9/26/18

Why You Should Build Your Coworking Community Before You Build Your Space

Meredith Wheeler, the founder of Sesh Coworking, a women-only coworking group in Houston, Texas, shares her experience building a coworking community first, then locating a physical space. Wheeler began her coworking community over a year ago and is planning to open the physical space in 2019. You can read our previous article about women in coworking, which features Sesh, here.

When others in the coworking industry learn about my model, Community First, Space Second, they all give me the look. It’s the look that says, “You’re doing it backwards.” Most spaces function on the model of open the space first, find the community to fill it later. In my opinion, however, this is not the best way to build a healthy, sustainable, long-term coworking business.  In fact, the space first model can make it even harder to keep your new coworking business afloat.

Come on over to the darkside and let me show you why building your community before your space is the way to go.

1. The statistics support the model

You’re building a business and numbers matter. Throwing caution to the wind and beginning a business without a solid foundation of statistical evidence is a poor way to start. By examining the numbers, we can learn more about our future community and their needs.

According to a variety of studies, by Harvard Business Review, 89 percent of coworkers report feeling happier and 83 percent report they feel less lonely. Eighty percent of coworkers also report that when in times of need or guidance, they turn to their fellow coworkers. Sixty-four percent say their coworking network has been a critical source of work and business referrals.  These are simply a few statistics of many that prove just how integral a strong community is for a successful coworking operation.  

2. If your mission is people first, then you need to begin that way

When you tell your members they come first, you need to show it. Customer service and positive customer interaction can make or break any business in the service industry—don’t let your coworking business be one of them. Encourage your community’s strength and growth through events, both large and intimate, by asking what your members need and listening to their answers and forging connections between members with similitude.

Here at Sesh Coworking, I plan a variety of events monthly, many at the suggestions and requests of the members. We hold our events in various places across the city of Houston, from coffee shops to restaurants to women-owned businesses. Listening to what the members of the group need helps create trust between myself, as the founder, and the members.

3. The cheapest and most accurate test market.

By creating a coworking community, you are essentially building your test market. Your community’s involvement in frequency and strength will help you determine the viability of your coworking concept prior to a large investment into a space. It costs little to nothing to start a group on social media and meet at a coffee shop. Find out who is returning, time and time again, to the events to better define your ideal demographics. Where do most of the people in your community live? What do they do? What type of work hours do they typically keep in a week? This is all critical information you no longer have to theorize—you will be gathering actual data from people genuinely interested in your coworking space.

4. Community is why people keep coming back

You never hear coworkers say “I’m just here for that killer kitchenette.” Of course there are important aspects to the layout and amenities of the space that make it resonate more with your members than other spaces.  But let’s face it, in Houston, where Sesh is located, we have lots of options for coworking. All of the coworking locations are going to have copiers, mail receival and private phone areas.

What’s really going to keep your members at your space for the long haul is the culture and strength of your community.  People want to work alongside like-minded individuals that inspire, motivate and support.  Most people enjoy forging new friendships and business relationships with those around them.  The more friends and business contacts they have at a location, the less likely they’ll want to leave.

5. When members meet you as the founder or owner, they are more inspired to join your space.

Members want to meet you and know you.  Many will feel inspired by your mission and path to entrepreneurship.  Afterall, many members are out there pushing their own business plans forward and feeling connected to you, as the owner, increases their ties to your business and mission.   

6. The community can help you fund your space.

As I noted before, funding a space is quite an investment.  For someone like myself, a mother of two young children and a first time entrepreneur, funding can appear to be an overwhelming task, but it doesn’t have to be when you have a community by your side.  Create a pre-sale special for your coworking space and offer it to your members before your doors open.  This alone can provide you with a good portion of capital.  

You can also host fundraising events, workshops, educational programming, silent auctions and social events for your group.  Be transparent and tell the ticket purchasers exactly what the money is going towards.  You may be surprised by how many extra tickets you sell.  

7. The community will help shape and design the physical space and its offerings.

Planning and designing a coworking space is quite a nuanced process.  What physical areas within the space do your members need?  Client meeting areas?  How many conference spaces?  What type of design resonates with your membership base?  Again as mentioned before in terms of test market, allow your community to share their ideas and needs.  Your space design should include more than just your own perspective - the input from your members is vital.

This also works the other way around as well.  As a new entrepreneur, the idea of creating a space has at times felt daunting, but through the community, I have discovered and connected with more support than I ever could have dreamed.  I connected with both my broker and architect through the community as well as many other business owners and MBA holders who have offered indispensable advice and guidance along the way.

8. You will have a built-in community ready to move-in when you open your doors.

The more ideal members you can get in your space early the better!  You’ve spent time building trust, confidence and experiences with your community.  You’ve listened to their needs and created a supportive space for them to grow both in their businesses and lives.  The sense of community you have created will continue evolve in your coworking space leading your business to a successful, sustainable future.

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