Don't be lonely: the coworking revolution
Lots and lots of people have asked me over the past few months about the co-working, shared studio space that I've set up in Sheffield City Centre with two friends (Felicity & Ellie). Light Space Collective was founded late last summer and came about after a conversation with a Felicity who ran a large co working business in the city who wanted to start a smaller space with like minded people who worked in and around the same industry. It can get very lonely being self employed, working on your own, often from home, and you might not see anyone during the week, especially if you live alone and you're just starting out with your business.
I was lonely. I had a small space in a creative building, but it was very much a closed door sort of place, you'd see others in the corridor on a morning and last thing in the afternoon but apart from that you were still working alone.
So I was very much up for starting a new space with other creatives and I am so glad I did. It has changed my working life completely, I regularly collaborate with the other people that share the space, sometimes completely spontaneously. So much more than that however, it's genuinely changed my life, my mindset, my happiness levels... I get excited about coming into work now, honestly. I can't wait to see everyone on a Monday and hear about how their weekends were and to see the beautiful work that they are creating. I can't remember how I worked without this support network, without someone there to help word a tricky email, without someone bounce ideas off, without someone sat next to me who understands exactly all the little things that crop up in our business that can drive us completely crazy. So I want to tell you all how you can do it. It really is a lot easier than you think...
1) Find your tribe
It doesn't have to be big, we started with 3 directors. You need 3 to be able to set up a Social Enterprise, which we chose to do. At the start it was me and my friend (a wedding planner) and we brought in another photographer friend as our 3rd Director. Make sure you chose people you trust, who have a similar work ethic and drive to you, but most of all make sure you love spending time with them.
2) Find your space
We looked around for a couple of weeks for a space and viewed a few but we quickly found the ideal spot that we knew we could transform. Contact local commercial landlords, walk around the area you want to set up in, look up, look for those to let signs. Look out for buildings or offices that have been empty for a long time. Our spot had been empty for 7 years which meant we were able to negotiate a really good deal. Remember, rent is not set in stone, landlords would like empty spaces filling and will sometimes do a business rates only deal because empty properties are costing them money. If you set up as a Social Enterprise or CIC (Community Interest Company) you are much more likely to be able to get a good deal. You can also try contacting the local Council to find appropriate empty spaces.
(below image by Ellie Grace Photography)
3) Who do you want to be?
Deciding on your spaces name/ ethos and intent is really important, do you want to make money from renting desks or is it more important to you to have affordable spaces for new business owners to rent? One of the reasons we chose to set up as a Social Enterprise was so that we could access funding to be able to run workshops and offer support to others. Before becoming a photographer I worked in the arts and one of my main focuses over the years was on providing free activities, workshops and inspiration for young people. Felicity came from a similar community minded background and had been accessing various funding streams for some time so we had a good pool of combined knowledge on how to go about all of this and we knew right from the start that this is the direction we wanted to take.
4) Check your numbers
Work out how many people you need to bring in to share the space to cover the rent and bills, and to make any profit, if you want it to be a profit making business. We applied for our first pot of funding at this point and each of the directors invested a small amount (£1000 ish) to set up/ decorate and furnish the space so that it would be a place that we knew we wanted to spend hours working in. If you decide to go down the SE/ CIC route funding is available to you but you have to make it count, you have to offer back to the community something of value, our initial grant came from the National Lottery Awards for All scheme and you can find out more about the scheme and how you can apply here. To get a grant application in quickly we set up our business account with Credit Union, which is the quickest way to set up a business account.
5) Get out there
Build your website and social media, use your networks to find others that may like to come on board, tell people about what you're doing. You'll be amazed at how much interest and support you get.
6) Get in there
Start working! One of the things that has changed the most for me is that I don't work until 1am any more. I come in at 10am and usually leave by 5pm, I have normal working hours because I have a structured place of work and I've fallen into a routine. You'll get your evenings back and you won't take work home with you. I often leave my laptop and camera there ready for the next day. My evenings are mine again and I can do what I want with them!
It really is that simple, the only thing stopping you from doing it is you
Keywords: business, community, coworking, how to set up a coworking space, photography, sheffield, studio
Shelley - you have achieved some amazing things and I've watched your career with fascination and admiration. You've always been so generous with your talents - remember when you offered to paint a portrait in our charity auction back in 2007? It was terrific and such a wonderful prize. I should have bought it myself|! Your photography is beautiful and no doubt your workspace is too. Let's see where you take all of this creative energy next!
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