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How to Recession-Proof Your Coworking Business

History

98.36% of coworking spaces opened after the last recession was technically over in 2009. This means that just a handful of spaces in the United States have ever experienced what it’s like to survive a recession.

This article will help coworking space owners plan ahead for the next recession.

Number of Coworking Spaces by Year Worldwide via Statista

https://www.statista.com/statistics/554273/number-of-coworking-spaces-worldwide/

What happens during a recession

A recession starts when the US experiences a loss in 2 consecutive quarters in real GDP, income, employment, manufacturing, and retail sales.

The most critical factors that affect coworking spaces during a recession are:

  • lay-offs for W2 employees

  • an increase in freelance and contract workers

Remote workers tend to form a stable membership base for coworking spaces in strong economies. According to diycoworking’s recent research, 50% of companies pay for all of their remote workers coworking memberships. Remote workers tend to have better retention and their memberships don’t fluctuate because their incomes don’t.

If a recession comes, layoffs of these remote workers could be one of the first big challenges spaces will notice to the bottom line.

In the same vein, as full-time workers are laid off, their companies may pivot to hiring them back as contract laborers to cut their own costs (thereby not paying for the coworking membership any longer) OR the remote worker will put their skills to use as freelancers. Going from a full-time paycheck to fluctuating contract-based pay will be a huge adjustment for members. The great news is, proactive coworking communities can help members transition to new ways of working/earning. Keep reading for specific examples.

Plan ahead for a recession to affect coworking spaces

  • Start saving money now

The easiest thing operators can do today to protect themselves for the future is to streamline and cut costs where ever possible. This is a great time to review all vendors/spending and see if there is a lower price on staples like toilet paper and coffee so you can start taking advantage of savings before it becomes mandatory.

  • Start a coworking scholarship fund/create a co-op style member “staff”

Many coworking spaces have “Super Members” and can’t imagine life without them. Savvy operators will put back $25/month into a coworking scholarship fund and use this fund to supplement a few key memberships so the community doesn’t lose its best coworking evangelists to job loss.

A great way to reduce staffing costs is to offer members a discount in return for helping to run the space. Examples include having members staff the front desk for a half-day/week, giving tours, tidying up or setting up for events. A work/membership trade program allows loyal members to stay on even if their income takes a hit and it allows operators to reduce the costs of running the space.

  • Diversify membership offerings

One thing that has puzzled me about newer coworking spaces is their pricing. Most spaces tend to just offer full-time memberships or private offices. I think this has to be a factor of opening a space in a strong economy. They’ve never had the misfortune of selling to people who are flat broke.

My coworking space Cohere opened at the tail end of the last recession and our MOST POPULAR MEMBERSHIP was the $48/mo one day/week plan. It was a membership level that sold like hotcakes to struggling freelancers, job seekers and even students b/c it reflected about how much people were spending on coffee at the cafe anyway. Our prices have increased in the last decade but the one day/week plan is still the most popular.

Cohere still offers multiple part-time memberships and 87% of our members have part-time memberships. So rather than trying to retain a few people at full-time expensive memberships, my risk is spread out over many, many members who are paying anywhere from $19-$199/mo. In fact, this is a super strategy according to 37signals.

Alex Hillman of IndyHall has this sage advice for new space owners facing a recession:

Take a good hard look at your membership: if it's mostly startups, expect a lot of them to shrink or go out of business.  Focus more on how you can connect/help/create value for small and solo businesses owners. They're the ones most likely to thrive in an economic downturn. -Alex Hillman, IndyHall

  • Reduce the coworking space’s square footage

It may be impossible to imagine a world where you would reduce your square footage during strong economic times but that’s exactly what Co-founder Susan Dorsch of Office Nomads in Seattle, WA just did. Their position is unique because they opened prior to the last recession and weathered it and I think their decision to preemptively shrink is brave and brilliant.

Since shedding our additional space [by half] I feel so much more confident in our ability to build our business back to full strength. And I can already tell that the community of members here feels more connected and more in tune with one another than we were just a couple of months ago. I'm so eager to see what happens next.  -Susan Dorsch, Office Nomads

A drastic reduction in square footage could be a very wise move for spaces where the lease is up for renegotiation AND the space is less than 60% full. The added bonus is that reducing square footage makes the physical community more dense and bumps up the energy, which is a boon during tours and events.

  • Look inward at your community

Many times, new coworking owners will focus too much on the people who aren’t members and not enough attention on the people who are already there. Susan of Office Nomads has been down this road too.

From those first years to now nearly 11 years of being in business, I've learned that anytime we are feeling stressed about our bottom line the answer is to look inward. When we focus 1000% on making our place and our community awesome, we are more successful. Every time. Anything that pulls our attention from that core work of community building usually leads to our bottom line not being quite as strong. Having twice as much square footage pulled our attention away. That wasn't the intention of course (we were bursting at the seams full and were eager to see if we could expand our potential by having more room to grow), but that is how it came to be.  -Susan Dorsch Office Nomads

IndyHall in Philidelphia also weathered the last recession. Alex Hillman cites the following differences for running a space in a recession vs a strong economy:

Recessions are great for figuring out who actually creates value for their customers & clients. Coworking is less of a "luxury item" during a recession. It's less about cool, and more about "how is this helping me?" 

Similarly, I think people are more focused and creative during a recession. Constraints are a creative force. 

It's counter-intuitive, because for job-holders a recession usually means "I might lose my job." But for independent workers, it's full of opportunity. Work still needs to get done. 

  • Renegotiate the lease

According to Commercial Real Estate Expert Annah Moore, tenants CAN and absolutely do renegotiate their leases at renewal to achieve lower rent rates in hard economic times.

During the downturn, negotiating lower rents from tenants in a renewal was very common, especially when they could site lower costing options available from other motivated landlords with vacancy. - Annah Moore, CBRE | Advisory & Transaction Services

Also consider a mid-lease renegotiation but they are a little trickier…

Renegotiating mid lease term doesn’t happen much, as there needs to be a motivating factor/incentive for landlord to lower the rent when they have a commitment from the tenant.  Cases where a landlord would consider lowering the rent mid-lease would include some upside to the landlord, most likely in the form of a longer lease term from tenant.  So if a tenant has 1-2 years left at $15/SF, it wouldn’t be unheard of for a landlord to agree to lower that to $13 or $14, likely with escalators, if the lease amendment reflected a 5+ year extension to the lease.  So the landlord is trading some existing income for greater certainty for the future. -Annah Moore, CBRE | Advisory & Transaction Services

  • Buy a building (but only at the end of the recession when prices are low)

If I were flexible enough, I’d actually kick my own ass for not buying a commercial building in 2009 when Cohere was founded and the commercial real estate sector was hurting in my town. The building we currently lease sold for $550,000 in 2010. It is currently worth upwards of $1,400,000 and if I had the guts to buy it back then my operating costs would be half what they are today.

It’s worth talking to a commercial lender NOW, while the getting is good so you’ll be well-educated if you need to make that decision later. I tried to buy our building a year ago. My offer was rejected but now I am familiar with the commercial lending process AND I know how much my family can afford should I decide to pursue it again.

  • Support job-seekers with special programming to preserve their sanity

Job search might be one of the toughest most soul crushing experiences ever. Weave supportive networks under job-seekers by having special deals while they are in job search and specialized programming to support their mental health during the process. A weekly accountability group like Cotivation is a ready to use program community managers can buy here for just $29.00. This one-time purchase can be used as many times as needed.

Office Nomads had a brilliant program during the last recession.

I think that one of the central elements for us making it through those tough times was staying laser-focused on our core offerings. I remember back in 2008 we ran a "Pink Slip Special" for people who had been laid off by their companies. We knew that many of those people were just going to head home to try and regroup. We knew that they'd be much more successful in that regrouping process if they were among friends and collaborators instead of their cats. So we extended our hands to help. Instead of being panicked about our business success, we focused on what it is that we knew we could do – give people a place to be and an opportunity to be part of a growing community. Turns out that not only helped our members, but it helped our success as well.  -Susan Dorsch Office Nomads

  • Begin a list of classes to teach people how to freelance/contract

Cohere’s most popular events during the last recession were those that helped laid off workers learn how to freelance. Our primary customer was one that had recently been laid off and was now starting to freelance for the first time.

IMG_0640-Edit.jpg

One of the greatest benefits coworking communities can give current and prospective members is access to resources that help people earn money. Great courses to offer are: Contract Writing 101, SEO for Small Business and Create a One Page Website in a Day. There’s no need to bring in the big guns to teach either. Your members are a wealth of info. Let them practice teaching lessons on the subjects they know the most about.

Conclusion

I’m clearly not an expert in economics. I don’t know if or when the next recession will happen or why. As a huge fan of coworking and its power to connect people and dismantle loneliness, I think coworking operators everywhere should start planning now so we don’t lose our most vulnerable members to their dining room tables when they lose their jobs.

Start by saving now and end with kick-ass programming built by and for your members that will help them earn money in new ways.

Looking to start a coworking space? Get the Ultimate Coworking Launch Sequence Workbook. It’s filled with practical advice and actionable tips to help you build a recesssion-proof coworking business.

Ultimate Coworking Launch Sequence ebook
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Recap: Women Who Cowork Retreat 2018

AMAZEBOOBS. That's all I can really say about the first ever Women Who Cowork retreat held at Soma Vida in Austin, TX. I've been sworn to secrecy about the actual goings-ons at this event but I do have some tidbits and teasers I CAN share.

Women-Who-Cowork-Retreat-group.jpg

Getting to know one another and helping each other on the WWC Facebook group is ONE thing. Hugging, making eye contact and loving on one another IN PERSON is a whole other thing. Sound familiar? Much like the work we do with our IRL coworking communities, we practiced what we preach by coming together in person to connect. Thank you to Iris and Laura for catalyzing this opportunity for us all. 

23 women from the United States and Canada attended this inaugural event. Here are my SEVEN POINT ONE key takeaways from this incredible gathering of women.

ONE: Felena Hanson. I have secretly admired her from afar for almost a decade. She shared her story, how Herahub came to be and gave us a peak behind the curtain of her success. I found her incredibly relatable, warm, genuine and frankly, she has impeccable style.

TWO: Ashley Proctor. I have had the honor of being in closed audiences with Ashley for years and every time I hear her story I'm struck by how incredibly resilient and persistent AF she is. When Ashley wants something done, she works at it relentlessly until it is achieved even if it means getting told "no" 25 times.

THREE: Liz Elam. This retreat reminded me how much I love Liz. To the point, candid and refreshing AF Liz taught us how to negotiate. I can't reveal the secrets here but if you get a cocked-head-dead-shark-eyes-stare from me in the future--just know that I'm practicing on you and you WILL bend to my will.

FOUR: Cat Johnson. Goddammit Cat. Stop. Making. Me. Cry every time we're in the same time-zone. Cat is so incredibly authentic and shares so much of her heart. Cat taught us EVEN MORE about creating content that matters. Head over to the Coworking Content Alliance Facebook group and join.

Photo by Amy King of Good Work Dallas, TX

Photo by Amy King of Good Work Dallas, TX

FIVE: Daryn DeZengotita. Keep your eye on this one. Daryn is doing some of the most important work I can think of right now and that's bringing coworking into underutilized churches. Also, she makes me laugh and laugh and laugh and I value that over almost anything.

FIVE POINT ONE: We discussed what happens when you take god out of church and take desks out of coworking. Guess what?! It's the same damn thing. It's people, connection, support and community. Will coworking be the new church? I think it will--no matter your religious beliefs.

SIX: The way women show up TOGETHER is so, so, so, so different than we show up in mixed gender groups. How can we change or amplify this for our benefit?

SEVEN: Paging Deskmag! We have some revisions to the world coworking history timeline. Please see Laura Shook for corrections and addition of female names to that well-read albeit incomplete timeline.

All in all, I am so happy that I took a chance and reworked my schedule to attend this. Keep your eye on Women Who Cowork and be sure to sign up for their next event.

Photo by Melissa Saubers of Cowork Waldo Kansas City, MO

Photo by Melissa Saubers of Cowork Waldo Kansas City, MO

 

 

 

 

 

Coworking Events for Tired Community Managers

Community managers in the most self-actualized, activated communities can get exhausted by pulling off one event after another. *I* get tired of putting on events. Rather than stop entirely and jetting off on some getaway deal with Southwest to Tacoma, here is a list of low-cost, minimal effort, high impact events even the most sleep-deprived community manager can coordinate.

Drive-Thru Donuts only attempt this event if you have a drive-thru donut purveyor on your way your coworking space. Remember, we are LAZY and if you have to get out of your car at 7am, it's not worth it.  In fact, I can't even type how to do this because it takes too much energy so here is a video I made one day...back in the days when I had pep to spare. Get the free guide to doing donuts.

Potlucks Of Any Kind a potluck is the secret weapon of any weary community manager. I enjoy a potluck where I do absolutely nothing other than announce we're having a potluck. Sometimes I bring the "base" like lettuce for the salad or meat for the tacos and then the members bring all the toppings. There is a small element of DANGER in these events b/c the community might overlook bringing some key ingredient like BACON or CHEESE. This mistake only happens once. If you want your members to self-organize, withhold cheese at a taco potluck and they'll whip up a google doc sign-up sheet for the next event faster than you can say COLLABORATION. Get the free guide to potlucks.

Happy Hour As A POTLUCK if you have a drive-thru liquor store on the way from your home to your coworking space, then by all means buy the beer yourself. If not, your happy hours are now billed as "Bring your favorite beverage or snack to share!" Depending on how well you know your community, you may have a couple of members who just "can't even" when it comes to getting to the store to buy literally anything. Offer them the opportunity to buy their way out of bringing something by pitching $5 your way. It'll fund your future donut day. See above.

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Going Out to Lunch Don't overlook THE most simple event and pay someone to prepare your food and walk it to your table. Every coworking community has a neighborhood haunt. If you have an extra cup of coffee some day and find your strength, just plan a recurring lunch out at that same restaurant every month. Easy peasy, lemon-water-no-ice squeezy.

Cotivation Groups this method definitely falls into the "long-con" of member engagement but I highly recommend you start hosting weekly accountability sessions using this tried and true method called Cotivation. After facilitating several rounds of Cotivation myself, my members have taken the wand? Torch? And have started organizing and hosting their own sessions, WHICH I AM UTTERLY NOT INVOLVED IN. Here are some Coherians creating engaging events for themselves and I'M NOT IN THE ROOM. In fact, I think I was out to lunch when this happened. Magic.

The complete Cotivation Facilitator's Guide is now available!!

What other minimal effort activities have you found to work well in your coworking communities? If you want more tips and tricks for starting and running coworking spaces, check out this ebook I wrote, which was DEFINITELY NOT minimal effort.