Not so long ago I was really lucky to get acquainted with an incredible person, Michelle Y. Talbert, the founder and Chief Visionary Officer at Her Power Space, Florida. I surely couldn’t miss my chance to ask Michelle about the unique business model and main drivers of her project. Now, let me share her insightful answers with you!
Helga: How did you come up with the idea of launching a coworking business?
Michelle: For a number of years I’d host ‘pop-up’ gatherings of the women around the country who were in our Her Power Moves community. We’d meet at coffee shops and restaurants in cities and towns where I’d be speaking at conferences. In 2018, I launched the first local chapter of Her Power Moves in Broward County and every month hosted events at women-owned brick & mortar boutiques, restaurants, spas. After a while I knew we not only needed a dedicated space for our events, but that we didn’t have any place like Her Power Space in the county for other business organizations to host their meetings and events! So, when you can’t find it, you build it! :)
Helga: What impacted the choice of your target audience?
Michelle: The women who I serve are primarily Black women (from around the globe) who have full-time careers but also have side hustles (some they want to make full-time and others they want for retirement income and others enjoy monetizing a passion or hobby).
In 2011 I was a corporate attorney practicing law at a multinational firm in DC and I co-authored a book that we self published. I didn’t know anything about marketing so I hit Twitter heavily and we were contacted by the editors of EBONY® magazine who featured us and then invitations to speak around the country and other opportunities followed.
As the years progressed, I left law and leveraged writing and podcasting which gave me access to folks like Mark Cuban, Jeff Bezos and I was invited to President Obama’s White House as a ‘social media maven’. I shared my activities on social media and my inbox would be full of women followers and online connections (who became my avatar/target audience) who had many questions about what I was doing and how they may do it too.
The Her Power Hustle podcast was born in 2015 to answer those questions on a wider platform than one off answers in my DMs. And, that same year I formalized Her Power Moves, the community. Her Power Space followed in 2020. The whole time, my community, my target audience, has shown me what they need in terms of resources and connections and the pain points they have.
I’ve listened and provided the resources for them to succeed. Now in addition to my own journey, I bring in experts and most importantly connect them to other amazing women in the community! I guess we chose each other!
Helga: Why is Her Power Space not a female-only but men-welcoming also?
Michelle: Her Power Space was launched as a hub for microbusiness owners, solopreneurs and side hustlers. There was no way that I would restrict access to men who fit that category, because, frankly, they didn’t have a local option to fit their needs like what we offer either. Our very first client, who is still here, is a man!
That said, the men in our community understand that while our space is men-welcoming, we do host events that are strictly for women. And guess what? We’ve had guys use the Space to host men-centered events as well! #weallwin
Helga: How do you build community at Her Power Space?
Michelle: Community at the Space is built both organically and through formal events that I call #unnetworking. Unless someone is on the phone or otherwise looks busy we introduce visitors and members to each other even if they’re just stopping by to pick up their mail. Our community always says that Her Power Space is where the magic happens. It’s both conscious and just the ethos of us all. We connect, collaborate and create cashflow, unapologetically.
Helga: Do you have "face control" for members? (I mean if you see that a person can hardly become a good addition to your community, what would you do?)
Michelle: I really love this question because while we attract an amazing array of ethical entrepreneurs who are generous of spirit, because our #weallwin ethos is so strong that we actually repel people who are not a good fit. I can count on one hand the number of times that I’ve had to either remove someone from the group or to have a private conversation with them about spamming, unsolicited offers that felt icky, etc. And our community members know that they can come to me with anything and that it will be addressed. That is the only way we can create and nurture a community that is a safe space. If anyone feels unsafe then I have failed. And in the words of JAY-Z, “I will not lose!”
Helga: What events do you host? What are your members' favorite events? Do those events help you grow your revenue?
Michelle: We have a book club, we host game and movie nights and watch parties. We’ve done virtual and in-person. We charge for some events and others are gratis (I see those as marketing investments).
We also open many of our events to the public to participate and get to know one another and learn more about the Space. I’ve even hosted open houses for our neighbors in the office park, and partnered with women in our community who own a nearby pizza shop and a local italian ice business.
Our most profitable events are pop-up shops, where local small business owners and community members host tables (in the space and online) as vendors and we market them to the public, who visit their booths, shop and connect. Movie nights and pop-up shops are community faves!
Helga: How do you keep your community together during lockdowns?
Michelle: Fortunately having used social media heavily since 2011 has had its benefits for my personal brand and vast reach of my online and in person network. When the PPP ran out of money I reached out to a group of folks and within 2 weeks we had a six-hour No Small Business Left Behind ® Summit with programming on everything from crowdfunding your own PPP to mental wellness sessions. The agility to connect with people online enabled us to not only share our story but our community members’ stories. That helped us all feel connected.
Helga: You are focused on building community, which takes a lot of time. How do you cope with routine management tasks? Do you automate them?
Michelle: Systems and automation are key. Honestly, I’m still navigating both of these areas. Those parts of business, outside of my years of email marketing and social media automation, are new for me. We have an amazing systems and operations consultant in our community and she worked with me to create the structures and spreadsheets to build our Standard Operating Procedures and Key Performance Indicators. Similarly, our accountant is so knowledgeable and she has helped me track and understand our numbers easily. I find that platforms for coworking space owners and managers are very important to our tracking (like customer relationship management) and growth, as well. Again, I’m definitely learning as I go, but systems is the word of the day! Automation is getting there.
Helga: What is the secret of Her Power Space growth?
Michelle: Our community members play an important role in not just our growth, but sustaining us through 2020. I mentioned above how my roots are in ecommerce and social media and online marketing, so having such strong online relationships and communities has been a true blessing.
They say that the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago and the second best time is today. I’ve been building and nurturing my online community for almost a decade, so the seeds of our relationship have sprouted and grown.
Our community refers us, shares our links, tells folks about our services and their own positive experiences with us. Community members in the Caribbean and Europe tell their friends and colleagues about us and to visit us when they travel and need a place to work in South Florida!
Sometimes I don’t even get an alert and happen to scroll by to see that someone has recommended us to someone in search of business mail or an event venue or podcast studio. Our community is vested in our success and for that I am ever grateful.
Helga: What would you recommend coworking operators that only start their way?
Michelle: If someone is considering starting a coworking space I say ‘find your tribe.’ My tribe consists of our members but also other coworking space owners around the country.
I host a ‘Sisters of Coworking’ community of Black women space owners and operators and we meet monthly to share best practices and our challenges.
I suggest that people also trust their gut. Every “expert” I spoke with before we opened said our business model of pay-as-you-go and not requiring commitments was not sustainable.
That business model helped us survive because our community could afford to pay monthly or hourly but couldn’t take on hundreds of dollars of overhead commitment, especially when we had lockdowns.
So, I tell people to trust the vision they’ve received. Get great information but remember that at the end of the day it’s your business and just because something hasn’t been done before doesn’t mean that you can’t be the first. Now, even the GSA-the General Services Administration has set aside about $50 million USD for small, pay as you go coworking space use by the U.S. Federal Government workers! Trust yourself!