It has been a few years since we started our coworking business with the idea of providing affordable and functional shared offices to our clients. We started with a small office and committed to four other landlords by posting huge deposits and then the COVID hit in March 2020.
The uncertainty of the future and inability to foot huge bills stopped many of our plans on their track. Rather than packing up, we decided to downsize. Locked in survival mode, we shut down 3 of our coworking centers and reduced staff capacity in two others. That meant we had to work with cheaper vendors and inexperienced staff since they were simply cheaper to hire.
The biggest impact was on revenue since most clients chose or were told to work from home or remotely due to the lockdown. Companies did not want to risk staff contracting the virus and in turn burden them with the guilt and huge medical cost. Employees did not feel safe since the virus was killing people.
Moreover, shared offices were an absolute recipe for disaster since people did not trust sharing an office or workplace with others, pretty much like they wouldn’t want to take a chance going to a cafe, bar, or restaurant visited by many. This meant no amount of marketing could help us convince people from coming back to work from our shared offices. One lockdown followed another and then another.
We then started to look inwards. There was guilt, pain, and hurt all at the same time. Blame for not having done enough research, blame for recklessly putting money in a business without the proper experience, and finally blame for over investing in business without even something as basic as a business plan of some sort kept us feeling bad.
Cardinal mistake loads of startups make is starting to look outwards when one’s gut starts to fail you. Our company was no different. We started to look for cues and ideas from what others were doing. WeWork has the biggest office space in town just across the road. Our staff started to visit WeWork to observe what they do. To make ourselves feel better, we even started to watch their occupancy (as we can see the WeWork building from our center) and feeling good that if they were hurting, we were allowed to hurt as well.
The next was our focus and getting help from others that knew better on how to build a brand and help with advertising our space. The logic was that while WeWork and others were bleeding as badly as us, they were doing a lot to advertise and on brand building. In any event, they had a headstart of 5–7 years over us.
Most we spoke to told us that challenge for a startup is always in marketing fast enough. Slow means certain death. Any marketing agency you speak to will tell you ‘organic marketing’ takes time. Months to years and there is still no guarantee that you will make, if at all. The only option then is to start with paid campaigns on FB and Instagram. This is what we did in the end.
100s of $$$ and loads of marketing later, we were still without a client. Rents and salaries were piling up. The more desperate we became, the more confused and irrational we became. The more we hurt, the more we looked to our marketers for support and guidance. Marketers were doing their bit but telling us we were failing miserably in converting leads, possibly because we did not have a person who was skilled in selling. Or, they said, it was our center and service that was not up to the mark. The devil of bad decisions started to haunt us over and over and over.
To address this, we hired a salesperson. High profile, experienced, and someone with industry insides. The salary was high but delivery was zilch. Our salesman started blaming the dismal sales conversion on the quality of the leads. I told the sales guy to work with the marketing agency to sort it out. Weeks rolled by and nothing moved. We shut down 3 centers in the meantime and losses started to pile up.
With our desperation soaring, we decided to rebrand and move away from all the negativity and heartburn that was a reminder of a failed venture. It was like shopping for a new wardrobe. We replaced our brand with ECOWRK and created a new website. New pages on Instagram, FB, and LinkedIn under our new brand gave us a renewed sense of purpose.
Our salesperson left in the meantime and we decided to accelerate the inorganic branding — in the process spending tons of $$$ on FB campaigns. The leads started to come but the conversion was zero. It is at that time we started to think about shutting down our business. The problem was we didn’t know if we should. Since regret is not better than guilt. We wanted to avoid the pain of shutting a business that has seen so much investment of time, money, and emotional energy.
It is at that time, we took a call to go organic and wait for our turn. We realized if we had to make it we had to be patient and understand market conditions. We needed to give ourselves a chance but tightened our money purse at the same time. Our place had to see more action and activity. How we sold had to change — slightly change. So, we started with bringing more color to our space and we created a presentation with all plan options. We came up with the basic, loaded, and super-loaded offers.
We got our inspiration from the Palmolive story (rise from the ashes, retelling your story), the Starbucks strategy (differential pricing through cup size options), and from our most recent read, a book titled Hooked by Nir Eyal. Love the author’s name!!!
It is then we started to weave a story and giving our organic marketing a boost. We started by pushing our offer presentation by Whatsapp and email to customers that might be interested. Our leads started to come from property listing sites and local property agents, who knew the local markets and things started to generally look up. Once a lead walked in, we gave them a presentation educating them about our history and our different service offerings. Clients started to reciprocate and revenue has started to flow in.
But we are still far from turning a profit. Very far. The next step in our journey is taking us to another organic marketing effort. Our way of organic marketing is about creating educational, informative, and catchy content that will pull in the relevant crowd.
Instagram carousel with a short story to say more with less
Our Instagram brand marketing story started with research on subjects that might be interesting to others but at the same time link back to our services through creating audience interest in remote, flexible spaces. There are few things, I learned about making good flowing carousels from the awesome Natalia Kalinska – check out her youtube post on how to make seamless carousels . A good carousel with loads of information well presented is a good way to start marketing on Instagram. With the right content, brief write to introduce the subject, right call to action, and hashtags a perfect storm-in-a-teacup situation will emerge.
Move over to LinkedIn for the ability to say more with more
LinkedIn as a format is more focused on textual content. Videos and ticklish kinds of content are still not very popular on LinkedIn. The audience and the UI are also not meant for short burst video content. Intellectuals, skilled individuals, corporate are more likely to be looking at readable professionally-oriented content on LinkedIn. This gives us the perfect blue-water-lake opportunity to swim in the calm and cool waters without having to worry about the crocodiles and sharks (because people don’t usually leave nasty comments on LinkedIn). The research, content, and creatives are created during the Instagram phase will all come in handy.
Medium is about saying more with the most visibility
All the good research put in a 3–5 mins read article or post on Medium can do wonders if it gets noticed to be shared, liked, commented and used by a publication. The compounding effect and long-lasting impact it will have on your brand is something only time will tell. But we know, Medium has a powerful reach. The best is that this content has the longest shelf life due to its blog-like impact.
Podcast it on Anchor and post it on Spotify for people to hear what you have written
We recently started using Anchor to record our podcasts about what we want to talk about. Since Anchor is owned by Spotify, whatever you post on Anchor, you can upload it on Spotify. Many other podcasting platforms are also integrated with Anchor. This medium of organic promotion is catching on. Millions of podcasts are created every day. Audio as a format is more popular but video podcasts are also widely consumed.
A cocktail of social media, blog and podcasting platforms to showcase original or researched content with a view to the organic brand building has potential for business. Let us explore it for what it is worth. We will keep updating this post on Medium once our experience with organic promotion grows.
Please like and comment on this post. Whenever you do that, it will SEO our website with higher page ranking and hopefully, draw in the crowd to our coworking centers that our business needs, to secure a healthy future.
We are a small coworking space in Pune, India. Please visit our website for more details.