When your business outgrows the kitchen table, try coworking

Many a successful business began life in a founder’s home. After all, it’s wise to be careful with start-up dollars, and you might as well squeeze a little more mileage out of that mortgage payment, right?

Sooner or later, if you’re doing things right, you’ll need to move the business out of the nest so that it can grow unfettered by the constraints of home life. But it can be tough to make the jump from low overhead to all kinds of crazy expenses in one fell swoop. It’s not just the expense, either – leasing office space invites in all sorts of additional responsibility, whether you have the time and personnel to handle it or not.

Coworking: An entrepreneurial halfway house

In the Atlanta area where I live, coworking spaces appeared as sort of a second wave following the tanking economy and layoffs around 2008. People with talent and even a hint of entrepreneurial spirit decided to freelance rather than take a job that was a bad fit, which was about all that seemed available. But at some point they grew tired of the isolation, or needed partners for collaboration, the greater respect that professionalism brings, or an environment more conducive to work and business.

For me, the search for an alternative workspace began for all of the aforementioned reasons.

I had spent quite a bit equipping my home office with all sorts of ergonomic equipment so that I could work without worsening the RSI issues that plagued me. Yet I was distracted by anything and everything. If I didn’t have a deadline I had a hard time making myself sit there and do all the things a business needs to do to market itself. Yes – the things I insist you need to do, I was not doing. I know, I know – I’m sorry. Yes, you still need to do them and I am doing them now. But at the time I didn’t, and business was barely trickling in. And hubby was like, we spent what? so you could work without injury…and you’re doing what?

OK he didn’t say that. But I imagined he thought that. If he didn’t, he should have. He really doesn’t deserve to be married to the nerdy but troubled princess I became…

Free WiFi FTW

The guilt over my growing business to-do list was becoming a Thing. A Thing as in that issue that no one in your circle thinks is anything to worry about until all of a sudden IT IS and it is undeniable. Once something becomes a Thing, it must be dealt with.

When I worked for a design firm and was on a crazy deadline, I often took my laptop to the coffee house down the street. It was amazing how much I got done, despite the noisy environment. I was able to tune it out and focus because it wasn’t noise that really involved me, unlike an interruption from a coworker or a ringing telephone. So I thought I’d try the WiFi hotspot thing again and see how it went, and voilà – I finished the simpler web’s site redesign, updated my portfolio and wrote blog posts I’d back-burnered for an embarrassingly long time.

It’s not so hot if you’re business minded

Free WiFi is helpful, but a coffee house or restaurant is not a good place to do more than chit-chat with a client. It’s not a good place to work when one is – or ought to be – concerned about ergonomics. Yes, I made a lot of headway on that to-do list, but I needed to not only keep that momentum but increase it. Spending more hours per week at my favorite free WiFi spot was not the answer.

I began looking at some of the coworking spaces I knew of, and what was near-ish was still more of a drive than I wanted to make. The closest place was in somewhat of a high rent district and had prices and terms that reflected those costs. I dismissed that option pretty quickly, but as the weeks went by I realized something had to give. I Googled “coworking space Dougasville,” and came up empty, as expected. And then, not more than a couple of days after that search, BAM! – the Station Loft Works coworking space burst onto the D’ville scene seemingly out of nowhere.

Coworking isn’t perfect…but it’s darn close

Every coworking space has its own vibe, its own structure, and differing amenities, pricing and policies, so YMMV. But I now have a place I can focus on work without the domestic distractions. I can have calls or meet with clients without my dogs going crazy because they think everyone that comes to the door has come to pet them and give them treats. I can conduct meetings or training sessions in a professional environment. I can talk to other pros and entrepreneurs – hooray! Owners Gwen and Barry are there to greet visitors and help with just about anything I’ve thrown at them. And there are always coffee and snacks available if the energy level starts dropping.

Station Loft Works is housed in a very cool old building; it’s a former Chevy dealership renovated in a way that strikes a perfect balance between its past and present uses. Its location near the railroad tracks means you’ll hear the occasional blaring locomotive horn, but if you’ve spent much time around here it’s a sound that’s oddly welcome as part of the history and charm of downtown Douglasville.

The walls are brick, and the floors are concrete. There are huge banks of windows, so there’s plenty of light. Here and there are remnants of its former life. When it is noisier than I like, I have earbuds and iTunes. There are several different spots to work, and right now it’s not so crowded that I can’t usually find a quiet spot. I know those days will be over as soon as people begin realizing how a place like this can help them grow their business.

I work at whatever hot desk is available when I come in. But I plan to have a private office soon – decked out with my ergonomic accoutrements as well as my favorite shag rug. It’ll be a place I can help clients in person or via video chat, a place where I can close the door and get in the zone, and maybe even a place where I can find others to collaborate with.

If you’re at a similar juncture with your business, look into coworking. If you’re in or near Douglasville, visit Station Loft Works. Check out my photos from their ribbon cutting for a preview. Pretty darn awesome that our little town has a place like this, eh?

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