Bonus: Trade Not Aid

By Grace Hightower De Niro

Grace Hightower & Coffees of Rwanda was started with the mission of helping the farmers of Rwanda to built sustainable businesses for themselves by creating a demand for their product. Thanks to emphasis placed on environmental care, ethical business practices, fair trade, and direct sourcing, the sustainable business created in Rwanda will provide farmers in the African nation with work for generations to come.

The coffee supports a farmer in Rwanda and his or her family for a year with one harvest.

The launch of this company was no easy feat, and it took months of hard work to get it ready for the day when it would finally begin to sell coffee. Here are 5 tips for successfully launching a new business—tips I’ve learned through the trial and error of starting my own business.

Rule #1: Plan, Plan, Plan – But be Flexible

Before we could launch Grace Hightower & Coffees of Rwanda, we spent months planning our business model and strategy. From trips to Rwanda to meet the farmers, getting an education in the coffee production process, learning how to import beans to the US to discovering how to distribute product. Only when we had a solid plan were we able to start our business.

Planning saves on costly mistakes.

  • Write a business plan.
  • Line up your financing and over-budget not under-budget.Get professional help.
  • Talk to lawyers, tax professionals etc., to start your business the correct way.

Just remember that even the best plans can change depending on the reality of running a business. Be flexible and adapt to change as needed.

Rule #2: Know your Product & Your Market

When I first decided to enter the world of coffee—I admit I was a novice with much to learn. While our mission was clear, in order to make the business thrive I needed to understand both the production of coffee and the people who drink it.

Before you start any business it is imperative that you’ve done your homework. Research the market, your competitors and how they launched their businesses. Is your product priced competitively? Is there a best time of year to launch your product?  Who is your customer? Asking and answering these questions will provide you with valuable information when launching and promoting your brand.

 Rule #3: Stand Out Among the Competition

When most people think of coffee, it’s Colombia or Brazil, not necessarily Rwanda that comes to mind. By informing consumers about the coffee industry in Rwanda, the awards their coffee has won and how coffee supports a farmer and his or her family for a year with one harvest—Grace Hightower & Coffees of Rwanda is sharing a new story and helps the brand stand out in a marketplace full of competitors.

For anyone looking to launch a business it’s essential for the business to stand out from the rest. A business that’s unique is one that has a much greater chance of succeeding. Does your product have a unique back-story? Did you invent a product based on your own needs and a void in the marketplace? Tell this story to set yourself apart from other companies.

Rule #4: Build a Successful Team

I may be the face of the company, but it takes a team of professionals to build a successful business and I make sure that I’m surrounded by the best in their field. From coffee experts, roasters, marketing and public relations professionals to sales and distributors—every member of our company brings experience that’s invaluable to our success.

Create a network of people who you can call upon when you need help. Use LinkedIn or other business networking sites to build a database of professionals you can connect with. Joining groups and organizations in your industry will allow you to promote your business and meet key people who can help you.

Never be afraid to ask questions and never think you know it all or can do it all. Being an entrepreneur means you are always learning something from someone!

Rule #5: Spread the Word!

 People don’t buy what people don’t know. Exposure especially for a new business is key to generating sales.

Traditional marketing/advertising and PR is effective but can often times be expensive for a start up business—tools such as social media, viral videos and guerilla marketing are more cost effective and sometimes more successful. Partner with other events that target your demographic, reach out to bloggers who cover your industry, find ways to tie your product or service to something newsworthy to create a buzz.

At GHCOR we celebrated National Coffee Day with a logo-wrapped food truck serving free coffee throughout New York and we asked people to take pictures of the truck to share on their social media accounts. That guerrilla marketing effort along with a strategic social media plan proved a fun and effective way to introduce the brand to the consumers. It allowed us to engage with customers and share first hand our message and mission.PORTER-articleInline

By: Grace Hightower De Niro: