Is coworking right for you?

mugsCoworking sites offer many benefits of traditional office spaces, but do they make freelancing seem too much like a regular job? Here’s a quick take on the pros and cons.

Working alone can be, well, lonely at times. This might explain the growing number of creative coworking locations popping up around the country.

So when I had the good fortune to win a one-month membership to a coworking startup, I tried it out. After just a few weeks I concluded that creative coworking has a lot going for it. While it may not be the best fit for everyone, many freelancers can benefit from giving it a try. Here’s why:

It’s cheaper than office space

Coworking gives you an instant workspace outside the home, typically at a fraction of what you’d pay to rent an office. That’s great if you frequently contend with distractions — such as noisy kids or roommates — or if you have trouble focusing on work in your home environment. There’s usually a variety of payment plans, including day rates for occasional drop-ins, unlimited plans for full-timers, and everything in between.

Most coworking sites have areas you can use for meetings with clients, though this sometimes involves an extra fee. Many also allow you to have your business mail sent to the coworking site, which enables you to keep your home address confidential.

The flip side of is you’ll get everything else that comes with working outside of your home. That may include commuting during rush hour, packing or buying lunch, and accidentally leaving important files at the “office.” You’ll also want to check with an accountant to make sure you stay compliant if you’re deducting expenses for a home office.

There’s ample networking opportunities

Coworking is a great way to meet other freelancers. You can bounce ideas off your “coworkers” and you don’t have to eat lunch alone.

You can also forge partnerships with people whose skills complement your own, enabling you to offer more services. For example, within a few months I teamed up with a graphic designer to offer turnkey website packages to industrial companies.

If you prefer to work alone in a quiet area, coworking may not seem right for you. The site I belong to is smart about this. Some rooms are designated as places where people can talk and exchange ideas, while others are set aside as quiet working areas. There’s also a “phone booth” so that cell phone conversations don’t distract or irritate others.

Equipment and other resources are available

Coworking sites provide many resources you need to run a business. This can be especially helpful if you’re just starting out as a freelancer.

Amenities vary depending on the location, but often include Wi-Fi, color printers, and that all-important necessity: coffee. Some places also have limited kitchen facilities, storage lockers or other perks. The only drawback here is that you’re sharing these resources with everyone else working there, with all that can entail.

A change of scenery is healthy

Early in my freelance career I learned the value of getting out of my home office once in while. I use other locations to inspire my creativity and for “big picture” work such as long-term planning. A coworking site is an ideal place for this kind of activity. Even though the environment can feel relaxed, it’s still focused on getting business done. I’ve found that I prefer it to working in a coffee shop.

Ultimately, I decided to continue coworking when my free membership ran out. I still get a lot of work done in my home office, but I look forward to the days when I go coworking.

Your personality and work style will determine whether or not creative coworking is a good solution for you. But if you’re on the fence, I encourage you to give it a try.

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