How We Got Members at our New Coworking Space (and How You Can, Too)
When we opened the doors to betahaus | Neukölln in 2019, we were faced with a challenge we’d never really been faced with before: how do we actually grow membership at our coworking space?
The funny part of this is that we’d been in business for more than ten years, and it was the first time we were asking ourselves the question. Our community had always grown organically in the past. There wasn’t much competition back in 2009. We opened our doors, and freelancers, the entrepreneurs, and the startups just kind of came.
People brought their own furniture to start. They invited friends. We grew floor-by-floor. When members left, new ones always came in their place. And before you knew it, we had a five-story building and 500 members. Of course, we were doing lots of other things during that time, but at least up until that point, attracting new members was never something we had to think about much.
Fast forward to 2019. We had just relocated our HQ to a new space in Kreuzberg, and two months later, we opened a second space in Neukölln. With two buildings came twice as many coworking areas and twice as many desks to fill. And for the first time in ten years, we had to find new members, and fast.
Before I get into it, I’ll say we’re almost a year in and growing our membership an ongoing process. We still are filling the space, but day-by-day, our coworking community in Neukölln is taking on a life of its own.
But there were A LOT of things we learned along the way. So if you’re thinking of opening a new coworking space (or starting another one), there are steps you can take to set yourself up for success. Here are some of the things that we learned, some things we messed up, and some things that you should consider implementing yourself.
Location, Location, Location.
This one goes without saying, but I’m going to throw it out there anyway. If you want members for your coworking space, the most important thing you can do is make sure it’s well-located and accessible.
Unlike traditional employees, coworkers have the flexibility to work from anywhere. And you better bet they’ll choose a space with a great location or one that’s most convenient for them.
Consider the type of members you’re hoping to attract and make sure that your space is built for them in their neighborhood. Think about how accessible it is by public transit. Is it near enough lunch spots and after-hours bars? Are there other offices nearby, or is it a convenient location for them to host guests? What about grocery stores, nearby housing, or the general vibe of the neighborhood?
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way…
Set Yourself Apart
The coworking market in most major cities is crowded. Unless you’re the first-to-market, the key to success is in establishing your point of difference and communicating it very clearly.
Start with a branding exercise where you define your mission, vision, and values. Create a corporate identity that outlines the way you present yourself to the public, including design and visual elements. Choose your colors, fonts, and style and use it in everything you do. Start to establish what your brand looks and sounds like long before anyone ever comes into the space.
Then create something different. Something different about your events or membership or partner network or space. Not a small thing. Not a gimmick. But a value that you can communicate to people that speaks so clearly that people will say, “Hey! That sounds like me. I want to be a part of that.”
Get Yourself Out There
Done are the days where you can just set up some desks, configure the WiFi, and get members. If you want to get new members for your coworking space from day one, you will have to start your marketing efforts at least six months in advance.
The idea here shouldn’t be to sell something that’s not even built yet (we’ve all watched the Fyre Festival documentary by now), but you do need to share your vision for what you’re creating.
From the time that you sign the lease, start getting info about your coworking space out there.
Set up your website, make a listing on Google My Business, and claim all the necessary social media accounts. Get a digital floor plan and take photos of the space (it is 100% worth hiring a professional photographer). Start sharing them early. Learn the square footage and interesting history of the building. Create mood boards and share all the features that you’ll have in place once everything is set. Write blog posts about what you’re working on while the space under construction. Host interesting events or plan an opening party. Invite everyone you know. Do something a little bit outlandish to get early publicity. You should be getting people excited and creating something people want to be a part of long before your doors are even open.
And of course, while you’re marketing the hell out of it, be sure you’re sticking to what you can deliver.
In our experience, our move-in dates got delayed. A few times. We knew people were frustrated, and we learned the hard way that we should have overpromised and over-delivered.
So take it from us. The space you create should be better than the space you hype it up to be (and it should definitely open on time!) so that your first members become your greatest advocates.
Start Selling Memberships
It’s never too early to start a Waitlist. Seriously. Having waitlist contacts will be essential once your memberships officially go on sale. And once the more concrete details are ironed out, you can turn the waitlist into a full-on Pre-Sale. Have your landing pages ready so that as soon as your dates are locked in, you can flip the switch.
Alright, but if it only it were that easy to get people to buy a membership for a space they’ve never seen. Here are a few of the ways we made sure we had people in our space from day 1.
Early Bird Membership: Give your first 100 guests a discount on membership. Or offer them 50% off their first year. Waive the signup fee. Whatever you can do to make it lucrative to sign up early will help convince people to sign-up that might otherwise be on the fence.
Free Trial Days & Day Passes: Free Trial Days have been the single most effective way for us to recruit new members. It’s an offer we’ve pushed both primarily with Facebook ads, and we’ve kept the barrier for entry intentionally low; anyone is welcome to try the space for the day in exchange for their name and their email. Giving people a chance to try-before-they-buy is a low-cost way to get people into your space, and it ensures that those who convert can become happy, long-term members.
Engage & Incentivize Current Members: If you have an existing member base, this is the time to call upon them! Create a refer-a-friend program where they can get a discount for bringing a friend along. Another way to extend the community is to offer current members roaming to your new location. Let them work from either space freely or incentivize them to switch over for a trial period. Give them a reason to fill out the new space and give it some vibe. That way, when you do have new people coming through the door, the space will already have a life and character of its own.
Next to Free Trial Days, Community Events have been the next best way that we’ve found to grow our membership base. These can be either self-hosted or community-hosted.
Self-Hosted: Think a grand opening party, a summer concert series, or a weekly networking event. These are events that you plan yourself that have marketing or publicity purposes. They can be one-off or recurring, but the objective should be beyond engaging current members and more outward focused. Focus on how to get people to bring their friends or share your event on Facebook. Give away free trial days or find another way to get contacts. And of course, build some chances for guests to use the space during the event! Give them a sense of what it would be like to work there. Whether they’re currently looking or not, you will be top of mind for a time when they are seeking.
Community Events: Another awesome way to attract new faces into your space is to lend it out for a free or discounted rate. Promote that the spaces are available to startups within your community, local artists, staff members, or friends. Since they will be taking care of most of the logistics, the benefits of hosting a community event are twofold. First, it takes limited time and resources from your team. Second, it allows people to come out to support another individual, brand, or cause that they already support and experience your coworking space more organically. Be sure to focus on events that you believe in and agree on expectations with the event host in advance. They will still take some effort to produce, and depending on how big the event is, the wrong event could also reflect poorly on you.
Ok, so you get the point! Events mean new people in your space. They also are a great way to get photos and customer testimonials. They build social proof. And as you’re just gaining momentum, this kind of effort is worth everything you put into it.
I could write an entire post on this, but put simply, how will people even know what you’re up to if you’re not advertising?
Use your network. Your neighborhood. Physical ads. Google Ads. Facebook Ads. Get featured in the newspaper. In a podcast. In an events roundup. By a local blogger. Recruit well-known startups and feature them on your blog. Form an interesting partnership and tap into their network. There are a hundred ways to do this (conventional and other), but it all goes to say: advertise to make sure that all your hard work isn’t going unnoticed. Give people the chance to find out about you.
Tighten Up your Sales Funnel
If your efforts are working, you should be able to build up a list of contacts before your space opens. And if you’ve been in business for a while, you might have an existing database of people. Former event guests. Old members. Past partners. People you’ve worked with. Friends. And how you communicate with them is extra important!
While a simple email flow or manual follow-ups may have worked in the past, this is the time to tighten all your written communications up. Let people know what is going on without annoying them. Some good ways to do this are to work with a CRM tool. Start organizing your leads and understand where they came from. Decide on what communications you want to send and how many times you will follow-up. Set conditions for who you’re reaching out to and have a purpose with every email you send. Experiment with what communications work and which ones bounce or get you the dreaded “unsubscribe.”
And finally… be prepared to give more than you get for a while
That’s not to say you shouldn’t have a goal, but you’ll also need to stay flexible. This is true both financially and personally.
There are a lot of upfront costs associated with opening up a new coworking space (or any business, for that matter). You can expect for at least a while, you’ll be investing more into the space than you’re making back on membership. The reality is that the process of gaining new members often takes a lot longer than you think it will. It will always be harder to get your first member than your 500th. Budget for the slow growth ahead of time and the process of gaining new members and becoming profitable will feel a lot less scary.
Be prepared to listen more than you talk. Find out what people like and don’t like. Be willing to take risks on unconventional marketing. Remain open to what you see your space becoming, and like any good businessperson, be ready to pivot.
When we opened our space in 2009, we called it betahaus because we believe life should be about always being open to change, and never getting stuck in routines just because they’re comfortable. This ethos has been imperative as we opened our new space!
Coworking spaces have a distinct advantage over other types of business: the coworking industry is hugely collaborative. You’re likely to have a space full of creative, independently-minded, talented people. Tap into that resource. Allow your members to work beside you and let them have input on what the space becomes.
And we promise. Keep at it, and you too will have a day ten years from now where you look around and wonder how your outlandish business idea took on such a life of its own.