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5 Things To Do Before Opening a Brewery

May 20, 2024

    There are some great lists/content out there of major milestones for opening a brewing. (Many of the items are universal for opening any small business so check them out if you are staring at a blank piece of paper). Here are a few examples of 10 -12 items that should be on your checklist for starting a brewery. 
    But regardless if you are 18 months out from opening your doors, or have been in business for 5 years, these would make my top 5 things to put on my ‘to-do’ list and I rarely see them included in the typical ‘top 10 milestone’ list:  
1.   Network & Learn: Join facebook/linkedin groups that provide value. Craft Beer Professionals is a great example. This is a well run group that facilitates education, free content, networking and lets the brewers speak, share issues/solutions. You can learn so much from what others are working on and solving for by just being a member. Then when you need help, you can jump into the discussion. Half the challenge of being a start-up or even in your first few years, is knowing who to ask for help.
 2.  Finances 101: Dive into the finances and admit this is probably going to be the ‘unfun’ part of running your business. Most people want to work on recipes, brand, taproom ideas, etc. This passion is great but learning the basics of finances is going to be the key to being around in 5 years. You don’t have to become an accountant, but you do need to start building your accounting 101 knowledge base for running a brewery. Organizations like Craft Brewery Financial Training are invaluable. Kary Shumway takes his years in the finance brewing industry and distills it down to a variety of different ways that you can learn and engage. If I was trying to take the next step from brewing in my garage, to a taproom of my own, this would be a resource I would engage in. #excelcanbefun #noitsnot
 3.  Join or Start a Small Business Group: If there is a group you can join in your area, great, if not, reach out to 1-2 business owners and see if they would be interested in meeting monthly to talk through issues. I have been part of different small business peer groups and the feedback has helped tremendously. One thing that is often overlooked is that a group can and should have business owners in different fields. Would it be helpful to have 1-2 other brewery owners around the table, perhaps. But I’ve been in groups with owners of flower shops, restaurants, accounting firms, camp sites, etc. What’s great, interesting and incredibly valuable, is you are learning and discussing business issues 101. these are universal to start and run a business and doesn't have to be that you are running the same business. You talk about the challenges/solutions to hiring a first employee, funding, setting up pricing, location, leases, technology, social media, HR, advertising, accounting, etc. etc. - you can learn so much from someone trying to start up a company that is completely different then a brewery (plus it’s free and the perspective to talk through your issues and concerns is so much easier than always going it alone). If you are starting your own, setting up a basic format to get the most out of a monthly meeting is easy. Take a look at this great article on setting up a peer group.
4.  Create A Budget, With Real Numbers: It’s ok and I would highly recommend reaching out to supply partners for a budget number on a lot of what you put in your business plan. The most common mistake I hear is people underestimating their start up costs and year one operational costs. Underestimating will only add to the mountain of stress you will have in year 1. Reach out to partners, let them know you are a ‘brewing in planning’ and working on a budget. Also let them know you don’t need a call every week asking ‘are you buying yet’, but that you will engage when the time is right for you. Real numbers, even budgetary, will help with your funding and planning. Don’t use numbers from the guy down the street or what you find in a 2016 article. Embrace YOUR business numbers - the more accurate, the more you’ll be able to look for efficiencies or think of what questions to ask when it is time to start making purchases. 
5.  Join Paid Organizations: As mentioned above there are milestones to any new brewery. Creating a business plan, picking a brand, location, what type of brewery, securing funding, etc. There are some organizations that might have a small cost to join, but the goal is that they provide more than the cost in value to help you accomplish your major milestones. Basically they help set you up for success.
 Some Examples: 
  1. Brewers Association - Brewery in planning 
  2. Beverage Federation - Purchasing Group for Brewers 
  3. Join your State Guild 
  4. Craft Brewing Business - Trade publications with libraries of content 
  5. Start a Brewery - Resources for members 
    Once you join - make them your new best friend. Make sure to get the value out of the organization and accomplish the main reason for joining in the first place. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, ask for help, or just send an email saying ‘I’m trying to do this next month, can you point me in the right direction’. Odds are there are 10 other brewery start-ups who faced the same issue, you just need to ask the questions and get to the right resource. 
    Good luck with ‘eating the elephant’ of to-do-lists that comes with starting and/or running a brewery. If you ever have questions and I can point you in the right direction, let me know: dan@beveragefederation.com