An oft-cited quote about jazz from Miles Davis comes to mind when the subject of decision making comes up: “It's not the notes you play, it's the notes you don't play."
Starting a business isn’t exactly like jazz (though it does require similar improvisational skills), but there’s still some crossover in that sentiment. What you choose not to do says a lot about your business, its personality and how you want it to be perceived.
For The Skillery, we made a lot of conscious “no” decisions that we think contribute a lot to the type of home our space has become and the type of educational offerings we provide. We made every one of those decisions with specific intents and specific questions in mind. Does this provide our community with something they really need? Does this help us reach our goal of being a welcoming home for creative entrepreneurs? Does this fit the personality we want The Skillery to have?
Considering (and answering) those questions and others helped us plot a path, and though we’re always working on fine-tuning what we do to make The Skillery better, we think spending a good amount of mental energy on choosing what not to do was and is important. In building your business, you’ll end up with your own do-or-do-not choices to make.
Here are a few of the things we specifically chose not to do:
Build private offices
From the beginning, we planned for and wanted The Skillery’s Germantown home to be open and conducive to collaboration. That, to us, meant flexible workspace, and no private offices. Our nearly 7,000-square-foot space only has eight doors: three on closets, two on bathrooms, two on our phone booths, one on our classroom, and one emergency exit to our conference room. The rest of the rooms have open entryways, and are considered semi-private, or not private at all.
That’s not to say that totally closed-off, private workspaces aren’t great (and/or preferable) for certain people and certain work styles. It just wasn’t the environment we wanted to create — we wanted our members to be surrounded by likeminded creatives, by energy and by inspiration. Being closed off in a completely private room doesn’t tend to inspire that vibe.
Install fancy A/V equipment
If we’re being totally honest, outfitting our entire space with up-to-date A/V equipment, from the beginning, probably would’ve bankrupted us before we even got the doors open. But that was only one of the considerations.
We could have installed half a dozen HD television sets, multiple projectors, teleconferencing equipment and more, only to discover that our members didn't need, want or use that stuff regularly. And as it’s turned out in our first nine months or so, the Skillery members who do need A/V equipment for meetings or events are typically well served by our $300 portable projector, Skype and headphones.
This is a specific example, but it represents a broader thought process, too — when you’re thinking about your customers or community and what they need, remember that you can do some testing before you commit to major expenses. If within a few months you realize that there’s a big need for something you were considering, revisit it. But you may find that it wasn’t necessary, and that you saved yourself considerable expense (and headaches) by holding off.
Make the space's setup permanent
We think our space looks great and functions well — it's a mix of cozy and colorful, open and collaborative, work-friendly and chill-friendly. But longtime members have seen the specifics of that setup shift and change over nine months. Where we had smaller tables setup as two-member workstations, more clustered, meeting-worthy workspaces popped up. A workstation-less area became a writers' nook.
We purposefully decided against being precious about the way The Skillery is arranged, because the key in a coworking space, we figure, is the "co" part, and we want to let that lead the way. Changing to suit our members' needs is what fits, and we like things that way.
Exist on an island
We couldn't be more proud of what The Skillery has become, growing from an online hub for classes into the real-world home for entrepreneurs and independent professionals it is now. But that growth hasn't just come from our team's sweat (which we mean literally — a few of us were sanding and finishing desks in the Tennessee summer sun pre-opening). We've made a point of linking up with partners who share our passions — like Steadfast Coffee, who hosted an awesome pop-up while waiting for their new home to be built, and The Porch Writers' Collective, who continue to host awesome writing classes in our space — and those partnerships have made The Skillery stronger, better and happier.
Be rigid about our decisions
See item No. 1 as a loose example. We initially decided that 100 percent open, flexible coworking was the best option for our space and our members. But if there's one thing we are rigid about, it's listening to our members about what suits them best, and over time, we learned that semi-private spaces were wanted and warranted. So we added that option (the Yellow Room, the Green Room and the White Table).
We initially decided that day passes made the most sense when it came to offering prospective members a test-drive of the space. But members felt like it took a little more tire-kicking to get a sense of vibe and fit, so we added a weekly membership option.
We expected individual freelancers and entrepreneurs to join our membership ranks, so our initial membership options were designed for one person. But we ended up welcoming quite a few fantastic teams that were interested in team memberships, so we added those too.
Being flexible ultimately fits what we are and what we want to be, and we think it's serving us well. We hope you do too.
What about you — are there some nots you made conscious decisions about with your work and/or your business? We'd love to hear some thoughts. And if you haven't been by The Skillery yet, we'd love to meet you; come by for a tour any time.