Any small service business owner that needs a professional office presence while traveling probably knows the value of co-working facilities. A membership provides everything from a quiet workspace with Internet access to a professional office presence for client meetings.
Many people do not consider another major benefit of these offices: they house an interesting (and changing) mix of businesses in one place, offering countless opportunities to create relationships. It's easy to broaden your business network in common areas, such as cafeterias, coffee bars or in elevators or hallways.
With a friendly spirit and perhaps a nice smile, anyone can strike up conversations that generate the solutions, ideas and resources that are particularly important to service business owners. Here are four ideas to get you started.
#1. Collaboration opportunities
When your parents taught you not to speak to strangers, they probably didn't realize that many strangers at co-working facilities are people that you want to talk to. When you're away from home base, you may not have access to people who can help you work through problems or generate creative ideas.
A great place to go to escape isolation when mulling over your thoughts is one of the building’s public areas. Chances are that the person in line in front of you just ordered a rose-infused vanilla mocha latte and has plenty of time to wait while they go out to pick the roses. Strike up a conversation and you may discover that this person recently went through an experience similar to yours.
It's probably not necessary to mention that a first meeting in the coffee line is not the time to immediately start sharing your deepest thoughts, unless you want intended collaborators to rapidly run away. Start with small talk. If your conversation continues while you share a table to drink your beverages, the discussion may deepen well beyond the weather forecast.
#2. Resource sharing
As the owner of a small service business, you often need to limit in-house resources to those that you need on a daily basis. Certainly, your accounting firm provides skilled staff armed with the right mix of computer equipment to earn clients every tax discount. But, what if you produce client annual reports on a very occasional basis?
Suddenly, you need to find a professional printing service to produce these glossy, high-quality documents. Even if you know that the numbers are accurate, you still need a good proofreader or copyeditor to get the words perfect before going to print.
Another business within your facility may offer these types of services or can direct you to reliable resources. If you want to creatively save even more money, maybe you can exchange some of the services that you need for free tax advice.
#3. Sales opportunities
Don't forget that your business is a valuable resource, too, so some of your neighbors can probably use the services that you offer. The convenience of hiring a company that's just an elevator ride away is a perk that only you can provide, enticing them to choose your services over similar services provided by remote businesses.
Of course, it's probably not politically-correct (or even permitted) to start cold-calling your neighbors. If you know who they are and what they need, however, there's nothing wrong with gently introducing your services once you get to know them. Remember that coffee line?
#4. The benefits of national or international membership
Setting up shop in a co-working facility is definitely more than a simple rental arrangement. It's more of a membership to an exclusive organization. Consider the possibilities if you have access to an online member list, which some co-working facility companies provide. Setting up meetings with other members can help add extra bang for your buck on any planned trip.
It’s a great way to test local areas when expanding to other regions
Here's a bonus tip about co-working facilities: they do not only provide value to travelers. As your business grows, you might want to expand to other locations in or out of state.
Of course, you don't have to run a store-front business to keep "location-location-location" in mind. So, why risk a long-term commitment of buying a building or signing a lease before you know if you chose the right place to set up shop? All of the research in the world may not tell you if you will get the walk-in clientele that you need, or even if you can get to your client sites without hitting major traffic jams every hour of every day.
A few months of rental (and a reasonably low cash outlay) at a local co-working facility will answer these questions and highlight any number of pros and cons that you may not anticipate. And, the opportunity to build business relationships while you set down new roots can exponentially increase the likelihood of successful expansion with less uncertainty along the way.
Carol Roth is a radio host on WGN, a CNBC TV contributor, a ‘recovering’ investment banker & a bestselling author of The Entrepreneur Equation. You can find her on Twitter @CarolJSRoth or at www.CarolRoth.com. She also has an action figure made in her likeness.