About 2 years ago, a new coffee shop called Caffe Latte opened in our local village.
It was a bit of a risk: we had a bypass built a decade ago and since then the village centre has slowly died. And I must admit, I didn't rate it's chances of success highly.
But it's worked brilliantly. Not only is it thriving, but it's revitalised the centre of the village. Far more people come in to town and use the local shops – and there's a real sense of community returning.
Kathy and I love to take a walk up there a couple of times a week. We often take a book or some work to do and just sit there for a couple of hours.
I've been in there so often I kind of know the business inside out now. And I've picked out three lessons from how Francesca, the owner, has marketed Caffe Latte that I think we consultants and coaches and other professionals can learn from. Particularly if we're a small firm or one-man-band.
Francesca competes against the big chains in other local towns – Starbucks, Costa, Cafe Nero. Just as we might compete against Accenture, KPMG or Linklaters.
Positioning. The first thing Francesca got right was the positioning of the business. It's not just a “like Starbucks but cheaper” – pricing is roughly at the same level. She recognised that we don't choose a coffee shop because it's a few pence cheaper than the alternative. We choose it for taste, atmoshphere, food – a whole range of reasons.
Yet so many professionals position themselves as “like X, but cheaper” (substitute the name of a big firm for X – usually the firm the professional used to work for).
The thing is, you're not like Accenture or KPMG or Linklaters. You're not a big name that no one got fired for hiring. You're not a bland but safe bet. You're an individual with a whole load of things to offer that you need to focus on rather than just being a cheap version of a big firm.
Personality. What Caffe Latte has in abundance is personality. It's a reflection of Francesca really. Quirky, fun. You go there and you feel part of the family – like Norm in Cheers. The staff are all like that too.
As solo professionals or small firms that's something we can do too. We don't have to conform to a bland corporate image. We don't have to please everyone. We just need to find a few clients who can love us for life.
If we put our personality and our passion into our business we can stand out a mile compared to our corporate competitors. Yet so few of us do so.
Instead we hide behind our smart suits and corporate websites. We speak in corporate tongue rather than in the plain English we'd use at home or with our friends. How many solo professional's websites have you seen that say “we” when there's only the one of them in the firm (sadly, mine used to be like that too – though thankfully I've grown out of it).
We shouldn't be trying to copy the corporates – we should be trying to find our own unique personality and voice.
Innovation. That's a big word. Can a coffee shop really innovate? Well, yes in the sense of constantly trying out new things to see what works and abandoning things that don't.
Francesca started up with a big kids area and creche. Didn't work.So she changed it.
She tried hosting themed days and celebrations. Worked brilliantly.
She tried live music. Didn't work. Stopped it.
She tried changing the menu, adding new food and sweets no one else was doing. Worked brilliantly.
She's used Facebook for marketing. Installed free wifi. Worked brilliantly.
The big chains don't have the flexibility or the bravery to allow their stores to try out new stuff like this. They all have to be the same.
And that's a huge advantage you can have over your big competitors too. In the time it would take them to set up a committee to look into doing a feasibility study to develop a business case to maybe think about something new – you can have tried it out and figured out whether it will work or not.
Yet how many of use use that advantage? How many of us are constantly trying out new offers, new services, new marketing tactics?
Caffe Latte has been such a success they're now franchising the model out across the country. Maybe we ought to think about what we can learn and apply to get our own equivalent success.
And, of course, if you're ever in the little town of Handforth just South of Manchester – do pop in to Caffe Latte and you might well see me in there.