Coworking spaces, maker spaces, and your next space

Team up

Renting space for a new business rarely comes cheap — and if you’re just starting out, it’s hard to justify spending money on anything that doesn’t directly translate into revenue. But your options aren’t just a matter of signing a lease for a space you won’t be able to fill for a year or more, or operating out of your garage until you’ve more than outgrown it. Subletting part of another company’s space isn’t new, but coworking and other shared spaces are evolving the options far beyond a desk in a corner. And we’re not talking about just a mailing address and access to a conference room for when you need to meet with clients (though many coworking offices offer such options).

The concept behind coworking is that individuals (often entrepreneurs, but sometimes telecommuting employees or even hobbyists in need of space) can access a space purpose built to give them an ideal place to work. In most cases, there are a range of prices, from a drop-in rate to a monthly price for using the space every single day. There are often also amenities beyond the obviously necessary furniture, internet access, and coffee. Some coworking spaces offer classes and training; others offer discounts on the products and services their users need. You might even see the occasional video game system or kegerator — enough startups have called coworking spaces home that many of the communities have embraced the accessories required by startup culture.

Office space isn’t the only option on the table

While coworking spaces have quickly grown in popularity with office-bound businesses, there are a wide variety of shared workspaces popping up all over. Maker spaces (also known as hacker spaces, as well as several other terms) offer places to do work that requires more than just a desk and a wifi connection. Most maker spaces have a theme, whether it’s official or a little less obvious, but since such spaces make hardware available, they do have to limit themselves in one way or another.

A maker space might provide more electronics equipment, specialize in 3D printers, or choose a different approach all together. For businesses that need equipment or hardware, but don’t need to use it all day, every day, joining a maker space can be a short cut to getting started. For a monthly fee, you can access machines that would otherwise cost you thousands of dollars in startup capital. Depending on the space, you’ll usually have to prove your ability to use equipment before they’ll turn you loose with it — but even that can cut your costs because you’ll likely be able to access inexpensive training as a matter of course.

The availability of shared workspaces has only improved over the past few years. Not only are there six coworking and maker spaces that I know about in my home city, I routinely find desk space when I travel all over the U.S: I’ve worked out of coworking spaces in states from Maryland to Oklahoma to Oregon. Even smaller towns are getting on board with shared space, with coworking spaces like Veel Hoeden, which is based in a town with a population of just 10,000 people.

The added benefits of using shared space

In addition to cutting the costs of accessing work space, coworking spaces often have dedicated communities of users who show up every day. That sort of network can be incredibly valuable to an entrepreneur. You can find mentors and vendors, as well as potential customers, just by going into work in the morning. The people running the space you rely on may go above and beyond to promote your business.

ADX, a Portland, OR-based maker space, runs a holiday marketplace to help its members sell their products. One important note worth considering: paying for space to conduct even part of your business from simplifies your taxes, at least a little bit. Claiming the home office deduction can be difficult (and for some types of businesses may not be an option at all), but the moment you have a receipt from a coworking space or some other facility where you work, you can just add it to the stack of expenses you’ll be deducting on your taxes. (Of course, I’m not a tax professional and would not dream of suggesting that you take any tax or legal advice without consulting a professional about your own tax situation — so make sure to run the specifics by your accountant.)

While just getting to deduct the cost of work space on your taxes isn’t enough to make finding a better home for your business a financial wash, it’s one more benefit in favor of the plan. While coworking and maker spaces are businesses in their own rights, they’re also creating a new niche in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Even for those members who don’t join with a company of their own in mind, shared work space can often serve as an incubator for the ideas that develop naturally when people working on different projects hang out together.

The value of coworking spaces have even been embraced by investors, some of whom have created their own coworking spaces to encourage local entrepreneurs (and potential investments) to get started. Community-based organizations, as well as entrepreneurs looking to start a shared work space as a for-profit enterprise have also embraced their own versions of the business model. With these sorts of opportunities to base your own business in, you may be able to move out of that spare bedroom in record time. You may even find that working around other entrepreneurs on a daily basis can motivate you to build your business even faster.

Thursday Bram
Thursday Bram writes about the business of creativity, along with small business and freelance topics.