Using Meetup to Start a Coworking Community

In talking with my cohort group of new coworking space catalysts, the topic of how and why to build a community before opening a coworking space comes up a lot.

I used Meetup almost a decade ago to get the word out about Cohere before we had a space and it was wildly successful. Unfortunately, my memory is fading on how we actually used it so I’ve enlisted one of my group members, Mark Eaton, to tell you about his process and experience with using Meetup as a platform to connect prior to having a container (building) in Cochrane, Canada outside of Calgary.

Mark (pictured on the right) is an independent contractor, working in the software development industry. He had worked out of coworking spaces in the past and was well aware of the benefits to members. He was originally drawn to coworking to connect with peers, collaborate, network and to find a local tribe. It has been a thorough success.

Tell me a little bit about your coworking project?

When I went looking for coworking in my home town, Cochrane – Alberta, I did not find anything…what’s the next best thing to do? Create a Meetup group and cowork informally in our town of around 26,000. In July 2016, we had our first weekly Meetup, essentially a Jelly in all but name. We had six members present the first day. They are still members and still attend the Meetups. The next few months were transformative, for both myself and our Meetup group. We started to get together weekly and word of mouth was very important to our growth at this stage. There was clear demand, as we soon reached 50 members. Now we are about to hit 100 members!

We worked with local cafes that host our events, asking for discount coffee or baked goods for our Meetups, as we bring in a group on a regular basis. We even became known well enough that we had a cafe invite us to host our meetings with them.

In order to promote our group and build our membership, I have been able to leverage many cheap and free options. I made posters that are now on all of the town community noticeboards and many businesses will also let us place them on their boards (Starbucks, Safeway, libraries, etc). Our town has their own website where they maintain a community events calendar and all of our Meetups are published there…as well as going out to the Town’s mailing list and Twitter followers. We also utilize some digital signs the town has constructed to advertise community events. Finally, we have a couple of online news websites that maintain events calendars and we’re on those too.

I have a landing page that brings all of our web resources to one location, as well as a viability survey I created to gauge interest in our own space. We are about to start working on a site dedicated to our ‘coming soon’ coworking space, right here in Cochrane…we’re calling our space, The Corner Coworking.

Why did you choose the Meetup platform as the digital place to start building a coworking community?

As a member of a couple of other Meetup groups it seemed like the obvious choice to get our group started. The fact that they promote new Meetups in your local area, especially those they feel may be of interest to you, helped get us started. Facebook and Twitter have played a part in getting the word out to a wider community, perhaps those not already on Meetup.com, I feel that Meetup.com has a better reputation than other sites for getting started. People can get engaged without ‘friending you/your group’ on Facebook and Meetup’s RSVP feature helps with planning.

How is your group structured? Who joins your group and what kinds of meetings do you have?

Currently we have the one host, me! While this helps with consistency and a single point of contact, sharing the load could help at times. Our Meetup group is made up of a wide variety of ‘Coworkers’ as we call ourselves. Bookkeepers, graphic designers, life & business coaches, accountants, lawyers, marketers & PR experts, architectural techs, data analysts, personal trainers and many more business owners.They join the group and come along for many of the same reasons I started the group…to get out of our home offices and connect with like-minded contractors, entrepreneurs and location-independent professionals.

My goal with our Meetups is to provide an environment that is not just catching up for a coffee, where’s the value in offering something that can be done without the group? Instead, the first Meetup each month is networking-focused, introductions, reasons for joining the group, what you bring to the group and what you’d like to get out of it. The other Meetups each month are designed to be a mix of networking, coffee and coworking. This gives members the best opportunities to determine if coworking might be for them. For those few months where we can meet five times in one month we’ll hold our Meetup in a nearby town to promote our group or in a coworking space in Calgary, to do a bit of a ‘test-drive’.

“The very best thing about having the community first, is the level of buy-in that our members have in the space.”

What key learnings have you gained from building up a community of people before you have a physical space?

Lots of strong connections have been made between our members, several professional collaborations have formed and I have a good size group of resources that I can refer people to. It has also allowed me to determine the level of interest in coworking in our town, and whether opening a space for our community is a risk I’m willing to take. The very best thing about having the community first, is the level of buy-in that our members have in the space. I am working with 4 or 5 members to help get us up and running, designing the floor plan, working on PR and marketing as well as logo and graphic designs. As these members will join our space as coworkers too, their commitment is strong, they will have helped to build and shape their own community space.

One more learning, don’t be concerned about having a big Meetup.com membership list and only 10-15% of the members who attend regularly. This appears to be pretty average across Meetup.com groups, not just for coworking.

Would you recommend Meetup as a good platform for pre-community?

Meetup.com has been good for organizing events, having a landing page to send prospective members for the Meetup group, and for basic outgoing communications. Two-way communication is not a strength of Meetup.com, we use a combination of a Slack team as well as Facebook and direct contact (email), once a member has attended a Meetup.

If you could give one piece of advice to people who are looking to open a coworking space, what would it be?

There are a lot of generous, helpful and inspiring people in the world of coworking. If you are willing to put in the time and effort, and give something back to them, it seems that they will have time for you.

To name just a few, Alex Hillman (Indy Hall) has a great podcast and shares a lot of the basic getting started stuff. His work is very much grass roots, community-focused. Jamie Russo has a slightly different approach, focusing more on executive offices and a more business-focused theme to what she shares. I have also gained a lot from Angel, especially as the space I’m opening has several things in common with Cohere. Ours will not be a million dollar space, with the very best of everything. We’ll have the things that people really need, things that have been proven to work. We will also grow, as our membership grows.

There’s a lot of great information out there, just take a look. eBooks, industry papers and research, other coworking spaces! Many of these are free too, at least in a limited form, start there. Conferences are also a great way to make lots of very valuable connections….I know that from previous careers, and I’m looking forward to GCUC Canada.


Mark’s information is a great reminder that putting in the effort to build up a community first reduces your risk as a coworking business owner. If you’d like more help getting your coworking space off the ground, check out the Ultimate Coworking Launch Sequence. Use the code “blogfinisher” to get $20 off either the ebook or the ebook+Cohort group.

Poking Holes in Punchcard Coworking Memberships

Promotional PunchcardThe marketing strategies chosen for coworking spaces are very important because they can both directly and sub-consciously set the tone for the community.

Creative ideas should be tempered with thoughtful foresight about the kind of people that will be drawn to them. Before you reach for that “brilliant” gimmick, think about the quality of experience that it supports.

Take punch cards, for instance.

Now, don’t get me wrong. When it comes to earning me a free latte, or discounted hair cut, a punch card is quite handy. These are a tiny little incentive that will make me choose Biz A over Biz B the next time I’m thirsty or shaggy. But does it create feelings of loyalty or ownership toward either one? Not really. Does it make me feel like I’m a more special customer, or that I have a personal investment in the Biz’s success? Nah. EDIT: I no longer participate in punch cards at coffee shops et al. because I believe in supporting the businesses I love most BY PAYING FULL PRICE.

I was surprised to learn that, in some coworking spaces punch cards have been formed into a membership plan. People buy a card for a flat price and then receive a punch every time they visit the space.

Sounds like a decent way to get on-the-fence looky-lous to buy in, but to what?

Punch cards in coworking encourage almost the opposite behavior as the cafe or haircut scenario above, mostly because there’s no “get one free” incentive at the end. Instead of hurrying back for more, punch card members hoard their punches, feeling pressure to make every punch count instead of just coming in as they need (or want). This intermittent attendance circumvents a real investment in the community and reduces the membership to latte status and remember, we’re trying to save people from the coffee shop experience. Not emulate it.

Remember, coworking’s best marketing tool is a vibrant community–one where people can’t stop raving about the value it brings to their personal and professional lives. This isn’t achieved by a punch card or any other gimmick. It’s achieved by being social, introducing prospective members to current members, and creating an environment in which creativity and collaboration flourish.

Coworking Events for Tired and/or Lazy 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Sneak Preview of Ultimate Coworking Launch Sequence ebook!

Launch Sequence designers and Cohere members Becca Verna and Jenny Fischer have been working around the clock to format and beautify the ebook for you. While they do that, I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on the last 7 years of owning my coworking space. (Scroll down for link to download the below activity.)

When I started Cohere, I spent every evening at community events in my city and beyond. I was WORN OUT. I’d like to simplify your life and help you select which events will have the greatest impact on your budding community. Please enjoy this sneak preview and hands-on activity.

The full ebook, which releases on September 1, is an interactive pdf containing ONE HUNDRED pages of information, resources, activities and checklists that will become your North Star of coworking guides.

We selected this format so that you’ll always have access to the Launch guidebook on your phone, tablet or computer. You’ll enter your answers into the pdf and be able to save your work as you go.

You won’t need a separate notebook or file to record your thoughts and actions about the Launch Sequence. You can put everything right into the ebook and refer back to it as many times as you need to.

If you want to be one of the first people in the world to have this incredible guide AND be a part of the first ever Launch Cohort Discussion Group, snag one of the remaining slots today and get $50 off. No code needed.

The Secret to Shopping at IKEA for Coworking Furniture

If you’re starting a coworking space or just launched one, you know that furniture is your largest expense.

I’ve messed up coworking furniture a few different times and have finally NAILED IT (literally and figuratively).

I’ve furnished FOUR different shared/coworking spaces over the years and boy have I screwed it up. From highly custom handbuilt curved workstations to bomb-proof college dorm desks, I’ve really put my members through the desk gauntlet and most times FAILED them. I’ve furnished spaces with uneven wood floors to carpeted floors to floors with lots of stains that required strategic rug placement. One floor was so uneven members couldn’t stay pushed up to the desk on our rolling chairs. We joked that we should install carabiners to “clip in” for safety.

Here’s me in 2010 at the closest IKEA posing proudly with a U-Haul filled with mistakes.

I drove 8 hours to Salt Lake City’s IKEA only to come home with one-half of my office chairs in the wrong color. These white chairs provided lots of opportunities for Miami Vice jokes, and stupidly absorbed the denim dye from everyone’s jeans so they looked old and dirty after approximately three days of use. Don’t even get me started on the couch the members called the “Slip-n-Slide.”

The important thing is that I learned from my mistakes and have finally found the right furniture for small coworking spaces. Rejoice because I did all the experimentation for you, and now you don’t have to waste your precious money on screw ups like I did.

Click here to get the entire IKEA shopping list that will fully furnish a 12 workstation or 1,000 ft2 coworking space for under $5,000.

When you join the next Ultimate Coworking Launch Sequence Cohort group, you’ll get the pages of narrative I wrote for each item as well. I explain WHY I selected each item and HOW they are the best choices for new coworking space owners. The Launch ebook also includes about 100 other pages of actionable tips, tricks and checklists for soon-to-be or new coworking space owners.

A Maximum Effort Clear Dry Erase Board for Coworking Spaces

I needed a new whiteboard for our revitalized ConferEssence room. A whiteboard that was more decoration than utility but still did its job when required. All whiteboards in the whole universe are literally the worst looking things ever or cost many hundreds of dollars.

Most of the time I’m happy to click three times on Amazon Prime and have what I need delivered to Cohere’s coworking doorstep. Other times, I get SUPER frustrated at how corporate everything looks and then do something dumb like believe I can DIY it for 1/8 the price in a week. This project spanned 4? weeks or more. I don’t know. After the 4th trip to different hardware stores AFTER I researched all the clear board paints like IdeaPaint, ReMARKable and DrawIt I really had to lean in to get this board done.

Special shoutout to my friend Meagan L. who turned me on to Writeyboard’s clear dry erase STICKERS. I could dispense with the panic of trying to paint a surface with clear gloppy paint or I could trick a member of Cohere into helping me apply a sticker. Always choose trickery. Always.

Supply list:

  • 4’x8′ 3/8″ birch veneer plywood cut down by Home Depot staff to 4’x6′
  • Borrowed Ford Explorer from mother-in-law to transport wood
  • A quart of the wrong kind of primer
  • A quart of Zinsser brand peel stop clear primer
  • A package of the wrong kind of sanding blocks
  • Power sander and 220 grit sand paper
  • 4’x6′ Writeyboard clear dry erase sticker
  • Blue tape
  • A willing member to help you
  • Reclaimed barn wood (it was ridiculously expensive)
  • A miter saw you barely remember how to use
  • Nails, screws, drywall anchors, metal frame hanging sets, tape measure, pen, you mom to help you do everything
  • Eufy LED copper light string

Total Cost: $200 once I return everything I didn’t need

All told, it turned out awesome and I REALLY love it. This project is best completed over a weekend rather than piece-mealing it bit by bit like I did.

Want help deciding which DIY Coworking projects are worth it? Join my Ultimate Coworking Launch Sequence Cohort Group!

Coworking Space Photos Needed

Cohere coworking hot dog potluck

Every time I write a coworking book, I like to use photos of real coworking communities in action. Do you have an awesome photo of your community that you’d like me to include in my next book? I always give attribution and a link back to your website. You’ll also get a nice discount on the Ultimate Coworking Launch Sequence when it publishes on September 1.

Instructions:

  1. Email me a high resolution photo that includes people in it. Photos of empty space will be rejected. I will also take photos of communities that are still forming and who do not have a physical space yet.

Include the following:

  1. Name of Space
  2. Website of Space
  3. If you have an existing space, answer the following:
    • How many members did you have when you opened your doors?
    • How long did it take you from deciding to start a space to grand opening?
    • What piece of advice would you give to new coworking founders?
    • Why is your community special?
  4. If you don’t have a space yet, answer the following:
    • Why are you starting a coworking community before you have a space?
    • What did you learn through the process of community building?
    • What are you most looking forward to when it comes to your community?

I will be leading small groups of coworking founders from the first steps of building a community to grand opening with the Ultimate Coworking Launch Sequence. Be sure to get on the list for first dibs on a spot in the first cohort!

I want to learn all the things!

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The Coworking Secret Weapon I’ve Told Everyone and No One

Did you know there’s a thing that will form the basis of all of your coworking space marketing, content creation and tours for the rest of your coworking community’s life? I’ve owned and operated Cohere for over seven years and I use it over and over again and I’ve never told anyone what it is.

WHY?!

I haven’t been holding out on everyone, it just became habit because I share it with EVERYONE.  I just forgot to teach ANYONE how to do it.

If you’re starting a coworking space right now, you’re already creating this amazing thing. It’s called Your Origin Story and I think it might be my number one top secret weapon.

Your Origin Story answers the question: how did you start XYZ Coworking Space? 

An honest and compelling origin story makes you memorable, relatable and authentic and if I’ve learned anything it’s that people LOVE a good story.

My Origin Story starts with trauma and has plenty of twists and turns and then shows how coworking changed my life. It starts like this, “Well, I had just been fired from what I thought was my dream job and was adrift in the universe. I spent all of autumn reading the entire Harry Potter series under a blanket on my porch.”

Do you want to hear the rest? I bet you do. Everyone loves a good train wreck and I had that in spades before I heard about coworking.

Before you do anything else, you need to write down your Origin Story. It needn’t be comprehensive but you need to start recording some really important details from day one of your coworking business launch so you don’t forget them later.

Grab some paper. Here are some questions help you develop Your Origin Story:

What kind of pain were you in before you started coworking?

Where were you when you first learned about coworking?

How did you feel when you started researching coworking?

Who showed up to your first event? What did you talk about?

Why are you uniquely suited to have a coworking community?

If you’ve already opened: who are your founding members? Who stood by you as you started this crazy idea? What did you do on opening day? Who showed up? What was your favorite part?

I will be leading small groups of coworking founders through this process and So MUCH More as soon as the Ultimate Coworking Launch Sequence gets born.

I want to learn all the things!

* indicates required





Furnishing Your Coworking Space: Getting Started at IKEA & A Cautionary Tale

When it comes to furnishing your coworking space, it’s THE LARGEST expense you’ll incur as you get going. It will cost thousands no matter how frugal you are and you might feel sweaty all over. This is normal and I’m here to help.

I’ve furnished FOUR different shared/coworking spaces over the years and boy have I screwed it up. From highly custom hand-built curved workstations to bomb proof college dorm desks, I’ve really put my members through the desk gauntlet and most times FAILED them. I’ve furnished spaces with uneven wood floors to carpeted floors to floors with lots of stains that required strategic rug placement. One floor was so uneven that members couldn’t stay pushed up to the desk on our rolling chairs. We joked that we should install carabiners to “clip in” for safety.

Here’s just one example of how I drove 8 hours to Salt Lake City’s IKEA only to come home with four chairs in the wrong color. These white chairs provided lots of opportunities for Miami Vice jokes but the dumb color absorbed denim dye from everyone’s jeans so they were a nightmare. By the way, this was our first staging area way back in 2010. People started showing up to cowork in this room in this condition. That’s when I knew I was on to something!

I say all that because I’ve finally found the right furniture for small coworking spaces. I did all the experimentation for you so you don’t have to waste your delicious money screwing up like I did.

General Tips

When it comes to the big stuff like desks and office chairs, RESIST the allure of Craigslist (unless you find the exact type of IKEA things I’m going to recommend, then by all means, have at it!). Why? You’ll likely never find matching items in the quantities you need and when you grow or need more desks or chairs, you’ll never be able to find more of that kind and you’ll wind up in a coworking space that looks a little garage sale-esque. 

While I’m not a fan of prison-like uniformity in color/style throughout your entire space, I am a fan of having 1-2 types of workstations and chairs and then imprinting your unique style using plants, art, mirrors and pillows. This kind of ‘matchiness’ in large furniture makes it super easy to rearrange that furniture later and the room will always look pulled together no matter how you situate the desks.

Want More?

There are EIGHT more pages of pro-tips and a real IKEA shopping list you can print and take to the store to completely furnish a 12 workstation coworking space. Stop wondering and clicking and worrying if a piece of furniture will work for coworking. I’ve done all the heavy lifting. Well, except where you have to go to IKEA and do all the heavy lifting. Get the guide now!

I Own a Coworking Space and I Tried to Work From Home

When I started Cohere EIGHT years ago, I didn’t know what I was doing. I had a vague sense that people would enjoy working alongside one another (or rather, I felt that *I* would enjoy working alongside them). Luckily I had low risk aversion and $20K burning a hole in my savings account. Since then, I’ve learned a lot about how and why people cowork and the main goal for coworkers appears to be the avoidance of loneliness/loss of social skills.

_MG_6893The EXPERIMENT

Periodically, I choose to work from home instead of heading in to cowork at Cohere. Today I chose to do that because I knew I had a big gnarly blog post to write for Startup Week Fort Collins and it would require my attention for upwards of two solid hours and that kind of isolation is hard to find when you look up and greet every person entering your coworking space.

I decided to make a note of what my day actually looked like. Now mind you, I’ve been in the business of remote work, coworking and productivity for coming up on a decade and goddammit, I fell victim to every trap my home had to offer today.

The FRIDGE

I have eaten 9 times or 12,000 calories today. I lost track after third breakfast. Who can work when you are steps away from all your favorite things? I actually squealed when I realized I could make a sandwich on homemade bread and then marry guac and mayo on it with stacked slices of turkey.

Lunch took LONGER than usual, not just because of my extremely artistically prepared sandwich but because I thought it would be a good idea to watch last night’s Walking Dead episode while I ate. No one walks away from Rick Grimes mid-show even though I finished my sandwich at the 8 minute mark.

The KITCHEN

As much trouble as the Fridge was, the Kitchen gave me more. Was this afternoon the perfect time to clean out the fridge of weird tupperwares and some spoiled sourdough starter? OF COURSE it was. That created a lot of dishes, which took awhile to tackle. Then I got a dishrag in my hand and now my counters are super shiny along with my stovetop.

The LAUNDRY

Today felt like an ideal time to wash all the linens in my home. After the 12th visit to the laundry room, I started to question the wisdom of this choice though the rhythmic banging of comforters in the dryer made me feel like someone else was home.

2015-02-20 15.00.38The INERTIA of PJs

Normally, I get myself put together prior to 8am so I can take my girl to school. Since her grandparents picked her up at 8am, I unwisely decided to make an elaborate breakfast then start my blog post in my pjs. Have you ever done this and prayed that your google video alert on your computer wouldn’t ring so you wouldn’t get busted? That was me all morning as I fretted over my greasy hair and unwashed sweatshirt. I developed a sense of inertia with my pjs like if I didn’t get out of them, I might actually stay in them until the authorities discovered my body. I managed a shower but lost some of my steam around getting my to-do list done.

The INTERNET of FRIENDS

I spent more time on Cohere’s slack channel, Facebook and texting friends than normal because I felt lonely. Lonely after 6 hours. How do you people work at home for YEARS?! However, I spent more time on Cohere’s slack channel because I knew it would be a reliable way to get some quick interaction with my coworkers. Normally, the in-person coworking would fill this need.

The RESULT

I’m not sure I got more or less work done than I do when I cowork (my job is the definition of “highly-uninterruptible”) but I’m certain that I do DIFFERENT work when I’m at home. I crushed my timeline on the blog post today and even managed to write a second one (that you’re reading now) but I didn’t get any of the administrative or earthly space tasks at Cohere done. Luckily, those are always waiting around for me. Next time I need to write, I think I’ll only do a half-day and perhaps I’ll pack that artful sandwich with me to take to Cohere!

 

 

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