Starting an Online Tea Business? Start with YOU

So you love tea. And you know tea. Your friends are always coming to you when they have a question about tea. In fact, more than one of them has said to you, “Man,  you ought to go into the tea business yourself!”

Don’t tell me you haven’t considered it …

I bet you’d love to make a living around tea, but how? A tea shop? Unless you’re in London, a long-shot gamble at best. Bottling your own unique tea blends? Not without a considerable amount of startup costs. A grower? Yeah, right.

What about selling online?

Think about it: all the benefits of owning your own tea store, at a fraction of the price and with a virtually unlimited market. Sure, there are hundreds of online tea shops, with more popping up all the time. On the other hand, the market for specialty tea in the U.S. has exploded in the past few years and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down.

No doubt, specialty tea is hot–and online merchandising has never been simpler or more profitable. That doesn’t mean it will be easy, of course; the industry’s expansive growth is no secret. Even as we speak, the U.S. market is attracting established tea retailers from around the globe. The power of the internet means that chains from Europe and Asia are able to storm the market with name-brand products and dreams of aggressive growth.

Even here in the US, a number of tea companies can fall back on the resources of venture capitalists or other investors. National chains like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s–not to mention a good number of regular grocery stores–now sell mid-level or higher loose-leaf teas. At the same time, giant online one-stops like Amazon let you browse dozens of tea collections from different merchants that can be ordered by simply yelling at Alexa.

You WILL have competition.

As with any business, your chances at success often depends on what advertisers call the “Unique Selling Position”: why would people buy from YOU as opposed to anyone else?

Established business definitely have the edge here: if you are just starting out, they’ve got you beat on web presence, brand reputation, customer satisfaction, marketing and packaging, and probably even price. So what can you offer that they can’t?

That’s the question and the answer: the one thing you can offer that they can’t … is you.

If your friends are coming to you with tea questions, it’s probably not just because you know tea: it’s also based on the fact that they can get a solid, understandable answer from someone they trust.

If you love what you do, it shows. Entrepreneurs of all types will tell you that personal interest is a key selling point–and a great start at creating an online presence that stands out from the crowd.

The internet is a paradise for people who are happy serving a niche market. I like to compare to being a musician: if you want to be a rock star, well, the odds are very much against you: there just aren’t that many positions available. But if you simply want to make a living as a working musician, well, there are plenty of opportunities … you just have to find where you fit.

Look, building any business requires “ adaptability, hard work, and the ability to listen,” in the words of one entrepreneur. But when you’re doing something you love, you’ll be surprised at how much work can seem like play.