The task of finding office space for your startup may seem daunting, and one you're tempted to ignore until the last feasible moment (except for the fact that that's the worst possible thing you can do).
Deciding where to begin is a job in itself: Where do you start looking? What's a fair price for the neighborhood you want? Should you be calling the numbers on those buildings signs advertising commerical space to rent?
The list of considerations could stretch on and on -- but doesn't have to. If you're starting from square one, these five simple rules will clarify the commercial leasing process and, ultimately, guide you to a smarter decision for your startup.
1. Calculate how much space you need.
The question of "how much space do I need" has an objective answer. After all, you wouldn't want to pay for space you don't actually need or agree to space that you'll outgrow long before the lease term is up.
Your future office is priced by the square foot, so you need two pieces of information to work on the equation: How many employees do you have? And, how much space does each employee need? Hopefully, you know the answer to the first question and can find some helpful industry standards to answer the second one.
An average office dedicates 125 square feet per person. If that sounds like a lot, it's not. It's average (though if you need to be more economical with space, you can certainly downsize to 100 square feet).
At this juncture, you face a few decisions that will affect not only how you allocate office space but how you define your company's culture. Do you allocate the same amount of space to each employee, or do some need/deserve more space than others? That's a philosophical question as much as a logistical one. Do the senior members of your team really need private offices? Naturally, that will affect the calculation.
Furthermore, your future office needs to house future employees. With most commercial spaces running on multi-year leases, you may not be able to forecast headcount precisely; and that's okay. But, as a general rule, you should accommodate future employees with something in the vicinity of 10 percent to 20 percent more space than the current workforce needs.
No need to work out these figures in your head, though. There are basic tools like space calculators that can help.
2. Start looking for that office space early.
At minimum, six months before your current lease's expiration or your anticipated move date is the time to start the process of finding a new space. If you're not operating on a particular timetable, than the minute that you: a) start thinking about finding office space, and b) can afford it, is the ideal time to start browsing and doing some research. Leasing an office space is a major decision. You don't want to feel rushed into making one you'll potentially regret later.
3. Work with a broker.
Technically, you could arrange to lease an office space yourself, but it's not the recommended course of action. The process of actually finding and visiting spaces that suit your needs can be time-consuming and cumbersome, like searching for an apartment but more complex. And if you're fortunate enough to find the ideal space this way, you will still want someone who can negotiate the best possible deal on your behalf.
Enter brokers. They curate listings for you based on your criteria and facilitate all aspects of the leasing process. One caveat to be aware of, however: In the traditional model, brokers represent building owners and landlords, not tenants. Their job is to negotiate the best deal for their client. Not you.
Tenant brokers, on the other hand, are an appealing option; just be wary of those who limit your visibility into the market and/or try to simply close quickly on a deal. That is not necessarily the best deal for you. A salary-based tenant broker, in that case, is worth investigating.
4. Bring a checklist on tours.
One of the biggest challenges in touring multiple office spaces is keeping track of all the property details and making sure you have the most accurate information on each listing. For example, does the price on the listing reflect the price for all "rent-able" space (which includes common building areas like lobbies, elevators, restrooms and hallways), or just the usable space your office will occupy? How are utilities priced?
If there's an issue with the space, is the property manager on-site or 90 minutes away? What's the building's infestation history? There are literally dozens of site features or factors you'll want to cover when you visit a site. But, crucially, you'll want a convenient way to remember them. It's worth bringing a checklist -- as detailed as you want to make it -- to each site to make sure you have all the bases covered. And of course, your broker can help you manage all these details as well.
5. Talk to peers who have done it before.
If you've never leased office space before, consulting peers who have undertaken the process is highly recommended. Articles like this one are no substitute for hearing firsthand accounts from people you trust and respect, about the highs and lows of the task. Your network can not only make recommendations on which neighborhoods or brokers to consider -- it can yield practical insights on what to expect at each stage of the leasing process.
And, though it is a process, it's one that should be immensely rewarding in the end.