One of the most beneficial resources available to entrepreneurs these days is co-working spaces.
A co-work space is a shared work environment where people meet, work, network, share ideas and collaborate on projects. These spaces are typically independent of a single office or business and instead bring together entrepreneurs and business professionals from many different industries, businesses and areas of expertise. They are great for independent contractors or people who travel frequently, or just anyone interested in finding creative and contemporary places to work.
Consider starting a co-work space yourself.
Fundamentally, you really only need a space and a group of people with a shared interest to get started. Making it into a proper space and even a business, however, is a little more complicated. Here are few tips to consider and get you started toward creating an effective and awesome co-work space.
1. Focus on community, then space.
Do your research and be certain that you have the demand for a co-work space. Do not assume that “if you build it, they will come,” as the idea of co-working is new to many people, and a few will need to be sold on the benefits. Consider hosting a few events to gauge and drum up interest. Create a group on MeetUp or Facebook, and invite as many colleagues and friends to join.
Keep in mind that even if you do not have significant demand for a co-work space, you should still pursue the idea on a smaller scale. Sometimes, it just requires finding a convenient place to meet a few times per month. Starting small and growing into something more impactful is never a bad idea.
2. Focus on function, then business.
Co-work places around the country are widely known for being very contemporary, stylish and even artisan, which together create wildly creative and energetic environments. This comes at a cost, so you need to consider what to charge for participation in your space.
Of course, you will need to understand the investment and ongoing expenses before coming up with a budget, but be honest with yourself up front: Is this a profit center or an inspiration center? Many co-work spaces are operated simply to break even, with the idea that the environment and the benefits of bringing so many incredible resources together are all the benefit needed.
3. Focus on location, location, location.
You will want a space that is convenient, safe and easy to find. By nature, co-work spaces work well in older and underutilized buildings. Look for space that has been vacant for a while or is not being used to capacity. You may be able to work a good deal with the landlord or property manager to secure an inexpensive lease.
4. Focus on utilities, then furniture.
Having a comfortable and creative environment in which to work is important, but more important is providing the right utilities, specifically high-speed Internet, to your users. Work with the utility companies, as many may have special arrangements for spaces that are intended to serve the community. Regarding furniture, if you are on a budget, consider taking donated items and even allowing your participants to add decorations.
5. Focus on local, then beyond.
Even if your co-work space is not a profit center for you, you still need to market it like a business. Creating the right marketing strategy that attracts the right type of people is important. Do not limit yourself to advertising locally, as many traveling business men and women look to co-working spaces in destination cities to have a place to work and network with other professionals.
6. Get local help.
Contact your state and local chambers of commerce to inquire about help or resources they may be able to provide. Many cities also have small-business development centers (SBDCs) or economic development corporations (EDCs) whose primary goal is to provide assistance and create economic opportunities for businesses. In every case, ask about available grants that could help you fund startup and ongoing costs.
7. Consult veteran founders.
If you are still unsure how to proceed, consider contacting other co-working spaces in other cities that serve a similar target market and ask for advice. It is all about collaboration, so most will be willing to help. You can also find a host of information online, including the Co-work Wiki, which provides a slew of useful information and resources to help you along.
I have been utilizing a co-work space in my town called Startup.SC. It started as a modest co-working space in a former bank branch just a couple of years ago to a large, well-managed space and business incubator. As the popularity of the space has grown so too did the variety of professionals who visit and work. I have seen firsthand how partnerships and friendships blossomed in the space and eventually led to great companies and business opportunities.
You do not need to take my word for it. Clearly, the growing number of co-work spaces across the country provides good evidence of the popularity and effectiveness of collaborative spaces. They provide resources and inspiration, and if nothing else new scenery to get you away from the daily grind, monotony and distractions of your office.
Editor's Note: Entrepreneur Media is an investor in and partner with AlleyNYC, a co-working space in New York City.