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How To Avoid Disaster When Starting A Coworking Space

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Starting your own business can be extremely rewarding, but also very challenging. There is no exception to this rule for founders of coworking spaces. It's easy to celebrate success but much harder to talk about failures. The founder of a failed coworking space has summarized her lessons. She closed her coworking space after eleven months of operation. Generally most of the lessons can apply to any venture, however, some are definitely more ‘coworking specific’. You can learn from them before you flush down your money. Here are eleven tips to avoid disaster when starting a coworking space.

It appears I’ve somehow, unknowingly, become a failed coworking space owner celebrity, of sorts. I’m often getting messages from people keen to get a successful space off the ground… god knows why… The Office Collective wasn’t exactly all that successful... 

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About the author: Karly Nimmo was the founder of The Office Collective (OC) in Byron Bay, Australia. She started The OC due to the isolation of working for herself, by herself. She is a born communicator - ex-radio jock, producer & copywriter, and has run her successful Voice Over Agency for over a decade. Find more information about her experience and her work on her website.

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Regardless of my own experience, I’m a firm believer in the magic of a good shared office and I’m always keen to see others realise their dreams. Sure, it might not have worked out for me (well, it did… just not in the way I expected), but that doesn’t mean it can’t be an incredible success for someone else. So, I’m always up for a chat to see if my experience can help others avoid some common mistakes. In the interest of telling the same story over and over and over, I thought… why not compile my findings and experience, write a blog post and point people to that…. So, here goes: 11 things ‘not’ to do when starting a coworking space.

1. Sign on the dotted line!

Don’t even think about signing a lease until you have members committed and signed up! I found there was heaps of interest when I was in the research phase… people were SO excited about the concept, but when it came time to put their money where their enthusiasm was… crickets.

2.  Know what it’s going to cost!

Don’t go in over your head. Do your maths! If things were to go belly up and you somehow ended up in the same boat as me, could you afford the ongoing costs yourself? Commercial leases are a bitch. They are set in stone… and not even giving up your first born child will get you out of one.

I was lucky, in that I managed to find someone to sublet the space, and my landlord was okay with that, but even then (and though I’m not even in the space) I still have to hold the head lease and be responsible for anything that goes pear shaped.  And commercial leases can be loooooooong. If you do go into one, be sure to negotiate the fuck out of it.

Know what it’s going to cost you (financially, but also consider what it might cost you emotionally and physically) and don’t go any further if you can’t afford it.

3.  Build it and they will come is bullshit.

I totally went in with this mentality. I mean, I’d never really ‘failed’ at anything. What could possibly go wrong? Not only was a business superstar, I was also a spiritual junkie. I knew the universal laws and thought they were DEFINITELY in my favour. Failure was not an option… not one I had considered at all. I was all like, ‘pffffft’, when my Dad asked me ‘What if things didn’t work out?’. Piss off! Of course things would work out! This was me, we were talking about! I had the know how, a business partner, a great affordable, funky arse space, a community full to the brim with self employed types. I honestly thought that I would open the doors and people would be lining up to get in.

4. Try before you buy!

I’d definitely recommend trying out some spaces yourself. Speak to as many people in the ‘industry’ as you can. The great thing about coworking is that it’s an industry based on sharing, so generally, the people in it are more than happy to share their experience, what works, what doesn’t and even help you get things off the ground. If there are some local spaces, join them.  It’s all very romantic and exciting to start your own, but the reality is very different.  Long hours, expensive (some of the time) and lots of energy managing relationships… there’s also lots of boring stuff, like OHS crap to learn about, implement and maintain.

If someone local is giving it a crack, support them. You’ll potentially get what you want anyway (which I find for most people interested in starting their own space, is companionship and a tribe of likeminded people). If there aren’t any local spaces, travel to test out some in similar demographic towns and see if they could work for you, before reinventing the wheel. It’s a LOT of work for very little financial return – in regional areas, anyway.

5. Don’t be co-dependent

Oh dear. This was a big one for me. I got so lost in my ‘failure’, that the rejection became personal. My worst fear was throwing a party and having no one show up, and here I was… at the biggest party I’d ever thrown and no one showed up. My party had quickly become a pity party… for one.

I’d become so entwined in my business that I became the business. It’s failure, was my failure – or better put: it’s failure, meant I was a failure. Torturous.

I remember sitting with an all male (except me) mastermind group and one of the guys said, flat out, ‘Dude. You have some weird co-dependant thing going on with this business’. Gotta love a straight shooting man… really got me thinking!

▶▶ Next page: Six more tips preventing you from failing

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