Considering A Coworking Space

01-Mar-2013

Coworking spaces are starting to pop up all over the country, and they’re a great, inexpensive option for creative entrepreneurs. A cross between a cozy coffee shop and an open-concept office, these community-driven spaces encourage collaboration and offer both structure and flexibility for their members. 

You’ve probably heard of a place like this in your town or city – and then you start hearing about it everywhere. For us this conversation around coworking really ramped on the heels of a  Creative Entrepreneur letter from Tara. (Have you guys signed up for those yet? You should.) She was debating – or musing, rather, with lots of Downton Abbey-inspired metaphors – Braid’s current home-office situation vs. a potential “real” office scenario. She was raising a lot of really valid points, like: How much flexibility can we really thrive within? How much structure do we secretly crave? How many cat butts can our clients really handle in their face when we’re meeting at Kathleen’s dining table? 

Hungry for feedback, we opened up the discussion on Facebook – and were absolutely taken aback by the amount of passionate feedback we got for both options. Some of you lamented the overhead required to rent office space (and the non-yoga pants you’d have to wear), while others had a hard time focusing on work at home, surrounded by endless domestic obligations (and awesomely bad Lifetime movie marathons). 

And then people started chiming in about a cool alternative: collaborative working. 

So, for anyone else out there contemplating a change of work-scenery, we recently spoke to two coworking spaces, Mercury Studio and Indie Spaces, about the kinds of people who use their spaces, the challenges they’re seeing those entrepreneurs face, and the surprising side effects of coworking.

Mercury Studio in Durham, North Carolina has been open for almost a year, run by power duo Katie DeConto and Megan Jones. Mercury is right here on my turf, in the city where I work as a brand designer and writer for Braid, from my cozy home office. So when Megan and Katie invited me to come get the tour, I was excited to leave the sanctuary of my very personal work space, and go check out a very shared and open one. 

Meanwhile, creative couple Emily Thompson and David Austin just opened Indie Spaces in Florence, AL this week. Emily is unstoppable - I think she’s the first person to be featured twice in our Creative Entrepreneur series.

Mercury Studio

Indie Spaces

What made you (personally and/or professionally) decide to launch a coworking space?
Mercury Studio: We both value work and the effect our work environment has on our lives. From our own work experience we learned how important it is to feel like the work we do matters, that we're doing it well, and that we're appreciated for it. It is often a struggle to find work that meets these kinds of desires. We saw that in ourselves as well as many people we know. We wanted to create a space to thrive and to support others as they learn how to work well, doing whatever they do. We both had office management and customer service in our backgrounds, and an interest in design and communication. Mix that with an impossible job market and voila!, Mercury Studio was born. 

Indie Spaces: Because we wanted to work in one, and it didn’t exist! Also, we wanted to take the online community we had grown, and create a physical, local space dedicated to it. Our downtown area, in a place like Florence, Alabama - needs a home for that kind of creative energy, and we knew we couldn’t just sit back and wait for someone else to create this dream space. So we did. 

Paying for Space Elevates the Importance of Their Work

What is the common challenge that rises to the top for most creatives who seek a space like yours?
Mercury Studio: Budget. It's hard to give yourself permission to spend money on a workspace, especially when most people could have a home office, a kitchen table, or just go to a coffee shop for a change of scene. A lot of people might not think a dedicated workspace is technically essential, so justifying the added cost for a new or small business isn't easy. If cost wasn't an issue, there would be a coworking space on every block, but it is. We don't really work in sales. We try to present our space and its benefits as accurately as possible and then let people make the decision for themselves, when they are ready. We know the value of dedicated spaces like the one we offer, but our members need to believe it's worth it themselves. The upside about paying for a space is that it elevates the importance of their work, especially for our members who join to grow their own businesses. At minimum, they are paying for a space so that means they better use it. Productivity skyrockets. Connections multiply. It is so fun for us to watch!

Indie Spaces: They’re often struggling with committing fully to the flexible work/life balance lifestyle. They still have this “gotta have/keep a 9 - 5 job” mentality, but they’re not completely happy with it. Part of our job is redefining what work looks like to them; working here shows them that it’s okay to make your own schedule, and that you can still be productive even if you don’t hold these rigid 9 - 5 hours. Having space here also helps freelancers feel a little more legitimate, and a little more qualified to really own their work and their expertise.

Work Is Fun

What do you think is the most surprising part of the experience for those who work in your space?
Mercury Studio: It's that increase in productivity and connections that seems to really surprise people. Most of our members expect this to some degree and it probably plays into their decision to join. But when it actually happens for them, wow! Just recently, Katie was talking to one of our members, a photographer, about hiring her to do a job for a client we're building a new website for. Even though we know this member joined so these types of referrals would help her grow her business, she seemed very happy and surprised that her investment in her own business was paying off.

Indie Spaces: People start to find out that they’re having FUN while working. That they can talk to the others in the space, and enjoy themselves in their new flexibility. Guess what? WORK IS FUN! 

It's Okay to Make Your Own Schedule

Anyone Working on Anything Would Feel Comfortable

How would you describe the makeup of professions that use your space, and how would you like to see that change or evolve as awareness or the use of your space grows?
Mercury Studio: Our space is very diverse and we love it that way. One of our main intentions in designing Mercury Studio was to create a place where anyone working on anything would feel comfortable and supported. We believe we've accomplished this. Our members range in age from early-twenties to second-career entrepreneurs, and their work ranges from graduate school studies to doctors who write when they’re not in the ER. It's a wonderful mix and we really hope it continues to be that way. We're interested in people more than in specific professions, so as long as our members continue to be people who are community-minded and who are proactive about building the work they love, we'll be thrilled.

Indie Spaces: I’d say we have two kinds of people. There are the digital creative freelancers: programmers, photographers, videographers. And then there are the people who have jobs elsewhere, and need a separate space just to get things done. I see us attracting more freelancers, and seeing more of the freelancers we do have, as their businesses grow. And hopefully, we inspire the ones who have those 9 - 5 jobs to make a change, and commit to working for themselves!

We love featuring creative entrepreneurs – and we hope you love reading about them just as much. Let us know what else you’d like to see in our creative entrepreneur features (and continue to weigh in on the home office / “real” office / coworking office debate) on Facebook.

Braid Method Branding for Creatives ECourse

The Braid Method Branding ECourse is for creative entrepreneurs who are ready to support themselves financially with their business, create a blog or consistent online presence, and finally turn the work they’re already doing into a digital product, package, or offering for dream customers. This branding ecourse comes with 7 learning modules in a 300+ page digital download, a workbook with 20+ branding exercises and scripts, a quarterly masterclass, and an exclusive Facebook group so you can connect with us and other students.

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