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How to Select Events for Your Coworking Space That Won’t Ruin Your Culture

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Featured Image by Erin Stubblefield – Rise Collaborative Workspace in St. Louis, Missouri.

One of the best-known ways to get new members in your coworking space is to host events. There’s magic in just getting bodies across your threshold so they can get a taste of what coworking actually is. That sounds easy, right? You just fling your doors open to any old event and hope for the best!?

No. Just no.

When membership numbers ebb, new coworking space operators often find themselves stuck trying to get revenue, ANY revenue, to bump up that bottom line just a little more. It’s easy for them to make the fatal mistake of allowing any group to use their space for a fee.

Just recently, a new space manager posted the following type of problem to a group I’m in:

“We are in negotiations with a large government contractor to provide fee-based courses. We sent a proposal, they love our space but our pricing they say is out of their range. We have 1700 square feet, we will need to close 1/2 hour early to set-up which disrupts our hours and our own evening events. What should we do?”

I replied with the following, “Is holding an event like this in alignment with your values and the needs of your members?”

Luckily, long-time coworking veteran Susan Dorsch of Office Nomads  in Seattle, Washington offered the following perspective.

“They want to cut into your core business model AND not pay your rates? I know it can be hard to say no to dollars but I’d say no to dollars. Your challenges with this group will likely only continue through this event and afterwards (she says speaking from experience!). What if you spent the time you’d be working on coordinating this event with finding either a better event that is more aligned with your members/values or supporting your current members? Your time is incredibly valuable.

The early days are so full of events and a plethora of possibilities. Prioritizing how you spend your time is your biggest work! But it pays off big time later – you are setting the tone and culture of your community now.

Think of it as having a new puppy. Things the puppy does might seem cute when they are puppies, but if they do the same things as a big dog it stops being cute and starts being a problem. You want to set the tone of the kinds of events you host – if you lower your standards for a large event like this you’ll encourage others to do the same again later because you’ve done it once.”

Office Nomads

Office Nomads member event in Seattle, Washington

Many of you may be reading this wondering but HOW do I find the right events for my community?

The above advice seems all fine and well as inspirational platitudes/metaphors (something us coworking veterans have in spades) but can lack the kind of concrete action that new space owners need. Luckily my friend Susan is a genius so she followed her theory with an action plan.

Susan says, “Start with what interests you! Are you part of a group who would benefit from using your space? We had a lot of success in our early days hosting small events, even for free, if they were something that interested us or our members personally. Game nights, clothing swaps, photography meetups, and our neighborhood sustainability group are ones that come to mind right away. It’s easy to promote and share when it’s something that you are personally interested in!”

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I have a recent example of this from my own space in Fort Collins, Colorado. I am obsessed with cast iron cooking so on a whim, I decided that I wanted to teach a class on it. Mind you, I’ve never taught a class on cast iron cooking but people were literally bringing their pans to my doorstep for advice so an educational class seemed more expedient.

Coworking Event

Event at Cohere Community in Fort Collins, Colorado

The class was packed and 30% of the attendees were people I’ve never met who aren’t members of my community. After being in my coworking space for an hour, they have this great memory of learning something new, meeting fun people and I guarantee if they run into someone needing workspace, Cohere will be top of mind for them. It’s a win win win win win.

If you are coming up blank on an event that you would personally like to host, then ask your members! Your members are a wealth of knowledge and skills. We’ve had members teach classes on everything from SEO to how to use Etsy to make easy art pieces for your home.

Having members teach classes or hold events is super valuable for them as professionals. If they are freelancers, it allows them the opportunity to hone their presentation skills in a safe environment and can lead to more work for them. If they are remote workers, they have the chance to meet new friends and showcase the cool companies they work for. If they are non-profits, it allows them to spread the word about their good work.

Here is a quick checklist for deciding which events would be best for your space. Give yourself 1 point for each checkmark. Total them up. More than THREE checkmarks? Go for it!

  • Is being put on by one of your members.
  • Was requested by your members or approved by them.
  • Benefits a non-profit or organization that is aligned with your community’s values.
  • Happens after hours and does not disrupt your members’ work.
  • Members can attend the event for free or at a steep discount.
  • Is a group that has members that are very much like your current members (think freelancers, software developers, non-profits, start-ups, women, remote workers).
  • Will pay your regular rate and event doesn’t disrupt members.

Hate checklists? Fine. Read this easy to remember advice from Jenny Poondingo, founder of CO+HOOTS in Phoenix, Arizona, “If it has no benefit to our community we charge full price. After hours is double.” Brilliant. She also gives discounts to nonprofits and for programs that benefit their community. “Think of it as a form of currency. While they don’t pay as much, they do exchange a value that is important and valuable.”

The takeaway here is that every part of your coworking business should reflect the values of your community. Don’t sacrifice the comfort or expectations of your members for a quick payout. You’ll end up paying the price over time and it won’t be worth it.




About Author

Angel Kwiatkowski is the founder of Cohere, the first and largest community-managed shared office space in Fort Collins, Colorado. Since its opening in 2010, Cohere has helped countless local freelancers and remote employees integrate in their community to achieve professional and personal success. The co-author of the first-ever ebooks about coworking, Angel was the token female panelist at the first-ever Global Coworking Unconference Conference (GCUC), and continues to offer low-budget and bootstrapped coworking spaces practical tips and guides via DIY Coworking. Check out her new workbook, the Ultimate Coworking Launch Sequence.

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