Yasmin Desai, London-based entrepreneur and author of the blog The Startup Girl, shares her tips for getting a coworking event up and running.
Several years ago, coworking was a fringe movement. Now a new coworking space is popping up almost every week in London. Within such a competitive landscape, offering a compelling events series can be a great way to make your coworking space stand out. It no longer suffices to have “just a nice workspace.”
Social gatherings, access to mentors/investors, and hosting events are all great ways to bring added value to your coworking space. What are some main factors that contribute to a successful coworking venue?
- A convenient and practical workspace
- Wider participation and opportunities to grow
Often, it is thought that the latter two are more aligned for incubators and accelerators. I find it is common practice for incubators & accelerators to to add as much value to their offering as possible since they stand to personally gain equity in return. Depending on the demographic of your members, learning can–and should–be associated with coworking spaces too. Including these elements can make a huge difference in member retention. Running a coworking space comes with the opportunity to try and help your members as much as possible, which means creating initiatives that will help them grow.
My experience in the coworking world has consisted of working as a Community Manager for a London-based coworking space called Winkley Studios, and also hosting an event series and a learning series across more than 20 coworking spaces across London. The event series, ‘Investors on Stage’, involved investors from different VC Funds coming in and talking about what types of companies they were looking to invest in, where the learning series consisted of an expert in the field of business and entrepreneurship who would teach particular skills such as SEO, Social Media, PR & Marketing. Members of the coworking spaces and external members were all invited to join. Each event saw a turnout full of people looking to gain information on a new skill that they could implement in their professional lives.
You may have lots of ideas about hosting an event series (or maybe you’re overwhelmed with how to get started!) but there’s certain questions you should consider that will help your event get off the ground.
Decide on an objective and define your audience
Before developing an event series, you need to work out what the aim of the events are. This is the time to be (slightly) selfish! Often, coworking spaces place importance on hosting events to attract new visitors who can turn into members. Be wary of the possible shift in focus away from keeping your existing members happy to acquiring new members. While attracting new members is important, the best events also increase engagement of your current members, too.
If your events are for your existing members– great! Remember the two aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive and there can be benefits from making your event available to both your members and the public.
Once you determine who the events are for, you need to find out what events will be of benefit. It’s easy to fall in a trap of second-guessing what you think your members need vs. what they actually want.
Consider the characteristics of your members. Are they mostly freelancers? What stage are they at? Are they funded externally or self-funded? What sectors do they operate in? B2C or B2B? With so many variables it can be difficult to find a common theme, but dig deep enough and it is possible to find a common trend in at least some of your members. Be content with not being able to cater towards every single one of your members. The more diluted an event’s focus, the less value it will bring. And don’t be afraid to ask your members what they want!
Don’t forget the logistics
Now comes the fun part. When are you going to host your event? Your members will all have a variety of schedules and different availability. Think firstly about your own capacity. How much time do you have for an event? How many people will be able to attend? Would you rather host during open hours or before/after your space is open? How many volunteers/staff will you need to assist with the event? Are you going to film it and make it available online? Will it be a paid event? Do you want to photograph the event for use in upcoming marketing materials? Once you nail all of these answers, you will be on your way towards crafting a cohesive plan.
Get commitment from your members
There’s no point in running an event if no one will attend! For anyone that has worked in events, you will know there is always a drop off between the sign up and turn up rates.
Aim to get commitment from your members. You may think that by telling them four weeks in advance, they will have time to clear their schedules. However, I’ve witnessed (and been a perpetrator myself) of committing to an event early only to back out at the last minute due to other work priorities. Have conversations with your members about the event in person, instead of simply over email. Ask your members when they will be available and most engaged. An early breakfast is often a great time, as it doesn’t interrupt their work day or force them to stay late when they’re already tired from a day of work. (Note from ShareDesk: a great way to gain commitment that sticks is to create an event with tickets, even if your event is free to attend. Our friends at Picatic offer a great online ticketing service you might want to check out.)
Ultimately, people will attend if they know exactly what value they will receive from an event, so get clear on: when the event is, who it is for and what they can expect to get out of it. An intentional ask will make all the difference.
Take your time and plan intentionally
If you’re in the stage of planning an event, avoid the temptation to rush. Take the time to really understand what your audience is looking for. Remember, events are happening all the time and it is a competitive space so you need to make your event compelling! Tracking the success of your events will also help you plan future events more intentionally. You can do this through various factors such as: comparing number of sign-ups to actual attendees, collecting general feedback from attendees, and monitoring the reach of social media about your event.
Good luck with running your events and do get in touch if you have any questions. ShareDesk and I would love to know about your events!
About the author
Yasmin Desai has worked in several start-ups and is passionate about sharing her knowledge and experiences. She is currently working for Catapult as a Business Development Manager. Yasmin writes about her thoughts on the London start-up scene for her blog The Startup Girl. You can find her on twitter @thestartupgirl_
About the ShareDesk Blog Series ‘Coworking Manager’s Guide to…’
‘Coworking Manager’s Guide to…’ is a blog series on running a shared office space. Each blog we’ll hone in on a particular topic, pooling knowledge from our venue partners from across the globe into the ultimate guide for fledgling spaces and full-grown brands alike.