A couple of years ago I started to broaden my coworking horizons and learn more about the business center industry. Many people in the world of coworking turn their nose up at business centers and executive suites, but it’s because of guys like Ray that I’ve come to understand how much we have to learn from each other. Ray is a community builder through and through, and one of the best champions for authentic coworking being built in the business center industry.
Ray recently shared the following with me, and with his permission I’d like to share it with you. It’s not short on words, but Ray never is. One thing is for sure, he delivers on it’s promise and won’t be eating his hat anytime soon.
Let me know if these are valuable for you, otherwise I’ll start prepping for my new diet:
1. Worry less about building a community, and more about building an individual, firm relationship…think small. Too often people think big and elaborate; stumble from the ambitiousness; and then never get there. In the case of community, it all starts with a singular, solid relationship that jumpstarts all the rest. with someone that will step forward (often when you least expect it, and sometimes without you knowing about it) and who will spread the gospel about you, your values, your supportive ways, and your commitment to all that’s good about building a community.
2. Repeat Step 1, over and over. Replicate a series of strong, friendly, one-to-one relationships where you showcase your values, and spirit of community and collaboration. Turn your members into walking billboards, scouts and de fact agents crowing about the wonderful community you built. Community spirit is a virus – one that you should be only too happy to infect everyone with…one-by-one.
3. Never stop pursuing Step 1. Your community does not end once you step outside the door of your Coworking Space. On the contrary, the Coworking Space is the last stop or congregation point of your community. Your community is “the world” and is only limited by your imagination and the recruitment opportunities you pass up by not being constantly on your toes with your antenna ‘up’ to attract members, or to gather “goodies” to bring back to the community, such as a steady stream of free information, events, offers and other neat stuff that shows you care, are on their side, and want them to flourish. Practically every minute of every day presents an opportunity to gain a new community member, or to notice a “goodie” to bring back to ’em. And endure the slow with the busy. Opportunities aren’t always jumping at you in gobs, so don’t be discouraged when the pickings are slim. Just be ready though because the reverse is also true – sometimes they explode right before you like a school of tuna waiting to be hooked.
4. Have a hefty communication function, with plenty of actual and virtual bulletin boards for them to read, harvest, post and share on. Be it an offer, an announcement, a skill or ability, a business opportunity or inquiry, an idea, or just a word of encouragement…communities are only as strong as the communication they offer and promote…both on-line and on an actual, physical message board strategically located on-site for all to see and feel comfortable to add to, or take from.
5. Make it a point to charge up the ‘community battery’ of each in your community every day, for at least 30 seconds. Giving them attention with a brief greeting and to find out what’s new for them, is the way to charge up their, your and the community’s ‘community battery’. And it doesn’t take a whole lot, but it speaks mounds. It’s your way to reassure them that they made a good choice to join your community, and that your commitment to a strong sense of community was more than just lip service. It’s showing that you genuinely care, and appreciate their own commitment to you. And it’s the way to pay-it-forward for continued community spirit and helping you maintain a place where everyone thrives, looks forward to coming to, and keeps an eye out for each other…all the classic traits of a bona fide, successful community. It keeps them helping you recruit by passing the word along to other great potential members, too. It turns them into mirror images of you in replicating Steps 1, 2 and 3.
Now, just because I’m not a big fan of eating hats, I wanted to give you these ‘5 bonus tips’, so should I fall short in your book on any of Steps 1-5, I want to make sure I have enough for you in the hopper. Here goes!
6. Make a calendar and post it on-line and on your physical bulletin board where every week is a ‘Worthy Cause’ week….where every member, as a contribution to the community, is responsible for providing a cause, or charity that you will highlight, celebrate and perhaps provide materials or even have them make a presentation on that ‘cause’. Make sure that the ‘Worthy Cause’ calendar is prominent on your virtual and actual bulletin boards, with the recommender-member-champion of that cause clearly denoted with his/her contact information and links for further information on the cause. Good community people – the kind you want to fill your Coworking Space up with — not only care about their own ‘worthy causes’; they are also demonstrate full and enthusiastic support of others
7. Post announcement of special events way in advance of them, and celebrate them on your bulletin boards way after they’ve concluded. The next best thing to going to a special event is the feeling of anticipation and excitement before the event itself – so why not spread out that good pre-event karma far in advance of the event? This is especially true for the physical, strategically placed bulletin boards, since every time someone walks by them they’re reminded of the fun or worthy activity coming up…then double the pleasure by posting photos on the physical, in addition to the on-line bulletin boards, after the occasion. A smile or chuckle is tantamount to an instant ‘vacation’ and a photo is an instant perpetual ‘vacation’. Also, photos are a great way to attract visitors that come as guests to your Coworking Space, to sign on as members. When they see photos of smiling faces at fun events, it smacks of ‘community’ – the kind of ‘community’ most would relish joining.
8. Make sure you have a ‘Community Council’ of a handful of members (5-9) that regularly meet…(and maybe fuel them with two 6-packs of brewskis, or two bottles of wineskis…a small investment for a big return), a sort of ‘Steering Committee’ to discuss ideas, address issues, and design the way forward for the community. Give the community a voice through them – then support them. Meetings every two weeks, or per month, is fine; and rotate the ‘Council’ members maybe every 3 months. Consider whether you should or shouldn’t be on the ‘Council’ and if it’s appropriate to require all members to sit on the ‘Council’ eventually or within the year, as a requirement for membership…and maybe make it a rule that they must recruit someone else from the community to replace them on the ‘Council’ when they rotate off of it. Let each quarterly ‘Council come up with a fun, clever, creative name or nickname (such as: “The Shark & Think Tank”; “The Quarter-Backs” or “The: What’s Next Gang”, etc.). Make it fun to be a ‘Steering Committee’ planner…
9. Give recognition…constantly. Constantly be on the lookout for recognition and celebration-worthy activities and hold planned and spontaneous activities to highlight them. Good community people – the kind that attract other good community people, and bring life and character to your space – love recognition, even more than they want money. Give it to them. It’s what keeps them juiced. And nothing expensive (no fancy award plaques needed). Corny works well too. I like to give out Mr. Potato Heads and Wayne Newton Posters for recognition; and you too can figure out something quirky that gets the job done too. And whether it’s for a ‘cause’ event that was well managed in the Coworking community; or a fun, creative idea that everyone enjoyed that they authored; or maybe a recruitment or invitation contest that someone won, etc. give out recognition liberally. Recognition is the currency of community.
10. And last but not least, have fun – abundant fun. There has to be a reason why people come to your Coworking Space, and if it’s not to collaborate and come away with a sense of fun and excitement, then there’s no compelling reason they should go there – and they’d be right for staying at home or working out of a Starbucks. You have to give them a great big reason to want to come to your space and to be the ideal your ambassadors of your community spirit. At my space, for the past 15 years we’ve had a Members Wall of Fame with a cheap and simple NY Yankeee plaque and name of past community members who have moved on and left an indelible mark (that we bestow during an impromptu ceremony); we have a free-usage vibrating massage chair, and on occasion, we’ve had members who performed 15-minute relaxation massages for everybody; we bring in people to do people’s hair and nails for free; we have Texas Hold ‘em Poker nights; we have a ‘soccer lounge’ and have two, informal in-house soccer teams that play at Central Park occasionally. Over the last decade-and-a-half we’ve also organized junkets to Atlantic City and day trips to Yankee Stadium, go see pro Soccer matches, scheduled apple-picking, hayriding, picnics/barbecues, clambakes; and on-site parties for Cinco de Mayo, St. Paddies Day, Gay Rights / Same Sex Marriage initiatives; and our famous annual 1,000+ attendee year-end/holiday celebrations with the Brazilian Samba troops snaking through the halls.
Not all of these examples would be appropriate of feasible at every Coworking space (the cost may be prohibitive for some) but the best, most effective community-building activities are low or no-cost effort anyway. The best are about creating activities from the heart and soul that shine through, more than about material offerings. But the underlying principle is that communities can’t be boring or all business – they need to be fun in order to be sustained easily enough.
I hope these ideas did the trick and saved me from any hat-eating. I’d love to hear from you about your own ideas (I’m always all ears and ager to hear neat tricks of the trade). Let me know if you have any questions or other feedback you’d care to share.
Whatever you do, don't build your coworking community alone.
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