DIY Coworking Amenities: Make Your Own Snack Vending Machine for $64

It’s easy to get hyper-focused on what amenities a coworking space should offer. Should you have yoga? Will your members require catered lunch every day? Should you offer business consultations, espresso, hard-wire internet, parking passes, Herman Miller chairs, treadmill desks?! It’s a conversation meant to drive you nuts and designed to distract you from the actual business you’re in. Coworking isn’t about one-upping the next space with how neat your printer is. It’s about making life a little better for someone else.

I’ve been in the business of micro-improving people’s lives for eight years. It’s been a magnificent, sometimes maddening, yet always rewarding eight years.

One way I keep Cohere coworking’s offering relevant, modern and USEFUL is to pay attention.

After about the 20th instance of watching members hurry out to grab lunch and lose precious time, I decided to make their lives a little better.

Cohere is somewhat cursed by our great location in Old Town Fort Collins, Colorado. We’re in the middle of everything, which is a gift and so convenient yet we’re within walking distance of ANYTHING and sometimes anything becomes expensive and time consuming especially if you’re always running out for a $20 salad.

We have a phrase at Cohere. If you say “I can’t even” it means your day/task/boss/client/life is hard right now. If I can take your day from Can’t Even to Thank Goodness then we are winning.

So I did what any mom would and brought SNACKS. I was very clear with the members that Snack Box was a pilot and if it was unpopular, we’d discontinue it. It was not a failure and I have a wad of cash to prove it. We are 20 days in at the writing of this post and we have sold about half of the snacks and gathered $50 so I have almost recouped my costs.

Here’s how you can implement a snack box/honor system “vending” machine in your space and turn your I Can’t Even days into Oh, Thank Goodness moments.

-You probably have a sense of what your member’s dietary needs are. We have a lot of vegetarian, vegan, paleo, dairy-free and gluten-free members so snacks must be chosen carefully. I opted for lower sugar, gf snacks I could buy at Costco in bulk. I spent $64 on our first 5 snack choices. Here’s what I picked: Nature Valley Almond Butter Bars, Kind Minis, Kirkland Trail Mix, Quinoa/Brown Rice microwavable packs, and Sargento nut/cheese packs found in the fridge.

-I rooted around in my basement for a forgotten wooden bin I won at a fair.

-I figured out the price/item and added 50 cents to determine the pricing for each item.

-I modified a canva template for a school menu and branded it in Cohere’s colors. I removed the details from the sign below. If you print and laminate it, you can use a dry-erase marker to customize it with your own snacks/prices.

for sale by Angel K

-I organized the snacks, laminated the sign and printed out a list of all of the members. A clipboard is hiding behind the sign and has the list of all member’s names.

-I gave coworkers the option of paying in cash via a little cup in the box or they can just write what they got on the clipboard and I’ll add it to their invoices in Cobot.

I have deployed a paper survey next to the snack box to gather member feedback. The majority is definitely pro-snack and they have written in ideas for what they’d like in the next snack box. I’m super pleased with our new snack program and hope to continue it.

Small Coworking: Revenue and Use Mix

Nothing vexes new coworking space operators as much as figuring out how much space to allocate to flex desks, dedicated desks and private offices. Throw in common areas like the kitchen, bathroom, conference rooms and hallways and it gets even more complicated.

I’ve been running a lot of numbers in my coworking space, Cohere, this month. Partially because we might be on the cusp of expansion and partially because we’re bursting at the seams and we need some relief RIGHT NOW. And when I can’t magically add a floor to the building, I do math to find the answer. I also talk with members but I use the math to guide what options are available to them.

Here are the numbers I used. First I wanted to know how much square footage we have on each of our FOUR floors. Cohere is only 2,500 ft2 so each floor is teeny and frustrates us to no end.

Top Floor/Coworking/Offices: 832 ft2

Kitchen/Bathrooms/Living Room/Small Meeting Room: 822 ft2

Entry/Offices: 170 ft2

Offices/Large Conference Room: 624 ft2

Then I wanted to know how much square footage we have for just my desk, the 10 flex desks and 2 phone rooms on the Top Floor. It’s just 520 ft2.

The 9 offices occupy nearly double that at 980 ft2 and a whopping 950ft2 is just common areas (kitchen, bathrooms, meeting rooms, hallways, landings, living room).

Next, I wanted to see where my revenue was coming from and frankly, I was a little surprised. As you can see below in the infographic, the 520 ft2 flex desk coworking area is bringing in a whopping 48% of revenue. I always just assumed that the offices were winning b/c their monthly checks *seem* so much bigger.

I also took a look at what types of memberships are both most popular AND which coworking membership brings in the most revenue. The most popular membership is the Explorer 1 day/week plan at $69/mo and the most profitable membership is the 3 day/week Nomad plan at $169/mo.

A few weeks ago, a member decided to leave his private office and my instinct was to simply fill it with another private office member. Unfortunately, this does nothing for the people languishing on our wait list, which is a painful thing for me to bear right now.

Luckily, because of my math, I was able to see that flex desk coworking is more profitable than offices for Cohere. I emailed a few Coherians who have been interested in having something akin to a “writer’s den” or quiet project/writing space to see if they were still interested. They were!

I’ll have to spend around $1,000 to outfit the office with 4 workstations and some storage bins but the added flex desks will allow me to pull almost everyone off the wait list while offering a new nook for the Coherians to enjoy. Interested in what furniture I prefer? Get the whole list here.

The Key Takeaways:

Do some math on your space every few months. Coworking is dynamic and changes constantly. We use our space in very different ways than we did when we first moved into this building.

Don’t get locked into a use for a particular room in your space. What is an office today can be desks tomorrow or a living room or a meeting room. Do some math, change things up, make more money.

Did you like that? You’ll like the workbook I wrote for you. The Ultimate Coworking Launch Sequence is here to help you start your coworking community with a mix of history, hands-on exercises, field work and introspection. Grab the workbook today and you get the free email course to keep you on track and motivated while you complete it.

I Earned a Business Closure


This is a hard thing to write. Lots of people look to me as a person who has everything figured out so when I have to tell the world that I *don’t* have everything figured out and that one of my businesses failed, it stings all the more.

The shared rehearsal space for bands I opened in 2015, Cohere Bandwidth, went out of business. Ouchy.

By all accounts and using my very own methods of building the community first, seeking constant input from our customers, holding events, having focus groups, doing pricing research and being as frugal as I could I just couldn’t make it work and it HURTS.

It’s like being kicked in the crotch by a profit and loss report that is holding a fistful of drum sticks.

I am hyper focused on my failure yet my community only sent messages of support, love and encouragement. They said things like, “you are amazing, you did a hard thing.” “I can’t wait to see what impossible thing you do next!” “Chin up, what do you have in the hopper for us now?”

My community is sad but they haven’t lost faith in me. If anything, they think Bandwidth was merely an iteration of THE NEXT BIG THING.

It’s easy to be too focused on failure EVEN BEFORE YOU START.

Don’t let the fear of failure keep you from starting. Your coworking space might never take off. Your coworking space might close at some point in the future. You will be okay.

I’m here to tell you that if you do fail, you can look behind you and see a whole bunch of supportive faces. You’ll remember how many amazing friends you met that you never would have crossed paths with otherwise. You’ll have files filled with pictures of people and events and happy times. So even if you lose the business, you never lose the people.

Love and Iterations,

ps. I REALLY dislike the word failed. Let’s replace it with the word earned instead. I earned a business closure. Doesn’t that feel better?


Image credit: Dagny Mol

How to Get Your First Founding Coworking Members

Starting a coworking space can be a risky proposition. Most founders take on the lease responsibility and then sell membership to make revenue. If you sign a lease with no members, it’s even riskier. Grassroots and DIY coworking spaces take time and effort to fill when there isn’t a huge marketing budget on which to rely.

That’s why I always recommend to catalysts to build a community first. You can read more about using meetup to do that. Next, you can parlay your meetup group members into PAYING members of your space even BEFORE you sign a lease. What a world!

I’ve called on four incredible women founders of coworking spaces to drop some knowledge on how they got paying members before or shortly after opening. Notice a little theme in that many of them fully understood the importance of “community first, space second” and found a lot of fear around putting themselves or their business idea out there prior to have a physical space. Take heed and take heart! You can do it.

Panel of Women Coworking Catalysts

Her Space in Fresno, CA

Kayla Pendleton Founder & President, Her Space, Fresno, CA | Founding Members 15 and growing

Evolve Workplace in West St. Paul, MN

Lisa Akinseye Visionary Team, Evolve Workplace, West St. Paul, MN | Founding Members 17 and growing

Entrelac in Annemasse, France

Marion Majou Founder, Entrelac, Annemasse, France | Founding Members 0

Shecosystem in Toronto, Canada

Emily Rose Antflick Founder, Shecosystem, Toronto, Ontario | Founding Members 18

Tell me a little bit about your coworking community. 

Kayla: Her Space aims to provide the education, connections, and resources ladies need to propel their businesses forward. We support women in all phases, whether you are trying to launch or grow your business. The thing that makes our community special is that we are forming the space in order to create a movement of change in the economic landscape of our city. Fresno has a huge unemployment problem, and is flooded with things like human trafficking, substance abuse, and homelessness, especially in our downtown region. We want to open a non profit that helps support the rehabilitation efforts of the victims of these life events. We will provide a place to introduce these folks to the concept of entrepreneurship, help them in the formation of their business plans, and present opportunities to pitch their business ideas to potential investors.

Lisa: I think that what makes Evolve Workplace special, particularly in our community, is that we are a bit more casual than some of the national corporate “business centers” that are trying to rebrand themselves as being coworking spaces. Our goal is for members to see the space as their workday haven, knowing they spend most of their waking hours within Evolve’s four walls. We, like many authentic coworking spaces, strive to be member-focused, and plan to add features and amenities based on their wants and needs.

Marion: Entrelac is special because it is both a great space to get work done efficiently, but more importantly a friendly community. The majority of members are new to coworking when they first start – some are even new to working in an open plan office. I always emphasize the community side of things and all members take it in their stride to do their bit – whether that’s just leaving a mug free sink (and we know how crucial that is) or organizing events.

Emily: Shecosystem is a work-life space rooted in feminine and feminist values – which happen to be very similar to the values of the coworking movement – openness, collaboration, accessibility, sustainability and community! We’ve built a culture where holistic wellness and self-care are part of the workday. We opened with 18 founding members and currently have close to 60. It’s a warm community where folks really come as they are and we hold space for the totality of eachother’s experiences. It’s a women-centric space but all genders are welcome. Shecosystem’s 1650 square foot space in Toronto opened in November 2016 but the community predates it by a year.

When you decided to start a coworking community, how much did you focus on finding people BEFORE you signed a lease? Why/why not? Did you find any super useful resources online that led you to want to build community first?

Kayla: I have worked on building the community over a year now before getting into a space. What is the point of having a space if you don’t have wonderful people to share it with?? I also wanted to make sure the concept was going to be 100% solid before investing my life savings into it.

Lisa: We started doing our homework in June. Some of the names that kept resurfacing were Cat Johnson, Alex Hillman, Tony Bacigalupo and others. For about a week, I turned into “absorber of all” and read more articles, visited more coworking websites, and watched more YouTube videos than you could imagine. In short, everyone I’ve reached out to says, “community first”, and we’ve adopted the mantra.

Marion: Even though I had read the articles (Alex Hillman’s blog and Angel’s blog and ebooks too), combed through the coworking google group, for a long time I had the classic attitude of a shy entrepreneur about my project: “I can’t quite go public about it yet, I still need to improve this and to confirm that….”
I did raise awareness of the project and a couple of people did come on board early. But most were sort of waiting on the sidelines: “Let us know when the space is set up and we’ll come and check it out…” They were all focusing on the space, rather than who was going to be in it and what would happen between those people. At the time, it felt overwhelming to educate people about coworking (when I didn’t even feel legit myself!). I was working on getting this business off the ground while raising three kids! So, something had to give and it was the community side of things.

Emily: Starting with community building intuitively made sense, and was in line with my professional experience as an educator. I’ve always loved “holding space” for people to connect, and in this case the permanent physical space was an extension of the intangible containers I was used to creating, not the other way around.

Taking on a lease is a huge risk, and I wanted to validate my idea first. Because I was creating this space from a feminine place where it’s all about circles rather than pyramids, I wanted the process to reflect the values; it made sense to start with community and find out what they need rather than come up with top-down policies. Soon after I started gathering my tribe, I attended GCUC Canada and heard industry leaders like Angel and Alex Hillman talking about how important building community had been to their spaces and knew I was on the right track.


How did you find prospective community members? Did you host Jellies or meetups? Have events? Do personal outreach? Attend events? What method was most successful for you?

Kayla: I have been a member of a networking group called Polka Dot Powerhouse since the beginning forming the idea. This group has helped me meet my tribe and give me the support I needed to launch. I have hosted meet ups for my Pop Up Coworking Days. I basically get a group together at local coffee/tea shops and we all work together- no structure- just getting to know each other and knocking out projects. I also host a Monday Morning Motivation group- where we grab coffee, do a guided meditation, and goal setting for the week in a peace garden. I attend several events a week besides the events I host myself. Being visible and showing up constantly is what works.

Lisa: in addition to social media and in person meetings, we are hosting two of our own Meetup groups. Our most exciting event to date was when we hosted 48in48 last weekend. They did a hackathon-style event to build 48 websites for 48 local nonprofits in just 48 hours. The energy was phenomenal. It was also interesting to see how the space could be best-used for tech teams. We told them to move furniture as necessary to meet their needs, and it infused new ideas into our space!

Marion: Early on, I set up a Facebook page and a landing page for our website and started communicating online about my project.
Coworking was still very new in this area and not very present in mainstream media. I attended networking events where local authorities and local businesses were present. I got a bit of traction across the border in Switzerland where the startup/digital scene was a bit more active. But everyone I met there weren’t particularly interested in coming to us.

I also visited a number of regional coworking spaces, who all emphasized that what worked for them was a mix of “community before space” and of “get a space up and running and they will come”. At the time, I think they were right because coworking was so new that people need to “see it” before they could “try it”. Three years later, the market is very, very different and I would now feel a lot more confident to start with jellies, meetups and basically no space.

Emily: Shecosystem started as a weekly gathering of women who were looking to connect with a tribe of likeminded others who shared values and experiences that are underrepresented in the dominant entrepreneurial paradigm. We rented a private studio for two hours Tuesday mornings for close to a year in a really cool and vibrant community arts building, charged $12, and provided coffee and tea. At first we partnered with an established online women’s network – a win-win where they provided more face-time value for their members and I got a platform to leap off of when I had no brand recognition.The format was a micro-version of what I wanted a day at Shecosystem to look like: an opening circle focussed on intention setting and authentic sharing (not elevator pitches!), 90 minutes of coworking, an onsite business mentor for one on one check-ins, and a 20 minute holistic wellness experience to end the session. I also did monthly events like a new year yoga and writing workshop, a panel of women social entrepreneurs, and a World Cafe style event looking at challenges and issues facing women entrepreneurs. These events were often in collaboration with groups like Startup Toronto and Women in Biz Network, or with facilitators from the community. We also did a 3 day pop-up in collaboration with the Gladstone Hotel, with coworking, wellness breaks, a marketplace showcasing women artisans, and daily circles. I also started a closed facebook group that grew to a couple hundred over the course of the year and sent out monthly newsletters. Finally, I got out there and talked about the idea constantly. I did a lot of public speaking on panels, led workshops at conferences and had lots of coffee dates!
Did your community members begin to press you to find a physical location or did you spear head that decision? How involved in finding/planning the space were your members?

Kayla:I knew from the get-go I needed a space for this to work long term. My members have helped me decide what part of town to focus my search, but I for the most part did it on my own.

Lisa: We had the space before members so we held some pre-opening food ‘n’ beer nights to get input. We’re certainly not done furnishing the space, and our hopes are that members will show us what works for them.

Marion: For months, there was uncertainty around our location as the plan was to share premises with a publicly funded incubator, hence my hesitation to go public. In hindsight, I could have shared a lot more about the journey itself – the good, the bad and the ugly!
A handful of prospective members were involved in the finishing touches: putting together furniture, painting and webmarketing. The bulk of it felt lonely and fairly scary to be honest – but also very empowering. I’m doing this, on my own!

Emily:I took the initiative to find a space after I did a quick impact assessment survey with people who had been attending the meetups. I found that being a part of the group was working for people – in terms of revenue, belonging, happiness, networking etc. – and that people wanted a more permanent space. I then created a really detailed market research survey to find out what they wanted in terms of location, amenities, price points, and other priorities.
Once I found the space, I held tours and info session during renovations, and several members signed up during this period. It was also an opportunity for members to give input that shaped the design of the space. There were also a lot of one on one conversations with potential members.

Her Space post lease-signing

Did people give you money before you opened the physical location? How did you ask for that? 
Kayla:I ask for a $100 deposit and an agreement from those that are interested in becoming members that states what membership level they want to sign up for.

Lisa: we did some really unusual and leased our giant parking lot to some contractors to generate some revenue prior to our soft opening.

Marion: We had a soft launch in early September. Basically, the space was equipped enough to say: “We’re open!”. Three weeks later…. no one had joined! So I decided to go all out and organized a free coworking week. Anyone could register to come and work for free for as long as they wanted that week. We had a full program of events with daily workshops and shared lunches. This was during the ice bucket challenge fever, so I even got a little wet in Lake Geneva to promote this….. Oh the things you do to get attention! ;-)
By the end of that week, there was a nice little group of about 8 people who had enjoyed hanging out together that week and even got s**t done! On the last afternoon, we had a signing up session and all of them joined. I was so thrilled, I could have cried!
The lesson for me here was that people attract people. There is nothing harder than convincing someone to join a collaborative work community if the space they are touring is empty.

Emily: Yes, I launched a Founding Members plan where people could pre-commit to a 3 month membership at 15% off, 6 months at 20% off, or a year at 25% off. I launched this as soon as I found a location – around 3 months before the doors opened, with a guarantee that if I had not opened by x date, they’d get a full refund.

How did you structure what they got in exchange for pre-paying? Did they get membership? Bragging rights?

Kayla: In return I give them the 1st month rent free and waive my $99 initial fee, plus make them a sponsor of the launch party- and they get a free t shirt. Pretty sweet deal.

Lisa: We didn’t have pre-pay pre-launch. What we are offering now is a dedicated desk for just $25 more a month than a $300 hot desk.

Marion: Whoever decided to join during that week would get a 50% discount on their membership. There were only three discounted memberships available for each membership plan. In return, people committed to a 6 months membership. After that we returned to month-to-month contracts but this was a great way to get started. Money was less of a hurdle for prospective members and for me, having these people in the space for 6 months was guaranteed and a great way to finding new members.

Emily:Here’s what I told them:As a founding member, you’ll get early adopter rates, more input in shaping the space to suit your needs, and the social capital that comes with being part of the foundation of this growing community. You’ll be among the first Shecosisters featured on the website, and I will promote your business on social media. Plus I’ll throw in a few free passes to launch events, and other opportunities to get involved as we lead up to launch. I will do my best to deliver these benefits to you in a timely fashion, but I ask that you join me in being patient, trusting in the unknown, and sending lots of good vibes as I work toward launching our home base!


Would you recommend that new coworking catalysts find community members BEFORE they open a coworking space? Why? Why not?

Kayla: Yes. I can’t imagine trying to get into a lease on a space with your finances on the line, not knowing if anyone will walk through the door for months. Unless you just have a lot of money to invest and aren’t worried about it.

Lisa: For space utilization ideas and cash flow purposes, I wish we had more members pre-launch. On the flip side, we have so many square feet (30,000), that we would like to see a ton of different kinds of businesses that can interface and learn and grow with one another, trading knowledge, and bartering services. So far, most new members are coming in on direct referrals. Others have walked through, and are tied to longer-term leases elsewhere, but are interested in the concept down the road.

Marion: Yes, yes and yes! From this story, I think you will understand why and there is even more advice on community building now. Even as a space is growing, community remains the keystone. For the past six months, we have been working on moving to a co-op system where members take a bigger role in governance and operations. I can’t wait to see where this will take us and I feel so empowered by it all.

Emily: Yes! Yes! Yes! There’s nothing worse than putting your heart and soul into something and then sitting in an empty room. Having founding members means that from day one there is an energy in the space, and other prospective members can get a feel for what their experience will be like. These folks become your goodwill ambassadors in the community – even now, most of my members have come through word of mouth.

I believe that a coworking space truly benefits from collaborating with members to shape the space; plus, input leads to ownership. For example, a member who is a counsellor told me her clients like to look out a window in session, so I swapped the intended board room for the Healing Room because it has a window. Another member told me she hates when spaces have all one kind of chair because people have different bodies, so I got a variety of chairs for the desks. And members are literally embedded in the space – they contributed stones, shells and other mementos to a custom mosaic backsplash. The Shecosystem community really feels that this is OUR space, not mine.

Also check out the Ultimate Coworking Launch Sequence. With a clever mixture of readings, resources, introspection and writing exercises, you’ll have a team of Founding Members before you can tweet #collaboration. If you want to pour extra love into your community building efforts, join our next Cohort group. Capped at 10 coworking catalysts, this group is a companion (literally) to the ebook. Get in the Cohort, get the ebook for free.

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, I feel that 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 membership list and only 10-15% of the members who attend regularly. This appears to be pretty average across groups, not just for coworking.

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

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.

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!

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