How to Start a Coworking Space, Part 3: Barn-Raising


This is part of a series on how to start a coworking space. If you haven’t done so already, read Part 1: The Commitment, and then Part 2: Seeding the Community. Then head back here!

By now, you’ve got an active community of people who are committed to helping realize their shared dream of a home for their community.

Now, you’ve got to put them to work. Remember, your decision to be a Builder or a Gardener is one you’ll be making time and again: just because you’re now starting to talk about serious business decisions doesn’t mean it’s time to take over the operation and cut the community out of the equation.

Approaching things like a Gardener is almost always possible, it just sometimes takes some ingenuity.

For example: perhaps you need to find a home base for your community. At this early stage, it could be someone’s home, or a cafe, or a library, or a public space, or someone’s office space. It could even be another coworking space!

Chances are good that there is a terrific home for your community out there, but you may not know about it yourself. Among your network, however, there is not just a greater knowledge of what’s out there, but also greater connections.

What if one of your members knows the owner of a bar that would make a great temporary workspace if only they’d loan you the keys to open up the place early?

Lots of hard things become easier quickly.

This is a time for establishing critical norms that will go a long way to charting the course for your community for the future.

Find a place to call home, however works best for you and your community. Use that to build momentum for as long as you reasonably can.

But what about that big space you heard about? What about that potential investor or partner?

Maybe you’re onto something when one of those opportunities come along, but beware: jump too far too fast and you could end up killing the little thing you’ve started.

A community of ten people feels awfully small in a 10,000 square foot space.

There will always be options for spaces, and there will always be people who will want to work with you if you act with integrity and continue to be amazing in the work you do.

There are lot of ways of going about things, but if you take the time to build up enough anticipation, your grand opening party can be a memory that will last you a lifetime.

And consider the implications on funding your space, should you decide to move forward with that. Crowdfunding a coworking space works if and only if you’ve already built a tremendous following first.

Via Alex Hillman’s post:

Through membership prepayments and our invention of our basic membership for coworking, we were able to raise nearly half of the budget we needed to open our doors. More importantly, it gave our community a tangible activity to rally around. The money was just a piece of the equation – it was peoples’ participation in the process that made our launch successful and established our community’s culture from the very start.

Instead of fitting out an office and then saying “come over, we’re ready for you now!” we approached the effort more like an old fashioned barn raising.

And then when we moved from our original office into the second floor of 20 N 3rd Street, we repeated the process. Without membership prepayments AND real people with skin in the game helping make it happen, we wouldn’t have expanded.

Better than scrounging up the cash yourself or cutting a deal with someone you’d rather not be working with, right?

During this time, you and your community may be building a fair bit of notoriety. This can be exciting, but it can be especially useful if you can use the attention to help reinforce the values you represent.

Wherever possible, put the members at the forefront of the conversation. When the media asks for interviews, try to get them to interview members. You’ll be amazed at what those members say sometimes.

The more you can show that this is something that many people lead, and not just you, the more people will understand that your community is something they can help build alongside you. This kind of perception will prove crucial down the line, when many leaders are overwhelmed by the amount of attention and decision-making that’s put on their shoulders.

Repeat it to yourself and whoever you talk to:

It’s not about me. It’s about what we’re trying to accomplish together.

How does this section end? It’s impossible to predict.

You may never end up building an actual physical coworking space. In fact, you should operate under the assumption that this is what’s going to happen and only do otherwise if your’e able to prove that such an action is called for.

Maybe you end up partnering with a local business. Maybe you do end up leasing, building out, and operating a space.

What’s most important is that you steer your community in the direction it wants and needs to go, and not necessarily in the direction you personally want it to go.

Forcing something into existence by sheer willpower sets you up for pain later.

That being said, you will encounter resistance. People will tell you that it’s a bad idea, that there’s too much competition, or a dozen other things. Ultimately, it’s up to you to tune into what you’ve been picking up from your experiences talking to people to determine whether to press forward in the face of that resistance.

There’s nothing wrong with being hellbent–just make sure your ego isn’t the one making that call.

Over the course of the coming weeks and months, I’ll be exploring some of the most important areas of community building and specifically in the development of a coworking space.

Building a coworking community was one of the most fulfilling things I’ve ever done. Wherever you are, by bringing people together and teaching them how to cultivate a culture of empowerment and participation, you’re doing good work that helps bring about a better world.

If you’re starting a community, or thinking about it, don’t do it alone–in your neighborhood or in general. There’s a global movement here to help, too. Join the Coworking Google Group, the Coworking Leadership Slack Channel, and introduce yourself.

You’ll find a world of people like you who care about bringing people together. Coworking organizers around the world are some of my favorite people, and I’m sure they’ll be yours too.

And, of course, feel free to reach out to me directly. I’ll see you there!

While you’re here…

I thought I’d let you know that I’m offering special coaching for people starting new coworking spaces as part of my Organizers Club. When you join as a member, I’ll give you access to my full toolkit of resources, discussion groups, and personal feedback on any questions you might have.

If you’re working on starting a new space, I want to ensure you do it right!

Learn more and apply



Starting a coworking space and want to get it right?

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