Rural Coworking in Australia with Tim and Rhonda, Cofounder of Cohoots

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[01.00] Tim and Rhonda Background. The Idea Behind Cohoots

We're from a little town in Australia. It's a rural environment, fairly diverse population and our background is in a lot of community work. Rhonda is a consultant in overseas aid and development and I come from a background of community services businesses and business coaching.

We were looking at the future and the future of work being that geography doesn't matter where you were you want to be, where you want to work. And it seemed to suit a lot of our plans and would be good for our community. We put the idea out there and it had very strong community support and support from our local government. I think was it was a good thing for us. The coworking concept seemed to bring together and we pioneered the independent coworking space in rural Victoria, Australia.

It's almost three years ago, we started. It was pretty lonely at the start because there wasn't much support. Everyone's in big cities and they operate in a different way but that was how we got into it anyway.

In the last year, in our state of Australia, Victoria, there has maybe twelve in regional and rural areas. Some of them more business hubs and coworking but they call themselves coworking. Since Australia's population follows the coastline, a lot of rural areas around the coastline but there's very a few inland. We're a bit inland and there are a few others but not that many. What's really good in the last six months, we're found each other and we can do things together because individually we have no influence.

[04.36] The Demographic of Cohoots

The majority demographic people who come to Cohoots are mostly freelancers and a few employees who commute. Usually, just like in big cities the coworking spaces and community vary and some do concentrate on startups, tech startups and others have more general. We're a general one and in our town, we have very few startups but we have a lot of freelancers and people who are writers, sales managers, executive officers, IT people architect people who do community work.

We have a community organization, a couple of people who come in the mornings then go off and do their stuff and contractors. Since most people at part-time, we don't have fulltime officers which are just the nature of our space. In our town, where there's another organization who gets funded to offer cheap rent. We don't tend to have many of those people but each coworking space in rural areas is different. Some have main offices and without many part-time members, I suppose where the office of we have a lot of members but not many people in offices.

[06.30] Events and Workshop at Cohoots

We started doing the events when we first opened. It was a way for us to get to know our community. In most of this little sort of small business ideas, we could have spent a lot of money doing market research. We did some pretty low-key market research but we didn't have time or money to do invest a lot in that area. Having both of us coming from a strong community development background, the easiest way for us to reach out to the community, to listen to them and to have events.

The idea was we just started with a couple of small events with different people to get to know them, to listen to them and to ask them what a space like ours could offer some of those. We got a bit of interest I think, we were quite new and a lot of people weren't sure what this whole coworking thing was. You get curious people and a lot of people who I think thought oh it's nothing to do with me.

The event which was successful, the women's group. As you would know, women love getting together, swapping stories and sharing. We started doing that on a regular basis and we've run that pretty consistently for two years. I have to say this year we haven't been running so many. There's a whole number of reasons that we can't talk to you about, partly because of the amount of time and actually costs us quite a bit of money to run those events. When we opened the event, they were a really good way to get to know our community.

Last year, we've been running events specifically focused for the small business festival which is a state government festival focused on small business. For the last two years, we've run a couple of workshops and events. I think one of the challenges is the viability of a coworking space in a small country town. It's particularly challenging when we need to pay our mortgage and have food on the table in consulting business. Honestly, it's the biggest issue.

I think one of the secrets of rural coworking is you have to do another job. Generally, people in little towns but they're not as consumer-oriented. They're not used to pay for everything. We have a saying in the country in Australia, people more self-reliant. They're not used to pay for everything instead to do it themselves. They live in bigger houses so they don't need an office as much as what they do say in the big cities. All of those things mean that we do charge for events but we don't charge a lot of money and the numbers are low.

There are other benefits for every event you run is basically marketing as well another return on investment. We still do a lot of different events and we have different community groups using this place because we have some good exposure. People have put artworks around in windows. We've done a lot of community workers events as well as events which we always use local expertise. We don't bring outsiders to tell you how to do things. Some people will suggest in the need for a workshop on social media so we'll get a few people in the area who use a bit of social media and get them together. People come to the event and we do peer learning. They talk to each other about how they use social media and get work out what's best for them rather than having an expert telling you.

[12.00] The Definition of Coworking in Cohoots

In the beginning, we thought everyone's digital. From the website and with social media exposure and things like that people will get the idea of coworking. What we found it when we asked them, how did you find out about us, they would say the sign on the building on the outside. The trend is happening now, more people are saying, I found you on the internet or I googled you or Google coworking in our town Castlemaine and the awareness is actually has grown.

I think by running events, having people come in and they see how it works and they probably know one of our members. Our members are always talking it up and explaining how it works but there's probably a lot of people who understand what coworking but maybe not how it works, how you become a member and you pay for certain hours and all kind of thing but generally it's through events and word-of-mouth.

We've also always used the idea, showing not telling. We offer people a free trial day. We get our members after the first year. Our members telling testimonials in a good way. We're very comfortable and people know us they're pretty relaxed. We show people around a lot. The interesting one was, we still get people three years later asking how does it work, what do you do. One of the lessons I need to learn is people tend to say it's hot-desking. Actually, it's proper coworking.

When Tim built our website, he was very conscious of making sure there were little pieces of information and videos from GCUC video, explain the story of coworking. We're getting better at telling that story now. We've got a little flyer that we share with people that talks about what's the difference between coworking, working in a coffee shop and working at home.

[15.00] The Inside Out Coworking and Innovation Coworking Book

We've had this concept of what we call inside-out coworking. Essentially, it's a community approach to economic development. There's a lot of hype about innovation and startup, the answers to economic development and looking into the research around what traditionally has been happening as far as business support, entrepreneurs support and looking at how what we thought was right but looking at research to say is that right or not.

The inside-out concept came up, where what happens in inside a coworking space is the community of coworkers. What we do is take that concept and put it out into our whole community. Nearly 90% businesses, in our town micro enterprises traders. Not all of them will want to come and work in the coworking space but they all want to get support and they all want to network. They want to talk to each other and they want emotional connection as well as business skills.

The inside-out coworking approach is just involving the whole community of entrepreneurs in our coworking spaces through events. It's coming up to Christmas, we're having members Christmas party. We're also partnering with theater, in town hotel theater, having orphans work Christmas. For all of the sole traders who don't have Christmas parties and for all the micro enterprises who don't have Christmas parties come together, have fun and celebrate. What we bring in the energy and the actual resources and enterprise that we bring to the community so that's an example of inside-out coworking.

The book is going to go through the research and present a way to help people who may want to set up a coworking space in rural areas. What I wanted to do is to give people support business in traditional ways by looking around of the people.

[18.45] The Future Plan of Cohoots

We're not young people to start this up. We would like to see, Cohoots to be viable on its own basis by making its own money. Becomes its own successful business and hiring or running with someone so it could free up our time.

The vision for Cohoots is a little bit tied up in our vision for ourselves and our family which I think is the challenge when you start a business with your partner. Having a few more permanent members. We're looking at converting some space that we don't use very much at the moment into permanent office space. So, we can rent the building out for people who might want more permanent space. It's less hot-desking and some permanent spaces. Increased the membership. What we'd really like to do is start telling the story more broadly about rural coworking, a different way of working and regional enterprise development.

Facebook | Twitter | Website | Cohoots Xmas Party | Inside-out Coworking Book

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