Last month the S2M international team went to GCUC UK, the event that reunites coworkers and coworking operators from all over Europe. There we met Ursula Errington, responsible for PR and communication for Signal, the first Seats2meet location in the UK. She was part of a panel at the event, where she spoke about her experience with Seats2meet, and the first steps when opening a coworking space.
Ursula said in GCUC London that after 6 months she started having results in Signal, by working together with Seats2meet. Here are her main learnings and what she did to bring people in Signal.
We are open for 6 months now and in the beginning there is that moment when you open the doors and wonder if people are going to come in. It is scary. And we are in a fairly rural area, so realistically we had to go out there and find them with marketing and PR. But now that we are over that initial phase, we realise that is not only our initiatives that bring people, but people who come in, and tell their own network about us, or remote workers that realise they don’t have to be home alone, but there is an option outside to use.
Another factor that really helps is a strong mission. We know our community extremely well and we know their needs. They are small business owners and for them time is precious. They don’t want only a place to sit and work, but also connections, trainings, events, knowledge, collaboration. And that what we sell and make it available. The seats are for social capital, which I will get to later, but we do charge for our users to get trainings, business hubs, events, specialized rooms as a wellness room and two 3D printers, where you have professionals experimenting with it, and others already applying them for their businesses. So all of this is very relevant for our community. They pay for what they need at that moment.
Going back to the social capital element, by giving away the space for free we make Signal not about the space itself, but about what we are doing in it. Our founder is a person who builds a community, before having a space. Having a location was a natural progression, it was giving a home to the people who already belonged and collaborated together. For us community does not involve only belonging somewhere, but also shaping it. Talk to us, tell us what you need, and we can build the space together.
And how do you connect with newly arrived users?
They come in the community, and they are immediately a part of it. They can not only feel the vibe, but we also count on an excellent community manager. She is a real connector. She listens, and understands everybody’s needs, and then she is able to connect them to exactly the person they need to meet, so they are already hooked in the community inside Signal. Because of that, even though we are a very small place, the amount of collaboration is enormous and exciting. That happens because by working side by side with people you develop trust, which leads to business.
We also had some people already sharing their stories of collaborations inside Signal. A men explained he worked for something for years in his business, and by attending one of our trainings of client management he got a huge contract with NHS, and that is big cause for celebration for us as well. Other people benefit a lot just by having more pairs of eyes looking at a project. It really is your team, but without the payroll.
What we truly believe in, is that by being open to everyone you always get diversity, which brings new kinds of collaboration.
That’s exactly it. We can presence those moments of people finding each other, and realising they can really collaborate on new projects. We also instigate that by having moments where people can eat fish and chips together, for example. We also do drinks, or any other excuse to get together will always help collaboration within our space, and we can see it happening.
You are not only a space where people can work, but a space where people find opportunities and collaboration. Do you think that is the reason why people come back?
Yes. I think that is true. In this point we do go back to social capital again. Because by opening our space for free, entrepreneurs and freelancers get rid of the pressure of a membership, and one more cost that they have to cover on the next month. So it is easier for them to come in our location and take the step to start working from a coworking space. This leads them to being more generous towards each other as well. They meetup, they give away an consultancy hour, and it benefits them as well.
And did you trust that this would happen? And do you also give your own services away?
I think at first people don’t get it, but once they see the results of what it does in other coworking space, then why not? So I do share my knowledge to help others, of course.
And is your own company, hard truth media, flourishing because of it as well?
Yes, I use the space as well. And its given me a lot time. If I have an idea and I am looking to execute it I usually can find someone who already done something similar in the space. They give me lots of insight of how they done it, pros and cons of doing it in certain ways, and it really helps on saving time and energy in new projects. By learning my company also grows. And it is very admirable that everyone in the space are honest with each other on sharing their struggles as well, because we can also learn a lot from other’s mistakes and support each other to go forward.
We also have people who don’t even have a business yet, they have an idea, but not something concrete. And because our space is for social capital, they can come in and get started within a space, even before they have their business running. There is a woman who cleans houses, but he always wanted to have her own homemade soap company. And it is a competitive market, but by having access to knowledge and people who would help her out, she now has her own small business, which is fantastic. People are very entrepreneurial, we just have to give them a chance.
I love this! And going back to the initial six months, what did you do regarding marketing and PR to bring people in?
We worked with targeted events, so we would also go to events outside our location, to tell them that we exist, and we offer several services to create awareness in our city. There are also key moments in people’s lives where they make a decision to start their own business, and that’s usually in a period of change, for example, it is often when people have children, or when they go to school. So we approached every primary school within 15 kilometers of signal, and they would include our pamphlets in the kids’ bags, so all parents got it. That’s the offline element.
For online we created targeted campaigns. We created a very specific target because as I mentioned before, we really know who are the people who come to Signal and what their need are. So that really helps with getting more engagement in our online campaigns. We are also very present in social media generally.
Do you already see a turning point with social capital, that you feel you can already spend less money with marketing campaigns?
I think at the moment we are deploying the way we do marketing. So are going away of the usual stuff, and because the word of mouth from social capital already brings new people in, it allows us to put our budget in boulder marketing campaigns. We are not backing off from marketing, we are just exploring a different way of doing it.
That’s already pretty good. I am not sure if coworking centers that do not use social capital, can explore with marketing.
Yes, I agree. And another thing I think it would be interesting for people to explore is that in this world, not a lot is for free. So because the fact of us offering a coworking space for free is already a huge thing on its own, I feel that can impulse the word of mouth effect. People already have a reason to talk about us, only because we offer space for free.
That’s true. But it is not completely free, right? Do you mention to them that it is actually based on social capital or is that the next step?
For us that’s the next step. But our guests do understand that. When they sign in via Seats2meet we see that they understand that it is all about connectivity. They are suggested to other people, so that helps. And because we are a small coworking space it is very easy for people to talk to each other. We don’t have to put too much effort on that. When I work there I also make it my mission to get to know the people around me, and others do that too. So if you are completely new, chances are that someone will come to you and introduce themselves. This is how we create a culture and make the exchange of social capital something natural.
Yes, you co-create the culture in your location.
Yes. I do firmly believe that a coworking space will become what the people in the center of it transmit. So you have places that are really business oriented, very fast paced and practical, others are softer and more about connecting to everyone. The founder and the team will set the tone. And if not everyone within the team gets the mission then it’s hard. That’s why we designed our pilar together with the whole team. Everyone involved needs to know and share the same mission.
That makes sense, and I think that also selects the people who come in. Because if everyone is about sharing and being open, and someone new isn’t really, then it won’t make sense for them to stay, right?
Yes, but that doesn’t happen a lot, because that means that they are missing out. On a business point of view sharing your knowledge, being open and connecting is an investment. It’s a no brainer.
That is really great to hear. Listening to you telling the story from a different point of a view is what make me think “that’s why I do what why I do”. And because for you this is a no brainer, and the community is growing, do you think of other locations around you should also join? Then you can serve more people in the community you are building?
Yes, definitely. We actually had a firm of solicitors coming over, and they knew the concept. They said that because they really believe in it, and in our mission to empower small business owners with trainings and knowledge, and in implementing social capital to the traditional business model, they offered a room they have available in one of their building in another town. So I feel that Signal will definitely grow together with Seats2meet to other locations.
During the conference we were just in (GCUC) I heard a lot of people talking about traveling, and about coworking, and I felt weird about how individualized coworking is, and that goes a bit again the “co” in coworking. For me, in a Brexit era, I feel we have to look outside our borders, to look internationally and expand. This really works for us, as a coworking place in a rural area in Hampshire, we still have access to an international team, an international ecosystem such as Seats2meet.
Yes, it’s all about access. It doesn’t matter where you are, or if you don’t know anyone there, but when you check-in the S2M ecosystem you get connected to a huge ecosystem of people open to collaborate with you.