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How Coffee Shops Can Make the Best Substitute Offices

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Imagine a quiet office space. There are only a few people around – not enough to distract you, but enough to ensure that you don’t feel isolated from the world. Mostly they are freelancers, typing away at their computers.

You like the music playing in the background because it is almost like someone copied your own playlist. The coffee is delicious, there’s plenty of food to choose from, the view is not bad at all…And the best part? The rent you pay is the price of the things you eat and drink.

It sounds good, doesn’t it? I’ve just described at least three of my favorite coffee shops. You might think that working in coffee shops is an obvious choice, albeit not a very convenient one. After all, several other FreelanceSwitch writers made pretty good cases about why libraries make better offices than coffee shops or why co-working spaces are the best office alternatives. But what if there aren’t any co-working spaces near where you live? And most libraries don’t really allow you to eat or drink something around their computers.

So what’s a freelancer to do? Sure, most freelancers, including me, run home offices. But working in one place for a long time decreases productivity, creativity and frankly, it gets boring and lonely.

So every time I need a change of scenery, I take my stuff and go to one of my favorite coffee shops. And if you choose correctly, they can make the most fun and positive office substitutes. Whether you don’t feel comfortable in libraries or you don’t live near co-working spaces (or just don’t want to pay $25 or more for them), here is a guide to what to look for in coffee shops so that they provide a satisfactory office experience: 

  • The quiet hours. I know many people who work more effectively with noise in the background. While I appreciate a little noise, I can’t concentrate with children running around screaming. But many coffee shops have their quiet hours.

     

    If you can detect them, it will feel like the whole place is yours. It will feel peaceful yet social. After all, there will always be a fellow freelancer who is taking advantage of these times, or a ferocious reader who just enjoys his book more with his favorite coffee.

  • Comfortable chairs and tables. Sofas are lovely, but I personally work more effectively with armchairs and high tables. They are comfy while still providing the feeling of professionalism. Then there is the perk of not getting neck or back pains from sitting for so long.
  • Friendly staff. Some places are self-service, but you might have found your work haven in a place with waiters. Whatever the case, it is important that they are friendly and don’t give you weird looks because you are spending so much time there or aren’t ordering something new every 30 minutes. Yes, you will be ordering things, but they shouldn’t expect you to spend a hundred bucks every time you are there.

     

    It also helps that there is someone nice to chat to. Just as you like a friendly attitude, most employees also appreciate the friendly customer they can complain to about their nightmare customers.

  • Taste and price of coffee (and food). I love my coffee, and like many freelancers agree, coffee is also good for productivity and a must-have. I can’t work without good coffee, and it raises my spirits more when the cost doesn’t put dents in my wallet. And I have to admit, I can never make the killer mochas my favorite places do. It’s just not the same.
  • Fast and free internet. As much as turning off the internet for the sake of concentration and flow is recommended, we still need it for a lot of things. A coffee shop without a good and free internet connection, in the long run, is a no-no.
  • Vicinity. It really helps if it is a walking distance from your house or at least takes only a short ride. It’s nice to take breaks, but you don’t want to get exhausted and lose a lot of time trying to get there. Time is cash after all.
  • Other freelancers. If the coffee shop has several of the characteristics I listed above, there will be other freelancers. I actually made a couple of close friends just by saying hi, or answering a question they might have about the place or about anything.

     

    We even started a Facebook group to connect and arrange get-togethers. Recently, both my freelancer friend’s schedule changed, as well as my own. But even though we can no longer work together, we still meet there for the occasional coffee and brainstorming.

  • Lots of sockets. You will need to charge your laptop from time to time, a it’s frustrating when you need to fight for one of the few sockets with the other freelancers.

So there you have it. Coffee shops don’t need to be avoided by freelancers. With new ones opening every day, it might make sense to try out the independent ones. Unfortunately, franchised coffee shops like Starbucks usually get to be more crowded. And even if you have an office, it doesn’t hurt to get away from it every once in a while.

How about you? What’s your favorite substitute office?

 

Social Media Etiquette, by Melanie Brooks

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I don’t know about you, but lately I’ve been hearing about some pretty serious social media snafus that have been so bad that people have lost their jobs over them.

Whether your Facebook page is set to private or not, nothing is ever really private on the Internet. It’s not just high school and college kids who have a hard time understanding that—it’s grown ups, too.

If you are like me, you have a personal Facebook page as well as one for your business. I have a LinkedIn page and I tweet using my business handle. Keeping your personal and business lives separate on social media sites can be hard, so here are some ways to make sure you are putting your best foot forward, instead of in your mouth. 

Be Respectful 

If you gossip or complain about your clients on Facebook or Twitter, it may very well get back to them. Even if you don’t use their names, people are savvy. No matter how difficult a client is, there is no reason to complain about them on social media sites. Complain to your spouse, your mom, or a friend in private. You’ll be able to get your frustrations off of your chest while still looking professional to the outside world.

Count to 10 Before You Respond 

Social media can be challenging since your reactions can transfer straight to your fingertips without stopping at your brain. As a result, your emotional response rushes onto your screen without a second thought. This feedback can be hurtful to others and cause unanticipated repercussions, either immediately or in the future. —Ragan.com

This is a lesson I have learned over time. The same thing goes for an email or phone call response. Before you shoot back and really let someone have it, sleep on it. Perhaps you are misinterpreting something or there was a miscommunication. Before you start a war of words, that can’t be taken back once it’s been published in a message or on your Facebook timeline, give yourself time to simmer down. You may come up with some great ideas on how to handle the situation when you give your emotions some time to chill.

Even with the best privacy settings, your message may get found by people who don’t appreciate your commentary. Besides, who wants updates from someone who complains a lot? —Boston.com

Treat Your Networks Separately

It’s not unusual to have personalities across several social networks and a burning desire to give the same information simultaneously to Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Don’t make this an automatic thing. —Boston.com

You can link your Facebook and Twitter pages together so you are sending the exact same message to both…but that can be a turnoff. People use those networks differently, so they should be treated differently. Sometimes 140 characters isn’t going to cut it for a Facebook status update.

Personally, it’s a turn off to me to see the same content posted in multiple locations. I hardly ever post my business stuff to my personal Facebook account, because that’s not where it belongs. Plus, it turns my friends off, especially the ones who have “liked” both my personal and professional pages. You don’t want to alienate your followers.

Update and Promote Accordingly

Constantly asking someone to retweet something you posted on Twitter or sharing it on their Facebook wall should not be overdone. If your content is good, it will be shared.

You can blog, tweet, or update your Facebook page as often as you want. I try to update my business page about three to four times a day. But you should note that people “unfollow” noisy tweeters. Even Chris Brogan, who provides strategic business advice for companies, says he gets unfollowed all the time because of his tweeting style.

It’s probably okay to promote something 4x a day on a social network, so that you hit all the time zones appropriately. In the last hour, you can always give it a couple more pushes, but that’s about it. —Chris Brogan

Help and Promote Others

If you help and promote someone else, chances are they are more likely to do the same for you!

Social media isn’t a solitary endeavor. It’s about the community and paying-it-forward. —Ragan.com

Chris Brogan agrees, and has some great tips on how to give in order to receive:

  • Promote others more often than you promote yourself. My long-standing measure is 12:1. (If it doesn’t work at first, it’s because maybe you’re not sincere in your promoting of others).
  • If you’re writing about a client, add (client) to the tweet/post/update.
  • Your cause isn’t always our cause. If we don’t want to help, don’t badger.

It’s okay to follow and like your competition on social media sites, too. It’s also a good way to keep up to date on what they’re doing. I like and follow all sorts of other magazines on my professional Facebook pages, and I’m always flattered when other publications follow me on Twitter and the like. It means I’m doing something right and worthwhile!