Many, if not most, small businesses and entrepreneurs use commercial space to house their operations, and sharing these work spaces is often a smart business decision. It's best to share with others whose needs are similar to or mesh well with yours, often someone in the same or a similar profession. And, once you start sharing space with others, it will be much easier to start other types of sharing, like tools, storage space, subscriptions, or employees. Those are all discussed below.
Regardless of what type of business you have and what type of space you're looking to share, there are a few basic issues you'll need to sort out:
Sharing office space makes sense for many types of professionals, including doctors, lawyers, psychotherapists, massage therapists, acupuncturists, chiropractors, financial planners, and the like. Many of these professionals do administrative work from home and need office space only for meetings. Office sharing works particularly well for people who see clients or patients, because it can cost a lot to maintain an office with a reception area (especially if it's staffed) and private meeting or treatment rooms, and sharing the expense makes it more affordable. It's also a good value for professionals like realtors and salespeople, who spend little time in the office.
Shared office space may include any of the following:
Reception area. Professionals who see clients or patients will need a reception space where people can wait. If you're sharing space, you'll have to figure out how you want that space to look and function. Depending on your professions, the expectations of your clients, and the other needs of your businesses, you may want to share an actual receptionist to greet people, sign for packages, answer phones, and so on. (See "Sharing Employees," below.) If you don't need (or can't afford) a receptionist, you might tell clients or patients where they can wait and how to let you know they have arrived. For example, some therapy offices use a light-switch system: When patients arrive, they flip a switch that turns on a light in the therapist's office to let the therapist know—without unduly disrupting an ongoing session—that the next patient is waiting.
Private offices. Most shared offices contain private spaces for holding confidential conversations, treating clients, or simply working without interruption. These can belong to one person alone or can be shared between two or more people if they can work out a schedule that allows each person to use the space privately or they are comfortable using the space at the same time. Anyone who needs complete flexibility in scheduling will need a private space, whereas professionals who limit their schedules to specific hours can share the private space with others, alternating days or mornings and afternoons, or even working out a schedule on an ad hoc basis.
Conference room(s). Especially for businesspeople who may need to meet with more than one person at a time, a shared conference room is a great amenity in an office suite. Some sharers, like one of the authors of this book, may use only the conference room and not even maintain a private office. And others might prefer the conference room to meeting in a private office if the latter is too small or—yes, it happens—too messy. In some office suites, there can be competition for the conference room, so it's important to have a process for scheduling its use.
If you're considering a shared office arrangement that involves sharing a conference room, talk beforehand about each person's anticipated needs for the space. If some of you plan to see clients only at certain times that the others are willing to work around, or intend to use their own private office space for meetings, you may be able to share your meeting space without any problems. But if it looks like there will be significant competition for the conference room space, you might need to reconsider either the number of people or the configuration you're planning.
You also need to work out a system for scheduling use of the room. Google calendars (or other online tools) are a great way to do this, because everyone can see the schedule in real time and access it remotely. Once you've established a scheduling system, it's also important that everyone use and respect it. Especially if you schedule meetings one right after the other, the first person needs to be sure to get out of the space in time for the next person to use it. See Chapter 4 for communication and conflict resolution tips that can help you deal with any disputes that arise about shared space.
Administrative space. In an office setting, administrative space is often used for tasks like faxing, copying, and assembling correspondence. You'll need to agree with your office mates on how this space will be used and by whom. You should talk about what type of equipment, employees, and functions the administrative space will have. Often the administrative space houses noisy equipment (such as a copier) or tends to draw a crowd (for example, if it contains the office refrigerator or microwave), so you'll want to make sure that your planned office configuration allows everyone to get their work done.
Some sharers may use more of the administrative space than others, which you'll probably want to account for in your sharing agreement. You may not know exactly how this will play out once you begin actually sharing the space, so your agreement might need to start out flexible and then become more specific as you figure out who is using how much of what.
Here's a sample office sharing agreement for a group of compatible professionals—a few lawyers, a financial planner, and a website developer. We chose office worker types because that type of worker tends to need many of the resources we're discussing here—as opposed to some other types of sharers who might not need certain resources, like staff—and we wanted a sample agreement that covered as many of the potential issues as possible. This agreement can be used for other types of work-related sharing as well, as discussed below.
This office sharing agreement is made between Benjamin Coke, Suzanne Clarkson, Tamara Lester, Marilyn Mertin, and Robyn Troxel, who intend to share the office suite located at 2525 College Avenue in Rockland. Ben is an accountant, Suzanne is a financial planner, Marilyn and Tamara are lawyers, and Robyn is a web developer.
_____________________ Benjamin Coke ________ Date
_____________________ Suzanne Clarkson ________ Date
_____________________ Tamara Lester _______ Date
_____________________ Marilyn Mertin ________ Date
_____________________ Robyn Troxel ________ Date
This agreement is for a situation where all of the tenants are on the master lease. Some landlords don't allow that, however, which means that one person will have to become the master tenant and sublet the other spaces to the rest of the sharers. In that situation, your agreement should include a provision that all of you are bound by the terms of the master lease.
A number of Nolo products may be helpful if you're entering into a commercial lease. Negotiate the Best Lease for Your Business , by Janet Portman and Fred Steingold, explains the standard clauses and provisions of a commercial lease and offers advice for reaching a fair lease agreement with your landlord. And eForms are available for download from Nolo's website, www.nolo.com, to create or amend a commercial sublease or get a landlord's written consent to a sublease.
Although it's not as common as sharing office space, retail space can also be shared. In some sense, that's what artists do when they participate in cooperative or consignment stores where the work of different artists or craftspeople is displayed and sold in one retail space. Each artist generally manages an individualized display and pays a share of the sales proceeds toward the expenses of maintaining the space.
But it's also possible to put two full business operations together in one space. A book store and a coffee shop are an easy fit; likewise a pet store and a groomer; and then there's always the lawyer in the laundromat or bowling alley.
If you share space with another retail business, figuring out how to share costs might take some time. Even if you split the space right down the middle, one business might require more parking, employee work space, storage space, window display space, signage, electricity, water, or other resources than the other. Many businesses have some of the same type of equipment as a professional office, so retailers may also share a fax or copy machine, phone system, cash register, or other equipment. An agreement like the sample office sharing agreement above can help you identify, consider, and make decisions about the different issues that apply to retail businesses.
Think outside the box. We heard from one book store owner who shares space with a somewhat unlikely companion: a photographer specializing in portraits of children and pets. It turned out to be a good fit. Many customers did business with both of them once they joined forces. They share not just rent and utilities, but also a fax machine and advertising costs. The bookseller gives the photographer a discount on books; the photographer takes photos for the store's website. The share allows both of the businesses to be in a more attractive location than either could afford alone.
It's very common for artists to share studio space. Many artists need a place where they can fire up loud machinery; use products and media that have an odor, are messy, or require certain conditions (for example, a particularly cool or warm temperature); create the best lighting for their art, whether that means lots of natural sunlight or a wall of klieg lights; work on large pieces over a long period of time; or invite the public to view their art or performances. Although artists who've hit the big time can create a separate space in their home or elsewhere for artistic pursuits, most of the starving artists we know have to rent studio space—often affordable only by sharing with other artists.
When it comes to sharing studio space, you'll do best to find a fellow sharer whose work is compatible with yours. The last thing you want if you paint in oils is to share space with a woodworker whose sawdust flies all over the place. Make sure you talk through how each of you plans to use the space: Smells, dust, noise, drips, hours, and visitors are all relevant.
One benefit of a sharing agreement for artists or craftspeople is the possibility of sharing expensive equipment like a kiln, lighting equipment, drafting or light table, or jewelry-making or woodworking tools. For new artists, this may be the only way to afford setting out on your own. A written sharing agreement is crucial here, because you need to be clear about who owns the equipment and, if you share ownership, who has the right to buy out the other if the arrangement ends.
Another benefit of sharing is bulk discounts for buying supplies in larger quantities than one person would use alone. Here you only need an agreement about who will make the initial cash outlay and whether you'll divide the items equally or in unequal shares. If you don't know how much each of you will use, you'll need to keep track of how much you use so that you can settle up later.
If your studio space is large enough for both of you to use at the same time, you'll need to decide how to share equipment when you are both there, as well as things like whether and what type of music can be played and whether visitors are allowed while you're working. If the space can only be used by one person at a time, you'll need to set up a schedule. You can choose a set schedule (for example, one of you uses the space in the morning and the other in the afternoon) that will remain the same over time, agree to come up with a schedule on a regular basis (for example, weekly or monthly), or come up with a system for signing up in advance to use the space (once again, the Google calendar can be very useful). You'll also need to agree on whether you want to share time equally and pay equal rent, pay unequal amounts based on your anticipated use, or pay based on your actual percentage of use.
Finally, you'll have to agree on acceptable uses of the space. Where will you keep works in progress or finished work waiting for transport? Do you both want to participate in open studios in your area? Do you want to open the space for selling at other times? Does the studio have to be kept clean to accommodate potential buyers?
Cooking is another field in which equipment can be very expensive, making sharing a great idea for caterers and producers of artisan or other specialty foods. Perhaps you are a bread baker selling to local organic food stores, and your best friend from cooking school makes cookies that she sells to individual consumers on her web site. You could rent a commercial kitchen space together with the right type and size oven for your needs, agree on a schedule, and split the cost of rent and utilities.
You can also join a shared commercial kitchen—these are available in larger metropolitan areas. Many such kitchens are sponsored by "incubator" programs, which provide resources and work space to small start-up businesses. These kitchens have the advantage of being already licensed by the health department, so you don't need to worry about that regulatory hurdle. They provide all the necessary equipment, and you schedule time as needed. Most allow you to do anything there—cook, teach a cooking class, or even film a cooking video.