Friday, 31 December 2010

Ten London Coffee Shops To Get Your Ideas Flowing

So I decided to skip the ‘10 Things that will change your life in 2011’ or my ‘10 Social Media Trends That Will Make You Instantly Attractive’ posts for something different at the end of 2010: my passion for coffee.

Coffee has become such an important part of my work life - it's a daily ritual. Having a somewhat nomadic work life and a bunch of demanding projects I rely upon a change of scenery to come up with ideas or solve business challenges. So the daily espresso and where I consume it has become just as important in my work life as the co-worker or office space might be to you. My Twitter followers will know I’m often tweeting about my latest coffee and one of them - @Stefidi - asked me to blog about my top London coffee shops. Coffee shops have always played an important role in the tradition of ideas generation; here’s my Top Ten of London coffee places that get ideas flowing and get my day kick-started:

#1Market Coffee House, E1: What I like about this place is that it’s 'old school'. Avoid peak times and you can find a quiet spot to sit and read the paper (at busy times, you'll be asked to put your laptop away). They usually have Radio Four on, and even if you can’t hear it properly above the din of the coffeeshop, it sets a nice vibe, an old-fashioned contrast to the suits and the glossy office blocks of the City across the street.

#2 Nude Espresso, E1: I discovered Nude Espresso when an ex-client who was working at Habitat took me there a few years ago. It tends to be frequented by creatives and local agency types but has a nice vibe. It’s a good meeting and thinking place. I like their tiered tipping system.

#3 The Luxe, E1: The Luxe often becomes my East London workspace. The coffee is good, the staff friendly and I feel I could stay all day. If you’re looking for a quiet space to get your head down then this place is not for you; but if you’re after a stimulating environment, some people watching and a comfy sofa then this is your place. On most mornings you can work to an 80s, 90s soundtrack (they like their music loud here) and you can often spot locals like Gilbert and George here.
#4 Monmouth Coffee Company, WC2: If I had to rank these venues in order of quality and service, Monmouth would win (hey, I even wrote a post about it for The coffee, the price, the service is all good. This tends to be a pit-stop for me rather than somewhere I hang out and I drink espresso as it was intended - quickly. You can sit on the bench outside and people watch. The coffee here even attracts visitors staying at The Covent Garden Hotel across the street; I once spotted Jack Black in the queue behind me. When I take guests or friends here for the first time what they like most is the simple but effective ordering system. Once you request your coffee, the cashier shouts up to the barista on the mezzanine behind you, ‘single espresso'. the barista shouts back ‘single espresso’ to confirm they heard. How’s that for a damn simple system?

#5 Monmouth Coffee Company, SE1: Here at their Borough Market shop I tend to linger longer, they have a communal table, a small bar to sit up at and a tiny mezzanine which is great for people watching. I spent a great Saturday here once editing my second book. This is the view from that spot onto the market.

#6 Flat White, W1: In the bustle of Soho Berwick St this is a noisy, buzzy coffee shop. You’ll need to speak up to hear your conversation, but it will kick start your day.
#7 Fernandez & Wells, W1: In Soho's St.Anne’s Court - the cut through between Dean Street and Wardour St - sits this branch of Fernandez And Wells. It’s small but quiet and good as a quick meeting stop.

#8 Bar Italia, W1: This list would feel incomplete without Bar Italia. To be honest, I don’t rate the coffee much but it remains a Soho establishment and it's always a good pit-stop. Noisy for meetings as you’ll have to raise your voice above the noise of Europop or Sky News on the big screen TV.

#9 Rough Trade East, E1: If you like your vinyl or browsing CDs it doesn’t get much better than Rough Trade’s shop at the Truman Brewery. And there’s a little coffee shop by the entrance for people watching, writing in the moleskine after being inspired by all that music.

#10 Albion Cafe at The Boundary Hotel, E2. This tends to be a morning spring or summer hang out for me, sitting outside and having a few coffees or a late brunch. Down a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it alleyway from Shoreditch High St, this is a great little street. In summer swap your espresso for a mojito on London’s best rooftop terrace bar at the hotel.

Notes: i) I haven’t included any chain coffee shops because I try and avoid them; ii) I haven’t included member’s clubs as that’s elitist; iii) all photos by Ian Sanders.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

My Year of Exploration

So how did you score on meeting new people in 2010?

Lots of people and organisations don’t seem to extend their networks. They hang out, work and collaborate with the *same* people, year in, year out. The long-term staffers, clients and suppliers don’t change. It’s all very predictable and safe. Yawn!

Being self-employed I’ve always been stimulated by my ability to renew and refresh who I work with, who I hang out with. I can change that whenever I fancy.

Hey, but nothing wrong with the long-term contacts. I have friendships and business relationships that have endured over fifteen years and that I value highly. But the relationships that promise to shake-up my business and fuel inspiration are those new people I meet. People in unrelated fields, doing totally different things challenge and inspire me in equal measures.

Those connections are often more about personal development than business development. I’m not selling them anything, but inevitably they evolve to a relationship of reciprocity where we help each other, work with each other. Or maybe not, we just have a damn good lunch.

So back in January I set a goal of meeting at least one new person a week this year. Looking back , I did at least that: not quick handshakes at a conference, I mean quality exchanges over a coffee. Some of those connections have come from existing contacts who are good at ‘I don’t know if there’s anything in it, but you must meet Sam’ type of introductions. Others are more random or have come via Twitter. This year Twitter has brought me a new client, a book deal, some great stories for my blog and just some good espresso time.

Has it been good for my business? Yep. Has it been good for my soul? You bet.

What was your ROI on all those connections” a friend asked me. “I don’t know” is my honest answer. But what I do know is that renewal feeds my ideas and I intend to keep up the pace of making the effort to meet a bunch of totally new people in 2011.

Because who knows where it will take you? So get out there and go explore…

* above is me and a bunch of new people at SXSW 2010. Picture credit: Marc Salsberry

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

How To Co-Write A Business Book Part 1

So, David Sloly and I are working on our Secret Book Project, that will be published next October. We’ve both written books before but – apart from a short ebook we created earlier this year – this is the first time we’ve co-written something. With the bar set high (by us, the marketplace and our publisher) the pressure is on. With our busy work lives and us living in different parts of the UK,  we knew we needed to invest in some time together to start the writing process (Skype, email and telephone calls was not going to cut it).We agreed on a trip away, as a journey is essential to productive ideas generation. So last week we took the Eurostar to Paris for 4 days of thinking. Talking, walking the streets, riffing back and forth, stopping for a coffee to capture our thoughts in a moleskine, then repeating the process. The outcome was not about word count, it was about ideas.

Back at the apartment I chatted with David about how the experience was going. So here’s part one of How To Co-Write A Business Book: 

Friday, 10 December 2010

A Safe Pair Of Hands

I'm delighted to be featured in FT columnist Mike Southon's new book, This is How Yoodoo it - an archive of the best of his columns with advice on getting started, sales, team building, mentoring, dealing with the recession and social entrepreneurship. He tells my story as a sole trader in a chapter 'A Safe Pair Of Hands' that you can read here. All proceeds from the book go to The Prince's Trust.