When Melissa Thompson began developing her online counseling business, TalkSession, in February, she worked out of a Manhattan apartment. "After three days, we referred to it as purgatory," she says. "The lines became so blurred between living and working, productivity was affected. I woke up on weekends and my walls were all covered in Post-it Notes. It's not good because you're already thinking about your business all the time and you need a break."
By May 2012, Thompson, a former Goldman Sachs (GS) trader, was on a quest for a free place to work outside the apartment. Her trek took her from hotel lobbies to borrowed cubicles. TalkSessions is currently running private beta testing from glassed-in offices on Park Avenue, Thompson says, courtesy of an investor referral. "We're really lucky right now, because we are bartering technology services for space at an investment firm where half the floor is empty. This only came about because we were able to wrangle some connections," she says.
If your New Year's resolution is finally to move your business out of the spare bedroom, but you're leery about committing to a long-term commercial lease, here are some options to explore, beyond the local Starbucks (SBUX):
• Libraries and hotel lobbies. Aaron Hodari and Lincoln Cavalieri, co-founders of Glocal, a news video platform launched last month, started out of a midtown Manhattan apartment two years ago and held meetings and work sessions outside it. "One [location] in particular would be the Ace Hotel on West 29th Street," Hodari writes in an e-mail. "The large, library-style lobby was a perfect area to work ... over a great cup of coffee."
Most public libraries offer tables, Wi-Fi, and computers--and scads of entrepreneurs around the country take advantage of them.
• Shared space. Recession-era downsizing left many companies with a great deal of empty square feet on their long-term leases. Recouping some of that wasted expense can be attractive to existing tenants, even if you pay below-market rent and can't commit to a formal sublease. Ask friends, investors, and colleagues if they know of available space, or barter with clients for a desk in their office. Be prepared to follow house rules and be displaced when their business picks up.
Online companies such as PivotDesk in Boulder, Colo., and Desktime in Chicago can help you find available space or find "guests" if your company has unused space.
Lilli Cloud ran branding consultancy Bluefeet out of her Los Angeles home office for its first eight years. In 2009, two graphic designers she worked with occasionally mentioned they might move to a home office due to the recession. Cloud was looking for a change, so she took an office in their suite, enabling them to stay put but paying less than she would for a standalone office. The financial and creative benefits exceeded her expectations: Her income doubled from 2010 to 2011 and again from 2011 to 2012.
She attributes some of the increase to an improving economy but pins part of the uptick on her new suitemates. "I went from working with them once in a while to working with them 50 percent of the time. They have introduced me to their biggest clients, and I've brought them a ton of work, too. We feel like a team, because we are in the same office every day, and if one of us has an idea, we can walk down the hall and say, 'What do you think?'" Cloud says.