Free coworking

What if you had a membership level that offered FREE space to people once per week?

This is an idea that I have had in my head for ages, Gary Vee said in his book The Thank You Economy that people need to spend time in this new economy providing value to the would-be customers.

So the idea is simple, put space aside to host 6-10 people once a week for free, help foster their business and let them grow. Some businesses never make it but others will grow into paying members of my coworking space. If you staggered it for a different group every business day you could help 30-50 people at a time.

This idea has been spurred on by the act that technically people can already find spaces to work from for free, so why not your space instead of a cafe or library? So as this is a work in progress I would love to hear your thoughts, suggestions, improvements, criticisms on how this idea could be fleshed out to make a win-win scenario.

Carl

Hi Carl! Mia here, Community Manager at LOFT Coworking Philippines :blush:

I believe this idea is being practiced already globally (see: https://www.locationindependent.co.uk/free-coworking-day/)

My colleagues and I have been talking about this and it seems that this idea stemmed to raise awareness not only about the Coworking industry, but the culture and community as well.

Hoping, if not all, some Spaces would practice this every first day of the month to let people try out the Coworking set-up-- working independently and remotely

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I had no idea that this was a thing… thanks Mia

But this is less an awareness push once a month, as it is a concerted effort daily to enrich up to 50 individual entrepreneurs to be better and grow businesses so that one day they can be paying members of my community.

It seems a little silly to put in so much work for free, however I am sure that every YouTuber whom now makes a wage off the platform would agree that in some instances you need to do years of free work before “making it”

Hi Carl,

  • Quoting this particular book from GV always gives someone bonus points from me ^^
  • I’d say “if your space(s) financials allow it, GO FOR IT!”, and keep us posted :slight_smile:

Thanks Mia for pointing out this great Eastern initiative, looking forward to sharing #FCWD with more fellow Europeans. Hope we can make it a hot topic in Warsaw next November! #CoworkingEU

I love the spirit behind an idea like this, and I’m 100% on board with providing value before people buy to earn their trust. That makes total sense as something that would map to coworking.

But I’ve also learned to be very careful about the usage of “free” especially when the free thing is indistinguishable from the paid thing.

GaryVee’s point is right, but it’s also nuanced.

Doing work for free so you might get paid later, without a real strategy for getting to getting paid later, is NOT what GV suggests (though it’s often misinterpreted that way). What you give, and how you give it, and who you give it to, all need to be strategic in order for you to get the results you want.

I am sure that every YouTuber whom now makes a wage off the platform would agree that in some instances you need to do years of free work before “making it”

…don’t forget who pays the youtubers. It’s not the people who benefit from the “free” thing, it’s the platform that sells advertising.

To me, the question is “what does free accomplish?”

  • Does your offer allow someone from an under-represented or under-supported community thrive as part of a community? Or is it going to attract the entitlement of free-seekers who will never contribute back? How can you tell the difference, and be intentional about who you are helping?
  • How can you communicate that the value of the thing you are offering for free, and make it clear that this arrangement is special in some way?
  • Can you make “free” a vehicle to invite your paying members to contribute in new ways, increasing their buy-in and sense of belonging?

That’s just off the top of my head, and some of the questions we’ve been asking ourselves. We have some concrete goals around making Indy Hall more accessible with the specific and publicly stated goal of making Indy Hall more representative of the population in our city (which it currently is NOT). This is all a small part of a larger initiative to help create 10,0000 more solo business owners in our city.

A couple of the specific things that we’re working on this summer include a scholarship/fellowship program that has certain elements of what you’ve described @carl.r.sullivan. But rather than simply offering free, we’re inviting our community to help us create a scholarship pool to extend the value of the community they’ve felt to folks who may not be in a position to afford it yet.

To magnify support, we’re "matching’ member contributions to the scholarship pool $1-$1, effectively doubling the pool of available resources to help folks who want to and would benefit from being a member. We’re specifically reaching out to community leaders to help us find candidates for our scholarship/fellowship, and will involved our community in the outreach, selection, onboarding, and mentorship of these new members.

Rather than offer free and hoping for the best that some small % convert to paying members, we’re setting the expectation early that our goal is to help you succeed so that when your fellowship is done your business is in a position that paying for a membership is a no-brainer, and aspirationally, you maybe even have the ability to contribute to the next generation of the fellowship fund.

And because the memberships aren’t really “free” but instead subsidized, it allows us to sustainably focus resources on helping these fellowship members achieve their goals.

Obviously, this is a work in progress too and we’re already learning a lot through some early conversations and experiments. In a lot of ways, this is a call back to our early days and an “upgrade” of our ecosystem approach to be more intentional about our long-term planning.

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Thanks Alex!

On a related note: last time an “entrepreneurship competition” reached out to La Serre, asking us as a local business to offer some free suff as prizes, we answered to them in 3 parts (I first refined that answer thanks to feedback from friends operating spaces and animating communities in several countries):

  1. Inform them about the (very) low-margin model coworking usually is based upon.
    And thus, explain how and why considering us as a cash-prize sponsor was bad positioning on their side,

  2. Propose instead two 6-month full memberships as prizes, from a date we knew we could welcome two new members (we were at full capacity at the time of the conversation),

  3. Offering those to the best projects/companies/orgs according to said competition’s criteria, also checking 3 of the 4 following criteria:

  • at least one woman or non-binary co-founder,
  • active in specific domains we were looking for new coworkers into,
  • at least one co-founder is a software engineer (we had too few of them in the community at the time according to our personal taste -we love devs-, and several opportunities or challenges from current members needing engineers to go further had to be helped from outside the community),
  • at least one of the first employees was a former freelancer or a remote worker (because we wanted more people truly needing a community to fight loneliness, or who already had a chance or not to experience coworking in the past).

It was a way for us to put goals similar to those @alex is referring to in action.

Fun fact: they declined (Switzerland, specifically people organizing entrepreneurship competitions, is catching up but still a bit slow to get the benefits of diversity and being that selective in your generosity ^^).
Am no longer operating La Serre, nor any other community based on a space at the moment, but would totally re-use the same approach.

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