I recently had an encounter with a potential customer that made me aware of our business’s strengths, and its weaknesses. I offer shared office space, or Coworking Space in the Los Angeles San Fernando Valley. We have a lovely suite filled with passionate startups, entrepreneurs and business owners. Our boutique shared office space is situated on a renowned boulevard (Tom Petty sang about it!) with great pubs and restaurants, shops, all within walking distance, and easy access to freeways that can take you downtown, Rodeo Drive, or the beach. This shared office space is my first entrepreneurial endeavor and we work earnestly every day to make sure our customers are happy.
This potential customer had many problems and excuses when it came to stepping out on her own and her reasons for needing a shared office space. I knew by the excuses that she really wasn’t serious about becoming an entrepreneur. Her reasons included competition (“There are now 5 other firms doing what I do,” she exclaimed), the possibility of seeking a job with said firms rather than going out on her own, and wanting to know beforehand if the business was going to work. We that have actually created a business, and launched it KNOW the uncertainty of the result, it may work, it may not. However, we are passionate about what we do, and believe that what we have to offer is valuable and will work tirelessly to make it fly. Because really, we would rather have tried and failed, then never to have tried at all.
The issue I had with this potential customer was that she was comparing our boutique, family owned shared office space, to the big dog in town. There are distinct similarities and differences to our offers, in other words, we are the same, and yet we are not the same.
WeWork has done a fantastic job in creating hip, vibrant workspaces and they are growing by leaps and bounds around the country and the world. WeWork has helped spread the word about shared office space, or coworking, in our community, and I thank them. BUT, not every shared work space is like WeWork and offers exactly what they offer, just like, not every coffee house is a Starbucks. Competition is healthy. What this customer would have to offer the world, if she launched her own business, would be similar, but not the same as what the current firms offer. She would find her niche audience, just like we did.
So how can small businesses stay competitive and attractive when offering, in essence, the same thing as the big businesses?
Here are some points to remember:
- Nimble + flexible = small – we are able to make changes, and adapt to customer requests immediately. When my customers requested more private space, I created it. When my customers requested more conference room time, they got it.
- Real connections – when you see the person that has built the business from the ground up, you know that they are going to make it right, and make sure that you are taken care of. When you work with the same people everyday, you get to know, trust and like those around you. When this happens, real connections are made, that can lead to referrals, new relationships and business. Working at a small shared office space is much different than working in a hotel lobby, or the large corporate coffee house.
- Customer relationships – when you make a complaint at a big business, the person listening was hired to do just that, listen. They are unable to fix or solve anything without going up the chain. Need something fixed, a favor done, someone to go above and beyond? You need look no further than our front desk. Someone is there ready to assist. You won’t feel like a cog in the machine, because we know and care about you, our customer.