I’ve been spending a lot of time working out of coworking spaces lately. I’m a big fan of having a place I can just drop into and work from, especially if I’m going to be away from my home office anyhow.
I’ve noticed a trend: many coworking spaces are launched by freelancers. Often, there’s a freelancer who wants to work anywhere but in her own home, so she gets a couple of other people together and rents a space. I’ve seen both incredibly successful versions of this model and some dismal failures.
Coworking Spaces are Businesses, Too
There’s a common complaint among the freelancers who also operate coworking spaces: “I didn’t realize it was going to be so much work!” It’s not an uncommon thought for a freelancer in general — considering many of us start out as some sort of creative professional without as much business training as we’d like. Opening a coworking space is just as much a business as freelancing, even if you operate as a non-profit.
Opening a coworking space is just as much a business as freelancing, even if you operate as a non-profit.
There are considerations far beyond a freelance business, too: rent, physical location and insurance all play major roles. It’s these details that can trip up someone not used to renting out office space. They take time to sort out and time is a precious commodity for many freelancers.
Unless we’re getting paid for our time, it can be tough to dedicate so much effort to building a coworking space, rather than spending those same hours on client work.
But there are payoffs to taking the lead on creating a coworking space.
The Coworking Space as a Money-making Venture
As a freelancer, you probably work with plenty of other freelancers: freelance project managers hire freelance graphic designers, freelance web designers hire freelance copywriters and so on. Being the guy or gal operating the local coworking space can get your name out in the local freelance community. It can also help establish you with local small businesses (of the varieties with only a few people involved). You can turn that into paying work with a little effort.
You can also use a coworking space as a way to diversify your income. One of the biggest difficulties with freelancing is that there can be some hills and valleys in your income reports. While I wouldn’t depend on a coworking space to make you a millionaire, it can help create a base income that allows you a little more flexibility.
There are some big debates in the larger coworking community over whether a coworking space should be operated as a non-profit or for-profit business. Either way, though, after a coworking space has had a little time to grow, there should be at least a small salary available for the person doing all the administrative work. If you’re doing work that takes you away from your clients, it’s only right that you receive payment for that work (even if it’s only minimum wage).
The Big Question
Personally, it makes sense for at least a few freelancers to set up coworking spaces, provided that they’re truly passionate about coworking. It fits in well with how many of us operate and can help us build better ties to our local communities.
That said, operating a coworking space is an incredible amount of work. If your freelance career is going well, you probably don’t have a lot of time to devote to creating a whole other business on the side. It may be more efficient to find someone else with more time on their hands and get them interested in the idea of coworking. Maybe they’ll set up a space that you can just get a desk in — a more efficient approach for many of us.