Collaboration can go one of two ways. When forced, it doesn’t always work out well for all parties. Remember when you were partnered up to make a toothpick bridge in physics class? Were you the one who stayed up into the wee hours, woozy from Elmer’s fumes and lamenting your lopsided trusses, because your randomly assigned classmate didn’t do their part?
But what if you’d been able to choose your partner—someone just as dedicated as you who just happened to specialize in glue application or truss design? Coworking spaces, also known as shared workspaces or makerspaces, are fast gaining recognition as a place where just this kind of mutually beneficial collaboration can happen.
Marketing consultant Don Kopis and inventor Aaron McGuin have been reaping the rewards of coworking for the past two years, enjoying individual success as well as a fruitful collaboration. These small business owners talked with Edison Nation about the benefits they’ve experienced as members of the coworking space 101co3 in South Bend, Indiana.
Coworking spaces foster creative synergy
Aaron’s company, Arrow Way, produces an innovative hand wrap for boxers. Rather than printing instructions on the box or on a paper insert, as most wraps do, Arrow Way places the instructions right on the fabric itself. With each stage of wrapping, the next instruction automatically appears on the next wrap segment, eliminating any uncertainty about how to proceed.
Aaron knew he had a good idea, but he also knew he needed help to make it shine. A student at Indiana University South Bend at the time, Aaron asked one of his professors if he could recommend a marketing professional to help him with publicity and graphic design. Don, who had studied with the same professor while earning his MBA, immediately came to mind. It was a happy coincidence that both men had already set up shop at 101co3.
Don and Aaron’s needs lined up perfectly. Don’s firm specializes in clients just like Aaron: small business owners who have great products but can’t meet their marketing needs in house. After an initial meeting, Aaron hired Don to update his business logo and boxing wrap diagrams, as well as to create marketing collateral.
Although Don and Aaron’s IUSB professor provided the initial impetus for their collaboration, they would have likely connected without his input. Like many coworking spaces, 101co3 has a job board where community members can post the skills they are offering as well as those they need. Most shared workspaces also host networking events so that community members can learn about their neighbors’ businesses; Don recalls seeing Aaron present at one such gathering.
In addition to these intentional means of connection, Don and Aaron note that networking develops organically in coworking spaces. “Everyone is everyone else’s cheerleader,” Don explains. Aaron notes that community members engage in “guerilla marketing” as they gain awareness of the various talents that surround them.
The collective tide of skills in a coworking space lifts all members’ ships. This is true not only between, but also within fields: Don has been able to learn social media skills from other marketing professionals, for example, without having to search for external continuing education opportunities.
They allow you to separate work from life
Working from home certainly has its advantages—conference calls in your bathrobe can be nice—but most independent contractors will agree that it can sometimes be challenging to conduct your business and personal lives under the same roof. Don, who used to operate his one-man marketing firm out of the front room of his house, appreciates being able to meet with clients in a more professional space. “It allows my house to be a house again,” he says.
With a monthly or annual membership to a coworking space, you can have access to an office or desk, conference rooms, and common areas, along with business amenities such as mailboxes and copiers. Utility costs are built into the rental fee, so there is no extra overhead for members. Additionally, many spaces offer networking events to facilitate synergy between professionals with complementary expertise.
They make your business look good
While there’s nothing wrong with meeting a client in a coffee shop, it can leave you vulnerable to uncertainty. What if you arrive at a Starbucks that doesn’t have enough seating for your group, or you keep getting knocked off the Wi-Fi? Have you ever taken a business call on a cafe patio, only to be interrupted by a train whistle every time you try to speak?
We can have a professional aspect as we’re doing the work, not just when we’re presenting the work.Don Kopis
By renting a coworking space, you can be confident that you’ll always be able to receive clients in a professional atmosphere with all the amenities you need. Booking a conference room allows you to host larger groups or simply spread out–as Don and Aaron needed to do when the 12-foot-long prototype of Aaron’s boxing wrap arrived via Fed-Ex.
Don appreciated not having to crawl around on the floor of his front room to work with the delivery. “We can have a professional aspect as we’re doing the work, not just when we’re presenting the work,” he notes.
“It has changed my volume,” Aaron says. “Clients take me more seriously.” He notes that the workspace is so attractive and accommodating that clients “think you’re paying something substantial—they feel comfortable paying you.”
“We don’t have to try to sell ourselves so hard,” agrees Don. “The building has stature by itself.” He notes that many small businesses recognize the benefits of a professional environment, but may not find them compelling enough to offset the costs of traditional office space. “I want to have a professional space,” he says, “but if it’s only me, I don’t need a brick and mortar.”
I wish I’d had this five years ago–it would have cut the learning curve in half.Aaron McGuin
They help perfectionists take action
Even though Edison Nation will take a sketch on a napkin (and we have many times), some people are still afraid to submit their ideas until they look and sound perfect. But the market won’t wait for you–if you don’t make your product, someone else will.
Joining a shared workspace can help combat perfectionism–and save precious time–by connecting you with professionals who have the skillsets you lack. Aaron now has a 20-year patent for his boxing wrap, and views his coworking experience as essential to his continued success. He only wishes he had joined earlier. “I wish I’d had this five years ago–it would have cut the learning curve in half.”
If you’re suffering from inventor’s block–for any reason–consider coworking. Many spaces offer a variety of pricing options as well as the option to rent monthly, so you’ve got nothing to lose. Offering a dynamic community of engaged, ambitious professionals with a variety of skills, a shared workspace might give your idea just the nudge it needs.