On day 1 of GCUC a conference was led by speakers Ashley Proctor, Executive Director of 312 and Executive Producer of GCUC Canada, and Tony Bacigalupo, Founder of New York Cities. The two talked about how to build and monetize community.
Ashley got into coworking when she was a student at Ontario College of Art and Design. The students came to her when they lost all of their communal space during a renovation project called “superbuild.” Ashley created a space off campus called X Space where the students could collaborate on projects and learn from one another. Some member of X Space went on to became part of her next project called Creative Blueprint.
Ashley defined coworking as a movement. The person who invented the concept said anyone who likes this idea can take it and run with it. So, a couple of people decided to open source it and share it with as many people as possible. To do this, they created a Google group, a wiki, and a blog to communicate with one another and grow coworking. Coworking.org is a site with tons of resources and access to joining the coworking Google group where thousands post their questions and answers.
Coworking is about building meaningful human connections. It is not just renting our desks or meeting rooms. Coworking involves using these spaces to make entrepreneurship accessible, inspiring and impacting members, defending freelancer rights, building community, accelerating economic development, expanding network, and supporting each other throughout the process.
It is important to get into the mindset that coworking is dealing with actual human beings. Do not just view them as a number. The edge that coworking spaces have is that there is a physical space where people can get together to learn from what each other’s skills. You can waste a lot of time just trying to attract people through marketing stuff because you are going head to head with everyone else on the internet vying for someone’s attention. People will come to your space because they connect with you; their passions and needs are aligned with yours. Space owners are not going to personally recruit every member but you should focus on really cultivating that connection, especially with the first few people.
Before you even open doors, really get a handful of people on board with your vision to ensure sustainability. If you’re currently operating a space, treat it like you are starting from scratch and use your resources to translate your vision into something tangible.
Coworking does involve the selling of space. However, what we really want is access to the people in the space. Work space itself is not that special. If there is no emotional connection to your place, competition can easily come in and take your members. So, you should start with people you already know, friends of friends or existing contacts are great because they can vouch for your space. The way any community starts is from other communities.
To build a strong community, it is important to find out what they want and need and how to set yourself apart. If your space is built with the people in your community in mind, they will be very happy and satisfied with the experience they get. The reason spaces are successful is because members want to be there. They want to be around each other and build relationships.
When gathering people, do not try to sound like you are selling something. Simply ask them to come hang out in you space and have a conversation with you. Don’t let prospective members come in whenever. It’s more effective to set a particular time and make sure you make it worth their while. They experience can be amplified when there is an event going on like a community lunch or show and tell. However, do not just look for prospective members. Look for people who would be valuable to the cultivation of your space — people with experience in internet stuff, legal stuff, and design, branding, and website stuff or people who work for food providers and local breweries.
Approach coworking as collaboration instead of competition. It is best to not keep secretive. Tell everyone what you are building. Make what you do not know known so that people who do know about it can jump in and help. Making friends with other coworking communities is another great way to enhance your space. Coworking VISAs founded by the same people as the Google group and are completely free. With a coworking VIA, members can visit coworking spaces for free all around the world.
Lastly, Ashley recommended that you work with the natural calendar that the year provides. For example, get organized during the summer before everyone comes in September to work. It can reduce the stress and load of work you have during that time. Recruit people at the turn of the year when people are new setting goals for themselves. She also advised writing down these goals and sending their individual goals back out to them in June. June is when people start dropping off to see how they have progressed. This can entice them to come back to your space to be productive.