Run your business from a coffee shop: A start-up survival guide
The coffee shop office is so prevalent now, but for those yet to make mobile working a routine occurrence, here’s what you really need to know
Espresso anyone? We all know there’s a growing number of small business owners who, seeking a change of scenery perhaps, run their start-ups from the nearest coffee shop.
There are plenty more for whom travel is a big part of securing sales. So being able to fill a day productively and work from just about anywhere is crucial.
But not everyone would class themselves as a digital nomad just yet. For the uninitiated, getting mobile working right takes a bit of forethought.
That’s why we’ve created this ‘survival guide’. So, where’s the best place to set up your remote office? What do you take with you? And what are the ‘rules’?
There are also a few practical considerations. After all, coffee is a diuretic, so setting up to work from your nearest café could quickly be a recipe for an uncomfortable decision: how to temporarily vacate your ‘office’ without losing your possessions – assuming your chosen venue has a customer toilet, of course.
The ideal coffee shop ‘office’
First up, what does the dream remote office look like? What do you need to get stuff done? Here’s a top 10 checklist to help you narrow down your search:
Unless you’re looking to ‘disappear’ for a few hours to work on a proposal, you need good internet access. There’s more than one way to achieve this. You’re pretty much guaranteed a handful of WiFi options wherever you go, but having 4G on your tablet or smartphone is almost as essential, as is the know-how to tether your phone. Chances are your 4G connection will be faster than your connection via a public hotspot, but be aware of your data usage and what your tariff allows.
2. Power sockets
Where this ranks depends entirely on how long you plan to stay and how reliable your devices’ battery lives are. Not having to worry about losing power will allow you to rest easy. Not every coffee shop or bar will have power outlets you can use, so this may prove more luxury than requirement, but having one could swing it. If you’re scouting out a good location just be sure to take your charger with you – plus a portable power charger as a back-up for that much-needed boost when you need a little more juice.
3. Peace and quiet
Perhaps you’re working away from your home office to find a buzzier atmosphere with a bit of life. But unless you’ve got a high pain threshold your tolerance will be tested if you’re surrounded by crying infants or fellow customers determined to provide their neighbours with a running monologue about their life’s woes – interesting as that might be!
You might not need a great deal of it, but trust us, you’ll be far more comfortable if the shop layout allows some personal space. You’ll want some somewhere to safely stow your bag and won’t want to have to shunt your chair forward every few minutes to let somebody carrying two mugs of coffee through. If a shop is on two levels you might find quieter areas up or downstairs, providing the connectivity is as good.
5. Good coffee
Some will rank the quality of the coffee on offer closer to the top – if not their uppermost consideration. Others will want to feel they are supporting a local, independent shop, rather than a multi-national chain. Either way, if productivity is the focus then should the level of barista excellence take precedence? Ok, perhaps. And don’t forget sustenance. A decent menu could swing it while keeping you on-side with the coffee house.
6. Comfortable seating
While you almost certainly won’t get ergonomic chairs to save you from back pain, comfort remains key. Try working like this for any extended period – particularly if you’re using a laptop and leaning over your device – and you’ll soon notice the C7 vertebra protruding from the base of your neck. Known as ‘computer neck’ by some physios, a sofa you sink into isn’t likely to be much more comfortable. So find a place where you can minimise the likelihood of craning your neck over your device. If you can, take a lightweight stand to raise your screen to eye level and if you’re using a tablet make sure you have a keyboard too.
7. Friendly staff
Hard to know before you try, but table squatters are only likely to be made unwelcome if they nurse an espresso for the duration of their half-day stay. This shouldn’t mean you have to make frequent trips to the counter, but if you’re taking up space in a busy shop and using its power supply for half a day, it’s a fair expectation that you’ll pay your way – and effectively contribute to staff wages. You’ll quickly know if mobile workers are welcome as you’re unlikely to be alone.
8. A customer toilet
As mentioned earlier, coffee is a diuretic, so unless you have bladder control equivalent to the Three Gorges Dam in China – incidentally the world’s largest power station – you’re going to need the loo at some point. Checking this before you settle in for the day would make a great deal of sense. And if you need to vacate your seat, you can always leave something less valuable, such as a jacket (without your purse or wallet in obviously) draped there while you take everything else with you.
9. Somewhere to make calls
Again, this may be asking a lot, but every business owner is likely to need to make and take the occasional call during the day, no matter how much they rely on texts, instant messaging, and email. Another unlikely luxury – but one where forward-thinking independent coffee shops might have the edge in a bid to fill their seats throughout the day – is a printer. Good luck ticking these boxes!
10. A view
Another potential distraction factor, but a room with a view can provide something to occupy your eyes while your mind processes deeper thoughts. If you work in the creative industry and need to come up with solutions to client problems, having a window on the world could be just the ticket. Plus natural light will provide much-needed Vitamin D when the sun is shining!
Where to find your dream mobile workspace?
There are thousands of WiFi hotspots dotted all around the UK. From large chains such as Costa and Caffè Nero to independent coffee shops, you’re unlikely to find somewhere without it.
If you happen to be an O2 customer you can use the hotspot finder or just head to the likes of Debenhams, House of Fraser, McDonalds, Costa Coffee or Café Rouge for free WiFi. Many other outlets offer The Cloud’s service, ensuring everyone has an enviable choice of locations.
When it comes to selecting great venues, reviewed by others, in London, you can use Workfrom.co/London which lists coffee shops and bars based on their WiFi reliability, food quality, opening hours (especially for those who might like somewhere to work in the evening), how quiet and spacious they are, and whether they serve alcohol.
Another site offering similar visibility of London’s mobile worker-friendly coffee stops is Coffices.co, mapping out the best places to fill those gaps in the day. Somewhat limited at the moment, the network of locations and customer reviews will inevitably grow.
What does every mobile worker need in their bag?
Every survivalist needs a checklist of items to put in their bag before they leave the house. And it’s no different for the mobile workplace.
Pack these essential items and you won’t go far wrong:
- Tablet device or laptop – take your pick, although tablets are quickly replacing the laptop for many and offer the lighter option, mobile tariffs, and the ability to use touchscreen to make presentations
- Smartphone – does anyone leave the house without one now?
- A USB stick to back-up your work – as well as saving to cloud storage services such as Box or Dropbox, there’s no harm in carrying a back-up in your pocket
- Battery charger – never leave home without one as you never know when you might be able to plug in and charge up
- Portable charger – to provide that extra boost if your battery life lets you down
- Lightweight laptop stand – raising your screen to eye level will save you in the long-run
- Keyboard – still the more efficient way to type
- Earbuds – to keep out unwanted noise and distractions
- Notebook & pen – even digital nomads occasionally jot down ideas
What are the coffee shop rules?
So, to find out how real business owners operate from their mobile office we spoke to two of them, Steve Folwell, managing director of nationwide storage-by-the-box company LOVESPACE, and David George, CEO of Chester-based cycling insurance specialist Bikmo Plus.
How often do you work from a coffee shop?
Steve: “Once or twice a week.”
David: “For me, it’s about twice per week, unless on the move then it's most of the day.”
Why do you do it?
Steve: “A variety of reasons. It’s often really convenient, particularly if I’m away from the office on meetings. Sometimes it’s just a great way to have some ‘me’ time to focus on specific bits of work which otherwise might get interrupted in the office. I also tend do initial interviews with job candidates in neutral, friendly, surroundings like coffee shops.”
David: “It’s great to work in new spaces and excellent for meetings as long as the coffee is good and there's nice food on offer.”
Where’s best to work?
David: “We're limited by choice in Chester but The Jaunty Goat is superb. Very central, light bright and good WiFi, great baristas and top food. In Manchester it's Takk or Northern Tea Power and for London it's Association Coffee, Caravan or Prufrock. All with great coffee, WiFi and atmosphere.”
Steve: “I hate working from chain restaurants. It feels like working in a busy bad office with bad coffee! I much prefer something quirky, a little out of the way, where you can build a bit of a relationship with the owner. My favourites are Cable Café in Oval, Caravan in Kings Cross and Bonjourno Italia in St Albans. They each have different vibes, but all do great coffee.”
What are the essentials you need when you do it?
Steve: “Just me, a laptop tethered to my iPhone and my headphones.”
David: “Laptop, power cable, WiFi and coffee. All that's needed. We do everything using online tools or cloud storage so everything can be done everywhere.”
What ‘rules’ or etiquette do you stick to and what won’t you do from a coffee shop?
David: “Sensitive banking work or long conversations on the phone don't work for me. Not private enough and it’s rude to be loud on the phone!”
Steve: “I’ll never ‘spread out’ and I always buy my fair share of coffee.”
What are the biggest bugbears working from a coffee shop?
David: “Poor WiFi, poor coffee and people talking loudly on phones.”
Steve: “Overly loud music.”
Best tip for ‘surviving’ in the coffee shop ‘office’?
Steve: “A bit like coffee itself, always best in moderation! Limit yourself to focused 30 minute bursts to keep productive.”
David: “Core strength – good posture in uncomfortable chairs is needed. And be nice to the baristas and they'll be happy for you to spend a long time in there!”
This article was produced in partnership with O2 Business. To be inspired or read more about working anywhere, working smarter, marketing, and for tech advice go to businessblog.o2.co.uk