Friday, May 17, 2013

Eat, Drink & Work: A Review of 3 "New" Cafes to Get You Out of the Studio

Summer in Boston brings with it a welcome quiet as thousands of college students vacate the city and its surrounding neighborhoods.  If you have been hiding from the masses inside your home office or studio it is time to incorporate some remote workdays into your schedule.

Why is this important, you might ask?  People who operate their business out of a studio or home office tend to insulate themselves, often without intending to.  Staying out of the world too long dries up your inspiration and stales your interpersonal skills.  It is vital to combat this by scheduling days where you can work outside of your usual space.  Think of it as shaking things up a bit.  You are extricating yourself out of your routine-your comfort zone, and opening yourself up to new experiences and new people.

I am a big fan of “coffee shop workdays”, and have found good things come from these experiences.  I tend to be more productive away from at-home distractions.  I have met key people who have been added to my network.  And new opportunities have come about because of these café excursions. 

I am such a fan that some of my entrepreneurial friends and I started Women’s Workday Wednesdays a few years ago.  Once a month those of us who could make it would meet at a designated café, set up shop (a lap top, books, journals and writing utensils) and get cracking.  By bouncing ideas off of each other and enjoying the energy flowing around our table, we all came away satisfied with that day’s work.

Here are a few cafes I recently checked out as potential “coffee shop workday” spots.  All of these will soon be a lot quieter-at least until September.  So take advantage of the space and the stillness and get to work!

Though it has several locations, I visited the one right off of the Boston University campus.  This café offers ample electrical outlets (not always the case) and a full menu Mon-Fri for breakfast and lunch.  A limited, yet yummy menu is offered anytime.   I ordered a cookie, which was fresh baked goodness and quite delicious. There is substantial seating, though a portion of this is elevated “bar” seating.  The main issue was the coffee.  The espresso was over-extracted and bitter; the iced coffee rather flavorless. So yes, the space was designed with long-time sitters in mind and it is more than suitable for studying.  But the coffee and the barista skills are lacking.  Plan to be allowed to stay for quite a while without getting any glares, but order something other than coffee to drink.

4A Coffee
This one is worth a mention not for the space but for the coffee.  I had paid an hour at the parking meter before walking in and realizing the place has virtually no seating.  It has been designed for drop-in visits only, which is too bad because the expansive space could have easily been used in a more efficient way to allow patrons to have a seat.  There is a bench that runs along the front windows. You are welcome to perch there for a moment but it was obvious the staff-though friendly-had no interest in you sticking around.  I noticed because of the lack of seating potential customers would walk in and immediately walk back out, making this place a quick stop primarily for locals or passerby heading to or from Coolidge Corner. There is no Wi-Fi.

As I said, the place is worth noting for the coffee.  Coffee drinks are made with a tremendous amount of care which makes them delicious. Even the iced coffee was fantastic. The menu includes a small selection of baked goods.  I ordered a cake donut but found it a bit bland despite the icing, so save your calories for elsewhere.

There are plenty of sit down cafes in the immediate area, including three Starbucks all along Harvard Avenue.  But if you happen by 4A Coffee one day, they are worth the visit for a caffeinated pick-me-up.

This one-location-but –wonderfully- branded gem in Brighton wins for best work space.  Ample, semi-private seating with plenty of electrical outlets allows for intimate conversation and study. The coffee is more than drinkable (though not terrific) and there is a substantial, affordable breakfast and lunch menu, which means that you can stay a while. The espresso was again over-extracted, though not as dismal as Blue State.  Nice, upbeat but unimposing music pulsed in the background to keep you energized. The noise level permitted concentration. And here’s a bonus: there is a small parking lot adjacent to the cafe!

I ordered a basil orange lime drink.  It hit the spot once I was coffee-d out.  It wasn’t sweet, but it was very refreshing and would make a great summer drink. While I had to pay for meter parking everywhere else the street parking here was free.  There were two clean, spacious bathrooms.  Overall a great space.   


Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Go For It: Taking the Risk to Follow Your Dream

At the entrance of the park near my house is a tree and every year in that tree a robin builds her nest.  There are no leafy branches to guarantee her safety through camouflage. She is blatantly apparent to everyone who uses that entrance and she is obvious to every potential predator.  Still she rallies on, selecting that spot time and time again.  I have no idea if she is successful; if the eggs hatch and her offspring survive at least long enough to hop out of the nest.  But I have to admit I admire her tenacity.  I think a lot of us have much to learn from that little bird.

Most of us go through life with a hidden dream tucked away out of fear of failure, never realized because of real or imagined barriers blocking our achievement. I remember when I was young my mother told me, “The things in life I was afraid to do are the things I have regretted the most.”  What is it you have dreamed of doing?  Did parents’ expectations douse your dream?  Do you doubt yourself?  Do you feel your obligations to provide financial stability get in the way?  Here are some thoughts and suggestions that I hope will inspire you to crawl into the innermost corner of your heart, pick up your dream, dust it off, and give it a try.

Don’t Think-Do:                                                                           Entrepreneurs have a key quality that others don’t: they just do it.  Overthinking can create anxiety that can lead to postponing the most important step of pursuing your dream-getting started. 

Getting started doesn’t have to mean all or nothing.  For most of us, that is unreasonable.  We have people who depend on us-elderly parents, spouses or partners, children.  We can’t just ditch the day job.
Ask yourself: If money was not an issue, what would I be doing with my life?  This question will shed light on your true calling.  Think about what you love to do, where you feel your true talent lies, what gives you a sense of fulfillment.  See if there is a way to translate this into a commercial endeavor.

Now ask yourself how you can reasonably begin to incorporate this dream into your current life.   

True entrepreneurs begin by answering the question “why” before contemplating the questions “how” and “what”.

 I was recently speaking with an artist who had just graduated.  One would think she would be ready to take that high-priced, hard-earned knowledge, her connections and her college-sponsored job listings and tackle her career. Instead she said she was planning to take summer classes so she could be “prepared”.

When are you ever going to be ready if you keep making excuses?  Life waits for no one and unfortunately we live in a culture that equates youth with fresh ideas and unlimited energy.  Please understand I am not suggesting you throw caution to the wind, especially if others are relying on you for care and comfort.  Living a genuine life can be a blend of doing what we have to do and doing what we love to do.

Focus on What You Have-Not On What You Don't Have:
Often people get caught up with waiting until they have the optimum supplies, time, network, money…you name it.  But being an entrepreneur means you view your limited resources as positive challenges rather than road blocks.  As Harvard Business School professor, Bill Sahlman says, Entrepreneurship is “the relentless pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources.”

Take stock of your inventory: What talents and abilities do you have? Who do you know who could offer support (guidance, financial-customers and/or investors), talent (marketing, mentoring, etc.)?  What tools do you have (computer, studio, phone, art supplies, etc.)? 

You will probably find you have more than you need to get started.

Bit by Bit:
Getting started isn’t about all or nothing.  A responsible degree of risk assessment must take place.  What amount of time/money/energy can you reasonably invest in this endeavor? 

For example, let’s say you have always dreamed of becoming an actor, but at this point in your life you are 46 years old and have three kids, all of whom are fast approaching college age.  It would probably be disastrous to come home and announce you are heading off to Hollywood.  But if you sit down and access what you do have (money to take acting lessons, time to join local film and acting groups for the sake of networking, energy to spend before and after work to pursue this dream) you may be able to fulfill your dream.  Perhaps you have connections who can introduce you to screenwriters and directors.  Perhaps you can start auditioning for local theater productions.  Perhaps you can find work as a film extra. 

It should be mentioned at this point that we all have seasons in life.  This may be a time when authentic obligations are barring you from following your dream full steam ahead.  All the more reason to do things in piecemeal so you can find balance knowing your circumstances will change in the future (children will move out, you will retire, etc.).

Another element of starting in smaller increments; it helps you determine what is working and what isn’t without too much loss of time/money/energy.  If you are considering quitting your day job to become a full-time artist, signing up for some weekend art events-for example-will allow you to directly access how the public responds to you and your work without you losing too much time/money/energy in the process.

Anyone considering entrepreneurship should seek ways to do research so they can evaluate how consumers receive their goods or services. You can use these initial experiences to generate a business plan.

Your Endeavor's Greatest Asset: Self-Awareness:
No matter what your dream-opening your own business, becoming a professional singer, writing a novel-the greatest ingredient you can have is a sizable dose of self-awareness.  What are your strengths?  What are your weaknesses?  What could get in the way of you reaching success (both real and imagined issues)?

 Self-Awareness will help you keep a healthy pulse on how much time/money/energy you should invest in your dream.  It will help you recognize what is working in your pursuits and what isn’t.  It will keep you honest about what needs improvement and what roles others should be invited to play (business partners, company managers, help with marketing/accounting/customer service, etc.). 

Admitting You Need Help is The First Step:
So you’ve dusted off your dream, taken inventory of what you have, and gotten a good grip on your personal plus and minuses, but you are still uncertain about how to start.  Need help?

Howdy, Partner:  Often you will find people who yearn to set off on their own but just haven’t found that BIG IDEA yet.  Are you one of those people?  Guess what?  You are NOT an entrepreneur.  Being an entrepreneur isn’t about easy money or becoming your own boss.  It’s about pursuing your passion.  But take heart.  Just because you aren’t an entrepreneur doesn’t mean you can’t jump on the train.  Consider joining someone in their endeavor as an investor, consultant, partner-or all three.

Meet the Mentor: Have you articulated what you want to do?  Find people who have successfully accomplished what you dream of doing.  Email them.  Phone them.  Have coffee with them.  Ask them if they are willing to provide guidance and feedback to help you pave your path forward.

Artists and small business managers contact me all the time, asking for advice.  I find this flattering and am happy to oblige.  Don’t be afraid.  Reach out and ask someone to be your mentor.  The worst they can say is no.

Educate Me: Not to toot my own horn, but as a consultant I have helped small businesses grow and as a creative coach I have helped individuals take a dream and make it a reality.  And there are many like me out there.  Hire a coach or consultant.  I also teach professional development workshops that offer helpful tools for proceeding with your aspirations in the best way possible for finding success.  For example, my two-day boot camp offers a one-stop-shopping experience for business owners and individuals to take their endeavors to a whole new professional level. 

Learn how to best invest your time/money/energy through continuing education or consultations.  For a nominal cost of all three you can avoid a lot of pitfalls and heartache and start off on the right foot.  Along with the Focusing Series, which I developed, there are other groups in the Boston area offering professional development classes. All you have to do is find them. These opportunities are also a great way to network.

Be Willing To Fail:
Maybe the robin I mentioned in the beginning will send her offspring flying at the end of this spring.  Maybe she won’t.  But the most important thing is that she tried.  Don’t let fear hold you back.  Take stock of your passions and talents, your inventory, and start making your dream happen NOW.