Starbucks is the de facto office for many entrepreneurs, freelancers and small business owners. It is an ideal place to meet with clients and prospects and to talk shop with partners. As much as Starbucks is a comfortable place to get work done, and as common as it is to see someone set up a workstation for hours at a time, it essential to remember that Starbucks is public space.
A coffee bar is not your private office. You do not know or have control over who walks in and out, who sits next to you, what they hear, and what they can do with the information they get from listening to your (often loud) conversations.
This can be a positive opportunity for entrepreneurs who are ready to network. For them, Starbucks can be a place to share ideas, get to know other business owners and build community. But it remains a lesson in responsible communication and appropriate conversation.
You never know who is listening to you, who they are, and what kind of damage you can do to your business and your brand. So do not, under any circumstances, say these things the next time you are at your local coffeehouse.
Your complete business plan, up to and including proprietary information about products, processes and intellectual property.
It is amazing how many business owners who are savvy enough to draft and sign NDAs with partners forget that they are in a public place when they are meeting at a coffee shop or restaurant and begin to go into explicit detail, in full voice, about proprietary information pre-launch.
You may be excited about a new development, working on a deadline, or just so accustomed to talking about the ins-and-outs of your business that you forget there is a time and a place for discreet conversations. Remember where you are before those details start flowing.
Your full, annotated sales pitch, including phrases like “… and this is where I’ll get them.”
If you have been to any Starbucks or similar location in any city, in any town, you have overheard a sales pitch. Sometimes it is a direct salesperson to client conversation, other times it is a sales team strategizing how they are going to approach their next target.
Never is there a more clear reminder of the importance of authenticity in creating and articulating an appropriate, respectful sales message. Conversations in which unprofessional salespeople discuss underhanded or dishonest approaches (whether or not they are sanctioned by an employer), convey a lack of respect for their brand and their audience.
Forget all the hard work your communications and marketing team has done to hone and deliver your message. Forget the hard work you have done to design and build your business. Underhanded, disrespectful talk by any member of your team, especially in public, has the power to erode your brand.
Names of people you are about to fire or who have “done you wrong.”
Small business owners encounter frustration regularly, whether it is a new hire that is not meeting expectations, a team member who is not contributing to the business’s success or a strategic partner who fails to carry out his or her promises. It is natural to want to express these frustrations to a friend or colleague, so you meet for coffee to unwind or to get some advice and, before you know it, all of the stories are coming out, in detail, with the names of everyone involved.
What you failed to consider in the midst of your frustration is that the sibling, spouse, neighbor, or friend of that person is sitting right next to you, ready to report back everything you have said. Is that likely to happen in a big city or if your team is spread out across the country, maybe not.
But here is what absolutely will happen: a room full of people will hear you bad mouthing someone, boasting about yourself, or attacking the integrity of a person who is not there to defend himself. More often than not, in the course of your rant, you have also mentioned what you do for a living, or in some cases, the name of your company. And in that moment, you have done more damage to your reputation, your brand, your business, than the person about whom you are complaining.
To keep your message – and your reputation – safe in a public space, remember to be respectful and professional, always. Every conversation is an opportunity to support and grow your business, or to fracture what you have so carefully built. So remember where you are, remember who is listening, and remember your responsibility to your business, to your brand, and to your integrity the next time you order a latte and settle into your favorite seat.