This first entry covers what has happened in the past, and specifically the last few months. From this point onwards things will be live and as they arise.
Starting my own business
I have always had a dream to start my own business and somehow it never quite fitted. After making various life choices I started developing a career, and before I knew it I was qualified in computing, married, and with kids. But with all the change one thing remained. Starting my own business was something that I always wanted to do. I had lots of ideas, but never the opportunity to let them flourish. Life was good and why rock the boat? Then after the birth of my second child I started searching. What for I don’t know, but I definitely had an itch that needed scratching! I changed job learnt some stuff but it wasn’t quite right.
The golden opportunity
I changed job again, back to where I was before, and pretty soon got made redundant. The company was reshaping how it did IT and I was in the right place at the right time. As a bonus the company treated my service as continuous and so I was given a package to leave. With the forced push, and recent excursion to a different employer, I realised that I needed change. Something completely different. The circumstances were right and starting my own business was more possible than ever before in my life. Had I had this mindset some years earlier I would have realised that this statement is always true A wolf had just been born.
I stopped and thought about what I wanted to do and focused on my passions. What did I like doing? I had done that some 24 years ago and ended up in computing. It worked then and felt the approach would work now.
A microbrewery is born
Through the kaleidoscope of interests beer, and specifically setting up a microbrewery, just seemed to click into place. I can’t quite describe how; it just seemed right. I discussed it with people who knew me and listened to feedback. Things seemed right and I listened to this. I started to think hard about the idea and let it grow as a vision in my head. What would my USP be? What would it mean? What would it be called?
The questions were endless but the last one was answered almost instantly. I was listening to Stephen King’s Dark Tower audio books on my commute to work, so my mind was full of old revolvers, arid deserts, and gunslingers! Gunslinger Ales was born after a night’s sleep.
NOTE: Due to the threat of legal action over the brewery name Gunslinger Ales, the blog will no longer use this name.
Research, Research, Research
Over the next few months, for I was still employed, I started to research hard. What exactly is brewing? How is it done commercially? What sort of things do others do? How’s it marketed, sold, moved, made etc.?
Thankfully Google is your friend so I researched as much as I could online. I broke down the topic into separate logical chunks and started to research each area. I found a stack of good books which I bought, and used YouTube to learn how to brew (taking copious notes just to get it clearer in my head). I researched fellow travellers, people like me, and also professional already doing what I wanted to do. The more I researched, the more I knew I needed to research!
The key is knowing how to prioritise research. There is stuff that I know I don’t know at the moment, and I will research it closer to when I need to know it. The stuff I don’t know I need (the “unknown unknowns”) is the bit I have to get help from others to identify. Therefore I need to network.
I had already started to understand the areas that I didn’t know too well, and the types of people/organisations that may be able to help. I prioritised them based on things like industry knowledge, business start-up knowledge, key influencers. I started in priority order and emailed and reached out to people. I wrote to my local MP, and latterly my local councillor asking for help from their network. The help has been both forthcoming and help. Different people with difference experiences, backgrounds, and things to potentially offer me. I also need to keep an eye out for individuals that will get something out of helping me (e.g. a mentor).
The MP and councillor have so far proved the most useful contacts and I would recommend speaking to them sooner. Once again the key on networking is prioritising and working out what people can help you with. It is way too easy to spend lots of time networking and not actually moving you closer to your goal! You have to be a bit careful.
I started writing why I wanted to do this, my vision for the microbrewery, and the products I wanted to sell. Even as I write this blog post the business vision is very much work in progress. That is ok and is something that I will continue to refine as I learn more (see Research, Research, Research 😀 ). One thing that I have found really helpful is to think with the end in mind (classic 7 habits of highly effective people). What does success look like for my business? What products would be being sold and to whom? At this point it isn’t about money but rather an aspirational vision. I also found it helpful to get some pictures that make me thing about my business. Something that I’m looking at every day whilst sat at my desk. Pictures of cowboys, scenes from westerns, beer, and of course my kids!
I realised pretty quickly that I was somewhat green when it comes to much of brewing. I am experienced in a completely different industry, and therefore need training. Not just any training but courses that specifically fill voids in my knowledge and that will be used instantly. The keyword is instantly. I can go on loads of courses about commercial brewing right now, but I’m simply not ready for them, and wouldn’t get a good return on investment (ROI) out of the courses (actually I would forget most of the content). You need to be able to practice what you are learning instantly to make it stick.
My first course is therefore a foundation course in beer; essentially the language of the industry.