Coworking in Berlin: 6 Coworking Space Management Tips for Beginners
There’s nothing I hate more than saying “Sorry, we’re full!” Sure, you might think it’s a good complaint to have, but with six months on a lease contract up and six long months of rejecting to go, I can’t help but wonder about all the people we may never get to meet. Collect email addresses as we might, it’s yet another potential member slipping through our fingers until we find a larger space. But let’s start from the start.
In May of this year (2016), myself and my business partner, Monika, opened tuesday coworking, a small-ish Art-Nouveau-style coworking space in Bowie’s-own Schöneberg district of Berlin. We’ve been at capacity now for the last two months, so we must be doing something right. And that’s why I’d like to share what I’ve learned from running a coworking space over the last six months.
1. “If you’re gonna do it, just do it.” I can’t remember how many times I came across this when I was reading up on coworking before we opened tuesday, mainly from American blogging sites, so we all know how up-and-at-’em they can be. Undeniably, however, there’s something to it. You might be scared, you might not have a degree in economics, you might be new in town and not have an army of friends to help you, but there is so much learning-by-doing… and that’s just fine. I mean, bar burning down the place, there’s not much that can go so drastically wrong. And even if there is a momentary initial blip, it’s not like you’re so well known that your reputation will suffer irreparably. So, just get out there and do it.
But you’ve no money….
2. It’s easy for me to tell you to just do it, like some 90s commercial… Nikki? Nokki? but what if you’re lacking the green? Well, that sucks. But it doesn’t mean you should abandon all hope.
What did we do? We had some personal savings, €9,000 from the two of us to be exact, and we can’t help you either :) Banks might help, but you’ll need to write a business plan (www.b-p-w.de provides a handy structure for your plan) and wait two months for things to process. Venture capitalists won’t help you because the return on investment is too low. So you can try finding an angel investor AKA bored rich man, or if they already happen to be in your family, bored rich uncle — bru — then that’s your guy. Ask your bru, or your bra, for help in return for a stake in the business.
In a roundabout way, that brings me to my tip no. 2: Bootstrap! Once you’ve managed to get your hands on some money, scrimp and save as much as possible. It’ll only get you so far and it sure as hell won’t pay the deposit on your space, but that extra saved cash will help you out when it comes to those unexpected bills (example: annual gas check up: €72! the hell?!)
How to bootstrap? Enlist your friends to help you build tables, you can even use old uneven wood for your printer table. Berlin is full of pallets, just lying around everywhere. They’re ridiculously handy as plant-holders, light-holders, coat racks. Clean ’em up and put ’em on your wall, they usually look great!
3. So let’s take a bit of a leap and say you’ve now opened your space and want to make more money. Well, there’s money in the meeting room (presuming you have one). If we managed to rent out our meeting room whenever our members haven’t booked it, well, let’s just say we wouldn’t be buying Lidl own-brand milk anymore. Here’s a few websites where you can advertise your meeting room and get those beautiful extra-revenue-laden non-members into your space:
4. Collaborate! I’ve been wracking my brains for a good while looking into affordable lunch options and just this week, our latest collaboration may have come up with the goods. I contacted the GreenGurus, a delivery service for healthy food, to see if they would extend their network of deliveries to include our space. Our lovely neighbours over at Space Shack (also out of their delivery range) are on board too and now we’ve got a “guru” coming to our coworking space to sell us healthy lunch time salads and sandwiches. That’s going to be dead handy with winter on the way and people not wanting to leave our lovely warm tuesday with its hot chocolate, mmmm.
Other quick examples of deals we’ve worked out for our members include reduced membership deals with the Urban Sports Club, who are based out of Berlin, and considerable savings on third-party services for our coworkers through Hector and his team over at included.co.
Mutually beneficial collaborations in return for some advertising also work, like this: check out this sexy Nuki smartlock system! (we really do think it’s sexy). Most companies are more than willing to at least entertain whatever ideas you might have, so shoot them that email.
5. Coworking space management software. To date, we’ve been getting on just fine without it. And to be honest, even if we do scale up, I prefer the control and overview of a nice clean Excel sheet to the automated invoices that would be sent out through management software. You might set up different packages for what you sell, but in the end, there’s some wheeling and dealing with your coworkers as well. So much so, that setting up a new package for each coworker, as management software might require, just isn’t worth the time and effort. They might be gone again in a month. Not to mention that you pay a pretty penny for the pleasure. Cobot unfortunately upped their prices recently. I think, for our size (20 members), it’s fine to go without it. In fact, I’m looking into the option of having a tablet point-of-sale system à la Orderbird, which might do the trick for a lot less.
6. My last tip is one of the earliest things I learned from running our coworking space. We were hosting an event and I had told a friend a few days beforehand that it would be a nice idea if he could say a few words as well. Big mistake. You need to spell it out to people exactly what you want of them, when you want them to do it and how important you think it is that they do it. If you’re going to be vague, you might as well not ask them at all. You’re the manager.
Bonus tip: Don’t take it so seriously, it’s coworking, not rocket surgery :P
So that’s it. If you’ve taken umbrage with anything I’ve written or have any tips yourself, please get in touch.
John Neilan has been living in Berlin since 2003 and working freelance as a German-English translator since 2005. He was an avid footballer til he did his back in, so now he dreams of scoring goals and writes stuff while managing tuesday coworking — open monday to friday.