1. Be passionate.
This should go without saying but tea has been so "trendy" in recent years that everyone is trying to get in on it. Get into tea because you have a passion for it, not because you see potential dollar signs. Your customers will know the difference.
2. Learn as much as you can about tea. Never stop doing that.
Tea is an unfathomably large subject. If you're going to sell it, you had better know your stuff. Read every book and blog that you can find. It's impossible to know everything there is to know. Don't start your business as a way to learn about tea. This backwards approach will only set you up for failure.
3. Do your market research!
I can't tell you how many people I've talked to who dive in, believing wholeheartedly that they have a revolutionary idea, only to discover that the market is flooded with direct competition. I've particularly seen this when it comes to subscription services. You should know exactly who you are up against and what they do before you even get started.
4. Be Social.
The world of tea is large but very connected. Before you even start your business, make sure that you get active on social media and contribute to message boards like Reddit or Steepster. Not only will this give you insight to what your future customers want but you'll already have friends to help you get off the ground when you are ready.
5. Figure out the basics of running a business.
You don't need to have MBA but do yourself a favor and learn the basics of running a business before jumping into it. I've seen so many people who inevitably closed their business because they had passion in spades but no practical knowledge. Budgeting, accounting and inventory management are all things you should learn before they cost you money.
6. Go to World Tea Expo.
World Tea Expo is the one place where you can do market research, network and attend educational seminars. Even if you don't buy a single thing the resources that you gain there will prove invaluable as your business grows.
7. Know your sources.
It's a common practice to resell tea that is purchased through distributors. While there is nothing inherently wrong with this, you should still be able to tell your customers as much about the tea as possible. If you can't tell them where it came from and when it was harvested you should not be selling it, no matter how good that price margin is.
8. Be realistic.
At last we come to the inevitable reality check. There is a very slim chance that tea will make you millions. In fact, many of my tea vendor friends have day jobs in order to support their tea business. At the same time, running a business requires time and commitment. "I'll devote more time to the business once it is successful" will set you up for failure from the start.
All joking aside, I hope that this post gives a bit of insight into what it might take to run a successful tea business. A great resource to check out is +Tony Gebely's Bootstrapping an Online Tea Business.
Are there any tips that I missed? Let me know in the comments!