A local coworking space in Denver recently published a comparison chart of the various advantages of using a coworking space versus working at a coffee shop or in a home office. Of course, the chart is slightly biased towards coworking, however, it makes some very legitimate points. It also is a generic chart, that applies to most any type of independent freelance worker. For example, freelance writers seldom need a projector, or showers. (Wait. Um, actually us freelancers never take advantage of working at home by not showering. I err… Look over there, kittens!)
I thought we’d take a look at how such a look at the pros and cons of where to work shook out specifically for a freelance writer.
Freelance Writer Home Office
There are two kinds of freelance writers in the world, those with a really great home office they love, and those tucked into corners, alcoves and basements. My home office is in the basement. It isn’t finished, but it is coming together and when I have it all set up, I’m sure I’ll love everything about it except for the temperature. (It’s cold in the winter. A space heater helps, but it isn’t the same.)
The advantage of a home office, is that it is YOUR office. Even if it is crammed into a corner in the laundry room, it’s still yours. It’s your desk, your computer, your papers, your printer, all tweaked to your specifications. Go somewhere else, and it isn’t your space any more. Of course, this is can be one of the pros of a different space as well, depending upon your mood and how much you like your stuff. The reality is that if you have a writing home office, you are going to use it, a lot. But, no matter how great your space, sooner or later you’re going to need to work somewhere else, if only for your sanity.
Freelance Writer Coworking
Like anything else, there are good coworking places, and bad coworking places. I’ve never run a coworking business or talked in-depth with anyone who has, but I get the impression it is a pretty tough thing to pull off. There can be a fair amount of overhead, and there is a limit to how much you can charge since dedicated office space, or that coffee shop, is just a short trip away. In order to be successful, you have to have the kind of space and amenities that make enough people show up on a regular basis. Otherwise, you’ll be out of business pretty quickly.
That being said, it’s a pretty good bet that any coworking place that has been around for awhile is probably one of the good ones. However, there are many different kinds of coworking spaces and communities that go along with them. You might have to try a couple before you find one that suits you.
Pros and Cons of Coworking, Coffee Shop and Home Office
The biggest drawback of a home office is the isolation. Sometimes, especially when you are working against a deadline, being alone can be a great asset. Other times, when you work 8 or 10 hours a day for weeks without seeing another human being, it can be a bit isolating. As long as you hook up with friends and family in off hours, you can go this route without any real trouble. Otherwise, you’re going to need human contact eventually.
A coffee shop or the library lets you see other people, but for the most part, you won’t interact with them. Sure, the guy behind that counter will talk to you about more than your scone and coffee if you insist, but unless you run into a friend you’re still alone. Still, people watching is good for the soul and just seeing some of your fellow human beings around is enough to soothe your psyche, especially when you are pounding out copy as fast as you can.
At a coworking space, human contact is a little easier to come by. In general, the person who owns, or manages, the coworking space acts as a host. This means introductions are typically the norm, and if you get up and wander around, you can expect someone to ask how it’s going and if you need anything. The best thing about coworking, is that if you are sitting and staring at your monitor, most people will leave you alone, but if you are stretching your legs or sitting there looking inviting, you’ll have visitors, some of who can be very interesting.
People will tell you that coworking is great for networking. This can be true, but remember that any truly useful networking is organic. If you go into a coworking space in order to hand out business cards and collect clients, prepare to be politely (or not so politely) rebuffed. Also keep in mind that the most common type of worker at a coworking place is a freelancer. Freelance writers are a dime a dozen, both for dropping in, and for taking over a desk on a regular basis. So, it’s very possible, that you are third, and least known, freelance writer at your coworking space.
If you want networking to be part of your coworking experience, then show up on a regular basis and engage those who do the same. If your primary motivation is networking, check out who else works there and how likely there are to need a freelance writer. Even more important, find out how many more freelance writers hang out there. Ideally, you want to be the only one, but that might be hard to find. Try out several places and pick one or two that have the right vibe and the right people.
Finally, don’t act desperate. If you really need clients right now, sit in your home office and send out marketing packets, letters, emails and resumes. Pick up the phone and make some calls. You’ll starve to death if you’re going to sit idly in a coworking office waiting for business. In fact, you’ll find that you are most likely to acquire new business if you are always busy when you are in the coworking space. People who are good at what they do tend to be successful, and successful people tend to be busy.
I won’t pretend to be the expert offline networker, but here is my one tip. When you people ask you want you do, and they will when you are a new coworker, tell them that you are freelance writer. Then, follow up with something about your current projects and how you are using the space because you are hoping that you’ll be able to work faster in that environment. Do not say something like, “If I can ever do anything for you just ask.” This is already implied by your mere presence. This will show everyone that you aren’t there to beg for business, and that you are already successful at what you do.
Don’t expect anything right away, but eventually, when someone needs a freelance writer, they might just wander over to your desk. Just remember, that will probably take months, not days.
A coffee shop has coffee, but it isn’t free. Technically, your coffee at home isn’t free either, but at $7 for a bag of Starbucks that produces 50 cups of coffee, it’s steal. This is especially important for a coffee shop that doesn’t have free refills. And, unless the shop in question isn’t very busy, or very big, sooner or later, you’re a jerk for sitting there at a table for hours having ordered nothing but a single latte. So, you’ll need a muffin, and maybe another drink. It probably totals out less than a coworking day rate, but definitely more than the home office.
At the home office, you can have all the coffee you want, but it’s your coffee and your coffee maker. There is something about community coffee that is just different. First off, you don’t make it yourself, which means there is a variability that you don’t get from your own coffee. Second, you don’t make it yourself, which makes it more luxurious, almost magical. I especially love those places that have the big, industrial, never empty coffee stations. You just walk up with your favorite mug, and viola, coffee! If they have more than one flavor, I might never leave.
When you cowork, the coffee post is the water cooler. Most coworking spaces offer free coffee for this very reason. Community starts with the coffee pot (or hot tea, if you don’t like coffee). Take some time to get your coffee just right, so you hang out for a few minutes. Strike up a conversation and chat with interesting people.
It’s sort of an unwritten rule, if your coworking facility can’t cover free coffee for your clients, it’s time to shut down and move on. So, if you are in a coworking space that doesn’t offer free coffee, it might be time to look around.
First day as a freelance writer, you notice the world is noisy.
Second day as a freelance writer, you never go anywhere without headphones.
Headphones are must for both coffee shops and coworking, unless you’re taking on a private office space. Even then, just like any other office, those things are exactly soundproof. Get a good pair of headphone, which means a big pair with those foam things that surround your ears. That way you can block out as much sound as you want without having to crank your music up. For playlist selection, check out the shared playlists of developers and programmers who use wordless techno/electronic music to keep the beat without the distraction of Taylor Swift telling you that she is never getting back together with her boyfriend.
I’ve gotten so used to headphones that I wear them in my home office when I’m all alone some times. The difference between work environments is what happens when you take your headphones off. At your home office you’ll hear garbage collectors, dogs, car doors, and creaking floorboards that signal a serial killer has finally come for you. At the coffee shop you’ll hear people ordering their espressos, but what you will really hear is dishes. It turns out that it takes a lot of clanking and banging to make a soy, almond, non-fat, half-caff, cappuccino.
At a coworking space, you’ll hear an office space. You’ll hear someone on the phone; you’ll hear people shooting the breeze, you’ll hear clicking keyboards, you’ll hear copy machines, the hum of computers and so on. For some people, usually for those who just escaped the world of the cubicle, this is hell on Earth. For others, this is the comforting sound of commerce. It can be nice to know that others are working too, and that it isn’t just you stuck inside on a beautiful day.
Home office wins.
That one was easy. We’ll throw in here that you also don’t have to get dressed, or shower (err, um, scratch that one) in order to work. This is particularly useful when you wake up with the words just jumping up and down to get out of your head. Ten steps and you’re typing away instead of losing your rhythm during a car ride.
Most freelance writers will eventually tire of the home office. For some, an occasional visit to a coffee shop or library is a sufficient change of scenery. For others, especially those that need to work elsewhere frequently, the more business centric attitude of a coworking facility will be more enjoyable in the long run.