About a year and a half ago we rented an outside work space at the Harwood Art Center which was our first “expansion” beyond the home office. This move was (and continues to be) pretty hugely awesome. I still work at home and at cafes a lot, but both Turtle and I do use our office regularly, especially for meetings. It’s great to have a space to meet clients — and it’s extra great that the building has a little cafe downstairs too, allowing us to offer some nice amenities for our clients (as a side note, both the coffee and the food rock). Another major thing is just the storage factor: without the office, our already-crammed house and closets would be just unmanageable.
The Harwood mostly houses studios for visual artists, but there are a few folks like us that use the space as an office or writing studio. The building is an old schoolhouse, with all the funky charm we love and the “old building” issues that go hand-in-hand with that. The folks running the building are super nice and well-organized, a great community of artists work there, and needless to say it’s great to have art all around us.
If you’re just growing out of your home office and don’t have huge space needs, there are all sorts of spaces and shared arrangements to consider. There are definitely more options for small businesses than just leasing commercial space. For example, executive suites and virtual offices allow small or home-based businesses to project a professional or corporate image at a fraction of the cost of a full commercial space of their own. And business incubators and shared workspaces offer additional flexible options for small firms. Here’s a quick rundown of some workspace options and considerations.
- With executive suites you’ll typically rent a small office (often furnished, but not always) in a building with other small businesses or freelancers, and share amenities such as a receptionist and front desk area; business equipment like copiers and fax machines; wireless Internet; and other features such as conference rooms and kitchens. Lease terms are generally much more flexible than regular commercial leases. You can often rent for as few as 12, six, or three months; some even offer month-to-month rentals.
- Virtual offices are much the same as executive suites, except that you may skip renting the office space altogether and just use all the other amenities such as receptionist services (including a front desk where clients could drop off or pick up packages and documents), and conference rooms. These amenities and services can give you the appearance of having a professional office even if you work from home.
- The term “business incubator” typically refers to a facility run by a nonprofit or quasi-governmental entity that aims to support small businesses and economic development. Business incubators sort of resemble executive suites, but they typically offer more robust business support services such as consulting with experienced business mentors; classes on topics like financial management or marketing; or financing services and loan programs.
- Art spaces (like our office space at the Harwood), shared workspaces and co-ops may offer spaces for artists and/or creative professionals. Look into arts organizations in your area that might be able to direct you to studio rental opportunities.
- Coworking spaces are springing up all over, meant to accommodate peripatetic freelancers and nomadic professionals with flexible options, usually short-term (i.e. hourly or daily, although a few offer long-term rentals as well). Amenities might include a desk in a large room full of other co-workers; conference rooms with presentation equipment; and printing and other administrative support services.
- Consider subleasing from another business that has excess space, especially if your needs are modest. Particularly in a down economy, businesses might downsize or fail to grow as expected, leaving them with unused space which can be an expensive burden (even worse if they have a long-term lease). Subleasing their excess space can be a win-win situation if the two businesses are a good fit.
- Also consider collectively leasing space with one or more other businesses or freelancers. For example, if you’re opening a photography studio and you know a graphic designer who’s also looking for space, the two of you could find a space that meets both your needs.