Looking for ways to economize during the start-up phase of your business? Sharing space with another company just might be the answer. Before you get a business "roommate," however, think about the following concerns addressed by Susan Urbach, regional director of the Oklahoma Small Business Development Center in Oklahoma City:
- Be sure the two businesses are compatible. Consider such issues as the type of space you need and the image you want to project. For example, a public relations firm could easily share space with almost any other type of professional services company, but it might not be compatible with a manufacturing operation.
- Clarify your mutual responsibilities. Space-sharing usually involves more than just splitting the rent and the square footage-you also have to divide the responsibilities. For example, do you plan to share a receptionist or other personnel? How will you handle things like janitorial and maintenance services? Who should have keys? What's the best way to manage the financial end of the arrangement?
- Discuss time restrictions. Is your mutual access to the facilities restricted by any sort of schedule? If you're going to start a wholesale food-preparation business, for instance, you could share kitchen space with one of a variety of commercial operations, including restaurants, schools and even churches, but you may not be able to use the facility at the same time as the other organization.
- Plan to differentiate yourself. Whether you approach space-sharing as a short- or long-term option, maintain a separate identity, with such things as proper signage and your own telephone number-elements you can take with you if you move.
- Put it all in writing. A written agreement means you don't have to rely on your memory for the details; it also helps you resolve any issues before you actually move in together.
- Give yourself an out. Even the best arrangement won't last forever, so include an exit plan in your agreement. Work out how much notice you need to provide and how you'll divide up any jointly purchased equipment.