Business Startup Checklist

pexels-photo-414630.jpegWhat does it take to start a brick and mortar business?

Although I have been looking for a direct hire position in the Houston, Texas area, I have had the great opportunity in the past few months to help Connections Coffee Shop in Crosby, Texas to work through the process of opening their new business.  I have learned a great deal and have had to be creative with my research.  There are so many things to work through and gather information about.

Starting the process

The process began with an idea and a question. What can we do to give back to the community and what does the community need? The answer for this business was to create a place for the community to come together and share time and connect with each other. This lead to their name, Connections Coffee Shop. And the reason for coffee was simply that they enjoy good coffee and wanted to share this with the community.

Now with this idea in mind, the owners did not want to blindly throw money at a brick and mortar building and just start serving coffee. They wanted to research successful businesses and identify what makes them work and how to avoid pitfalls that so many startups deal with. So, off to Texas Coffee School, they went. There was a lot of information in this class and we are still working on following the plan the owners derived from this course. Some of the information covered in the course included… (See the site for a complete List)

Coffee Business Class Topics:

  • How to Open a Coffee Shop – A Detailed Step-by-Step Roadmap
  • Coffee Shop Business Plan – 7 Essential Elements
  • Local Market Research – 12 Critical Factors
  • Location Selection Based on a Formula, Not a Gut Feeling or Guess
  • Detailed Coffee Equipment and Supply Lists
  • Designing an Efficient Coffee Bar (includes 5 sample coffee bar designs)
  • Selecting the Right Coffee Roasting Company for You
  • Menu Costing (includes detailed sample menu costing spreadsheet)
  • Retail Sales – Tips for increasing profitability
  • Marketing

Selecting the right location

Using the information and guidance learned in the class, “Location Selection Based on a Formula, Not a Gut Feeling or Guess“, the owners set out to find their location. The first step was to find buildings for lease in the area. Then the analysis of each location. Was it on the main thoroughfare? How much traffic passed a location at any given time.  Is the access to the location easy to enter and exit? With the gathered information, a location was selected.

Researching and selecting the equipment

An overwhelming list of excel spreadsheets, vendors, equipment and cost came in very helpful when deciding what to purchase. Taking the time to research the cost of equipment, the vendors, and shipping costs allowed the owners to save over $20,000 on the equipment and all the necessary sundries needed just to open the doors.

Selecting the Right Coffee Roaster

I have had the pleasure to visit the owners’ roaster of choice. While visiting the roaster, I also had the pleasure to talk with the roaster himself. Ivan has been roasting coffee beans for many years and took the time to explain to me the process he uses in roasting. He showed me all the different green coffee beans they use from all over the world. I was able to taste some of the different roasts they supply. My favorite at this time is their “El Salvador”.

Menu Costing

How do you know if your costs are going to kill you? What does it really cost to make that lunch item? Will you be making enough profit to cover the costs of the building, sundries, electricity, equipment, etc…  There are too many things to list here.

Spreadsheets to the rescue. We had to break down each item by a recipe, the ounces, grams, and portion of each ingredient to make a single menu item. We created a spreadsheet that broke down the ingredients by the way we purchased them and then down into per units for the recipes.  This means that a 128oz bottle of milk gets broken down to cost per ounce. Then we created a sheet with the recipes to calculate the cost per batch and divide by the quantity per batch. This was a fun yet tedious process.

Marketing & social media

This is a beast. There are so many ideas and sites to work with. How can one person handle all the different social media sites and keep up with them? Well, we needed more help to understand what was necessary. So we used a free resource made up of retired and current business owners that work together to help new businesses succeed in their endeavors. This free resource and group are comprised of Houston experts that help to start or grow your business now! Their name is SCORE. They have some free seminars on social media and marketing that help you to get started in this area. Working with SCORE, you can also request to be assigned a mentor that will work with you and your business throughout its lifetime.

So much more learned

I have barely scratched the frost off of the iceberg. There has been so much that I learned through this process that one would need to write a book to cover it.

Feel free to follow me on LinkedIn or Twitter.

Dean Weis, MCSE Cloud, and Infrastructure

 

Working with Limitations

The Limitations

  • No policy-driven deployment method at the time.
  • Management wants to keep it simple, “We ARE NOT a development shop.”
  • Do NOT use programming language so unskilled administrators can update code, use a scripting language only.
  • Must be windows based.

Scope of project

  • Find a way to install and configure the application.

Additional Analysis

  • Batch files are not secure and allow editing, Compiled code is more secure.
  • Administration does not always understand coding

Solution

  • Use freeware software scripting language, AutoIt.
    • AutoIt

      AutoIt v3 is a freeware BASIC-like scripting language designed for automating the Windows GUI and general scripting. It uses a combination of simulated keystrokes, mouse movement and window/control manipulation in order to automate tasks in a way not possible or reliable with other languages.
  • Management accepted this “Scripting” tool.
  • AutoIt is very robust and can perform many if not all required functions to automate the installation and configurations.

Working with the vendor’s installation….

The assignment was a simple statement, “Working with the vendor’s installation, find a way to install the application.” At the time, we did not have the infrastructure in place using an application deployment method such as SCCM (System Center Configuration Manager). The installation was not too difficult to do, but the configuration required hands-on administration with each installation. This meant a lot of FTE’s to roll out the initial installation and configuration of the applications. Not an acceptable means for “Total Cost of Ownership” (TCO). Some analysis went into installing a centralized system such as SCCM, but this was not a budgeted expense at the time.

We had to use freeware or native windows scripting.

I knew that with the simple statement of Scope that there would definitely be “Scope Creep”, or at a minimum, additional requests to add more functionality and I would not be able to accomplish this task without some programming. Researching and finding something without cost, and acceptable to management, to perform the task was the next step.

During the research, I looked into and used some of the following software: InstallShield, WinInstaller, Admin Studio, AutoIt. Even though management did not want us to be a development shop, per se, I was able to demonstrate with AutoIt the benefits and simplicity of using this software. AutoIt allowed me to use simple code that management could understand and comes with full documentation for the software, allowing other administrators to learn and use it. AutoIt also allowed me to compile the script in order to make it more secure from end-user modifications. Although I started with a simple demonstration of installation with AutoIt, over the years it became more of a program than a script.

We started with a simple capture of the application using an MSI building software to create an MSI with the configurations required to connect to the database and application servers. This helped to minimise the needed configuration on each workstation. Not a bad compromise at the time, but when we began to require assistance from the application vendor, we always got the company line, “If you did not install the application with our install program, we can’t help you. Please install our application on a clean workstation using our install program.” You can see this causes a dilemma. If I install the program on a clean workstation, and it works, I will never find the conflicts it is having with other applications. But I conceded and began installing the software using the vendor’s installation media, then using AutoIt, I would program the configurations, post-installation, and began to get the support needed from the vendor.

“If you did not install the application with our install program, we can’t help you. Please install our application on a clean workstation using our install program.” 

You can see this causes a dilemma. If I install the program on a clean workstation, and it works, I will never find the conflicts it is having with other applications. But I conceded and began installing the software using the vendor’s installation media, then using AutoIt, I would program the configurations, post-installation, and began to get the support needed from the vendor.

To install the application without user intervention I used the code below.

Global $Software_Install = 'setup.msi'
Global $Application_Directory = $Application_Vendor & '\' & $Application_Name
Global $Software_Install_Directory = $NT_Server_Share & '\' & $Application_Directory & '\' & $Application_Version
Func __Vendor_MSI_Install ()
	SplashOff()
	RunWait('MsiExec.exe /I ' & $Software_Install_Directory & '\' & $Software_Install' /qb!')
EndFunc

I will continue with the “Network setup for the application installation” in my next blog.

Thank you for reading.

Process Flow

I would like to begin with the fact that technology is always changing rapidly and I may not always be up to the latest with acronyms and the latest buzzwords in the industry.

I just want to begin blogging about some of my experiences, so I pulled out an old production program that I wrote and thought I may shed some light on how I came about using it to keep third party software running on desktops that had conflicting configurations. These conflicts did not allow the programs to run smoothly together, but I found a way.

The programs would sometimes use outdated dll files to display information. The dlls would conflict with the security updates that were installed on the workstations but the fact remained that the programs were integral systems that were necessary for the business. Put simply, they could not be replaced. They were the backbone of day to day operations. Other than the dll’s that caused conflict, there was the process of installation and configuration that needed to be considered. Along with the life cycle of the applications also came the upgrades, changes and how to control the ability of the users to connect with the systems.

I will be dissecting my application in further articles for anyone that would like to follow along, but In the end, It all comes down to process flow…

1. Identify the scope of the process(s).
2. Dissect the scope into manageable pieces.
3. Create functions for each so modifications are easier to make.
4. Test, Test, Test
5. Present to management.
6. Place into production.
7. Monitor Service Desk tickets for the application.
8. Make improvements if needed.
9. Repeat steps 5-6-7-8, and continue the dance.