As tempting as it is to jump straight in with your new brew or business idea, there are five fundamental questions you should be able to answer if you want to avoid pitfalls along the way. We spoke to a few of the UK’s brightest stars in the UK craft beer scene to find out what they rated as the most important considerations for a successful craft beer start-up.
1. Why are you starting this business?
Sounds obvious, right? But have you really thought about why you’ve turned your idea or passion into a business and where you actually want that business to go? You could let it meander, directionless, of course, but without a plan, you find yourself lost and confused before long. Whether you’re driven by passion, money, fame, independence or the need to improve on what’s out there already (or all of them), you need to know where you’re headed or you’ll struggle to get where you want to be.
“You really do need to plan in enormous detail as to where you want to be because while passion, experience and talent will carry you through, you need to understand where you want to be so that you don't lose any momentum.” - Sean Robertson, Pirate Life Brewing
2. What’s your mission?
If your ambition is to brew the best beer in the UK, then quality should be top of your priorities. If you’re setting up a business to sell, then your mission should be to build a profitable business that can be replicated or built upon. If you’ve seen a gap in the market or the need to make something easier, better or cheaper, then your mission should be to add value to the craft beer scene.
A clear vision and mission will enable you to plot the journey you need to take to bring that dream to reality. It will set the framework for your business, marketing, staff hires, training and purchases, keeping you on track and focused towards a goal.
We were so frustrated by the standard of craft beer websites and the amount of information that exists for our favourite beers that we decided to launch a new way of promoting the industry online. We had a clear mission to connect more people with exceptional beers, and that’s been at the core of everything we do - Matthew Hall, Hallway
3. How are you different?
According to the Brewery Manual, there are 1544 active breweries in the UK as of January 2017, with over 100 active breweries in the London alone. How many APAs or American IPAs do you think there are? There are some breweries who are really pushing the boundaries of what beer we drink, but at the same time, there are too many ‘me toos’ who are brewing the same style of beer as the next brewery.
You may have been inspired to brew craft beer because of your love for other craft beers, but if you simply set out to emulate those brews, why should anyone buy yours? What are you adding to the market? How will you stand out from the rest? How will your business look and behave, differently to the rest? Do you have a better flavour, smarter idea, more interesting approach or unique offer?
“My advice would be that you have to have a USP – cliché but too many people come in saying ‘I’m going to be a really good brewer’. What else are you going to do that will differentiate you from all the other great brewers?” -Duncan Sambrook, Sambrook's Brewery
Coming up with your USP isn’t always easy but in a competitive business like this one, it is an absolute necessity.
4. Have you put a plan place?
One of the biggest challenges faced by any new business is getting access to market – especially in the increasingly competitive craft beer scene. A business plan may not fill with you excitement but the pay-off is absolutely worth it. A plan will help you respond to, and even survive, a change in market conditions, and will give you a roadmap to follow. If you’ve listened to the Craftwork podcast series, some of the most well-known craft beer brands have had to battle through unexpected challenges. Those that had a plan, emerged stronger and better than before.
“We went through a couple of major challenges - the closure of Threshers and of Oddbins, who were some of the only stockists of craft beer was massive” - Duncan Sambrook
Whether you’re running a brewery or other craft beer business, you need to have an understanding of where you are now, where you’re headed and how you’re going to get there. Each of these questions needs answering and should form part of your business or marketing plans.
“[Our] whole business plan was about two years in the process” - Duncan Sambrook
5. Are you prepared to make sacrifices to get there?
Solid planning will certainly help you prepare for most eventualities, but sometimes, especially in the early days of growth, you need to expect that success may require some sacrifices.
Take Brewheadz, for example. Their success didn’t just happen overnight. The guys worked second jobs to make ends meet, took out bad loans and sacrificed their living arrangements to put everything they had into building a brewery. All but one of them gave up their apartments to live together in one small house in London.
“It’s a one bedroom, 39 square meter flat, where we’re brewing, sleeping and eating - like animals!” - Gianni Rotunno, co-founder of Brewheadz
Read our eBook, Lessons in Building a Business in the UK Craft Beer Industry for more great insights, learnings and advice from the people who have been exactly where you are. Fill in the form below to download now.
All fields are required