more familiar with the products you will be selling. Taking a coffee class can deepen your understanding and increase your confidence in your ability to run a coffee shop. As well, it can prevent embarrassing rookie mistakes as you start out.

If the business ownership aspect is what you aren’t experienced in, consider taking a general business class online or at a nearby community college. These are relatively cheap options that can provide some background on what it takes to run a business. Being passionate about coffee is a necessary aspect of owning a coffee shop, but so is knowing how to operate at a profit. 

Wax On, Wax Off

Even if you are dead set on starting your own coffee shop immediately, you should consider taking a part-time job at an existing coffee company to “learn from the master.” Working at a coffee shop while you get your own off the ground is beneficial in a number of ways, including:

  • Learn the inner workings of a coffee company
  • Pick up on the administrative duties necessary and how they are handled
  • Observe the flow of the kitchen and the processes that go on
  • Be able to ask questions that come up in your own shop
  • Gain perspective from coworkers

Working for another company as you get going is certainly not cheating. As long as you aren’t borrowing anything that could be considered intellectual property or patented processes, you are simply learning through observation. Even if the best option is to work at another coffeehouse for a few months before starting your own shop, consider it an investment in your own future. You may learn things that would save you time and money in your own business in the future.

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No Experience Required

All things considered, there are certainly some traits that are more important than experience when it comes to opening a coffee shop. Start by asking yourself:

  • Do I care enough about this to do everything it takes to make it work?
  • Am I willing to work with others to create something amazing and successful?
  • Do I have a plan to mitigate the risks I may encounter if I start a shop without experience?

If you have a good answer to those questions, having the prior experience is not as important as it is made out to be. Based on the potential action plans such as partnering with someone (or a team) that has the experience or skills you lack, starting small and simple, or considering an educational investment to get you up to speed during startup, there are ways to get around not having years of experience under your belt.

Face your lack of experience like you would face any other potential issue you could encounter along the way of starting a coffee shop and find a way to reduce the risk. If you are passionate about making it work and are willing to find creative solutions, you will certainly be able to start a coffee shop with no experience.

Frequently Asked Questions

What if I know a lot about coffee, but not a lot about running a business?

Maybe you are an expert barista and can whip up complicated drinks all day, but have never thought about topics like pricing a menu, cost of overhead, payroll, taxes, marketing, etc. This would require the flipside of what was discussed previously. Instead of getting a coffee master to come in and show you the ropes as far as fixing beverages is concerned, you may want to consider bringing in a business consultant or a partner who has worked in restaurant or coffee shop management in the past. It all goes back to relying on your strengths and interests and making sure you spend your time finding great people to help you instead of stumbling along all alone.

What if I don’t know anyone who can help me or partner with me in the ways you described?

Maybe you don’t know them yet, but they are out there. Try talking to other local coffee shop owners, who may be able to refer you to consultants they have used in the past. Better yet, these coffee shop owners have probably gone through a similar experience and may be able to empathize with your desire to learn. I think you’ll find most people are more excited to help people of similar interests than they are worried about you as a competitor. As long as you aren’t opening a shop next door, people are generally willing to share what they know or refer you to someone else who may be able to help. Regardless of their response, don’t be afraid to ask the questions. If you are willing to seek the advice you need, eventually you will be able to find it.

To learn more on how to start your own coffee shop checkout my startup documents here

Please note: This blog post is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Please consult a legal expert to address your specific needs.