How to Start a Coworking Space: Experts' Advice to Avoid Costly Mistakes
Are you looking for a way to start a coworking space? There are thousands of flexible workspaces all over the world. Lots of new hubs are popping up all the time.
If you would like to build a successful coworking space, you have to meet the expectations of those who are going to use it. These expectations are only going to go up in the future, so you need to do everything you can to deliver a positive coworking experience. This will set your business up for success in the future.
- What Is Your Target Market?
- Where Is Your Coworking Space Going To Go?
- What Is the Interior Layout of the Coworking Space Going To Be?
- How Can You Foster a Sense of Community?
- Will You Host Events In Your Coworking Space?
- How Will You Get Paid?
- What Amenities Do You Want To Offer?
- How to Make Your Start Free from Missteps: Tips from Business Experts
What do you need to do to start a coworking space? There are several important steps you should keep in mind. They are featured right down below.
Besides, we made brief market research and asked 100+ industry experts, business owners, and marketing managers to share the experiences of their epic fails along with advice for startups to avoid those pitfalls. So, make sure to read the article from start to finish ;-).
First, you need to figure out what your target market is going to be.
Of course, in a perfect world, everyone would be interested in using your coworking space. On the other hand, if you try to target everyone, you are simultaneously going to target nobody. If you try to fit into every category, you will have a hard time keeping your marketing message consistent.
WorkSuites is a Coworking and Executive Suites company in Dallas, TX that has been in business for 20 years. We have 19 locations in many different markets throughout Texas and each market we enter is a new and challenging endeavor.
We have found that you can’t be everything to everyone so find your niche, stick to it, and do it well.
Many coworking start-ups fail when they try to specialize in and offer too many amenities and services. For example, offering child care services for women-owned businesses, providing rentable bicycles for fitness-focused companies, and offering daily free happy hour to attract a younger clientele.
You can’t be fiscally responsible, efficient, and effective at everything.
Also, your clients are your best marketing tool so make sure you offer and promote client referral bonuses. Let them do some of the leg work helping you fill up your space by spread the word about how great you are. It’s easy and almost free advertising for you.
~ Tosha Bontrager, Sr. Director, Brand & Products at www.worksuites.com
Therefore, who do you want to use your coworking space? What do you know about your target market? A few factors you should consider include:
- What age is the audience you are going to target?
- What is the experience level of the people you are trying to target?
- What type of culture and values does your target market have?
- Is there a specific industry you are targeting?
Is it meant for individuals? Students? Individual corporate professionals? Tutors? Asking the question of who your target customer base would be is a great start to figuring out what you need as a whole.
Location is key. Loft spaces have that ideal corporate feel but also have the spatial environment that anyone will enjoy working in. On top of this, lofts are also ideally inexpensive to maintain, especially if you're looking to use it for business purposes.
~ Zach Reece, the COO of Colony Roofers
If you think about these factors ahead of time, you will have an easier time building a website, developing a logo, and figuring out where you are going to put your coworking space. All of this is important for helping you define your brand.
In real estate, there's a saying that the three most important factors are location, location, and location. Of course, it is one of the most important factors if you are trying to set up a strong coworking space.
I recently started a coworking space, but it was not an experience because I made one mistake. And the mistake was not to choose the right location. I believe that your location for the coworking space matters a lot, and it defines your success.
You should try to choose the prime location for your coworking space because many potential customers won’t choose the venue if it takes a lot more time to reach. Your coworking space in a vibrant city district attracts youngsters of different professions. Keep in mind the availability of restaurants, gyms, parking nearby your coworking space.
~ CJ Xia, VP of Marketing & Sales at Boster Biological Technology
After you have identified who is going to use your coworking space, you should have some idea of where you are going to place that coworking space.
For example, does your flexible workspace need to be in a quieter location? Or, do you want your coworking center to be located in the middle of the business district where young professionals can find it easily?
Regardless of the direction you go, your space has to be suitable for the needs, working style, and convenience of your target market. A few factors you should consider include:
- How expensive is the location going to be?
- What is the competition going to be like in that specific location?
- Is there easy access to food and beverages in your location?
- Is there public transportation that makes your workspace accessible?
You have to make sure there is enough demand for your coworking space after it has been set up.
There is a saying that there is never a second chance to make a first impression. An important part of this first impression is going to be what people see when they enter your coworking space for the first time.
This includes the colors of your walls, the presence of furniture, and the cleanliness of your work hub. Within a few seconds, most people are going to make up their minds about whether they're going to stay there.
I would recommend that those who are wanting to start a flexible coworking workspace start with the layout to avoid any pitfalls. The space layout will need to be able to accommodate all user physical needs and requirements and be close enough to all necessary amenities.
A space that is open and airy can also help coworkers’ well-being as anything that is dark and cramped can feel bleak and unwelcoming. Try adding green zones to help freshen the air and help people relax. Space can change an individual's mood so be sure that the space is warm and bright with access to all areas if and when they are required.
~ Alex Magnin, CEO and Founder of alexmagnin.com
You have to make sure the interior layout of your coworking space is a reflection of the core values of your target market. If you can match their desires, you will have optimized your coworking space to meet their specific requirements.
Furthermore, keep in mind that the layout of a coworking space can also have a significant influence on the mood, attitude, and feelings of the people who are present.
If you foster collaboration and conversation, the people who use your workspace will get more out of the time they spend there. This can go a long way toward helping you grow your coworking space.
The biggest difference is that a coworking space fosters a sense of community. There's a lot more to your coworking space than simply throwing a few desks and chairs together.
The power of your branding is going to attract people to your coworking space initially; however, you need to focus just as much on retention as you do on acquisition. If you want people to come back, you need to foster a strong sense of community.
There are several ways you can do that. These include:
- Try to develop a few photo boards that feature regulars in your coworking space. That way, people will know that there are others who enjoy spending time there.
- Think about publishing an email newsletter that updates people on new things that may be happening with the co-working space.
- Consider providing special offers to certain members. You may want to share these on social media.
- Find ways to provide remote working tools. Even providing advice on how people can get more out of the remote working tools they are using can go a long way.
If you can put a few of these ideas into practice, you can foster a sense of community in your coworking space.
Of course, you want to make sure there are plenty of opportunities for people to get work done in your coworking space.
On the other hand, you may want to consider holding educational classes and special events in your coworking location as well.
Poorly managed events may cause problems in coworking environments. Events hosted in a coworking space should, as a result, be considerate of the other visitors as well as the small space available. When members of the coworking space are struggling to get things done or don't have access to the building because of the gathering, they may find activities to be inconvenient.
One of the easiest options is to minimize the number of activities held and to hold them on days where the number of people employed in the room is usually the lowest. This encourages coworking space operators to close the space to participants for a limited time without causing them any inconvenience. The few participants who would normally attend at that time won't mind giving up that time once or twice a month.
~ Daniel Foley, SEO Manager at Litta
For example, you may want to dedicate a certain area to these events. That way, people can come, listen to the events, and learn more about their industry. Then, those who want to continue to get work done can work in another area of the workspace.
If you host special events regularly, you can expand your target market. Then, people who come to the special event may want to come back to the coworking space later. Of course, holding educational events can also help you generate a second income stream.
You may want to consider letting people who are members of your coworking space attend these special events for free.
Remember that you want to make it easy for people to mingle after the event has finished. This is an important part of fostering a strong sense of community. If you show your members that you want to provide educational opportunities for them as well, you will increase their sense of loyalty.
If you want to keep the lights on in your coworking space, you have to make sure you get paid. How are you going to do this? You need to make this as easy as possible.
Remember that many people do not want to deal with manual payments, paperwork, and cash today. If you can make payment touchless, this is even better. Even though not every technology is ready to be applied to coworking spaces, you should explore every opportunity available.
First, you have to make it easy for people to register. If it is possible to book a room in the coworking space online, that is even better. Then, make sure you take advantage of software that can automate the belly process. Even if you can automatically generate invoices for your members, you can make it easier for people to pay you.
Finally, think about what payment methods you want to accept. Remember that a lot of people and start up businesses like to pay with personal credit cards or startup business credit cards because of the rewards they provide.
On the other hand, you should also think about accepting Apple pay, Google pay, and PayPal the more payment method you accept, the easier it will be for you to get paid. This will help you keep the lights on.
Finally, you have to think carefully about what amenities you are going to offer. Everyone who comes to your workspace expects you to provide a minimum set of amenities. Otherwise, you are simply going to lose them to the competition.
Of course, you have to provide wireless internet access, chairs, desks, printers, copiers, scanners, and basic kitchen facilities. You should also provide easy access to lockers, bathrooms, and showers.
Depending on the market you are targeting, there may be other amenities you want to provide.
We started 10 years ago, I suppose it was quite different back then... We have been open to everybody since the start and let the community evolve and form. Weserland has changed many times since the beginning. So maybe that is the only thing I can recommend: stay open and awake for a change. Anticipate and feel the flow of changes in community; embrace, foster, and adapt to changes in the "art of getting shit done."
~ Felix Hofmann, Weserland
If you go the extra mile and provide a lounge area, toys, and even video games, you may be able to attract even more people to your coworking space. Take a look at what your target market expects. Use this to help you guide your amenities.
These are a few of the most important steps you have to follow if you want to set up a successful coworking space. Remember that flexible workspaces come in many shapes and forms.
Depending on the specific market you are targeting, your coworking space is going to look different. Remember to collect feedback from people who come to your space as well. If you show your members that you value their opinion, they are going to be more invested in your space. This will keep them coming back in the future.
We run a hybrid model of remote and on-site teams. As such, we don’t always need a fixed office space. To save costs, we decided to purchase a small office and turn it into a coworking hub. Here is a major mistake we made and lessons learned.
1. Not enough vetting:
We didn't thoroughly screen our first “tenants” initially. We ended up allowing two troublemakers into our shared space. They ran a small firm together and were charming at the beginning, willing to abide by our rules, and paid their share of the rent in full. We were happy to have found such good people. They showed their true colors later though. They slowly became rude, loud, and hogged all the shared office supplies. A colleague caught one of them trying to steal our premium coffee maker. We found out that both were infamous for running small cons and moved from place to place because of legal troubles. It was a big headache for us to lawfully eject them. There was a lot of bad blood involved and steep legal fees.
2. Negotiate in advance for using the venue for meetings, or events.
This is another common issue we faced. Sometimes our coworking tenants didn't communicate with us fully before they arranged the space as a venue for a lecture, and if it happened when we were rushing for a project and needed to work late hours, it could be disastrous.
~ Miranda Yan, Co-Founder of VinPit
To make sure that your coworking area stands out from the competition, don't do these mistakes I made when starting a coworking space:
The location of your coworking space can be an obvious element of your success. Before you sign a lease contract, make sure you take into consideration how much traffic the area receives, how many corporates and other businesses are in the area, and how people can get there.
Yes, wifi is the most essential tech consideration, but for your coworking space to be perfect, you need to think beyond that. When thinking about your technology needs, make sure you also think about your meeting room requirements: AV setup, screens, speakers, connectivity, etc.
Promoting or marketing your coworking space goes beyond posting on social media and having a website. Your strategy should always be your preference; if you feel like you don’t have the required time to tackle writing articles or blogs, posting on social media, or creating email campaigns. You must hire someone who can do that.
~ Caroline Lee Co-Founder at CocoSign
One mistake to avoid when starting a coworking space is being technologically unprepared.
A coworking space is a place for people to come together, share ideas and collaborate on new, exciting projects. But if you lack the technological fundamentals, like internet-enabled devices, fast internet connection, and even a reliable power supply, people won't feel so great about spending their time at your location.
For example, if individuals have time-sensitive work to complete, an unstable internet connection can really put people behind — especially when they need to collaborate with others remotely. Needless to say, these are high-priority technological needs. Your coworking space will be much better received if you invest in each of them.
~ Devin Schumacher, Founder at SERP
Designing a physical space is not enough. All co-working environments, just like hotels, must have a well thought out process strategy for day-to-day operations. Think about how you can insert your brand feel into each and every process, from the tours, to the on-boarding, to the programming, cleaning, and every interaction, each process is an opportunity to provide experience to the end user that sets you apart from your competition.
~ Derreck Martin, East Room President
To start a coworking space, focus on location.
If you're looking to create an environment for industry experts to come together, share ideas and collaborate, you first need to focus on location. It's always best to pick a central, populated, and easily accessible area for a coworking space. You should make it as easy as possible for people to show up and come together — that way, you can cultivate a diverse environment of professionals and truly serve your local community.
The right location keeps it profitable.
While it's clear enough that putting inspiring people together to generate new ideas is a benefit in its own right, you do want to keep things profitable. And the only way to do so is to use a space that is convenient, easy to find, and spacious. That way, you'll avoid costly pitfalls by maximizing interest and ensuring that as many people use your space as possible. In doing so, you'll be better equipped to scale long-term, host collaborations more often, and expand your reach.
~ Mark Hayes, Head of Marketing at Kintell
I believe that my setup of a private office with public halls is the most efficient way for encouraging creativity.
Having public halls is a good design to help encourage different experts to naturally interact with each other. This is good because you are mixing experts that have different points of view. They might come up with something new.
The reason for a private office is that you would want your employees to work undistracted. Being distracted can decrease performance and creativity.
If you blend these two, it will result in an ideal scenario where experts work intensively on their craft in their private office. If they have lunch or break, they can interact with other experts and hopefully talk about projects and ideas that will lead to innovation.
~ Tal Shelef, Co-founder of CondoWizard
Offer Flexible Packages:
Any colleagues are wary of long-term obligations when it comes to using a coworking room. Some coworking rooms, on the other hand, bind participants to monthly obligations from the start. Furthermore, some coworking spaces are only available during regular business hours on weekdays, putting full-time employees at a disadvantage.
Coworking spaces can have a variety of membership options. A regular pass, weekly pass, weekend-only pass, evening pass, and monthly pass should all be accessible. A coworking room with this much variety is more appealing. Additionally, coworking room owners should avoid renting or leasing rooms with time constraints. To satisfy the demands of different members, a coworking room should be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This also entails putting money into a surveillance scheme that keeps participants safe at all times.
~ Daren Nadav, Co-Founder & CEO at RacketLounge.com
Allocate Resources Properly:
Do not have misguided goals, spending time and resources on less critical tasks such as attempting to send regular inspirational speeches to the participants while ignoring problems that hinder their effectiveness, such as outdated office equipment.
“Almost half of your money should go into making sure your room is functional and relaxed because it is the number one thing all your participants aim for and won't compromise on...”, Patricia McLellan correctly said.
Make a point of prioritizing the comfort of the participants and putting your money where your mouth is.
Don’t Forget that Coffee is a Coworker’s Best Friend:
Coffee is a must-have in every workplace. However, if the coffee never tastes well and the coffee machine makes a lot of noise in the coworking room, it may become a negative for the coworking space. Some coworking spaces prefer to open a small coffee shop adjacent to the coworking room, but this can be distracting, particularly if there are a lot of visitors. Maintaining a small coffee shop can be costly.
In a coworking room, there should be a coffee alcove that is far enough away from the key productivity areas but near enough to facilitate mingling and teamwork. It is worthwhile to invest in a high-quality coffee machine and to have excellent coffee. Members will be required to buy tokens from the machine for the coworking room to provide the level of service that members expect. Choose websites with a wide following or traffic already. Your marketing will now be able to hit a larger audience and attract more leads.
Nurture a Professional Cohesiveness:
About 85% of co-working space tenants sign leases for co-working office space solely to network with other companies in the co-working space. The remaining 15% of coworking space tenants are only there for a brief period of time...3 months or less...and see the coworking space as a temporary office place. (Another thing pledging co-working space is regular turnover, which I'll save for another blog post to discuss.)
Most corporate owners choose to lease co-working office space than leasing their own office space because of the opportunity to network. Most co-working space owners totally neglect, and in some cases, purposefully miss, the business networking possibilities that are created by bringing together like-minded professionals. Unfortunately, most coworking space owners are only concerned with leasing any square inch of available floor space, which includes any storage or closet space.
~ Julian Goldie, CEO of Goldie Agency
To start a coworking space, don't forget to advertise.
Even if your coworking space is fit for purpose, it can fail due to a lack of advertising. Typically, coworking spaces utilize inconspicuous buildings like large warehouses because there's an abundance of space.
However, due to outward appearances, this can actually make it difficult for professionals to identify your business. If you advertise online and make your presence clear at your location with banners, signposts, or features in local media, you'll ensure that people actually know what it is that you're offering and where they can find you. That way, your investment won't go to waste and plenty of people will show up.
~ Brian Turner Chief Technology Officer at ConvertBinary
Constant distractions & office friction
This is one of the biggest challenges when it comes to setting up a coworking space. Since there are so many people working in one place, it can sometimes end up being a distraction for many due to constant noise being generated from everyone working on their own projects and jobs.
Lack of privacy
Lack of privacy is another major problem that often leads to a lot of dissatisfaction from those renting the space. After all, when working from home, there is a good amount of privacy that is expected. So, it’s only natural that aspect should be somewhat replicated in coworking spaces as well.
The best solution to both problems is to provide good desk arrangements by ensuring that the area is spacious enough to spread people apart. This will help keep the noise issue to a minimum and reduce the risk of workspace friction, which is a common issue when a diverse group of people is kept in a restricted space. You should also emphasize strict noise regulations as part of the building rules to avoid complaints from other people.
Manage the ebb and flow of people
To some extent, coworking spaces can be compared to gyms in that not everyone is going to be there on the same day. As such, most coworking spaces tend to utilize membership plans but that can prove to be disastrous because that can end up creating a lot of issues due to overcrowding on certain days.
It is important to manage the flow of people coming in and out by assigning people specific desk spaces. Managers can also monitor the number of people checking in and try to figure out the volume trends of when certain spaces will be busy or unoccupied. This allows you to set better prices, and manage the flow of people better, reducing the risk of workplace friction and dissatisfaction.
~ Eden Cheng, Co-founder at WeInvoice
Pursue a Growth Plan:
Because of the communal atmosphere that coworking spaces offer, participants are more likely to form friendly relationships. This becomes a challenge when the owner becomes too loyal to members, unable to recognize that such members do not want to stay indefinitely. They can't wait to get out of there and into anything more substantial.
As a company owner, you must recognize that attrition is unavoidable, so you must concentrate on attracting new participants.
~ Naomi Bishop CEO of Surfky
This article is a result of multiple people’s efforts: original text — Vlad Orlov, Managing brand partnerships at Respona; gathering experts’ opinions and editing — Helga Moreno, content marketing manager at andcards.