Recently, Emergent Research’s Steve King (and contributor) shared the findings of his firm’s research related to the indirect benefits (beyond work space and office services) of the small business shared-office concept called “co-working.” The shared office (translation: low-overhead) model is not only catching on in cities, it can make sense in smaller towns, as well. In this article, Becky McCray, rural and small town small business expert and publisher of Small Biz Survival (and another of our favorite contributors), explains why co-working is gaining popularity in small towns also.

If you are trying to encourage the creation of new small businesses in your town, coworking is a smart place to focus. While the obvious benefit is having a way to start a business with flexibility and low overhead, there are many hidden benefits in coworking that researchers are beginning to discover. And those benefits can be realized in small towns just like they are in bigger towns and cities.

“Coworking spaces aren’t just for work. They are places where members network, learn and socialize together.”

Emergent Research

In Emergent’s research, co-working members reported that being in a co-working space provides many hidden benefits, like:

  • Learning new skills
  • Attending events at the co-working space
  • Feeling happier and less lonely in their work

Those all are outcomes we’d all love to see from any effort to increase the entrepreneurial activity in a town or city of any size.

As Emergent’s research showed, co-working works best when it’s a community—and that’s something small towns are experts on.

Can co-working work in a small town?

Yes. Rural and small town coworking was a big topic at the Global Co-working Conference Unconference held recently where one of the sessions focused on small towns: “No longer contained to cities, coworking spaces are popping up in cities and towns of all sizes. These spaces have unique challenges and are well-served to learn from each other. From tiny towns in Texas, to isolated mountain towns and even islands, coworking is becoming a part of communities of all makeups and sizes.”

One example of such a co-working space is Veel Hoeden in the beautiful small town of Pella, Iowa (population 10,344).

What are the required elements for a co-working space?

  • Open working areas with desks or tables and chairs
  • Power outlets
  • Strong wifi
  • Common or premium space and services like conference rooms

Co-working space business models

A co-working space can be a commercial venture started by one or more individuals or it can be a service created and run by local agencies and non-profits. Even churches and libraries have started experimenting with the concept.

Typically, co-working spaces use a monthly (or longer) subscription or rental model (participants are often called members). Some offer drop-in or short-term memberships. Still others offer classes, training, workshops and equipment rental.

A small town Main Street real estate opportunity

Towns are finding co-working office opportunities in unused space at local incubators, economic development centers, or in educational facilities. Maybe you have a business that just has way more office space than they need. And then, there’s that empty office space along Main Street with potential.

Community is the key

Here’s some encouragement with a bit of confession. I successfully persuaded my friends at my hometown’s Business Development Center to offer an under-utilized space for co-working. They had the space, outstanding wifi, desks, chairs and all the extras. What we didn’t have was a ready-made community to connect to it. So it doesn’t get as much use as we would like. We have to build the community before it will work.

How to get started

Connect with local people who work from home, coffee shops, the library or any other alternative space. Begin holding work-together days, like Fridays from 10-2 or something. You don’t need a special space for the meet-ups. The library, coffee shop, or even one big home office will work for now.

The next thing you’ll discover is a need that can be met by a small town co-working space.

(A version of this article appeared on Small Biz Survival)

Photo: Mojo Coworking, Asheville, NC

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