Jo Black is the founder of cafe and Aussie coffee spot, Boundless Plains Espresso. A former lawyer who chose to pursue her love of food, Jo shares what it’s been like to found a business in a male dominated field, the importance of having a mentor and how to stay true to your dream, even when it gets tough. Read about the surprising marketing strategy that has been the most effective for Jo in successfully building brand awareness.
Are you starting a business and want to learn more about marketing your business in the USA?
Join Belinda Jackson, of Prosell International and Working in the USA on Monday Feb 25, 2019 at The Liberty NYC for “Starting a Business in the USA” workshop. Aussie-born Belinda has been living and working in New York for over a decade and has provided advice to many Aussies who have made the move to the States. Belinda will be joined by a panel of business owners, who will share their New York stories.
Tell us about your business?
What inspired you to begin?
My husband and I relocated to New York two years ago when he was was offered an opportunity to work in the New York office of his law firm, and we decided that we couldn’t say no. I’m also a lawyer, and my husband sat and passed the New York bar exam last year and, to be honest, the thought of me doing that with two young kids and then starting a new job at a New York law firm wasn’t what we wanted for our family. We’re very involved in our children’s lives and I didn’t want to miss out on the special moments working 14-hour days at someone else’s business.
I had always wanted to do something to use my business skills first hand, and we certainly recognized the lack of decent, community-based and “local” coffee shops in New York, and that there was a definite market for what we wanted to create, especially in FiDi. So, we took the plunge and started to search for spaces.
I also noticed that even though there are numerous examples of Australian coffee shops in New York, very few are run by Australian women. Coffee and hospitality more generally tends to be a male-dominated business and, although that is changing, I really wanted to make a mark as a female entrepreneur. I believe it’s important to set an example for your children about working hard and creating something. Our daughter is certainly proud of her mum’s work and loves to visit the shop and drink endless babycinos!
What has been an ‘Ah Ha’ or ‘I’ve made it in the USA moment’?
I’m still waiting for this one! We’re approaching our one-year anniversary and even though all signs are positive, every day there is a new (and at times very frustrating!) challenge. I’ve learnt so much along the way, especially how to adapt and respond to the crazy and unique challenges of owning this type of business in New York throws at you.
I will say though, that recently I have had some really nice comments from customers about how we have become a real community spot, and have become a really positive place and influence in their lives, which is incredibly rewarding and exactly what we set out to achieve.
What have been the hardest lessons in starting a business?
The hardest lesson has been that, despite my organization, research and implementation skills – and best laid plans – there will always be surprises, delays and setbacks at every turn with a venture like this. In anticipation of opening the business I did so much research and tried to plan for every possible circumstance, and I guess the hardest lesson has been that no matter how much you plan and how much research you do, most of the time you just need to roll with it and adapt.
Where have you been most successful in marketing your business?
Social media is definitely a huge tool these days, but in the early days I think it’s so important to focus on the people immediately surrounding your business and letting them know that you are there, especially when you’re trying to build a community and local spot. One of the reasons I chose our location was because it has a lot of apartment buildings and office buildings around it, and the most successful marketing strategy for me so far has been to get to know their doormen and then offer to do an event in their lobby, with samples of our coffee and food. This gives the residents and tenants an opportunity to both taste what we offer and also to meet me and my staff, which is such an important part of what we are building here. After each of these events I have seen a spike in trade, and we have met and built so many regulars from these events. They then tell their friends and colleagues and hopefully it builds from there.
Do you have any mentors, and how have people been with sharing information and their networks?
What advice would you give someone thinking about starting a business?
Do your research, keep organized and follow-up, follow-up, follow-up! I was like a dog with a bone at every stage of the process prior to opening, and it’s still a lot to keep on top of, even after you open the doors.
It’s also important to set realistic expectations in terms of timing, and to be patient. It took over a year from me seeing the space at Rector Street (which, ironically, was formerly an attorney’s office) to opening the store, but it was worth it and I’m so happy we persevered with the space as the reception from locals has been great.
Lastly, be hands on and treat your team well. In a small business it’s important that you are prepared to do everything in the business, just in case! I know how to make everything on our food menu and love working in the kitchen to create food for our customers. It’s also so important to find a team of people who believe in the project, and treating them well will keep everyone happy, motivated and loyal and allow you to attend to all the little surprises along the way.
Other than yourself, what piece of Australia have you put into your business?
What is next for your business?
Support & connect with Boundless Plains Espresso
All images courtesy of Boundless Plains Espresso. This story was first published in August 2018.
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