Ramon Suarez is the founder of Betacowork. His latest work, “The Coworking Handbook,” is a guide for company owners and managers. Below is an excerpt from the chapter about growing your community.
We all have a different definition of community. Community is an elastic concept, like so many others in the world of coworking. The community of coworkers (of which you are part of as an operator) is what makes a coworking space sustainable in the long term and what brings more value to the coworkers themselves.
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A community is not a zero sum game, where one person has to lose in order for another person to gain. In a community the gain of one becomes a gain for the whole. Coworking space operators and a lot of coworkers become masters of the win-win, where all sides gain (although maybe in different quantities).
When you start a community you are the first member. To get some early members to work with you, you have to go out and get more. It can be business partners, prospective coworkers, friends… You have to go out and find anybody that could be interested in working in a coworking space and with whom you can build and grow this new community.
Your inner circle of family and friends is within easy reach—you have to grow beyond it. You will have to attend and create events, introduce yourself and others, you will have to share your story and learn from other people’s stories… And you will have to do this while staying true to yourself.
Don’t be an ass, refrain from pitching. You are building relationships with other human beings, it is not a one way street.
Communities are about people, not brands, logos or Facebook pages. The glue that binds them is human relationships. Start connecting people and you will be starting your own community, the community of your coworking space. As a member of a community, others want to know you and find out if they can trust you.
Trust is the basis of relationships, and you can start by giving some trust and then work on it based on the other person’s behavior. One of your roles is to help build trust among the members.
A community is not just a network. Community is not just a group of people that work under the same roof. A community is based on experience, participation, responsibility and relationships. These are the ingredients that develop a sense of belonging and keep a community alive. You must have shared experiences.
With participation you will have a greater sense of commitment and belonging. Without responsibility for your own actions, toward others and toward the coworking space, you cannot have healthy relationships. Without building relationships among the members of a community, you only have a collection of people.
The value of community
All this community talk is not a hippie dream; it is about adding value to others and to your business. Without a community of members and operators that has the right dynamics, the only value of your coworking space will be exactly that: the space.
You will not be providing the added value to make coworkers sign-up and stay, nor will you have a sustainable advantage over the multiple competitors of coworking (homes, other coworking spaces, business centers, shared offices, etc.)
Coworking was born from the need of independent professionals to share—experiences, networks, expenses, etc. It became a reality when professionals worked in a common environment and forged trust. Trust allows us to go further in very different ways, helping us humans create quality relationships both on a personal and a professional level.
If we manage to create an ecosystem where our clients feel comfortable working alongside their coworkers and us, to collaborate, and to help each other, we will be giving them real exclusive and unique value. They will remain as customers, and they will bring others along to work at our coworking space.
The faster we can strengthen the links among coworkers and accelerate the establishment of trust, the more durable, valuable and profitable the relationship with each coworker will be. You will see that as these links and trust develop and strengthen themselves, the value that the members get from belonging to your community increases.
When your clients become aware of the value of coworking with you they will become true coworkers, not just a user who will leave as soon as they find a cheaper chair and table. They will start to evangelize and recommend your space, they will give you continuous feedback, and they will help your coworking space grow strong and healthy.
Building this kind of bond within your community will make it easier for you to propose bigger things and projects with an increasing level of commitment in time, content or price.
There are always different communities and sub-communities interacting in your coworking space. Your community involves everyone who is going to be part of or in contact with your space and brand: your coworkers, the participants in events and the larger local community you are having an impact on.
Your community is formed by and has a role in different communities that go beyond the walls of your coworking space, but your space is one of the main links and activators. You are the operator of a hub that brings a lot of value to them.
You may raise interest about your coworking space among associations, businesses and public institutions in your area. Talk with them and be open, but if you see there is a lot of time and effort commitment on your side and not enough return, cut down on it. Some people have very good intentions and a salary that pays them to spend a lot of time on issues with no clear timeframes or objectives. You don’t.
Create, grow and nurture your community
The first challenge you are going to face when starting a community around coworking is that coworking is not well known. Even with its explosive growth, there are very few people who have ever worked in a coworking space; few know about coworking.
Be smart about it, and speak to the issues and needs that your prospective members face by working home alone, in cafés, etc. You have to educate people about coworking, and bring them in by providing something useful and of value to them.
Start your community
The most important thing to know about starting a coworking community is this: You do not need to have a space. Go out and find people who would like to share some work time in a social way.
You can organize it anywhere you have electricity and Internet (thermal comfort is a plus). Getting to know these people will help you understand their needs, if there are enough people to start, how they are working, how to reach them… Organizing these events will also help you gain a list of prospects to bring to your space once you rent it. One event is not enough.
Do it regularly and remember that coworking is about working, not just socializing: your clients are professionals who are trying to make a living.