How to Compete With Free: Business Centres Offering 100% Free Space

Are the best things in life really free?
Are the best things in life really free?

But the Devil’s in the Details

Here’s something with which business centres can’t compete: free workspace.

Competition continues to build within the flexible workspace sector, and many new services have been introduced over the years. Some have been incorporated by business centres as a way of diversifying and staying competitive. But not every service can be easily incorporated into the business centre model – and there is no shortage of new competitors offering innovative or unique solutions that pose challenges for business centre operators.

Case in point, telecoms giant O2. This multinational brand is better known for supplying mobile phones and network services, but it also has a commitment to flexible working – and it’s muscling its way into the business centre market.

In 2011, O2 launched a new workspace location on Tottenham Court Road in London. As well as drop-in workstations featuring free Wi-Fi, a weekly event programme and meeting space, it has a team on-hand to offer help and support where necessary.

And in September this year, O2 launched another one. The new centre is based at the Merrion Centre in Leeds, and is designed to catch mobile workers and start-ups on the move. It features meeting space, drop-in workstations, an interactive smart board, Wi-Fi, printing facilities and even a coffee machine. Just like Tottenham Court Road, there is also an O2 business team on-hand to offer general support and technical assistance.

Free workspace

We all know that touchdown space is appealing for businesses. But possibly the most attractive feature – and one that business centres can’t compete with – is the cost. It’s free. Businesses can drop in, hold a meeting, have a cup of coffee and use the Wi-Fi without paying a penny.

They say the best things in life are free, and businesses in Leeds can benefit from a smart meeting space to meet clients, send a few emails or maybe even organise a Jelly coworking meet-up. That’s a big plus for local businesses.

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So, workspace operators, hands up if you’re prepared to offer your space for free? No? And nor should you.

O2 is not a workspace operator – it is a telecoms brand that’s using free workspace as a vehicle to attract potential business users to its shop. Yes, free space is always an attractive option for mobile workers and freelancers. But while it’s a handy facility, users will be immersed in O2 branding and may well be subjected to sales talks too. It’s hardly a professional environment for client meetings.

Value over price

This is where business centres have the upper hand. Whether you’re based in Leeds, or Tottenham Court Road, or near any other location offering free business space, your trump card is value. While you can’t give your space away for free, you offer a suite of services that tick all the right boxes for professionalism and first impressions. Perhaps it’s your boardroom with the knock-out views, your accessible location, superfast broadband or the fact that there’s no branding in your business centre – any one of these is proof that, in comparison, the best things in life aren’t always free.

The challenge is how to communicate this to your clients – and to show that you offer a service worth paying for. You’re probably just as likely to lose a potential meeting room or coworking client to your local coffee shop than a free business hub. But O2 is living proof that offering free workspace is a viable marketing vehicle – and other brands may follow suit.

It’s well worth keeping tabs on free workspace suppliers, just as you would another business centre or workspace supplier. Have you spotted any other suppliers of free space? Have you lost business to one? Let us know.

Image source: Naypong, FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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