As an entrepreneur, one of your first early milestones is actually having to put on pants every day.
You know—when you graduate from working in your jammies on the couch and get to a point where you have clients, meetings, and a reason to put on pants. It’s exciting.
What’s less exciting, of course, is finding a place to wear those pants every day—i.e., your first office space. It’s a trying process, and it can be tricky to understand your needs, know what to ask, and find a great spot for your business.
I’ve recently gone through this for my company, FinePoint, and if you’re doing the same, here are a few things to think about.
Know Your Needs
I have little to no sense of square footage: You could tell me I live in a 4,000 square foot apartment, and I'd believe you (it's definitely, definitely not).
This is not good when you’re looking for office space—you need to go figure out exactly what you need before you start looking. How many other pant-wearing people will be joining you, and how much space do you need for them? Do you want them in a totally open space? Cubicles? There are varying theories for productivity and success, but find one that fits you and your employees. For me, I'm still small enough that I know I needed just one large physical office with enough space for four, as well as a conference room.
In addition, consider what features you want and need. A door? A printer? Meeting space? Phones? Office spaces vary a lot on this front, so it’s important to know what you need going in.
If you don’t need a space to call totally your own, you can try shared spaces—these spaces are popping up all over the place and can be great venues for collaboration and camaraderie in what can be a lonely atmosphere. I personally stand around and socialize in shared spaces, so know what will work for your style.
On the location front, most of us want prime-time spots, but especially in higher end urban areas (LA, SF, NYC, DC), that comes at a hefty price. I love my prime space because I can invite clients and potential clients who work nearby over for meetings. But if that's not as important in your business, you may want to save the cash and choose a less central location.
Finally, I know they say don’t judge a building by its cover—or something, but don’t discount amenities and ambiance. The two offices I've been lucky enough to be a part of spoke to me—great lighting, open infrastructure, exposed brick. If those things make you feel good, they might also make you work better.
Use Your Network
When it comes to actually tracking down great spaces, start with who you know. Ask your entire Gchat list, then email your entire address book—not just your entrepreneur network, but also your friends and family. Maybe your Mom's cousin's colleague knows of a space. You never know, and you might be able to score something great.
You can also call a broker, who will help you for sure, but will be pricey (think 5-6% of the entire lease), or try your luck at Craigslist. You can typically find great sublets, where companies have outgrown their space and moved elsewhere or haven’t filled their space quite yet.
On that note, though it can be scary, sign a lease for as much time as you can—at least six months to a year. Sometimes it's hard to see your company that far down the road, but I've been in scenarios where I didn't give myself enough time in an office space. You develop habits, certain copier dances, and sometimes you don't want that to go away.
Rental costs vary vastly by location, business type, and what you need. So, the best advice I can give you is to ask many, many questions. Make a list of what to ask about amenities, utilities, what you can and can’t do in the space, how and when you can use the conference rooms, if you need to pay for phone and Wi-Fi, and so on. There are lots of little add-ons that can quickly become expensive. Ask your friends and fellow entrepreneurs what they pay for a frame of reference.
Now, depending on what your company does, you do have some wiggle room here. You should always try to negotiate—or at least ask if the price is flexible. If you don't ask, the answer is always "upcharge." Know your bottom line and your ideal terms. Also, you should always have a lawyer look over your lease before you sign it (this goes with everything else in contract form, too).
If you're in a services industry, you can also try bartering your time in exchange for less cash. I've personally bartered my PR and writing services in exchange for space on multiple occasions, and I've seen this done with development work and website creation, too. Just be sure that you know what you're getting into, because if you're in the same vicinity as your client, it can be easy to be taken advantage of time-wise (no, you may not "pop in" all the time to ask me questions). Sometimes it can be worth it to just pay.
After several months of freaking out, I found a delightfully gorgeous new space to rest my head and pen collection. Finding office space isn't easy, but give it time. I promise, you’ll find the perfect place to wear those pants.