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What to Look For in a Co-Working Space

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You’ve got the concept and a business plan; now you just need a place to take your ideas from pipe dream to profit. But the tiny desk wedged between your bed and closet isn’t cutting it, and the local coffee shop never has good Wi-Fi.

What’s a budding entrepreneur to do?

Lucky for you, you’re not the only innovator with this problem. As the free-agent economy grows, co-working spaces are popping up across the country, from Denver to Pittsburgh to Chicago. Apart from the obvious cost benefits — who knew a copier can run almost $5,000? — shared workspaces offer a collaborative work environment and sense of community that’s difficult to achieve in a home office.

Best of all, co-working spaces give entrepreneurs, freelancers and start-ups a dedicated workspace, which is crucial to being productive and innovative. “Business is 10 percent coming up with the idea and 90 percent execution,” said Philippe Chetrit, CEO of Affinity Lab, a Washington, D.C.-based shared workspace. “That 10 percent maybe you could do alone in your bedroom, but executing alone is almost impossible. Business is a social game – it’s who you know and the resources you have.”

Co-working spaces come in all shapes and sizes, and they’re not cheap, so it’s important to do your research before committing.

Here’s what you should consider when investigating a co-working space for your business needs:

The nuts and bolts. No one gets into business to run an office; most of us want to provide a service or product, or somehow change the world. The primary benefit of co-working spaces is that they allow entrepreneurs to focus on their work instead of unrelated administrative tasks.

While it’s true most co-working spaces will have the basics — internet connectivity, desks and phones — the space you choose should have the right tools for your business. For example, if you need to host client meetings, make sure the co-working space has conferences rooms.

Also research the co-working space’s staffing. “Some spaces are much more laissez-faire when it comes to issues like if the phone lines go out, [and] some have managed infrastructure,” Chetrit said. “That’s where a lot of the price variation will be.”

Lease terms. Some co-working spaces charge by the day — called hot-desking —  while others require longer-term commitments. If you crave a sense of community, a co-working space that primarily hosts day-to-day members might not be a good fit for you. On the other hand, if you travel a lot for your business, a monthly contract may not be right, either.

Spaces often offer membership levels that allow you to right-size your business needs to your budget. For instance, Affinity Lab offers three membership tiers ranging from $325 to $895 per month, depending on how often you need to use the shared space, how much workspace you need and the amenities your business requires.

Environment and culture. While saying goodbye to corporate culture and branching out on your own can be liberating, it can also be isolating and lonely.

“One of the hardest things about starting a business, especially in the last 10 years, is that everyone can just grab a laptop… you don’t need to invest $5 million in a factory,” Chetrit said. “It’s really lonely and it’s really tough to do it by yourself, [but] when you take 60 people who are all starting their own business and are at different stages of the cycle and put them in a room together, the most amazing things happen.”

Don’t get too fixated on the bells and whistles though, Phillipe cautions. What’s most important is the environment. Does it inspire you? Could you see yourself working alongside the other members? Would you go to coffee or lunch with them if you needed a break from your laptop?

“Every office is going to have the office tools, and you can boil down to what kind of copier they have, but in the end that’s much less important,” Chetrit said. “What’s more important is what kind of culture they have and finding one that fits for you.”

Take it for a test drive. Before settling on a co-working space, see if you can first spend a day working at each of your options. Talk to your potential officemates to determine whether their personalities are a good fit.

While there are many benefits to shared workspaces, the immediate access to resources is a huge advantage to overstretched entrepreneurs. “You’ve got maybe 60 other businesses to collaborate with, you’ve got all these resources in the room with you and everybody has become your friend,” Chetrit said. “It’s become this really efficient and effective way to start your business.”

What else would you look for in a co-working space?

Meg Handley is a writer and online journalist who covers a wide range of money and business topics including economics, investing, and real estate. She lives in Washington, D.C. and tweets as @mmhandley.

Brazen powers real-time, online events for leading organizations around the world. Our lifestyle and career blog, Brazen Life, offers fun and edgy ideas for ambitious professionals navigating the changing world of work.

  • Anonymous

    “Coworking” is a hot term right now, but flexible workspaces have been around for over a decade. (Disclosure: I work for an Inc. 5000 company that has multiple flexible workspace locations… in addition to my side hustles, true Brazen style!)
    Some tips I would also add on to this list:
    - Security: Many shared space facilities don’t have dedicated desk or office options, thus causing a problem if you want to keep equipment, files, etc. there.
    - Address: A big advantage of some facilities is the ability to receive mail at the building address. Seeing as most states require business licenses to have an address that isn’t a PO Box, you could potentially use a facility for your mail instead of including your home address if desired. You can also send and have packages received at many facilities – great for when you’re on the road and can’t sign for a package.
    - Meeting Rooms: Many facilities offer professional meeting rooms by the hour, half day, or full day. This is a great option if you need that professional appearance for a big meeting, but don’t want the commitment of a longer-term deal.
    - Reception services: I realize not everyone needs a receptionist or someone to greet your guests or have them wait in a lobby for you. This seems like a luxury that many solopreneurs or start-ups don’t need, but in some cases, it’s included with your services – even if you are just using a meeting room for a day. If you work in an industry where image is everything, it’s a nice thing to have, even if it’s not a necessity.
    - Telephone service: We are all mobile today – totally get that. We have cell phones that have Google Voice on them and we can receive calls on multiple numbers. Hopefully success brings lots of calls coming in, and multiple people working for your company. Having a separate phone number and a receptionist who handles, screens, and then patches your calls to wherever you specify is a convenience that many business centers include with their services as well.

    In the end, you need to work in a place where you’re most productive, can have a sense of community, is convenient to your house, and projects the image that you need to take your business to the next level. Whatever that place is to you – it’s out there somewhere!

  • http://www.StartMyConsultingBusiness.com Greg Miliates

    Having a space where you can be excited and motivated to work is key.

    Being self-employed for nearly 5 years, and having worked out of my home for most of that time, I’d say that having a space outside the home where you can focus (I have 2 kids, so working from home after they’re home from school is next to impossible), and where you feel motivated is hugely important.

    Early this year, I decided to lease a small office which includes free high-speed internet, and I’ve been very happy with it. However, it took me a while to find a suitable space. A lot of offices I saw were either expensive, dated and depressing (and expensive!), or too loud.

    For my particular business–software & database consulting–I don’t need a receptionist, copier, or other amenities of a traditional office, but I do need a quiet place where I can have conference calls. I’ve tried making phone calls in coffee shops, and found that the ambient noise is too distracting, and I was concerned about the background noise and music making me appear unprofessional. So, I got my own office.

    The office works well, but it is lacking in social interaction. If you’re more of an extrovert–but can still get your work done–then a coworking space may fit the bill.

    One last point: if you’re starting a business, don’t assume that you need all the amenities of a traditional office. I use Skype and/or Google Voice for all my calls, use GoToMeeting for conference calls/demos/presentations/remote troubleshooting, use EchoSign for e-signing documents, don’t use faxing (or if I absolutely needed to, could use a service like MyFax), and use my mobile phone for scanning documents and converting them to pdf for e-mail. All these services are cheap or free, so don’t burn through your cash paying for stuff you can do without (like a landline) and can get for cheap with even more benefits.

    Wherever you decide to work, there are plenty of free and/or low-cost tools to help you start & run your business for far less than possible even a few years ago; I have a whole page of recommended free/low-cost tools & resources on my blog: http://startmyconsultingbusiness.com/tools-resources/

    Greg Miliates
    http://www.StartMyConsultingBusiness.com

  • http://www.facebook.com/gendeg Genevieve DeGuzman

    Coworking is NOT simply renting a shared office or executive suite. Watch out for rental companies that want to capitalize on the trend by associating themselves with the coworking movement. While these shared offices have more flexibility in terms of length of lease, rental space, and services offered than regular offices– they often end up feeling like cubicle drones. Not exactly an exciting place to work.

    For me and my team, the downsides of the shared office/executive suite included:

    * Not too much interaction. As with traditional office buildings where employees from different companies don’t interact much with each other, the executive suite doesn’t provide too many opportunities for camaraderie and collaboration.

    * May be pricey. Depending on your location and amenities available, rates can start at about $149 and above per day.

    * Impersonal. The décor is usually generic, and you can’t redecorate. There’s not much you can do for your own company branding either.

    If you’re a freelancer, startup, or small business or organization looking to move into a shared, collaborative workspace, try checking out a coworking space near you! Coworking spaces attempt to capture the best of different workspaces— the flexibility of a home office, vibe and energy of a café, and facilities of a traditional or serviced office— and bring them together with an emphasis on collaboration.

    With a coworking space, you get all the pluses of a shared office or executive suite without the downsides.

    One concern that businesses have with joining a coworking space is that the open layout doesn’t leave room for much privacy. But we found that many coworking spaces now offer private offices, too, along with the usual open desks. So you get your privacy and independence in an environment that promotes collaboration and networking between companies and individuals.

    To read up more about coworking, check out Deskmag’s ‘Five Must-Read Books About Coworking’ (http://www.deskmag.com/en/five-must-read-books-about-coworking-161), The wiki.coworking.info page has great resources, too.

    Genevieve
    co-author, “Working in the UnOffice” http://bit.ly/rxI8TI

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