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cobot was created to free coworking space managers from mundane tasks, giving them the time to do what is important: attending to their coworkers.

Customize your space Home page

We want Cobot to be the main tool you use to manage your relationship with your coworkers. Face to face personal time can’t be replaced by any tool, but technology is handy in many situations - also for members. We’re proud to be the ones helping you get rid of many of the repetitive tasks that can be automated, and we love to hear from your members from time to time, but in the end, they’re your crowd!

This is a long time feature, but did you know that you can customize your home page with your logo, a banner, and your copy and images? Cobot home pages support Markdown, that lets you enrich and organize your text, add links and images… Markdown can be intimidating at first, but you just need a little practice, and it is like riding a bike: you won’t forget.

Here’s an example of what you can do adding Markdown to your Cobot Home page. You can see it live in our demo space (feel free to register as a member to sniff around!). If you want a template, or just a little help getting around Markdown or coming up with ideas on what you can include, ping us at support@cobot.me and we’ll give you a helping hand.

Faster servers

We just completed moving most of the site to new servers. The new hardware is a lot faster so you should notice faster page loads. In addition page speed should be much more consistent now, i.e. instead of one page being fast and the next slow, all page loads should be equally fast now.

For the technically inclined: our main box is now an EC2 m3.xlarge instance with 4 CPUs and 15GB of RAM. In addition we are running a few c1.medium instances (2 CPUs, 1.7GB RAM) and some Heroku dynos. We are also using Amazon’s DynamoDB and a platform called IronWorker.

Coworking invoices: what to include? (II) - The invoice details

Part 1 of our post on coworking invoices dealt with setting up templates for your invoices, including all the information you legally need to, plus any information that is the same for all invoices. After finalizing your template, it’s time to focus on the details and make sure you don’t miss a thing.

There are two main things you should be extra careful about in your invoices. The first is typing errors; How easy is it to accidentally type 300 instead of 30? The second is outdated or missing information. Which membership plan does your coworker have? For how many hours has he or she used the meeting room this month? Does he or she really still have that extra key set? This can be especially tricky when billing new coworkers for the first time.

Descriptive service names

Make it easy for your customers to understand what they’re paying for. ‘Coworking Membership - Full-time Plan’ or ‘Drinks & Snacks’ are good examples of names for your services and products. ‘Green Unicorns Academy’ (for a software development workshop) or ‘Brew’ (for coffee) may go with your community’s tone and style, and are great for your marketing materials, but you do risk driving a couple of accountants crazy. And take it from us: you will want happy accountants :).

Important dates

These three dates should always be included in your invoices.

Service dates: Whether a monthly fee or a one-time charge, you should always refer to the date on which the service was provided. This small detail can save you emails back and forth finding out at what time and on which date meeting room bookings took place. The service dates are also particularly important for spaces that charge membership fees in advance and services at the end of the month, as this might otherwise cause some confusion concerning the basis for the total amount on the invoice.

Invoice date: When was the invoice created? This date will help you calculate how long it takes before you receive payment. For variable billing periods it usually denotes the cut-off date for one-off fees.

Due Date: Always include a crystal-clear due date in your invoices. If your invoice does not display the payment date, it can easily be interpreted as “pay when you can”. The use of expressions such as “30 net” or “next month” can lead to confusion. Be human. Speak in terms of days. For instance “Please pay your invoice within 30 days after the invoice date” or a simple “Due date: 31 March” have proved effective. From experience, we can recommend the first formula as the most effective - irresistible. If you use Cobot, you can include your payment terms in your invoice template footer to ensure they’re printed as part of every invoice you send out.

Correct figures

It may sound obvious, but you also need to ensure that the total invoice amount is the sum of all the items you have listed and check that the VAT calculation is correct. However, this is not so obvious when using a spreadsheet template or a text editor. Tools like Cobot can help you with this by keeping track of memberships and recurring fees, offering a point of sale to add one-off charges, tracking meeting room usage and bringing all of these fees together in the invoice. Automated billing is not error-free, but it does reduce errors and save time.

Of course, if you prefer manually writing every invoice, you can always continue to do so as long as you are aware that this makes you more likely to make mistakes. You are therefore advised to think of ways of reducing any errors, for instance by using checklists or running pre-invoicing checks.

Now it’s time to open your Cobot space, tune it up with this advice in mind, and start getting paid today!

Are you missing anything in our system?

At Cobot we keep simplicity as one of our top priorities and we use invoicing settings and invoice templates that are convenient for the majority of the spaces using Cobot on a daily basis. However, if your country has different requirements, do let us know. There’s a lot we can do to help! Here is a link to a Country Billing Requirements form you can fill out.

PS: You know we love your comments, so feel free to leave them behind!

­Coworking invoices: what to include? (I) - The Invoice Template

All written communication to your members are essentially messages and invoices are no exception. It is important to structure your invoices effectively, making sure that the message is clear, the information is correct and payment of the invoice is made convenient. In this two-part post, we will be looking at 1) How to set up a system for generating invoices, so you don’t end up creating them all from scratch, and 2) What details are of absolute importance for your invoice. Check, check, double check!

Eyes on the goal

Invoices send an important message to your coworkers. Invoices outline what amount they owe you, what services/products they owe you for, and how they can make their payment. Getting paid might be a different story, but it is certainly not a separate process. Therefore, it is important to design your invoice in such a way that it supports the goal of receiving due payments.

Getting organized

When getting started, individuals or small contractors might initially get a little overwhelmed and will need some time to get organized when it comes to setting up an effective invoice system. After all, invoicing does not only entail drawing up and sending off the bill; you’ll also have to follow up and make sure the check arrives in good order and in the right hands.

Large companies tend to have much bureaucracy, and your invoice may have to pass through several departments before it is processed. Some very small details can make the difference between an invoice that is paid directly upon arrival and one that stays on a desk for weeks or months - and might even end up written off in your books. Don’t leave this to chance. Be the master of your destiny and do what’s in your power to make immediate payment a habit of your coworkers. Offer automatic payment methods to shorten the time it takes to process invoices and ensure a fast resolution of billing queries, increasing your accuracy and making communication seamless.

But first thing’s first: If you want to receive timely payments, the first step is to make sure that your invoices are compliant with your local laws and regulations and that all the information your coworker needs is included. We have put together some tips that will make your invoices send a clear message and make payment easier for your coworkers - and payment collection easier for you!

It is a good idea to have an invoice template with all the information you need to display in ALL your invoices. For the moment, let’s leave the details and the appearance of the invoice aside and focus on what is legally required or part of your business strategy.

The word INVOICE and a unique invoice number

As well as the word invoice, you should always include a unique invoice number - and invoice numbers must be consecutive. This is not just a best practice; in most countries it is the law. If you are a new business, check with a local consultant to find out if there is a standard invoice number format that applies in your country and if so use it on all your invoices.

All your up-to-date contact details

Add your complete contact details to your invoices: postal address, phone number, and email. Do you have a fax? Then add that, too. In some countries you are even required to add the name of the founder of the company in your invoices, or in what your registration number is with the chamber of commerce. The key is to make sure that invoices include all your details and that of your coworkers’. Doing this will reduce the time it takes to resolve any disputed invoices and save money you could otherwise spend paying tax fines.

The correct payer’s contact details

Pay attention to spelling, both for names and addresses, and make sure you include their tax payer ID if this is mandatory in your country. This unique reference number is used for tax returns and differs in format and name in each country. In some countries, this ID must be included in invoices that fall into a certain category, in other countries it is never used (only when filling out tax returns) and in again others it is mandatory in every invoice, subject to huge fines if you break tax law. Check with an expert to find out what is mandatory and then include this field in your invoice template to make sure you don’t ever forget it.

Ensuring that you collect all the information and documents you need from your coworkers at the earliest stage of your relationship, or whenever there is any change, will save you the time and hassle that comes with correcting and reissuing invoices. Keeping an up-to-date contacts database and storing whatever documentation you could need from your coworkers (passport copies, company registration papers, etc.) in one single place will help you in this endeavor. Use Cobot or another collaborative management software and ask your coworkers to fill out and maintain their own contact details. This way you will save time and ensure that your database is always up to date.

Coworking Europe Conference 2013

After Brussels, Berlin and Paris, the 4th Coworking Europe Conference will be held in Barcelona in just a couple of weeks, and we hope to see you all there!

Who will be there?

The Coworking Europe Conference will bring together over 300 coworking space managers in one location over the course of 3 days to discuss topics such as the rise of corporations in the coworking world, marketing or management topics, and different business models that can fit into the broader coworking philosophy.

Around 50 speakers and panelists will drive the discussion and share their experiences. They come from different countries in Europe, and some of them will join us all the way from America. Do names like Ramón Suárez, Alex Hillman or Liz Elam ring the bell? You have probably heard of Mutinerie, Utopic_US or Betahaus. In addition, there are many other lesser known names that will add great value to the conference such as Ashley Proctor, Cristina Martinez-Sandoval, or Nicolas Berge.

What will be discussed?

The results of the Coworking Survey are already a traditional part of coworking conferences, so Carsten will get us all started on the first day of the conference. The Global Coworking Survey is conducted by Deskmag every year, and collects data on how the coworking network is growing, how spaces expand, and what is most valued by coworkers. You can check the results of previous years here. Don’t forget that Deskmag is looking for support to keep operating and it’s worth mentioning that you can get a Cobot reward for contributing to their crowdfunding campaign ;).

Following the presentation of the Global Coworking Survey, there will be some shorter talks on the impact of specific coworking spaces such as Gracia Work Center, Foundery and Work Station in their cities. Moreover, you can also hear how more traditional real estate offerings, incubators, and big corporations are embracing the coworking philosophy. In addition, discussions will be held on topics like alternative business models, such as coworking spaces offering additional, non-coworking services (e.g. child care or surf lessons), incubating and accelerating programs, fab labs, makerspaces, etc. Yours truly will be moderating the discussion on alternative coworking models at 16:10h, so be sure to stop by!

To finish off the day, there will be panels on revenue diversification, collaboration among coworking spaces, and profiles that fit into coworking; the latter of which I will again be moderating at 17:05h and I’m expecting to hear lots of great ideas on how to reach potential coworkers.

This is only day one - days 2 and 3 will be community-driven, which means YOU decide what we talk about! We’re holding the Unconference day on day 2, while day 3 will be centred around workshops on growth, community building or conflict management, followed by a tour along some of the wonderful coworking spaces in Barcelona. If you missed out on this tour at the Coworking Spain conference, be sure to check them out this time round!

Work hard, party hard

If it’s not your first conference, you already know that we work hard and play hard. If this is your first time, beware! Each day, after the day program ends, several drinks, dinners, and parties are organised. Be sure not to miss them (or join some of the unofficial get-togethers) as they are the best way to engage in informal conversations and put faces to names.

This year we are supporting the conference, and the whole Cobot team - Alex, Thilo, Aleks and myself - will be there.

Ping us if you want to discuss coworking space management, see a demo of Cobot or simply say ‘hi’ or eat some tapas.

See you in Barcelona!!

PS: Pics in this post were made by Stefano Borghi

Coworking Startup Series (I) - Plans: Memberships & Time Passes

It’s said that coworking is here to stay and we couldn’t agree more! Every week we hear of more and more spaces that are being opened all around the world. Many of these spaces are set up by people with no previous experience managing a workplace or community, which can definitely make things a bit complicated. But never fear: your Cobot team is here to help!

While furnishing and decorating your space or thinking of a cool, catchy name can be a lot of fun, understanding what members really look for in a coworking community is absolutely vital. Indeed, taking care of the business side of things is essential for ensuring the success and growth of a coworking community. There are already some helpful resources out there for those of you considering opening a coworking space (such as the Coworking Wiki, community made; or the Coworking Handbook made by Ramón Suárez and Jaime Aranda) and we wish to add to these by means of the Coworking Startup Series.

In a series of posts dedicated to new coworking space managers, we will be drawing from our own experience and interaction with lots of new space managers in order to share some advice, best practices and tricks that will help you get started. The first topic in the series should be given great priority: your plans or membership levels.

PLANS: MEMBERSHIPS AND TIME PASSES

One of the most important decisions you have to make is how you design your membership levels. The right prices and formats will allow you to attract customers, generate a stable income and grow your business.

We distinguish two categories of coworkers: those working with a Membership (i.e. who pay a fixed monthly fee, regardless of how much they actually use the space) and those using Time Passes (i.e. ‘pay-as-you-go models’).

Memberships

The biggest and most stable revenue stream usually comes from coworkers that have a membership. This is important because the extent to which your space is occupied will vary throughout the year. Especially freelancers who can work (or take time off) whenever they want have a tendency to show up less frequently when outside temperatures go up. On the other hand, we have found them to generally keep the same membership (and pay for it) even if they don’t use it as much for a while.

So in order to get the most out of that lucrative, stable chunk of revenue you will want as many of your members as possible to buy a membership. In order to convince them to do so, you will have to offer memberships that fit the needs of your different groups of coworkers, while keeping it simple. Offer too few plans and coworkers will look for another place that better fits their needs. Offer too many plans and you’ll make it hard for coworkers to figure out the difference and choose the most suitable option. Moreover, it will be a nightmare for you to keep track of! So be sure to limit your offer to 3 - 6 different plans and you’ll be on the safe side.

Fixed Desk vs. Flex Desk

A Fixed Desk offers the most value to coworkers which means that this type of setup can be charged at the highest fee. A fixed desk is reserved for one person, who can leave personal belongings behind on it. Whenever they come to the space their fixed desk is there waiting for them.

Having a bunch of fixed desks can quickly generate quite a bit of revenue, but also takes up a significant amount of your resources, namely space. Fixed desks cannot be shared with other coworkers, used by drop-ins or guests or be removed to make room for events. In addition, having a large part of your space consist only of fixed desks can result in stagnation and isolation, as the same people will continually be occupying the same desks, sitting next to the same coworkers over extended periods of time. You then run the risk of creating an old-school office with fixed structures instead of a coworking space that promotes meeting new people and setting up collaborations.

A Flex Desk is a desk that is shared by multiple coworkers. Nobody has the right to one flex desk in particular but instead can choose from any flex desk still empty upon entering your space. A disadvantage to this is that people will have to clean up their desk when they leave, although that can be mitigated with lockers or rolling containers.

You can’t charge as much for a flex desk as for a fixed desk, but if you have 10 flex desks you can sell 15 memberships for those. From our experience you can easily oversell your flex desks (just like airlines oversell seats on their flights) as people never fully use their memberships. In addition, because nobody owns these desks, you can move them around for events or just to experiment with your room layout. Even the coworkers themselves can do that to accommodate for changing needs, for example when they temporarily work together on a project. We have had some good success with putting single desks together to form large desks that seat 4-6 people. This encourages people to talk to each other, which is especially important for new members.

Full-time vs. Part-time

Another way to differentiate your membership levels is by the amount of time people spend at your space. While some people want to have a workplace they can come to each and every day, we have found that many freelancers prefer to work from home or from their client’s offices from time to time. Some will even work at other coworking spaces. You might even want to encourage this, as it can help to avoid your coworkers getting that monotonous ‘nine-to-five’ feeling, which might result in some of them leaving your space just for a change of wallpaper. Better a part-time member than a member lost. Another group to consider is that of students who might not have the money to pay a few hundred per month or people with a regular job who don’t have enough time and will only visit your space occasionally. In the interest of a stable income, you will want to offer each group a membership that suits them.

The first and obvious choice is offering a Full-time Package that allows people to work at your space as much as they want – during opening hours (we’ll deal with 24/7 access in another post further on in the series). Obviously, you can charge the most for full-time access, so that’s a good plan to have. From our experience, people who have this membership will still not show up every day, so you don’t have to stop selling these after you have sold one for every desk you have.

One step down from a full-time membership is the Part-time Plan. This is especially suitable for the group that works from home or visits their clients from time to time. In our own space this is by far the largest group and even though they pay only half as much as the full-timers, they contribute the largest chunk of our revenue. Therefore, these are actually our most important customers. You can offer part-time plans for mornings/afternoons or for 10-12 days per month.

Time Passes

Time Passes are the lowest level of commitment you can offer. At our own space we only use them for people visiting town. They only marginally contribute to our revenue, which is of course by design as we encourage people to get a membership.

The problem with Day Passes (or Half-day or Hourly Passes) is that they eliminate the mode of the membership. With a membership people become members of your space, which implies that they will visit from time to time at least and are charged for this on a regular basis. With Day Passes people do not really belong to the community. Day passes are a one-time purchase, much like a train ticket. Once you have taken the ride it’s over, after which it requires your specific decision and action to go for another. Both from a business and a community point of view this is not very desirable, so you are advised only to offer and promote the use of day passes if you have good reason to do so. Some of our Cobot customers provide discounts on the purchase of multiple passes, which already creates more urgency to come visit again. However, offering a small membership plan (such as our ‘3 days per month for 25 euros’ plan) mostly works better for convincing people to keep returning to your space.

http://try.cobot.me Check out this simple plans example at http://try.cobot.me


The next post will be about other services that build up your revenue (such as meeting rooms or one-time and recurring services), and we’ll be discussing pricing and marketing soon. Stay tuned on our Facebook and Twitter profiles, or subscribe to our newsletter to receive the news directly in your inbox. In the meantime, you may want to learn more about how to increase your invoices and get paid in other posts on our blog.

Is there anything specific you’d like to know more about? Reach cristina@cobot.me and we’ll make it happen.

Automatic Attendance-tracking: Flexible & Friendly Access

Time to make your life easier and have your coworking space run more effectively, without you having to feature as the coworking police. Create a more inviting space for coworkers with automatic attendance-tracking.

Automatic attendance-tracking makes use of devices such as laptops, smartphones, or RFID chips to register when a person enters your building. Cobot automatically and invisibly records the times and dates that a coworker is present in your space.

RFID or Wi-Fi Integration

In case you make use of RFID chips, all your members have to do is scan their access badge. When using Wi-Fi, it is even easier: A simple captive portal (authentication page) allows members to register their devices the first time they log on, after which the attendance-tracking will continue to run automatically.

Cobot records your coworkers’ arrival and checks whether they have time passes and/or credit left on their membership for using the space. If they do not, Cobot advises them to purchase additional passes, or refuses access to the building or your network.

Win-Win

Automatic attendance-tracking offers a classic case of a win-win situation. On the one hand, it is a friendlier welcome to your coworkers than physical access barriers and allows them to start working as soon as they arrive. This saves them time and hassle. On the other hand, it is also bound to offer more accurate attendance statistics for your front office, as most of your members are sure to carry a laptop or a smartphone to work.

Moreover, it allows for spontaneity, as you can skip pre-bookings and advance payments and simply charge coworkers for their actual use of the space in arrears. And instead of having someone tied to the reception desk, you can now have all your space’s team members interact with the community in much more flexible and laid-back manner.

Get Creative!

As mentioned earlier, automatic attendance-tracking provides you with accurate statistics on ‘hours consumed’ by your coworkers, which allows you to get creative with membership plans and manage them automatically. For example, why not offer ‘20 hours of coworking per month for $50’, ‘work for free from 18h to 20h’, or ‘come coworking 3 days per week’. Fun and flexible for coworkers; effective and efficient for you!

Learn more about how RFID integration works and about the solutions we offer for Wi-Fi integration: PfSense and Cloudessa.

Simpler Member Signup

We have just made the signup process for new coworking members simpler. Our support team has been getting a lot of questions from members who had problems signing up. A lot of the problems people had were related to starting to sign up but not completing the process, oftentimes at the last step: selecting a payment method and potentially entering a credit card. The result was that people were unable to join a coworking spaces, ending up confused and having to write to support.

Today we are separating signing up for a coworking space and entering a payment method. Immediately after a new member has selected a plan and entered their billing details the signup process is complete. Only afterwards does Cobot ask them to select a payment method.

If your coworking space is not using any of the automated payment methods (Paypal, credit cards, direct debit etc.) you can actually remove your manual payment methods now and save your new members one step. If you host teams where one member pays for others the people not paying don’t have to enter a payment method anymore.

Additionally this change solves a lot of the issues related to our wifi integration and entering credit cards. For security reasons many of our payment providers require users to enter their card data on an external site – the only problem is that until people are a member the captive portal blocks them from getting to that site. With the process now reversed – new members sign up before entering their card data – this should be a problem of a past.

We are planning a few more iterations of simplifying Cobot - for new members as well as coworking space managers. As usual we’ll announce them here. And please leave your comments below.

P.S. We also have new, beautiful notifications that are a lot better to see.

Coworking space of the Month: Cohere

Location: Fort Collins, Colorado

Size: 1,400 square feet

Desk Seats: 14

Event Capacity: 25-50

Web: http://coherecommunity.com/

Sign-up: https://cohere.cobot.me/plans

Who is Angel Kwiatkowski?

"I’m just a regular girl who wanted to hang out with cool people and selfishly started a coworking community to do so." Angel wont say it, but she’s also a very active member of the global coworking community and the author of two coworking books: Coworking: Building Community as a Space Catalyst, and Coworking: How Freelancers Escape the Coffee Shop Office and Tales of Community from Independents Around the World

What is your vision of coworking?

"I believe that coworking happens anytime more than one motivated person gathers to work with the intent to create shared value for the benefit of the community. With this definition you can use the word coworking for any sharing situation in which goods or services are being created."

How did you come across the idea of opening a coworking space?

"A friend told me about coworking almost 4 years ago and I was immediately hooked."

What issues did you have at the beginning and how did you solve them?

"The biggest hurdle was educating people about coworking. That is getting easier now that coworking is getting more media attention. We used social media and Meetups to spread the word."

So what does a day in your life typically look like? How do you run your space?

"I spend more of my time mothering my child than Cohere these days. It’s been awesome having Kristin as our long time member and community manager. She handles most of the day to day and I provide her backup and handle the less glamorous parts of running a coworking space like programming the thermostat and changing the door codes. I also have Darrin, my "work husband" who is a long time member as well. He helps with handyman issues that crop up and keeps me up to date on any facility or supply issues. My real husband is ecstatic because he doesn’t have to spend his weekends hanging towel bars and stocking toilet paper."

Tell us a bit about your new space focused in musicians - why music, and how does rehearsal space relate to coworking?

"How DOESN’T shared rehearsal space relate to coworking? Over multiple focus groups and interviews we’ve heard the musicians say the exact same things as our remote workers and freelancers: I need a dedicated space to work on my craft. I don’t want to lug my equipment around. I need a secure place for my things. It would be super cool to collaborate with other people in the space. Based on our extensive research we’ve decided to move forward with Cohere Bandwidth: shared rehearsal space for musicians in Fort Collins, CO.”

What advice would you give to someone considering running a coworking space, and what are your wishes for the future of coworking?

"Keep people at the center of your community and space and you’ll be fine. My wish for the future of coworking is that every person who desires it has easy and affordable access to a coworking community that makes their heart sing."

Well said, Angel!

Do you use Cobot to manage your space and want to share your insights about coworking or your latest project with other members of the community? Ping cristina@cobot.me and we’ll make it happen!

Boosting Support with Aleks and Intercom

At Cobot we keep user care at the core of our business: helping you get started with Cobot, assisting you with setting up your plans and on-boarding your members, as well as sharing advice on space management and tools that can help you automate more, in order to free up time for you to spend on your coworkers.

We’re happy to see that more spaces join every week! To make sure we’re available when you need us, we’ve made some changes in how we handle support.

Welcome, Aleks!

You might have heard from Aleks if you’ve asked for help lately, who, as our longtime community manager at co.up, has now joined the Cobot support team. With a lot of experience using Cobot to manage our own space, Aleks can give you great advice on how to better make Cobot do what you need it to and how to resolve every-day little issues.

Intercom

You have probably also noticed a square with a question mark in the bottom-right corner of your Cobot admin page. We’re now using Intercom to collect your queries and feedback, and to understand how you use Cobot and where we have room for improvement.

We’ve also dropped our trial emails and feature announcements emails in favor of Intercom, as it returns great analytics and lets us message you while you’re using Cobot, instead of while you’re in the queue at the supermarket.

If you ever have any questions or feedback, all you have to do is click on the question mark and write your message, and we’ll get back to you ASAP.