“Ideas are easy. Implementation is hard.” – Guy Kawasaki
Opening a coworking space was hard. There were unexpected challenges and costs. We stayed up late many nights and often found ourselves improvising as we went along. However, opening a coworking space has also been rewarding. We’ve learned a lot about ourselves, and about how to help small businesses succeed. Whether you’re planning on starting from scratch or you take the route we did (purchasing an old building and converting it), there will be risks, challenges, and opportunities. Here are our five tips from experience for opening a coworking space.
1. Prepare For The Unexpected
I mentioned before there were unexpected challenges and costs, but allow me to emphasize that again. There will be things that happen unexpectedly. It doesn’t matter if you move into a brand new building or take the historic route such as Hunt Street Station. Your ability to adapt and problem solve may be the difference in the coworking space ever opening.
Hunt Street Station of course, being a historic building, had it’s own unique problems. Because the building was built in 1896, none of the doors or windows were standard size. This meant we had to custom order tons of doors and windows which was both time consuming and expensive. We could have gone a different route and made adjustments, but the building would have lost its integrity. Part of what makes Hunt Street Station so unique is the history. We worked hard to preserve that history in hopes of it separating us from other spaces.
Always prepare for the worst, both financially and through planning. How you handle the inevitable challenges that arise could be the difference between the success or failure of your project.
2. There’s Opportunity Before You Open
You don’t have to wait until you open to get customers when opening a coworking space. Hunt Street Station had multiple members fully commit three months before the space even opened. We offered individuals the ability to put low cost deposits down on rooms and that also provided more revenue for us to finish the building. We even offered discounted rates to specific spaces.
You’d be surprised how many people were excited and willing to get on board months before construction even closed. Most the time individuals just want to be apart of something new and unique. Set up open houses and invite people to envision themselves in your space. Again, it will allow you to hit the ground running with revenue and tenants when you officially open.
Caution: Make sure you keep the promises you make to individuals before you open the space. Reputation is far more important than revenue and a show of good faith goes a long way.
3. Build a Strong Community
Since Hunt Street Station opened, one of our key markers for success is the strength of our community. We evaluate this by different metrics and spend time each week discussing it. This is important to Hunt Street Station because we understand the power of like-mindedness. If you’re on the path of opening a coworking space, take it for what it is, literally coworking.
Now, we understand businesses have tasks, goals, and deadlines. Many of our tenants work long hours to accomplish these things and our focus isn’t to distract them with icebreakers and meaningless conversation. Our focus is actually to help each business succeed by connecting them to other tenants in our space. For example, a freelancer may lack the understanding of basic accounting, and someone with good math skills may need photography work done to enhance their business. Do you see where the connection can be made?
We focus on building strong communities because our goal is to help businesses succeed. Tenants are much more likely to stay in the space if they enjoy the people in the space with them, and they know they can get help when necessary. Make sure it’s authentic, make sure you don’t take away from an individual’s goals, but build a strong community.
4. Ask People What They Want
You’re in the business of serving people. The space and overall vision may be yours. But if people don’t like what you have in mind, they won’t spend money on your space. Spend time with your tenants and ask them what they’d like to see. Maybe you can’t afford an exercise room in the building, but you can bring in a yoga teacher and offer classes.
At Hunt Street, we have managed to keep a few tenants in their spaces by simply asking them what they’d like. When opening a coworking space, remember you’re opening it for businesses and entrepreneurs, not just yourself.
5. Be Creative
We can’t emphasize creativity enough. Creativity doesn’t just apply to the arts, or music. What separates you from your competition is the ability to be creative and utilize your advantages. For Hunt Street Station, one of our strengths is the fact our space is surrounded with free parking. Other coworking spaces in Detroit often require hundreds of dollars in additional costs to park downtown. We’ve also experimented with different events, marketing tactics, and in the future are looking at green spaces and artist coworking spaces.
Experiment with different ideas. Our dedicated desks are hand-built, in house, based on a design that our team created. Our open coworking desks are made from the old doors from the police precinct. You can cut down on costs and boost the atmosphere of your coworking space by being creative.
Overall, when starting any business, there will be both challenges and rewards. Opening a coworking space is no different, but it also allows you to share that experience with other business owners and entrepreneurs, which we think is pretty cool.