Close up of art on a coffee shop wall

Is It Time To Adopt The Starbucks Model For Your Freelance Business?

For those who don’t know me well, I spend a lot of time working in coffee shops. And by ‘a lot’ of time, I mean at least four days a week. From small independent roasteries to big chain coffee brands, I use remote working to my advantage and enjoy the benefits of living in a city as a freelancer every single week.

Last week, on a particularly quiet Thursday, I was sitting in my local Starbucks and I’d just finished my coffee – but I wasn’t quite ready to stand up and head to the bar to ask for another one. So I sat, awkwardly typing to kill some time and staring blankly at my screen when one of the baristas came over to me with a card machine in hand and offered to take my order for my next drink right there at the table. The coffee shop wasn’t busy and there were only a handful of customers in-store, and the barista was able to get around to every table and get a good few new orders in the space of about five minutes. I didn’t have to get up, wait in a queue, hang around at the counter and leave my laptop unattended, and it was a sure-fire way to get me to order another product.

Easy, simple, and hugely effective; this method of customer service really impressed me, and I spent the rest of my afternoon thinking about it in terms of my own business and my own relationship with customers and clients. Is this how more freelancers should work – taking their services straight to the clients, rather than the other way around?

If so, what else is Starbucks doing that the ordinary freelancer could emulate in their own attitude to client outreach? How can we learn from this to improve on our freelancing skills?

Offer more services than your customer came in for

A lot of the time, the average freelance client has a rough idea of what they want. They’ve seen a competitor do something interesting or a friend has told them they need something, and so they approach the freelancer who comes up first in their Google search. They want the basics. The essentials.

They want the first drink they order at the Starbucks bar. They want to sit down with it, enjoy it, scroll on their phone and look at their laptop.

What you can do, once they’ve finished their drink and they’re awkwardly looking around, debating ordering another one, is offer them something else. You can ask them if they’ve considered any further marketing efforts, if they need any further branding help with other projects, and if you can help with any other area of their business. Present them with a menu, or ask if they’ll need a top of work in a few months’ time.

Remind them that your services don’t need to end when the first project is done. You have more skills to offer and there are always more things they can do to improve their business with you. But let it come from you, from a place of expert recommendation. Don’t wait for them to come up to the counter. Bring it to them.

Make things as easy and accessible as possible

One of the things I enjoyed the most about my unexpected barista visit to Starbucks was purely the ease and comfort of it. I was mid-way through the working day, my cup was empty, and I was in a glorious patch of sunshine with my laptop. Leaving my desk – although hardly an immensely difficult task – would have required detaching my headphones, detangling myself from the table, hiding my laptop under my coat, pausing my music, finding my payment card and standing in a queue for ten minutes, anxiously watching my laptop from across the shop.

There are steps required, choices to make, and timing to master. And for a busy client, with a business to run, staff to manage and an industry to topple, these steps can be the difference between a freelance hire and a missed opportunity.

Make your services and your skills as accessible as possible, for busy, overwhelmed business owners. Explain how you can help get things set up on your end, how you can manage different elements of the business without their input, and how you can run things on your own whilst still improving their life.

Show them examples of your process, and different clients you’ve helped through it. List your services in one email or in one contract, and explain that all they have to do is agree and sign and your work can begin.

Use the seasons to guide your work

Something Starbucks do particularly well is rotating their products according to the changing season. We’re all familiar with the iconic Pumpkin Spice Latte, the harbinger of the autumn months, and the much-loved Christmas drinks are also a popular choice – so perhaps it’s time to think about your Pumpkin Spice Service.

Take a look at the calendar of the industry you want to work in, or that you know your client relies on, and try to align your service recommendations to the changing months of the field. For example, if you know there’s a large industry exposition coming up that your client is likely to attend, then it’s time to target your expo-specific services toward the clients who might need them. Or if you know that Christmas is a busy time, then begin offering a seasonal specific service in October and November, to help keep your clients happy over their most hectic season.

Core, consistent branding is key

The Starbucks mermaid is one of the most memorable and iconic logos in the world. With global recognition, the branding of this huge coffee chain is one of the things that make them so successful and celebrated by coffee lovers everywhere. It’s time to develop a brand for yourself that has the potential to become as recognisable and identifiable in your field – whether you work in accounting, graphic design, marketing, make-up, etc…

A solid logo and a key colour palette that remains consistent across all of your marketing materials and products are going to be crucial for improving brand awareness and client outreach – particularly if they can simply identify you from a logo alone.

Your branding doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive to create, but for it to truly make an impact, it’s important to keep it cohesive across all of your different marketing platforms.

Create new products and shout about them

Marketing yourself is never an easy task. Breaking down everything you offer and promoting it to hundreds of strangers online is an experiment in egotism that many of us aren’t used to, and it can be a truly difficult thing to do.

But finding the confidence to put value to your products and your services, and celebrating them whenever you can is essential to growing your outreach online. Market your core services, market your resources, market your blog posts, your articles, your podcasts, your case studies and your testimonials.

Promote yourself and allow yourself to feel proud of your achievements. Your clients will feel your confidence and be more willing to place their trust in you, knowing you know your own skills.

Starbucks is a giant corporation, and adopting their model of marketing and customer service might seem ridiculous to a small, independent freelancer. But if it worked for them, why shouldn’t it work for you?

If you have any questions about developing a marketing strategy for your freelance business, then drop me a message at

Thanks for reading

Nikki McCaig

Nikki McCaig

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