Over the last several years, I’ve drunk enough coffee to float a battleship, all in the name of building my personal brand, and networking with the people I needed to spend time with.
The place I did it? Independent coffee shops nearly all of the time.
I’ve spent so much time in indie coffee shops — especially one in particular — that I am not only the mayor of it on Foursquare, but when we were between offices, my business partner and I worked out of there for four months before reluctantly returning to a real office. I even created a website for independent coffee shops around Indianapolis, called IndyIndieCoffee.com.
The perfect meeting spot
While having a meeting in someone’s office is okay, and meeting for lunch regularly is both expensive and fattening, there’s something about meeting over coffee that lets you get in, talk about important stuff, and get out again. But it has to be in an independent coffee shop, not one of the Big Chain Coffee stores that litter our landscape like so many discarded paper cups.
I like hanging out in independent coffee shops for three reasons:
I can support local businesses
If you visit Big Chain Coffee, or any other national chain, of every dollar you spend, 13 cents stays in your local economy. But if you visit an independent coffee shop, 40 cents of every dollar stays. And since I run a small local business, I need to support other small local businesses. By making sure I’m known in some of the indie coffee shops in my city, I’m also earning the reputation as someone who supports local business. So when the time comes, they’ll be more interested in supporting me.
All the entre-commuters hang out in the indie shops
An entre-commuter — an entrepreneur who telecommutes (my partner and I made that up a couple years ago) — needs a place to sit and work for a few hours without a lot of blasting music and hard walls that echo sound. They want a place where the noise level is manageable, and can be blocked out with a set of earbuds. The Big Chain Coffee places blast you with giant walls of sound, CDs of which you can then buy at the cash register.
Also, entre-commuters will form little networks of their own. David over there is a new graphic designer. Shelley is a budding WordPress programmer. As the two meet and get to know each other, they can start passing business back and forth to each other. But, David and Shelley won’t meet if they don’t have a regular place to hang out. And they won’t have a regular place as long as they keep visiting Big Chain Coffee, whose ambient noise is so loud that people can barely have a normal conversation, let alone discuss important business details.
Indie shops love their regulars
I’ve been lucky in that the few coffee shops I frequent all know me. I’m like Norm in some of these places. Some of the baristas even know my drink, and have it ready for me as soon as I walk in the door. If I don’t show up for a couple of days, they know it, and ask me about it when I return. Once, when I left my cell phone in the shop, one of the baristas messaged me on Facebook and told me about it. (Bonus: we were already Facebook friends to begin with).
I just don’t get that kind of treatment at Big Chain Coffee. Oh sure, they’re nice people, they’re very friendly, and they’re kind to their mothers. But when they have hundreds of people streaming through their doors every day — another reason why it’s hard for entre-commuters to get any work done — they don’t remember everyone’s name, let alone their coffee order.
If you’re looking for a place to meet with customers and potential business partners, or just a place to check in for a few hours and do some work, find an independent coffee shop where you feel comfortable, and the noise, music, lighting and wifi speed are to your liking. Make it your own by spending a few hours in there at a time, talking with the baristas and becoming friends with them, and getting to know several of the regulars as well. You never know what opportunities will be found across the table from a fellow entre-commuter.
Just make sure you buy some coffee every time you visit. No one likes a freeloader.
Erik Deckers is the co-owner and VP of Creative Services for Professional Blog Service in Indianapolis. He has been blogging since 1997, has been a published writer for more than 24 years, and a newspaper humor columnist for 17 years. Erik co-authored Branding Yourself: Using Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (Pearson, 2010) and also helped write Twitter Marketing for Dummies.