Coworking spaces actually didn’t start as a business idea. The first coworking spaces came about organically when freelancers and solopreneurs missed the collaboration and community of working with a team.
In 2005, Brad Neuberg realized he could capitalize on the idea, and the San Francisco Coworking Space— the first “for profit” coworking space— was born.
Since then, coworking offices have exploded, and there are certainly many that are completely profit-driven. But the best co-working spaces still keep those original values at their core: collaboration, creativity, and community.
Whether you’re starting a coworking space as a business or a passion project, here are 5 things to consider as you get started:
1. Define Your Motivation
There’s certainly money to be made in coworking spaces. But not all coworking spaces exist as a business. Some are still operating on a break-even model and exist solely to help create a community for creative, like-minded individuals.
Even if you are hoping to make money with your coworking space, you should ask yourself if you care about these things too. Coworking spaces that feel industrial and cookie-cutter aren’t likely to attract members.
If you don’t have a genuine interest in helping freelancers and small business owners come together, find community, and work in a place that feels like home, then you probably shouldn’t start a coworking space.
2. Gauge the Clientele of Your Area
Obviously, you can’t have a coworking space without workers. More people are working remotely than ever before. Coworking spaces exist in practically every major city and are cropping up in mid-size towns now as well.
But none of this guarantees that a coworking space is right for your particular location.
The demographics of coworking members have shifted in the last few years, with the average age hovering around 36 at the time of this survey. 41% of members are freelancers, with the rest being made up by small business owners and their employees.
If you live in a small city that has a relatively older population with very few freelancers and startups, you may want to start your coworking space somewhere else. Websites like datausa.io will give you information on the demographics of your city and what industries and employment models are most prevalent there.
Even if you live in a major city with plenty of startups and solopreneurs, you should still find out how many coworking spaces already exist and whether the market is already saturated.
3. Determine if You’ll Offer Private Office Space
Sixteen percent of coworking member are employers, and an additional 36% are employees. This means that if you only focus on marketing to freelancers, you’re missing out on a huge market.
Typically, business are looking for private offices within your coworking space. So if you’re planning to run your coworking space for profit, it’s a good idea to reserve room for private offices and office suites. Sure, this may seem counterproductive to the idea of “coworking,” but both business owners and coworking space owners have a lot to gain from working together.
Businesses benefit from lower overhead and more flexible contracts. Coworking spaces typically attract businesses that are ready for office space but want an environment with more character and less cost than traditional offices.
Coworking spaces benefit by gaining more consistent, higher-paying clients. Small business are more likely to stay for longer terms than freelancers, and, of course, private office memberships will cost more than access to bullpen-style work areas.
And even though they won’t be in the shared working areas, these business can still add to the community of your space. Networking events and strategic common areas (free coffee anyone?) will ensure that even the private office members still interact and build relationship with the rest of your coworking community.
4. Craft a Personality for Your Coworking Space
Coworking spaces are known for offering unique, creativity-inducing atmospheres. No, this doesn’t mean that you need to install slides and trampolines like the flashy spaces in Silicon Valley.
But it does mean that everything from your branding to your decor should be original and intentional. When you’re at a loss for ideas, consider theming your space around your city itself. What makes it unique? What are the people like? What do people love about living there?
Michael Haapaniemi of the Ranch Office in Houston, for example, has found success with a rustic atmosphere that celebrates The Ranch’s Texas roots. “Houston just isn’t the kind of place where people want to ride scooters through the hallways like in some of the New York and Silicon Valley spaces. From the beginning, we wanted The Ranch to be a cultural fit for our members. At the end of the day, it’s about creating environments that make your members feel at home and help them be productive.”
However you choose to theme your space, focus on differentiating yourself from your competitors and creating an environment that’s as inspiring as it is functional.
5. Look for a Mentor
There’s no teacher like experience, but you can avoid some major headaches and heartbreaks by consulting with people who have successfully started their own coworking space.
You’ll likely want to look in for help in other cities as those in your own area might not want to help out the competition. Coworking spaces are built on the idea of community and collaboration, so many owners will probably be willing to help if you’re serious about this.
Of course, you should be respectful of their time— don’t expect them to hold your hand through the entire process unless you’re paying consulting fees. But when you’re hitting a brick wall getting started, advice from someone who’s been there is invaluable.
If you have a real desire to create a collaborative and dynamic community of business owners, freelancers, and entrepreneurs, you’re already well on your way to starting a thriving coworking space. These five tips will help you refine the mission of your space and beginning the planning process, making your vision a reality that much sooner.