Coffee Shop Etiquette for Entrepreneurs and Writers

My favorite office smells like coffee.

It’s not any particular place. It’s any independent coffee shop that has decent wifi and grinds their own coffee beans every couple of hours. I love the sounds and the smells of the place, although the milk steamer is a little obnoxious at times. And I appreciate the relationships I have with the baristas and the regulars.

Inside Duo 58. One of my favorite local coffee shops, and the inspiration for this article on coffee shop etiquette.

Inside Duo 58. One of my favorite local coffee shops, and the inspiration for this article.

Any old coffee shop will do, although I prefer independent coffee shops. I even made maps of the independent coffee shops in Indianapolis and Orlando, and often visit new ones just to find hidden gems around the city. I’m even sitting in one of my local favorites, Duo 58, as I write this.

Several years ago, for four months, my business partner and I left our old office and spent our rent money on coffee, working six hours a day out of the Hubbard & Cravens in Broad Ripple (Indianapolis). It got us outside in the winter, we met a lot of new people, and I came home every day smelling like freshly ground coffee. It was only because we wanted somewhere more quiet and with faster Internet speeds that we returned to our old office.

I learned a few lessons about coffee shop etiquette and some of the things that drive coffee shop owners and managers nuts, or make things difficult for entrepreneurs, writers, and laptop warriors to find decent shops to do any work.

Here are five coffee shop etiquette rules every coffee shop commuter needs to follow when working in your favorite local java joint.

  1. Buy something every 2 hours. I make it a point to spend at least $5 every two hours I’m at a coffee shop. It gets expensive, but when you consider that a shop not only has to pay their baristas, they’re paying for their equipment, lights, HVAC, and fresh beans. If you camp out for six hours on a single $2 ice tea (that you keep getting free refills on!), you’re taking up valuable space that better-paying customers could be using, and you’re eating into the owner’s already-thin profits.
  2. Heidi and Kelly. They're studying to be physicians assistants. I invited them to sit with me while I wrote this.

    Heidi and Kelly. They’re studying to be physicians assistants. I invited them to sit with me while I wrote this.

  3. Never take up a 4-top for yourself. A lot of coffee shops have 2-top tables that are ideal for one or two people, but also have a few 4-tops for larger groups. Try to avoid sitting at a 4-top unless you’re either holding it for more people, or all the 2-tops are taken up. Remember, the whole reason the coffee shop exists is to get the highest number of people in there, and if you keep four other people from sitting down, they lose a lot more money than you’re spending. At the very least, be willing to share your table with other people. Which reminds me. . .
  4. Always offer to share your table. A friend told me she once went into a coffee shop that was filled with single individuals sitting at 2-top tables. She asked one young woman if she could share her table. The young woman said “No!” rather rudely, and my friend sat down and said, “I’m sorry, the place is crowded and this one is big enough for two people. I’ll move as soon as another one opens up.” Instead, the young woman insulted my friend, and called her “entitled and selfish” before storming off, no doubt to look up the definition of “irony.” If you’re at a full coffee shop, be a decent human being and invite someone to join you at your table. I’ve been at Duo 58 all morning, and I’ve invited three different people to sit with me during my time here. Besides, you never know who you’re going to meet as a result of your kindness.
  5. Keep conversation volumes low. I’ve been in coffee shops that sound like a high school cafeteria at high noon. While you don’t have to whisper to your meeting partner, you don’t need to use your outside voice either. It’s especially bad when you can hear someone else’s conversation from 30 feet away. Or as my friend, Sheryl Brown (@BionicSocialite) says, “Set the tone of your voice to that which is comfortable to the space. Pay attention if you naturally have a booming voice — people tend to follow your lead. (T)hey think you’re hard of hearing and start yelling to match your voice.
  6. Don’t watch Netflix or YouTube. Video takes up way more bandwidth than audio, photos, and text. And a coffee shop is not here to give you free broadband so you can binge watch Disjointed. Other people are trying to do actual work and/or study online, and your videos only slow down everyone else’s experience. It’s one thing if there are only one or two of you in the place, but when it’s half-full, you’re slowing everyone else down. Either switch to your personal hotspot or download movies when you’re at home. Don’t use more than your fair share of the wifi, especially since you only bought a small coffee to begin with.

The coffee shop explosion has nicely coincided with the rise in entrepreneurship and small businesses, giving us a place to work, network, and meet with potential clients and partners. But if you’re going to spend more than an hour working in a coffee shop, try to remember the store owner is in business just like you.

If you take up space without buying anything, or make a general nuisance of yourself, you only make the experience bad for everyone else. It’s this kind of behavior that leads to coffee houses putting limits on their wifi, or removing their wifi entirely.

If that happens, then I’m working at your house.

And I won’t tip you.

Bring Social Media Tourism 2013 to Indianapolis (#SoMeT13US)

This is a little embarrassing. Indianapolis is currently ranked 8th in the Elite Eight in the Social Media Tourism 2013 conference competition.

SoMeT is a creation of Think! Social Media, a digital agency in the tourism marketing world. This is the fourth year of SoMeT, and they are selecting the host city based on a March Madness style bracket system. And Indianapolis has a real chance of winning this, but not if we keep playing the way we did!

To get into the Elite Eight, we barely squeaked into the competition, finishing in 8th with 657 votes. Seventh place Grand Rapids, MI had 735 votes.

Seriously? Grand Rapids?! I don’t even think there are 735 people in Grand Rapids, are there?

Okay, a quick check on Google shows there are roughly 190,000 people in Grand Rapids. But that’s less than one-fourth the size of Indianapolis, and we got out muscled. That’s like IU getting beat by Davidson College at, well, anything.

Here’s how the final votes went down:
1. Huntsville, AL – 2,361
2. Missoula, MT – 1,606
3. Milwaukee, WI – 1,328
4. Cleveland, OH – 1,231
5. St. Pete/Clearwater, FL – 882
6. Branson, MO – 799
7. Grand Rapids, MI – 735
8. Indianapolis, IN – 657

Social Media Tourism Bracket

Seriously? We got 8th?! I swear, if I had a folding chair, I’d hurl it.

Because of our 8th place finish, we face off against #1 seed, Huntsville, AL (183,00 people?! COME ON!) on Thursday, March 21 from 10 am to 10 pm. Whichever city gets the most votes within that 12 hour period goes on to the Final Four. The winners of that bracket face off against each other, and the final winner will play host to SoMeT13 in November.

As the biggest city in the competition, we should not be in last place with the voting. We should be hammering the competition by sheer size alone. We need our people to carry the city. We need you to step up, make the plays, and get the job done.

On Thursday, March 21, please pay attention to your Facebook and Twitter feeds. And when you get the call to vote, we need you to click the link, click the photo, and help bring this country’s tourism professionals home to Indianapolis.

We’re Indianapolis, dammit! Let’s show them how this game is played.

The Elite Eight Tournament Times are as follows:

  • Monday, March 18 – 10:00am to 10:00pm Eastern Time – #3 Milwaukee, WI v #6 Branson, MO
  • Tuesday, March 19 – 10:00am to 10:00pm Eastern Time – #4 Cleveland, OH v #5 St. Pete/Clearwater, FL
  • Wednesday, March 20 – 10:00am to 10:00pm Eastern Time – #2 Missoula, MT v #7 Grand Rapids, MI
  • Thursday, March 21 – 10:00am to 10:00pm Eastern Time – #1 Huntsville, AL #8 Indianapolis, IN

CLICK HERE TO VOTE FOR INDIANAPOLIS!

Writing for Exposure: Mark Eveleigh Replies

After Monday’s post, “Writing For ‘Exposure’ Is Not Payment,” travel writer and photographer Mark Eveleiegh emailed me a great response that helped me crystallize my own thoughts. With his kind permission, I am reposting his reply here (not a differing response, but more of a ‘hell, yeah!’ reply), because he makes a very important point.

Mark Eveleigh in Chiapas, Mexico

Mark Eveleigh is a professional photographer, travel writer, and journalist. I also like his tattoo.

(Note: Mark is British, so any ‘misspellings’ are actually English writing styles and spellings.)

When I was starting out I had a golden rule NEVER to write for free. The magazines that want your free work are rarely the ones that can offer the best exposure (also most pros and editors know you wrote for free, thereby lowering your professional credibility). Will the day come when Nat Geo will expect us to write for free? After all it is the best exposure we will ever get. [Read more…]

Who Should Sponsor Your Blog?

Should you have a sponsor for your blog? Is it worth the effort? Or are you selling out your soul by accepting filthy lucre for a company to have a say in your blog’s content and tone? And which company’s filthy lucre should you pursue?

(Yes, yes, not really, and it depends.)

I’ve been DMing with Mark Eveleigh, a first-class travel writer, book author, and photographer who takes some gorgeous photos of those places you’re never going to see before you die, about whether he should blog (he should) and if he could get a sponsor (he could). He also owns a freelance photography assignment agency where several other outstanding outdoor photographers are available for hire.

Mark Eveleigh

Mark Eveleigh. Petty jealousy and raging insecurity make me want to not help him. A guilty conscience makes me do it anyway.

Mark has an interesting situation, because a sponsorship for his personal branding blog makes a lot of sense. As I see it, he would appeal two basic categories of readers: travel enthusiasts and photography enthusiasts.

The experience levels in these two categories may range from “I wish I could do that” to the serious amateur to the consummate professional. And because Mark is a specialized travel writer and photographer — trips to remote locations to take beautiful pictures — he is most likely attracting readers who want to do similar activities, or at least learn more about it.

Why Sponsor a Blog?

Travel writers have a special niche that can appeal to a wide range of readers — from people who like to travel to people who like to read about travel — who have self-identified as loyalists and users of a particular special interest. That’s a valuable niche for marketers to tap into. Anyone who sells products to travel fans should take advantage of sponsorship opportunities.

So who should sponsor Mark’s blog?

If he wants to appeal to the travel readers, he should talk to large travel agents that specialize in adventure travel, airlines that travel to out of the way locations (think Brazil, Thailand, South Africa), adventure travel gear manufacturers, and publishers of travel guides for the adrenaline-addicted.

On the photography side of thing, he should reach out to makers and online dealers of high-end camera equipment, camera bags, and other photography-related businesses.

(Frankly, Mark’s camera manufacturer, Nikon, should be begging him to throw their logo all over his blog, and include him in their ads.)

In exchange, Mark can write include basic mentions in an occasional article, review a sponsor’s service or product, and allow some ads on his site.

Sponsorship doesn’t always have to include money though. It can also include goods or services. For someone like Mark who travels constantly, it could be free flights for a year, or an expensive new lens to review and keep.

Prove Your Value First

Of course, pursuing sponsors also means being able to prove the value of the blog itself. It means knowing the number of readers, what their interests are, what kinds of influence they have, and even who they are.

Using tools like Google Analytics for web traffic (where they came from, what they read the most), Klout for influence (your readers’ and your own), and even what your network is interested in (using Twellow.com or Gist.com) can help bloggers show where their readers are coming from and what they’re interested in.

I think that as blogs grow in popularity and blog owners are able to show something newspapers have never been able to demonstrate — accurate and up-to-date reader stats — we’re going to start seeing more marketers get involved with real bloggers who can deliver on both great content and valuable readership.