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As the Global Coworking Survey has shown, coworking spaces earn their income from a variety of sources, not just from monthly memberships. So what are some innovative ways to boost your revenue stream? At the recent Coworking Europe conference in Berlin, a workshop led by Manuel Zea from Spain created a list of ten ideas to help push a coworking space toward profitability. Here’s a summary of what the workshop discussed.
By Anna Cashman & Johanna Voll - Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Rent your space to members and non-members

The principle is simple: use what you already have. Regardless of whether they are a coworker or not, allow ‘outsiders’– locals or city-based groups, for example – to rent out the whole or part of a space for private events, inviting them to become a member of the community.

This would introduce the concept of coworking to a wider audience, increase the size of your community, and make good use of an existing space and infrastructure without adding any big red numbers to your monthly budget.

Of course, the space-hiring terms can change depending on the individual needs of the renter. Whether the coworking staff can be hired, the coffee machines are on, or you lend out your WiFi passwords can be negotiated, or predetermined in set events packages.

However, don't rent out your space in a way which damages your community. This means, make sure that members with fixed desks don't need to change their desks too often. Don't distract members with too many events while they work. And, don't sell your members as part of events!

Company sponsored events

While you’re at it, why not consider renting your space out to big companies? Coworking spaces may be hired by firms who wish to conduct business or social gatherings on neutral and interesting grounds. Being in a coworking space can make them also more open for collaboration and other alternative workstyles.

Initiate a credit system

Much like a pre-paid phone card, and possibly attached to a Visa card, coworkers can be given the option of purchasing credits in advance for future, though not necessarily time-specific, use. (One possible model could be 1 Credit = 1 desk-hour; 10 credits = 1 conference room hour).

One advantage of a credit system is the ability to alter the price of credits quickly and easily, and being able to forecast a portion of your impermanent traffic. Also, if credits were set up in order to be easily transferrable from one person to another, coworkers in a given space would be able to ‘invite’ friends or to ‘give the gift of collaborative workspace.’

Using the same credits across a number of coworking spaces could be a possibility, though the varying cost of renting a desk in two different cities, or indeed two different countries, may pose as a problem.

Seek sponsorship for your coworkers or start-ups from big companies

Based on the premise that coworking spaces should ‘look up, instead of down in terms of money’, coworking spaces could enlist the support of big business to sponsor an area in a space. For example, big companies like Google could offer a start-up contest, providing ‘winners’ with coworking sponsorship and a desk in that area.

While the idea of ‘big business’ is somewhat at odds with the notion of coworking, community and individuals would remain at the centre of the sponsorship program since the ‘winners’ would be a part of the community, their talent and aptitude highlighted by the fact that they were the winners of a competition.

The idea of introducing big business into the coworking scene, however, could compromise coworking culture and mentality. A coworking space, above all, should be addressed to individuals rather then firms. If a member of a space stands out as having privileges, the positive effect for the community may be questioned.

Free beer

Free anything is a crowd-pleaser, free beer even more so. Providing beer, which could be donated by a producer, alongside coffee and other soft beverages would lubricate conversation and get creative juices flowing.

There is a fine line though between gracious donations and gratuitous donations. Coworking operators should be prudent with brand placement, which may be contrived as selling the space. Some brands – for example smaller, more boutique breweries – would be preferable to the conglomerates.

Choosing a supplier, and therefore any repercussions of brand association, depends entirely on individual operators. In all cases, it was agreed that the full support of the community was needed for any decision in order to preserve the trust and relationships within a space.

Work together with headhunters or human resource personnel of big companies

While this could be an effective way to help individuals or freelancers in a space to sell their skills, caution should be employed to refrain from ‘selling’ members.

If referrals could be worked with on an operator’s own terms, the integrity of independent membership could be retained while the attractiveness of a space enhanced.

Work with the city council or state departments to create workshops

The idea was offered in light of a coworking-government partnership in Bilbao, where the Department of Employment hosted workshops for unemployed individuals from creative industries. The program, lasting for six months, did not derive any profit, though did help to boost membership numbers.

Food and beverage events

The eighth suggestion was for coworking spaces to host wine tastings, cheese samplings and ham cutting fundraisers. Spaces could be used to host hospitality events, giving ‘outsiders’ a look in, and coworkers a chance to intermingle with the outside community.

Charging a membership fee before opening your doors

Suggested by The Hub Madrid, who employed this strategy themselves, members of their community paid a small fee (15 Euros/month) to be a part of a space-less community; that is, they paid to join the community before the coworking centre existed.

This strategy helped to raise funds to open the space, and meant that a community had already been established before The Hub opened its doors.

While this method was successful for The Hub Madrid, there was a definite advantage in working with a well established brand name; without a known brand, it is likely the scheme would not have been as successful if you are not a natural born community builder.

Profit should not come at an expense!

While these ideas may help attract more revenue for a space, there was an overarching theme during the Coworking Europe workshop: coworking spaces should keep their best interest at heart. Communities should not be compromised by big corporations, nor should their trust and support be lost by the inclusion of big-name brands or companies in a space.

If the help of a company can be enlisted without any compromise, they should not expect a big pay-off in the beginning, since we all know good things take time.

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