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.