So you’re thinking of starting a local coworking alliance?

A primer for anyone thinking about setting up a local coworking alliance, assembly, federation or cooperative.
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Estimated Reading Time: 8 minutes

Table of Contents

Firstly... that's great!

Seriously.

I’m a huge believer in the far-reaching impact of collaborative communities. 

Heck, included.co was founded on the principle of coworking spaces sharing their buying-power to unlock unparalleled access to resources, pricing and reach.

I’m hoping this article can act as a primer – diving into why local alliances are great and important, how to approach starting out, optimizing for sustainable success and where you can get both expert and peer-assistance.

Let's start with 'why'.

There’s so much power in local cooperation, collaboration and even coopetition.

From being able to get, and share, support/tips/advise with other similar workspace operators; to having the opportunity to collaborate around messaging, campaigns and arrange local proclamations – the opportunities are endless if you manage to surround yourself with other passionate people all looking to support local entrepreneurship and make workspaces more flexible and accessible.

Given you’re already looking into this, I won’t “preach to the choir”, but will run over some details about how to strategize for long-term success with your local initiatives.

Then let's tackle 'how'.

Just like no two coworking spaces are created equal, neither are coworking alliances.

The differences start from how they’re incorporated officially, and extend to what they’re called (eg associations, alliances, assemblies, cooperatives, federations and more), to how they operate, make decisions and are funded sustainably.

So the first steps are often to clarify what the objectives are, what kind of alliance you’re forming, and how members will be expected to contribute.

Objectives.
 

I’ve seen that (most of the time) clearly defining why you’re setting up an alliance can help with all the next decisions, conversations and planning.

Some alliances are set up to help educate local markets about the benefits of coworking or flex workspaces. Others band together for better representation with local or regional governments and agencies. Others are created to provide a safe and collaborative community for folks tasked with building communities. Some even coordinate upskilling, bulk-buying, local conferences and more. 

Increasingly local alliances are also positioning themselves to help new comers, suddenly-remote workers, new businesses, and corporations discover the flexible workspace options available in their neighborhoods. 

But none of these are mutually exclusive, and often you’ll find alliances who do more than one at a time, or that have shifted from one objective to another as their local market (and participating workspaces) mature.

Once you know what you’d like to accomplish, it might be useful to think about how you’d collaborate around making decisions.

Procedures.
 

There are numerous ways to setup how ideas are proposed, votes tallied and decisions are made, so I’d recommend having a few casual conversations with fellow workspaces around how much/little they’d like to be involved with the governance/operating of the alliance. 

Sometimes it’s found that they’d prefer to contribute, but can’t commit to allocating time or other non-financial contributions. Other times spaces may say they’d prefer to be involved with running things and making decisions. Just keep in mind that both are good, but you should keep some room for flexibility as these decisions and the time available to any participating space may fluctuate, and that includes yourself.

The topic of how (if at all) to incorporate usually comes up pretty early on, and I’d always recommend addressing the elephant in the room before brining in ‘the law’. And that is, how will this organization or alliance, stay sustainable… financially.

So before you can decide how exactly things will get accomplished, it may be worth taking a look at how it’d be financed.

Sustainability.
 

It’s all well and good to arrange an alliance on-the-side, but you’ve all already got a business (and gruelling ones at that) to run. 

Making sure your alliance is funded to be able to setup, operate and increasingly strive towards your shared objectives is an awkward, but critical, step in setting yourselves up for success.

Whilst there are always exceptions (here’s looking at you European Coworking Assembly) here’s a few funding structures I’ve seen ‘in the wild’:

Once again, these can be combined and swapped around later. 

But getting a good feel of what founding operators of the alliance feel is comfortable, fair and sustainable will help lay the right foundation and provide budgets for increasingly striving towards the set objectives.

  1. Another pro-tip: it’s much more difficult to start charging for something that was originally free, so if you’re thinking it’ll be less awkward later when “there’s something to pay for”, you’re setting up the alliance for budget issues and limitations from day one.

With all these hard questions being answered, or at least discussed, we can look into tech stacks and optimizing for success..

Notes about optimizing.

At this point you’ll know about what you want to achieve, how you’d like to collaborate, pool funding and incorporate. 

Let’s quickly run over some ways to keep things efficient, and sustainable time- and resource-wise as you plan and implement multi-business collaborations.

Comms.
 

In the yesteryear of pre-covid lockdowns, I’d have recommended meeting for breakfast, lunch or coffee with local coworking space operators biweekly or every month. 

Nowadays though, scheduled video calls are probably a safer bet. 

Pro-tip: having predefined topics or agendas for each call can seriously help fight video-conference-fatigue.

What I’ve also seen be very useful for alliances made up of understandably busy operators is to have a form of asynchronous communication.  What this means is that you should think about somewhere participants can ask and answer questions in a timeframe that suits their lifestyles and other obligations. 

Whilst ‘face-to-face’ calls help connect, asynchronous chats or threads respect the fact that not everyone who would like, or could, contribute can do so at the same time. 

External Messaging.
 

Having a centralized presence is a good idea, and can be inexpensive when using something like WordPress, Squarespace or Wix.

Whilst social media accounts can be useful, I always recommend having the central repository of information being something you ‘own’ or can control outside of the changing rules and algorithms of the social networks.

Also, email newsletters are supremely useful in sharing important and regular information with active members, potential new members, lapsed members and partners, sponsors or stakeholders. 

Once again, make sure you start growing your mailing list early, legally and in a method that retains access to the list even if you need to change providers or platforms.

Being a WordPress developer for most of my life, I’d recommend the self-hosted web platform for the wide variety of plugins and themes. 

Time-savers. 
 

There’s a few ways to optimize the setup and running of a coworking alliance, and most of them revolve around one simple ideology…

You’re already busy, so bring in support to implement and manage the value-adds that are outside of your core competencies.

As an engineer and entrepreneur I have to keep reminding myself that “just because we could build it ourselves, doesn’t mean we should.”

  1. Need your site set up, SEO advice or other services? 
    Ask participating spaces to ask their members for available web developers.
     
  2. Don’t know where to start, or best next steps?
    Keep reading, I’ve added a few resources in the next section.
     
  3. Want to add maps & space profiles? 
    Contact Syncaroo so that map listings can get updated automatically.

     

  4. Thinking of curating perks or discounts? 
  5. Register for included Premium as a coworking alliance.

Whilst some of these may cost some money, maintaining momentum and preparing for long-term sustainability should be your ultimate goal.

But of course, just like with starting anything new… you may be overwhelmed and feeling like you don’t even know what you don’t know. 

So before you pack it in and think that “this whole alliance thing seems like more trouble than it’s worth”, let me remind you about the immense impact a well-run and sustainable local alliance can have – and share some professional and peer-support resources for you to lean on whilst getting started and running your local alliance.

Where to get help.

As this is just intended as a primer, I hope it at least starts thoughts and conversations. But sometimes having others (not current or potential members of your alliance) to ask alliance-related questions with can be a godsend.

Finding Experts.
 

As this is just intended as a primer, I hope it at least starts thoughts and conversations. But sometimes having others (not current or potential members of your alliance) to ask alliance-related questions with can be a godsend.

Here’s a list of resources and experts I’d recommend checking out:

  1. Ashley Proctor at Creative Blueprint – who has helped launch coworking alliances across North America. Her first co-op was Xpace in 2004, and has been building and leading collectives around the world for 16 years.

  2. Jeannine van der Linden at European Coworking Assembly and De Kamer – who runs a network of workspaces and has helped launch coworking alliances across the European continent and into Asia.

  3. Katharine Chestnut, founder of Alkaloid Networks – who launched the Atlanta Coworking Alliance to connect and collaborate with other local workspaces.

  4. Jacob Sayles is a founding member of The Seattle Collaborative Space Alliance, is on the board of The Coworking BC Society, and with his wife Katie Davis-Sayles he has worked on over 30 coworking spaces around the world and assisted many others.

  5. The Coworking Alliance Leaders group on Facebook – for peer-support and asynchronous Q&As.
I hope this helps, and I cannot wait to see how your collaborations, cooperations and coopetition help make entrepreneurship more accessible and supported in your neighborhoods. 
 
Expert Advice. 
 

But before we part ways, here’s some advice from these experienced alliance-leading folks too:

I think my advice tends to lean towards “Don’t get stuck on the procedures, or on formalizing the collective - just focus on what you can achieve by collaborating, and what your shared values and goals are. Don’t complicate things. We all have way to much to juggle already. Just take it one step, one project, one expense or one decision at a time.”

Ashley Proctor

It is important to understand the difference between a collaboration and an exchange. Collaboration includes creating new value together, not trading value you each already have with one another. An alliance needs to have benefits for all the partners to be sustainable but is not at its core a transactional relationship. I read once, “Like romances, alliances are built on the hopes and dreams of what might happen if certain opportunities were pursued” and it has stayed with me -- though I cannot remember who said it. I think that is profoundly true and it is important to understand that there is a difference between a one-to-one trade “like, “pay X to be a member and we will get you Y” and a long term relationship intended to create things that didn't exist before. Both are fine with me, but it is important to be clear what you are about.

Jeannine van der Linden

The main point I always make is to counter statements I hear all the time about "people in my town/city are not collaborative. I tried and they didn't go for it". I like to point out there will always be people who don't want to play along. It doesn't matter. Focus on the people who do want to collaborate and always invite everyone to the table. People will self select and you will have the right people in your group.

If I need to push the point I say "I guarantee there is 1 other person in your town that wants to collaborate. Find them. Then together I know you can find 3 more. Then you are 5 and it is easy to grow to 10 from there. "

Also... KEEP IT SIMPLE!

Jacob Sayles

I know that one thing that helped me was knowing I should be ‘official’. I went through the process of making us a 501(c)6. I did NOT have the knowledge to do that so I hired CorpNet to do the heavy lifting. It costs me to do it but worth it. I did charge the costs to the Alliance once it had a bank account. It made sure that those joining knew we were serious.

Also, I didn’t wait until I had a bunch of people to launch. I got one person (my buddy at 3411 Coworking) that fully supported me and I went for it.

Lastly, I called independent spaces directly to invite them. I had one person ask me why I wanted to do it (which you covered) and also ask me my response to someone saying I was competition. My response was that I happily help other spaces across the globe so why not here locally. AND we all have different things to offer and I would like to know more about local spaces to give referrals (which I was doing before but was better).

Katharine Chestnut
Your thoughts.


Would you like to share your insights, suggestions or get added to the list of experts? Leave a comment below, or ping me an email.

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Hey, I'm Hector 👋

I’m a workspace technologist – which just means I get to work with a tonne of awesome people and technology that support, run, market and enrich hundreds of workspaces around the world. 

I currently lead syncaroo.com, oversee included.co and curate This Week In Coworking, the Integrations Map and other geeky resources. Learn more about me and my work here.

In my blog and email updates I share my thoughts, observations and spotted trends regarding workspace, technology & entrepreneurship. 

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3 Comments
  • This Year In Coworking: 2020 trends, shifts and opportunities. – included.co
    December 30, 2020

    […] restarting, of coworking alliances, assemblies, federations and associations around the world. A primer guide was also curated and released and shared widely to help new coopetitive alliances take their […]

    Reply
  • Why we're excited about Coworking Alliances, and their global summit next week - Syncaroo
    April 22, 2021

    […] you’re running, are a member of, or are thinking of starting a coworking alliance, please do join us at The Coworking Alliance […]

    Reply
  • This Year In Coworking: 2020 trends, shifts and opportunities. – ThisWeekInCoworking.com
    August 17, 2021

    […] restarting, of coworking alliances, assemblies, federations and associations around the world. A primer guide was also curated and released and shared widely to help new coopetitive alliances take their […]

    Reply
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