Small Town Coworks Considerations

Write a few words, kick off a lot of conversations. Well, I guess that’s why humans developed communication. Last week’s post about a coworks closing inspired a suite of  incoming phone calls, emails, and meetings about possible reincarnations – and I wasn’t even the one running the show; I just happened to use the space. Good ideas are rarely perfect when they are new, and a bit of testing and trials can create new variations that are hopefully improvements. Coworks in cities have worked out the worst imperfections. Coworks in small towns have a bit more work to do; and it is work that should be done because telecommuting creates opportunities to pull income into places that could benefit greatly from even small increases.

The coworks I used closed for strategic as much as financial reasons; though, if it was making gobs of money it probably would’ve stayed open or simply shifted locations. Small town coworks, or really any small town business, deal with smaller populations. The fewer people in the area, the fewer people are likely to sign up for such a shared space. Of course, if coworks worked better in small towns, there’d be more incentive for telecommuters to move there. Catch-22s persist.

The response to my post tells me that there’s a demand and an interest in providing a supply.

The demand (extremely generalized and only representative of possibilities):

  • programmers – who may need nothing more than few distractions and a reasonable connection, and occasional coordination calls
  • writers – who may not want distractions, need a reasonable connection, and occasional coordination calls
  • graphic artists – who need big monitors, lots of bandwidth, and good lighting
  • consultants – who need space for discreet conversations and calls, and who benefit from networking
  • advocates – who need a mix of content creation, extensive personal and social media networking, and possibly lots of calls
  • agents – real estate, stock, whatever, who have to deal with clients, professionalism, and possible regulatory restrictions
  • and a list that doesn’t stop with architects, engineers, counselors, etc.

The supply (generalized and open to creative innovations):

  • coffee shops – the standard, which was also the inspiration for creating coworks because, while they are convenient, have a good business model, provide food and drink, aren’t private or quiet or ergonomically comfortable for hours of work
  • libraries – very handy, especially since they’ve embraced technology with high-speed connections, computers onsite, a variety of desks, tables, and chairs, and a special bonus of on-site researchers and – get this – a library of books, but not quite public and no longer the quiet bastions of introverted scholars
  • extensions of existing office businesses – print shops, office supply stores, and shipping centers have a natural overlap with many businesses, easy upgrade to professional equipment and services
  • spare offices – another standard, rents for about $1/sq ft (highly negotiable), and requires a manager who probably expects to be paid
  • community spaces – whether on purpose or by accident, lobbies, lounges, and foyers can provide free wi-fi and free seating and may even provide quiet alcoves for quiet conversations
  • restaurants and bars – an option I rarely see exercised, but a great opportunity for better utilization of the space, a semi-captive audience, and a possibility of swapping out tea and cookies for beer and fries, something the creatives may appreciate

And then there are the pesky details of 24/7 access, supply storage, crowd control, management of the other coworkers, and who is going to clean the toilet.

In the last week, I’ve been asked to consider about a dozen of those possibilities. Thanks for the honor of asking me for my opinion. Glad to be of service.

I haven’t worked out the specific numbers yet but it looks like, to open a commercial coworks, people have to find it attractive to spend:

  • more than $1/sq ft for rent,
  • add >15% for utilities,
  • add something for insurance,
  • add something for marketing,
  • be able to pay their share to a manager at least minimum wage (174 hours/month) plus free access to the space,
  • with adjustments for the level of access
  • and adjustments for the level of service.

It’s late enough that I’m not going to add that all up (maybe at a coworks I could ask for a volunteer), but it definitely suggests that size matters. The lower limit is what it takes to barely make it work. The upper limit is where it just becomes cheaper for a person to rent their own office space. That bracket is about $400/month for the coworks and about $400/month for an individual. A 400 square foot space with four people each using about 100 square feet could cover the bare minimum at $100/month, but would end up paying more. Halve the individual’s floor space and double the people without changing the price and there’s a few hundred to pay a manager, which is not minimum wage.

Fortunately, I don’t have to find the solution. There are more than a dozen people working on it. Hopefully there are more than a dozen people who want to use it. The best solution for a small town may already exist in the coffee shops, libraries, and common spaces; but maybe something scalable, more professional, and beneficial to the local economy can be found. Good luck. Tell me what you find. I’ve been working on my regular collection of jobs for the last 14 hours today and don’t have the energy left to close the deal. Of course, if I was working in a coworks, maybe we’d cooperatively find a solution. After we find it, let’s see if we can share it. There are a lot of small towns that could use the help.

About Tom Trimbath

real estate broker / consultant / entrepreneur / writer / photographer / speaker / aerospace engineer / semi-semi-retired More info at: and at my amazon author page:
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