I don’t like Starbucks. You might think that it has something to do with alleged tax avoidance (theirs not mine), but it doesn’t. You see, I have terrible confession to make: I don’t like coffee. I already feel better for getting that off my chest, though it’s not strictly true as I don’t mind decaffeinated coffee. The trouble is that it usually comes with a disbelieving look from the counter staff (“What kind of wimp/similar drinks decaf in Starbucks?!”). It also provokes sarcasm from colleagues (“Ours are the real coffees – his is the child’s one!”). I carry my own sweeteners for fear that I might be publicly ridiculed by the entire room for the combination of wimp’s coffee in a small cup (which is still the size of a child’s seaside bucket) and imitation sugar.

All this can become a day to day problem in the life of a self-employed One Man Band/Digital Nomad like me, who wanders regularly from clients to Costas to Starbucks armed only with laptop and mobile, working on the hoof, maximising every hour and minimising travel to and from my office. (Technically Digital Nomads are entirely web-based professionals who can work anywhere & anytime, though as a Marketing Consultant & Copywriter I often have face to face meetings with clients, so I don’t really qualify properly.)

I’m ashamed to call my coffee issue a problem, though. I’m sure that our coal-mining forefathers would have been only too delighted to swap their problems for mine. My dislike for coffee is – as someone once accurately described a longer than average queue in the supermarket – a “first world problem”. So, my shame sees me downgrading my coffee “problem” to a coffee “irritation”, which now sounds like an allergic rash to caffeine.

Man-With-Mobile

Being a Solo Business Operator (One Man Band) in today’s knowledge-based economy puts you in a bubble. It’s not until our family discusses who is doing what the following day that my timetable is lampooned as sounding like a holiday: It starts with a business breakfast in a local hotel, moves on to a three hour meeting in the Marriott then features a short Costa sandwich lunch with potential client. Then it’s the Holiday Inn for a few hours to catch up on emails before a late afternoon Starbucks meeting with a supplier. My Other Half asks if I’ll be managing to squeeze in mid afternoon beach volleyball and cocktails in the piano bar at 6pm. Well, I will if I can…

My 11 year old daughter is unsure how to describe my job to her peers and teachers. I genuinely hope that the subject is avoided altogether for fear of what she might come out with. When she was younger, I’m sure she used to say that I had a job in McDonalds, because she’d seen me working on a laptop there so often.

 

Welcome to self-employment

Last week I met Joe, a 33 year old who had recently become self-employed after ten years of subservience and redundancy-dodging in the corporate world. Delighted with his newfound freedom (but worried about paying the mortgage), he commented on the hotel /coffee shop culture in which he now found himself. He needs work, so he is attending business networking events morning, noon and night. His wife is sceptical and his waistline is growing. “Don’t worry” – I advise him – “…this is normal for first-timers”. Then I give him the tip: “Go vegan.” He looks quizzically at me and ventures that he doesn’t really like vegan food.

“Exactly!” I shoot back. “You don’t like it so you don’t eat much of it: Problem solved. Plus you get special foodie treatment wherever you go. While the others are wading through rubber chicken and muddy gravy, you’ll be daintily picking your way around a fresh red pepper stuffed with aromatic couscous.” (You usually get that – I can predict it with a fair degree of certainty). Joe takes out his Smartphone and begins to tap away. (My word, he’s taking notes! I mean these are hardly pearls of wisdom, are they?). But corporate people like taking notes and Joe is fresh out of corporate life and still bearing the scars. I always assume that the corporate note-taking is a method of justification of time spent doing something.

Boss: “What have you been doing this morning?
Employee: “I’ve been to a seminar.”
Boss: (Suspicious look) “Where are your notes?”
Boss: (Flicks thorough several pages and nods in approval) “I can see it was worthwhile.”

I tell my corporate escapee that note-taking is no longer mandatory and he looks bereft as if a principal skill has been made redundant. He cheers up as we talk about the apparently strange life that he will now be leading as Digital Nomad. He is amazed to find out that there is an international conference for Digital Nomads in Berlin in August 2015. You’d have thought they’d have done it online wouldn’t you?

Joe is taking notes on his Smartphone again – right under the entry “Go vegan” he has typed “Digital Nomad Conference – attend?” I sense he’s taking this all too seriously and begin to shut down my laptop. It’s time to move on to my next appointment and I’m already running a little late. I had better hurry. After all, I have a busy day ahead helping to swell Starbucks’ coffers across South Wales. If I’m lucky I might even make beach volleyball at 3pm and manage to grab a late afternoon cocktail in the piano bar…