Can Coworking Spaces Be Profitable?

There’s an interesting debate on the profitability of coworking spaces unfolding over at CoolTown Studios. Most current coworking communities are focused on building a community and only just break even, or are subsidized by a sponsor. Writer Neil Takemoto suggests that coworking centers could become profitable by providing a “connecting agent” to take over some of the sales and marketing functions that would normally have to be handled by the members themselves, while taking a small cut of the members’ revenue in the process.

Though the collectivism implied by Takemoto seems workable and even desirable, it’s something that’s potentially fraught with dangers. For example, the underlying values of coworking could be challenged when members with overlapping skills need to compete to fulfill a referred client. Mechanisms and processes for harmonizing such potential conflicts need to be robust and transparent, in order to maintain the community’s coherence.

There’s perhaps an alternative “long tail” of revenue opportunities for coworking spaces in providing “à la carte” value-added services. For example:

  • Charging drop-ins a small “pay as you go” fee for daily use, rather than the member’s traditional “pay monthly” subscriptions.
  • Reselling web hosting or magazine/service/software subscriptions.
  • Providing externally-sourced legal and accounting expertise, where suppliers pay referrals for access to the community.
  • Providing innovative nutrition services from companies such as Graze.
  • Leasing and renting meeting space to non-members for modest fees.
  • Hosting “master classes” and training courses for local businesses.

Even subsidized spaces can find a number of modest revenues from value-added services tailored to their members, without raising their fees or jeopardizing the careful mix of members and the community’s values.

I’m interested to hear what additional value coworkers feel they might be able to accrue from their coworking communities, so do leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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