By Cat Johnson
The coworking industry is growing at a staggering rate, with an estimated 11,000 spaces in 2016 and more than a million people coworking around the world this year.
Something those new to coworking may not understand, however, is that coworking has very little to do with the fabulousness of a coworking space and everything to do with a vibrant coworking community. Afterall, if people only needed a desk and wifi, they could work at home or from the nearest coffee shop.
If you don’t have a community of engaged people, your space will likely struggle.
The smartest coworking space operators and developers start building their community before they even have a space. As Andy Soell, cofounder of the Salt Mines coworking space, writes: “Building the space before building the community is the biggest way to ensure a false-start.”
Great coworking spaces are buzzing with energy and interactions. When there’s a strong sense of community, connections happen organically. People collaborate on projects, they offer advice and mutual support, they contract jobs to their fellow members, they brainstorm and white board ideas together, and they refer each other for outside gigs.
Here are eight ways to start building community before you launch your coworking space.
- Attend Meetups
Attend local Meetups for entrepreneurs, freelancers, designers, writers, developers and anyone else you’d like to be part of your coworking community. Find out what they’re working on and what their challenges are, then present coworking as a way to help them strengthen their network and take their business to the next level.
- Host Jellies
A Jelly is casual coworking event that takes place in a cafe, home, museum, park, meeting room, or wherever else you can find a space with seating and wifi. These can be a great way to introduce people to the concept of coworking.
As coworking pioneer Alex Hillman, who started Indy Hall in Philadelphia and hosts the Coworking Weekly Podcast, explains, Jellies were a “crucial step past talking about the idea of coworking, and into the realm of introducing people to the act of coworking.”
- Connect with your Chamber of Commerce and local business associations
Your local Chamber of Commerce may not be a perfect cultural fit for your coworking space, but mingling at Chamber mixers and local business association events is a great way to educate your community about coworking, find potential collaborators and partners, and possibly connect with a future member or two.
- Introduce yourself and your space at events
Some local networking events have an open mic portion where people can talk about their new business, project or idea. Embrace this opportunity to grab the mic and get in front of potential members, supporters and community partners.
- Host an unconference
An unconference is a conference in which the attendees determine what topics will be covered. People pitch ideas for breakout discussions, attendees vote for their favorites, then they break into groups to share knowledge, ideas and questions. Hosting a casual unconference is a good way to start cultivating a spirit of collaboration, mutual support and fun among potential members.
- Share your skills
Lunch and learns and other types of skillshares bring people together around shared interests. They also provide network-building opportunities for your future coworking community. Invite a standout designer, writer, coder, photographer, marketer, consultant, etc., to give a short presentation followed by a Q&A session. Be sure to have people introduce themselves and introduce your space and any upcoming community events or promotions.
- Social media and content marketing
While social media can’t replace face-to-face interaction, you can use social platforms to start creating culture around your space and build a community of interested people and supporters who may become members.
Content marketing is one of the most powerful, cost-effective ways to reach your ideal member. Determine who it is you’d most like to reach, how you can help them, and start creating content that speaks to their work, needs and challenges. Once you have their attention, invite them to become part of your community.
- Attend events as a group
Once you have the seeds of a community in place, start doing things together. Events and outings may be work-related, such as local networking events, but don’t limit yourselves to these. You can get together for coffee, a baseball game, a First Friday art stroll, a meal, or whatever else resonates with your community members.
Remember: A great building will only get you so far. To create a thriving coworking space, you need a community. Focus on bringing people together to support and inspire each other and you’ll be ahead of the game.
Do you have any community-building tips to add? Let us know. Be sure to follow us on Twitter and Facebook to join the conversation.