Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Building-Branding Lisa Knows Tea & the Books that Helped Part 1

I get asked a lot about how I chose tea as my profession.  I think sometimes that tea chose me!  However, enjoying tea and all things tea isn't a great business plan.  Even drinking massive amounts of tea from all over the world still doesn't equate to a business.

I was reminded again about the importance of branding while at The Food Blogger Forum in early September.  The panel was Alisa Barry of Bella Cucina, Virginia Willis of Virginia Willis Productions, and Jaden Hair of Steamy Kitchen.  I have to say that I didn't hear anything new from the panel that I didn't know, but for me it was valuable to be reminded from experts about branding and business choices.  The couple of things that stuck out in my mind were:

  • Have a good understanding of what your vision and mission is for your business and stick to them
  • Sometimes the nos in business decisions are more important than the yeses
When I decided to turn my passion of tea into a business, I went on a journey to think about what that would look like for me.    When I was ready to pursue a tea business, I started attending conferences and trainings on tea to learn from the experts.  The first conference I attended was on how to open up a tearoom.  I thought at the  time that was what I wanted to do. 

The best takeaway from the conference was the suggestion to read The Path: Creating Your Mission Statement for Work and Life by Laurie Beth Jones.  I have since read the book a couple more times as I worked through my concept of my business.  After doing most of the exercises in the book, I kept getting stuck on my vision statement. 
Laurie writes, "While a mission statement is centered around the process of what you need to be doing, a vision statement is the end result of what you will have done.  It is a picture of how the landscape will look after you've been through it... Your vision statement is the force that will sustain you when your mission statement seems too heavy to endure, enforce, or engage. All significant changes and inventions began with a vision first."
I decided my vision was not to open a tearoom, but was still unclear what my vision actually was.  Although I loved to cook, entertain, and drink tea, I didn't see myself tied to a building or behind a counter.  I think why it was so hard to create a vision statement was that I couldn't think of one person that was doing exactly what I wanted to do.  There was no one to emulate.  Keep in mind, this was around 2000 and tea wasn't the booming business or cool trend that is has become now.  I needed to create my position.

I finally came up with it after much thought and soul searching.  I wanted to be a tea professional that spoke, wrote, and taught about tea.  I wanted my books and speaking to be approachable.  I wanted to dispel the myth in the US that tea is stuffy, only for women, and only for the afternoons!  I remember the day I told my husband about my new revelation.  He is probably one the most supportive husbands I know because his response was, "I have no idea what a tea professional is, but if anybody can do it-you can!" 

So with my husband in my corner, I sought to become a tea professional which meant more training.  I already had a BA in Business Admininstration/Marketing which was and is very helpful, but I needed more training to build a business/brand in tea.  It is important, in my opinion, to be an expert in your field.  

I attended The Protocol School in Washington, then led by Dorothea Johnson, soon after my first tea conference.  I became a Trained and Certified Tea and Etiquette Consultant and began to speak.  I also started teaching cooking classes and demonstrations on tea and tea foods.  I had gotten some speaker training at the protocol school, but wanted to hone my speaking skills even more.  I also wanted to break into writing-no easy task! 

The next step was to go to some speaker and writer conferences.  I attended a couple of them and learned an immense amount from each of them.  Having to stand up in front of a group of your piers, give your talk, then be evaluated by your peers and the instructor was humbling as well as hugely instructive.  I also learned the steps on how to become a published author.  Learning how to write a book proposal was huge step.  I often say a book proposal is like a term paper, but you have to include marketing, competition, and what makes your idea so great!  Then I had to learn how to pitch my book ideas to the decision makers. 

I remember getting my first rejection letter from a publisher in the mail for something I had pitched over three months prior.  It wasn't fun, but because I had already created my vision statement,it sustained me and kept me from quitting.  The next rejection letter stung as well, but my vision kept me going!  When I finally got an acceptance letter from a publisher, it was awesome.  I think getting the rejection letters first helped make the acceptance letter all the sweeter.  They not only accepted one proposal but two!  Hence, Tea with a Twist and The World in Your Teacup were born. 

I can't  begin to tell you how much I love what I do.  I love tea-all aspects of it.  I love to write about it, talk about it to anyone who will listen, to teach people how easy it is to make, speak about how it is made and where it is grown, pair food with it, and most importantly drink it!

Stayed tuned to the next blog for the conclusion of Building & Branding Lisa Knows Tea & more books that helped me in Part 2.  I would love to know what books you have read that have helped you build your dreams!

Happy Sipping and Dreaming, Lisa


  1. Dearest Lisa,

    Guess I did leave you a message somewhere before, about wanting to obtain your precious books - with a personal message by you.
    Today Pieter got excellent report from his heart surgeon in Macon so from now on I can start pursuing my dream again... Would love to hear from you about my request.


  2. Great insight into the importance of vision and how it sustains you in the face of exhaustion and rejection as you build your business. Thanks for the book suggestion. Looking forward to the next installment of business development wisdom from Lisa Knows Tea!

    Susan Abarbanell McKeen
    McKeen Concierge Services