Seeking a break from both the roar of crowded coffeehouses and the maddening silence of working from home, freelancers, entrepreneurs and other professional one-man (and -woman) shows have begun embracing a new concept: co-working.
The idea is simple enough: A curator provides a professional workspace — usually an open floor plan with separate spaces for private meetings — and handles all the details of maintaining the space while charging a nominal fee for members from all professional walks of life to use the space as much or as little as they’d like.
These spaces have been especially valuable to entrepreneurs, who have learned how to use the concept of co-working to help their small businesses grow. Here are five reasons small business owners should explore co-working opportunities.
A co-working space is far better than any happy hour or three-day conference for good, old-fashioned networking. Leads are everything when it comes to growing a start-up. And in a co-working space, members get to know one another in a zero-pressure environment. Once rapport begins to build, members naturally become each other’s brand ambassadors, spreading the word about one another’s businesses to new audiences. In a short amount of time, members begin to instinctively take care of their own, and if it takes a village to keep a small business running, a co-working space is a phenomenal place for one to take root.
There’s a fascinating sameness disguised in the diversity of the people who choose to work in co-working spaces. Link Coworking in Austin, Texas, for example, has entrepreneurs, writers, attorneys, marketing consultants and more; someone gearing up to launch a start-up can simply stroll into the kitchen on any given morning and ask a veteran for advice on anything under the sun.
A second opinion can be priceless when a tough decision is on the table. If a quick replacement is needed for an assistant, there may not be any need to formally advertise the position; several people in the same room may have strong candidates in their back pockets. Surrounded by such a deep well of human resources, big problems seem to shrink over time and become far more manageable than they ever were before.
The consistency of casual daily or weekly interaction with fellow professionals helps to defray burnout. When a small business owner is able to separate the boundaries between work and home life, a better balance can be achieved. Eventually, even the most dedicated small business owner begins to realize the value of an occasional night off with friends and family — never a bad thing for sanity and happiness; along with a foundation for endurance and, ultimately, success.
Small business owners wear an infinite number of hats, and rarely is there enough time to get everything done. At a co-working space, most essential needs are met without having to lift a finger. In addition to the basics — utilities, facilities, hot coffee and strong wi-fi — most co-working spaces offer printing and mailing services, interns, healthy snacks and other perks. Co-working curators generally act as cruise directors, taking care of little details that could otherwise eat up a business owner’s morning. There’s no need to spend half a day dealing with an IT nightmare or fixing the office fridge; it’s already taken care of, leaving entrepreneurs to focus on more important things, like living out their wildest dreams and achieving world domination.
Overhead gets expensive quickly, and rent isn’t cheap. For a fraction of the cost of traditional office space, small business owners and staff can enjoy a clean, safe, professional environment when they report to a co-working space. Laptops won’t be stolen like they might be in a coffee shop; parking, wi-fi and other services are generally included at no extra cost; there’s no pressure to buy food every day in exchange for taking up space; and there’s always an electrical outlet available within arm’s reach.
Running a small business is rarely a picnic. Given the stress relief that comes with positive social interaction, reduced monthly bills, and an overall feeling of community and support, the savings some co-working members experience on therapy bills is nothing to sneeze at, either.
Liz Elam is the founder/curator of Link Coworking, which was listed among Inc. Magazine’s “16 Cool Coworking Spaces.” She’s also a primary curator of the Global Coworking “Unconference” Conference on March 8 in Austin, Texas.