You're a small or micro business owner about to meet a new client, so where do you meet them? Do you invite them to your home office, or do you arrange a meeting at a coffee shop? Is a coffee shop a professional place to meet?
Unless you have a home office which is self-contained with a separate entrance from the rest of your home, choose the coffee shop every time. Your client doesn't want to see your living room, or your personal possessions, photos, pets or kids' toys. Nor should you want them to see them. It's different if it's a long-term client and you've got to know each other pretty well, but first impressions count.
You want your new contact's attention to be on you: how you present yourself and your business. Likewise you want to concentrate on them, not worry about whether your new contact noticed that mark on the wall or that stain on the carpet.
That's where a neutral location such as a coffee shop is an ideal place to meet, and these days meeting at coffee shops is increasingly a professional option for many of us.
All coffee shops, however, are not created equal. Having said that, it's hard these days to get truly awful coffee in Australia. Most baristas know their stuff, and if you frequent a particular coffee shop and can be confident that its service is always excellent and the coffee hot and delicious, you have probably found a good place for regular meetings.
Bear noise in mind. Most cafes these days have wooden or polished concrete floors, and the very hip places eschew all window coverings. It's going to be noisy. Even if the coffee is good, you're going to shout to make yourself heard, particularly if there's music playing too. Sometimes it's quieter to sit outdoors if the weather is favourable and outdoor seating is available. If your favourite place is also the favourite place of mothers with babies and small children, you might consider finding another location or choosing a time when you know it's quieter.
Find a place with free wifi if possible - and there are plenty about. Most of us use our mobile devices with cellular coverage anyway, but your contact may bring a laptop and want to show you something which requires internet access. If your contact didn't bring an internet dongle, having free wifi to hand is a boon. (Be a little wary however - don't use free wifi at coffee shops to access sensitive sites such as your online banking.)
Coffee shops are ideal places to hold informal meetings and shorter meetings. If you think your meeting is going to go for more than one hour, consider other locations - or be prepared to buy another round of coffee! If your client has an office, arrange to meet there instead. You may be able to book a meeting room in your local library (particularly if you are in the not-for-profit sector). Other alternatives include renting a serviced office meeting room or hotel meeting room - these are obviously costly options, and you will need to factor in the value of overall business your new contact can bring to you.
Increasingly however, we are all using coffee shops to do business. Most business meetings I attend with clients and potential clients take place in cafes. And you know, there's an added bonus to this: by meeting in a coffee shop, you're also helping the local economy.
Mine's a mocha. Thanks.