On 28th October 2013 I sat in a cafe in my local town as my train to London was cancelled, this moment in my day inspired me to write about a place that I would love to call ‘home’ in my town. The Business Cafe was founded as a concept.
Since then Gail Thomas and I have taken great strides in turning this idea into a reality. Every year I share this blog as it reminds us of the passion we had and continue to build in others for bringing this to market.
28th October 2013 – my thoughts
There is something delicious about an Autumn day when the country is emerging from a storm (Twitter #UKStorm) and trains were cancelled until 11am and the workforce of Surrey and other counties are brought to a beautiful stand still. Tweets abode from the working population about staying in bed, meeting a friend for a coffee, a chance to go to the gym during the week. It is clear that people would love to live and work locally, the desire to sit on a commuter train is not very high in anyone’s emotional drivers. Yet we all do it, thousands of us leave our town and hunt and serve in the cities, and what was the cost to the economy of this halted workforce?
Today, the 28th October 2013 I find myself with a day to dedicate myself to writing down the vision I hold for a local Business Community that can connect you to other ‘local’s across the world through a virtual community. If ever there was a day more poignant to do this this is it.
So, I did do my emails in bed, I did go to the gym, I did walk the dog with my son and have lunch in a park café, and I did walk down to a café to work. All of this was achieved in the 3 hours that I would have spent on trains and tubes, yet now, I sit refreshed and ready to work and energized by the local life I have just thrown myself into. I have not missed the train experience.
I walk with my bag to the Café Nero at the bottom on the street I live on. I grab a mug of tea, I sit down, smile at a gentleman sitting near me, with a laptop, he doesn’t smile back. I feel like having a chat, he clearly doesn’t. I unpack my bag and realize I have left my laptop at home, a ten minute round trip. I ask the gentleman if he could keep an eye on my tea and jacket, he nods his head, indicating that I am total pain, but reluctantly he does allow me to run off.
It is weird, as I walk back up the road, I think about the fact that he is probably another business-man, part of the Surrey Ecosystem of business yet, we are in a café, not a ‘Business Café’, we are not encouraged to ‘network’ here.
I return, he looks up and does offer a smile, I sit in my little world, behind this laptop and I type. This introduction to my day is so normal, so relevant and so perfect. I have loved it.
The local Town
Around Farnham there are 2,000 businesses. I can meet them if I join various ‘closed’ networks. I might even track them down on an intensive search of Twitter with a Farnham hash tag, or a database mining activity of my LinkedIn. If I did this exercise and tried to bring them into a virtual community, would they feel like I had an ‘agenda’? Could I invite them for a coffee in Café Nero for an unconditional, open, random and supportive conversation where we could just be ‘friends’ and see what skills, experience, connections we could swap.?
So, I am typing away and enjoying this focused time on my vision. Imagining this was a Business Café, where random business conversations could take place in an open and supportive culture and my moment of focus is killed by a group of gorgeous mums who have come in with their toddlers and sat right next to me. Muffins, hot chocolate, screaming, laughing, crying, arguing. The dream just became a clearer reality and need. The Business café would not have children. It would have mum’s though. Those amazing mums that have incredible ideas that they want to bring to market and whom want to place themselves in a grown up place and feel the environment again that they miss since they left the Corporate world ‘ the corporate waterhole’ where you could find conversations and people to share thoughts, ideas, ideals and your future dreams with.
What about our Born Digital Youths? They are a critical part of our local ecosystem
As I continue to imagine this world around me, stirred by the faces of the ladies around me who are intelligent, exciting people. I look at the people serving the coffee and tidying the tables. They have been taught to smile, but are they loving life? They enjoy the social nature of their work. They want to be known for a lot more than wiping a table. I love to ask them what their life is all about and discover their aspirations. Many of them are wanting to get a ‘job’, ex-graduates, and school leavers that are applying like crazy at night for their dream job.
These are young people, Born Digital. They understand so much `about modern communications and motives’, sadly their skills have not been commercialized, given a qualification nor is the UK realizing their worth – yet. It has not been translated into a commercial value-yet. The divide between them and the business world is too wide. They are the FaceBook generation and Business People at best are the LinkedIn generation. Their worlds do not meet. Inf act, it is true, many young people don’t shake your hand, look you in the eye or have the confidence we demand in the business world. They have found their confidence online, we need to extend that outwards to the face to face world. This ‘millennial generation spend over 6 hours a day connected online. (Telefonica Millennial Survey 2013)
Now my dreams build. Imagine if our cafe had unemployed youths as the baristas and hosts but they could also sit with you and help you with your digital needs. “hey, Joe, can you show me how to use Instagram?” There would be enough of them in the Business Café to ensure that they had the time, patience and motivation to coach you on the digital tools that are evolving. Imagine our local companies learning so much from the youths of that town, the Digital Youths who are known for their bright blue t-shirts with ‘I am your Digital Friend’ inscribed on them.
As I slide my eyes around my imaginary Café I see a ‘bar’ a lovely shiny wooden table with 4 young people sitting behind the bar with their laptops and each of them are wearing an orange t-short with the words ‘I am your Digital Apprentice’. These 4 young people manage the social media and digital needs of the members of the café. They set-up and run the social media campaigns on twitter, FaceBook, LinkedIn, Instagram, spending time face to face with their ‘clients’ at any time they pop in to work closely on the online voice that the small business has.
There is a vibe in the Business Café. People are laughing and sharing, introducing one another to each other. There are clusters of people discussing problems and finding solutions. There is a group of 10 people sitting in a quiet area, they are having a 2 hour ‘Mentoring’ session, sharing an issue and collaborating to help one another to solve it. Friends mentoring each other and keeping one another sane and comforted. Everyone in this café has value, no one feels inferior or like a failure, business is acknowledged as tough, a life style decision, but while you work alone in your business, you are never alone in this Café.
A place where everyone knows your name, that is our promise