Jim and Diane Morton have a unique addition to their retirement plan: Liberty Beans Coffee Company. The two combined their skills — Jim is a chef and Diane is a chemist — to create some great coffee and launch their company. Jim is the roaster and obsessed with the perfect roast for each crop of coffee beans. Don’t ask him about coffee unless you have plenty of time. Currently, they are high school teachers and working to establish their business before they retire.
Here are some tips from the two on starting your own business, based on their Liberty Beans experience:
1. Why Start A Business In Retirement?
According to Diane, “We knew that after we retired from teaching that we wanted to do something else, maybe start a small business. Having spent most of our careers talking to people, we knew that whatever the business was we chose, our people skills would come in handy.”
“I have always had the entrepreneurial bug,” said Jim. “We want to stay active when we stop teaching. We talked a lot about it and are very excited about the next chapter. I don’t think there is a better purpose in life than to make a positive difference in a young person’s life. Diane and I have tried our best to do that for the past 20-plus years as teachers, Diane as a science teacher and me as a culinary arts teacher. Now it’s time to prove what we preach, that in America, with hard work, education, and dedication, your success is in your hands.”
2. Deciding On A Business
“We always knew that our business would have something to do with food or drink, two things we enjoy very much,” said Diane. “Two recurrent thoughts throughout the years were a brewery or a coffee shop. Jim came across a coffee roastery for sale at just the right time. Although we didn’t buy it, it kind of pushed us towards the coffee idea. Whatever business you decide on, obviously it has to be something that you love and have a passion for.”
“I certainly agree with Diane on that thought!” said Jim. “With my culinary background, there were many options to explore. One Saturday during the pandemic, I was googling small businesses for sale. I came across a small coffee roastery for sale. We weren’t really looking to buy a business, just generate ideas. I tend to do things 110 percent, so I went way down the rabbit hole on specialty coffee.
“I think if you are deciding on a small business, it’s important not to have rose-colored glasses. I researched the growth of the market and potential entry costs as well as possible income streams, before figuring out if I was any good at roasting coffee. I remember from a business class in college that the professor said ‘it’s not a business until something gets sold.’ I then wrote a 7-year business plan with the help of a template from the internet, which helped to attract a few investors. We also thought it important to hire a professional to help develop our website. Sure, you can use a do-it-yourself website builder such as Squarespace, but we knew we were in it for the long haul and wanted it to look professional with continuing help and upgrades. Another tip would be to develop a budget, and then double it!” he added.
3. Choosing A Product
Why coffee? “A great cup of coffee with a good story behind it has always caught our interest,” said Diane. “I think we have a good story and I have to say that Jim definitely roasts great coffee!”
Jim thinks coffee roasting is the perfect combination of science and culinary arts. “I have a culinary background as a chef and Diane is a PhD scientist. It’s like Christmas morning to me when I get a new green coffee in. We have 3 roasters: a 1-pound sample roaster that I practiced on to see if I was good at developing the best flavors from the beans, a 5-pound roaster that we started commercially roasting on, and a state-of-the-art 6k roaster. I’ll roast small batches of the new single origin coffee over and over using different roasting parameters to discover the optimum roasting profile. We then decide whether to offer it as a single origin or use it in a blend. This is where my love for culinary arts and flavors comes into play. Let’s face it, your whole day can’t be great if it doesn’t start that way! Most of us start with coffee. Makes sense to have a great cup to start the day. You need it. You deserve it,” he said.
4. Operating A Business
There is quite a bit that goes into owning and operating a business. “Jim has the creativity and business brains of the operation, so he did all of that type of research,” said Diane. “He’ll tell you he definitely went down the rabbit hole with roasting coffee. I love when we’re selling coffee at a festival and someone says to Jim, ‘tell me about your coffee.’ I want to say to them ‘do you have a few hours to spare?’”
YouTube was Jim’s friend during the COVID-19 pandemic. “I watched hundreds of hours of YouTube videos about roasting coffee,” he said. “I also watched videos on marketing, business plans, etc. There really is no excuse today. If you want to learn something, there is an overwhelming amount of free information out there. Licensing and regulations are really state specific. Again, my advice would be to start on the web. You need to check with local municipalities and state level departments. It also depends on your business. For food and beverage start-ups, there are a few extra hoops to jump through. One more tip: Most small business owners are more than willing to talk about their business and help you get on the right path.”
5. Fitting A Business Into Your Retirement Plan
Many people find it hard to slow down after working their whole lives which was how Diane felt. “As I said before, neither one of us wants to retire without something to keep us busy,” she said. “We also thought that the company will provide a legacy to our two children, should they want to take it over.”
Jim said, “I will have a small pension from teaching in the New Jersey public school system and I am very grateful for that. I fully realize that a pension is a rare thing today. We’re in our mid-50s and are healthy. We plan to grow Liberty Beans Coffee for the foreseeable future. We believe things happen for a reason. Not in a random way, but if you’re living a good life, being a good person, opportunities sometimes appear. You have to be ready and willing to attack the opportunity. We love what we do. The feedback on our coffee has been incredible. I end every social media post with ‘we appreciate you’ and we really mean it. We know coffee drinkers have lots of options. We intend to offer the best specialty-roasted coffee at a fair price for many years to come.”
6. Marketing Tips
Diane came up with a way to increase sales by offering their product for fundraisers. It is a win for both the non-profit raising money for their organization and the Mortons increasing sales and giving back to their community.
“I handle the fundraising portion of the business so I can comment on that,” she said. “I send out individual personalized emails to the people in charge of fundraising for schools, teams, non-profits, etc. When they express interest, I send them coffee samples in bags custom-labeled for their organization. Once they see the label with their group’s name on it, that usually finalizes the deal.”
Jim said, “My first tip for marketing would be don’t forget to budget for it. A good rule of thumb to start is that 10–20 percent of your revenue when you start should go back into marketing. It can be a struggle in the beginning. Diane and I have not taken a dime out of the business yet. We have investors that we feel obligated to make whole first, but everyone’s business plan is different. We continue to dabble in social media marketing, but admittedly, it’s not in my wheelhouse. I do think there is still great value there. I do post almost every day on Instagram and Facebook, as well as post some paid advertising. I think social media advertising depends on your level of expertise and comfort.”
“One segment of our business is fundraising sales and Diane does a great job sending out direct emails to organizations of all kinds that need to raise money,” continues Jim. “Sometimes you have to be creative and think outside the box. For instance, we include a discount code on every fundraising bag to entice follow-up orders. It’s also important to paint a picture of your ideal customer. We have a patriotic theme because we love our country. We have two wonderful children, and our son is an active-duty Army Combat Medic. It was important for us to show how grateful we are to live in America. America may be divided on many issues, but one thing we can all agree on, we all deserve a great cup of coffee. After 17 months, we felt we were ready to hire a PR firm to help us with our marketing efforts.”
There are so many uncertainties in the world today and retirement may look different in the future. The Mortons have a great plan for their future and their coffee is really good (I tried some).
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