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      • Coffee – fuelling the freelance lifestyle part 1

      • When you walk into almost any coffee shop on virtually any street in the UK and look around, what – apart from coffee cups, cakes and crumbs – is the most common thing you’ll see on a table?

        If you run your own coffee shop, you should always be assessing the competition or looking for new ideas, so the answer should come easily.

        Laptops and tablets. Coffee shops are an enormously popular place for freelancers to hold meetings, work in between meetings, or just to get out of the house.

        According to IPSE, the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed, freelancers contribute £119 billion to the UK economy. There are more than two million of them, with 1.77m of that number freelancing as their main job.

        Today we’re going to look at freelancers who work from home.

        What’s the best thing about working from home? You’ll get different answers from different people, but they’ll include flexible working times, long lunch breaks, greater autonomy, lack of commute, and being able to work in your pants. Cast that image aside. And what do they like least about working from home? Isolation. It’s great not to have to listen to everyone else’s racket, but for all but the most hermit-like of freelancers, too much time home alone can lead to a sense of cabin fever.

        So, they head out at lunchtime. Grab a coffee and a bite to eat. Many of them just need their phone, a laptop and an internet connection to make it a working lunch. Which could turn into a working afternoon.

        For many independent coffee shops, freelancers are a core customer base. Same goes for the big chains. Are you fuelling the freelance lifestyle sufficiently, or could you make your coffee shop more attractive?

        For these people, delicious coffee is an important consideration, but it’s balanced against the right environment to work in. Yes, you need to source great quality beans, train your baristas well, and make sure your espresso machine can keep up with demand. Of course you do. But there are other elements to consider. Some might have to wait until you have a refit, others can be added at will. All have the potential to be the difference between freelancer popularity and loyalty, and lose custom to the big boys.

        Making your coffee shop suit the typical freelancer

        1. Free WiFi. Make no mistake, this is a must. It needs to have a strong signal and be reliable. If you want to stand out to tech-savvy types, you’ll up the security levels too. Hacking on public WiFi is a real danger. Talk to internet service providers about how to enhance security levels to reassure people sending confidential client data.
        2. Fuel for the machine as well as the user. Laptops, tablets and phones all need power, so if you can make electrical sockets accessible, you’ve an added attraction built in. If you only have one socket available in the seating area, you could even consider signposting it the freelancer zone. In an ideal world – and if you’re planning a refurb for your coffee shop this is something to consider – each table could have access to dedicated sockets, ideally with built-in USB charging points.
        3. Adequate workspace. Laptops might have ‘lap’ in the name, but it’s jolly uncomfortable working that way for any length of time. Consider the way your tables and chairs can be arranged, and offer a more conventional work zone if you have the space.
        4. Got a spare or storage room which could be more effectively used? Why not set aside as a dedicated meeting room or freelancer work zone. Quieter than in the main coffee shop area and with the potential to earn from room rental as well as coffee and snacks.
        5. You want your freelance customers to linger…but not to nurse a basic filter coffee for three hours. Don’t be afraid to offer customers a fresh coffee if they’ve been buried in work for too long, or offer a discount if a second coffee is purchased within the hour. Put yourself in their shoes - what would entice you to spend more and stay more?

        Next week we’ll look at part 2 of fuelling the freelance lifestyle – with advice for serviced offices and shared workspaces.