Digital record-keeping has transformed the financial world, enabling accountants and bookkeepers to escape the mountains of paperwork that once dominated their desks.
Trading filing cabinets for computer software means that accounting firms can be as mobile as your average freelance programmer, which in turn means that some firms no longer need a traditional office space to keep operations running smoothly. For some businesses, the age of the co-working space has arrived.
Co-working spaces are membership-based workplaces where a range of independent professionals work together in a shared space. These environments have traditionally been the province of young tech and creative professionals, but any business looking to expand its network and boost morale can benefit from communal working. Whether you’re a freelance bookkeeper based at home, or a small accountancy firm looking for a change of scene, relocating to a co-working space could enrich your business.
Establishing a cohort of colleagues and clients
The world’s first co-working space opened in San Francisco in 2005. Founder Brad Neuberg was dissatisfied with the ‘non-social’ environment presented by conventional offices, so he created a space where workers would have the freedom to pursue their own projects while surrounded by a supportive community. His vision has now spread to more than 700 cities around the world.
“Co-working spaces give small businesses access to facilities that they wouldn’t have in a premises on their own,” explains Kirsty Jarvis, advisor at Whitespace, a not-for-profit co-working hub in Norwich. “They typically have a good network of mentors and a good events network. There’s always someone businesses can approach with regard to knowledge-sharing.”
For accountants and bookkeepers, co-working spaces also present an opportunity to connect with small businesses and start-ups. Growing companies will inevitably need advice when it comes to tax and financial record-keeping, and an accountancy firm in a communal workspace is well placed to offer services to its neighbours. But Jarvis urges finance firms not to think of their co-working colleagues as a built-in client base. Instead, it’s much more useful to focus on adding value to the community while building lasting relationships.
“Co-working spaces tend to be full of small businesses and newbie entrepreneurs,” she explains. “If you’re able to give growing businesses preferential rates, or support them in their early stages, they’re much more likely to stick with you long-term.”
Accountants and bookkeepers can also leverage the co-working environment to establish a reputation for excellent customer service. How? By reaching out into their co-working communities. That might mean organising a how-to session on the basics of bookkeeping, or offering free tax return consultations.
“Nobody likes to feel they’re being sold to,” Jarvis says. “But if you’re giving something to your colleagues, like presentations on subject matter that’s relevant and valuable to them, you’ll be at the forefront of their mind when they have an accounting question.”
Selecting a space that fits your needs
For small accounting and bookkeeping teams, renting a few desks in a co-working space will be cheaper than renting a private office. In conventional commercial offices, businesses should allocate roughly 100 square feet per employee, which at average London prices of £52.50 per square foot, would cost £5,250 pounds a month for a single person. In comparison, the average cost of renting a workstation in one of the capital’s co-working spaces is £613 per month.
But finding the right workspace is about more than finding a nice desk at the right cost in the right location. For a start, you should factor meetings into decisions about offices. Businesses need to ensure their workplace can accommodate sensitive financial discussions. Happily, most co-working spaces will meet your needs. So shop around, find a facility that works well for you, and once that’s done you can realise the benefits of having a built-in community of friends and collaborators.
“You could set up a business from home to keep costs low, but you’re operating in a vacuum. You don’t get a network of people to bounce ideas off of,” Jarvis says. “Being a member of a co-working space allows you to feel like you’re part of something, even if you’re just one person operating on your own.”
With 80 per cent of UK co-working spaces looking to expand, the movement for communal working is gaining momentum. In late January, coworkinglondon.com showed that 1,000 companies were using 2,100 desks in 156 venues across the capital. Businesses looking for an alternative to traditional office blocks and isolated cubicles, as well as access to a network of local businesses, will thrive in a co-working office.
Lauren Razavi is an award-winning writer and content strategist, and managing director of communications consultancy Flibl. She has worked on projects for leading global brands such as NatWest, Google and Facebook, and her writing focuses on technology, finance, entrepreneurship and innovation. Follow her on Twitter @LaurenRazavi.