Workplace service providers
According to CB Richard Ellis, the authority on commercial real estate, North American office rental rates are on the rise as consumer confidence gradually grows and the economy strengthens. This is great news for landlords; however, for small business owners, it’s another story. New York Times writer, Jay Goltz, points to operational inefficiencies, like paying too much rent, as one of the top ten causes breaking small businesses.

There is one tool out there to help reduce overhead: shared office environments. Industry Canada’s Small Business Branch reports that roughly 55% of small businesses have four employees or less, making them ideal candidates for this office solution. Creating the perception of a larger operation or more prestigious presence, many workplace service providers (WSP) provide friendly administrative professionals, fully furnished and decorated offices, high-tech conference rooms, stocked supply and copy rooms, clean common restrooms, as well as shared kitchenettes.

If a WSP is a consideration, here are a few tips to make the most of a unique work environment:

Location, location, location
As with all real estate, the most important attribute to any property is location. In this instance, it’s applied both externally and internally.

WSPs typically locate themselves within the heart of the business district, eliminating the time and headache of an exhaustive office search. With the general office user in mind, they consider the location’s more general attributes: prestige, accessibility and proximity.

However, your space within the floor plan is entirely up to you. With offices ranging in size from the corner office to a window-less interior room, consider the perception you wish to convey. If your business will benefit from in-suite traffic, consider a location near the lounge or the restrooms.

The gatekeepers
Many WSPs have both a receptionist and an onsite manager. Going out of your way to make these people happy can only benefit you for two important reasons: 1) They are the points of contact for the entire operation and word of mouth is a powerful tool; and 2) Lease constraints are typically exercised by their discretion.

As ruler of the roost, both the onsite manager and the receptionist walk the fine line between providing the upmost level of service and tenant retention on a daily basis. This internal struggle forces them to make judgment calls on what is permissible and what is unacceptable. A friendly relationship will not only make their calls a little easier, it will also allow you to push the limitations a little more. For instance, it’s typically frowned upon to distribute promotional materials in the reception area; however, if a relationship is established, you may be able to stock the reception desk with branded pens and breath mints.

Networking
Think of this shared office environment as a unique small business networking opportunity. Get to know your neighbours and their business. To facilitate this networking, consider providing breakfast or lunch for the office—complete with beverages in take-home branded cups for attendees to remember you and your business. This goal is to build relationships, awareness and good will—the foundation of a good word of mouth campaign.

Signage and displays
Typically, leases stipulate that erecting signage is forbidden; however, if signage is important and your window has a fair amount of visibility in a high-traffic area, consider using a retractable banner that is easy to transport. It’s a temporary solution that allows you to leverage your high-profile location.

From the inside, you can utilize your office as a marketing tool. The neighbouring tenants will undoubtedly have visitors, giving you another opportunity for visibility. Leaving your door open to an inviting office will trigger conversation. For example, if you play guitar, have one in the office (this will also serve as inspiration when you hit a road block). Quirky conversation items, like a unique stress ball or a wobbly paper clip holder, can make you appear fun and approachable.

In firms where the entrepreneur wears many hats, WSPs can alleviate some of the stress and help minimize the risks and costs of operations, allowing you to get down to business.

U.S. Market OfficeView: Q1 2012. Rep. CB Richard Ellis, n.d. Web. 12 June 2012. <

Goltz, Jay. “Top 10 Reasons Small Businesses Fail.” Web log post. New York Times. The New York Times Company, 5 Jan. 2011. Web. 12 June 2012.

Industry Canada Small Business Branch. “Small Business Statistics”. July 2011. Web. 28 June 2012.

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