When you're launching a business, you're always on the lookout for every possible way to cut costs. One of the smartest - or maybe the dumbest - ways to save money is to share office space with a bigger company. It all depends on how well you understand the dos, the don'ts and the special risk factors.
I know, because my company, GrowBiz Media, tried this not once, but twice, during our early years. Let me share what I learned (the hard way) about the pros and cons of sharing space.
Consider these factors before you move in:
1. Clarify expectations. Be crystal clear about what both you and your landlord expect from the situation. Will you pay for space, or will you work rent-free in return for bartering your services?
Having tried it both ways, I highly recommend paying if you can swing it. Barter arrangements tend to suffering from "mission creep," and when the person who owns the room you're sitting in asks you to do one more extra thing... and one more... and one more... it's hard to say no. Paying, on the other hand, keeps the relationship professional.
2. Consider the culture. Assess how your way of working will mesh with the company you're considering sharing space with. If your team likes to blow off steam with impromptu Nerf football games or yell ideas to each other across the room, will that clash with a more formal landlord's need for a quiet atmosphere or serious client meetings?
3. Could you be competitive? Think carefully about whether you and your potential landlord are at all competitive. It's great if you've got synergy and can work on projects together, but that can also backfire. If you and your landlord are competing for the same clients, you could end up in that awkward place of not being able to discuss your plans out loud in your own office.
4. Check the details. In your excitement, don't forget to ask the standard questions you'd ask any landlord. What will be included in your rent? Is there enough parking for your team and visiting clients? Can you use the conference room when you need to? Will your landlord provide office furniture? What kind of Internet connection and phone service is available? Will you have access to the building at night and on weekends? If you do, will the heating or A/C be turned on? (Take it from me, there's nothing like working a January weekend in a building without heat to get you looking for your own office space.)
5. Draw up a lease. No matter how close you are with your landlord, you need a written lease to protect both of you if the relationship should go south. And believe me, it can. There's also a more mundane reason you need a lease: When you look for business insurance, the insurance company will want a copy of your lease before issuing a policy.
6. Be respectful. When you share an office, you're in someone else's space, and people often have weird territorial issues that won't raise their ugly heads until you've settled in. You could find out that the landlord wants all the window shades drawn to exactly 10 inches above the windowsill level, or monitors toilet paper consumption and threatens you when your staff is using too much, or is a thermostat Nazi (all true stories).
Unless these issues are truly disrupting your business, try to go with the flow. Draw the shades, BYO TP, put on a sweater - and let your landlord's quirks motivate you to be so successful that you can afford your very own offices.
After our experiences, we realized, given the nature of our business, we didn't need to be in an office at all. We went virtual, and now we meet once a week at a coffee shop with free Wi-Fi and soda refills, and no longer worry about how much toilet paper we're using.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.