The economics of independents

There’s an old adage that claims to make money, you’ve got to spend money. While this can prove true over time, it’s not something that most independents are at liberty to consider — living project to project and figuring out how to make ends meet in between.

With the advent of affordable personal computing and connectivity, it’s interesting to consider the economics of being an independent web worker.

On the one hand, as Ben Edwards points out, working out of cafes isn’t as cheap as it might seem:

It is very nice to have low overhead costs and use the three things we need: Internet access, electricity, and a table – all for the cost of a few lattes and maybe a bran muffin.

However, like many things in life, the little jagged parts – issues that at first seemed pretty minor, begin to rub you the wrong way (or the same way but in the same spot repeatedly) until finally you can’t take it any more. In actuality, coffee shops are not free as each of the three of us has consistently spent between $25 and $50 per week on coffee, tea, and snacks. That adds up ($300-$600/month). Then we have to always cart all of our stuff in and out each day. We can’t bring too many books in our our good headphones. Bringing outside food is also, either awkward (rude to the establishment) or impractical (no refrigerator or microwave) so there are additional costs for lunch (both monetary and time-wise).

(emphasis added)
And this is the problem that has fueled the rise of the modern coworking community.

However, as Tara Hunt of Citizen Space noted in a post yesterday, running a space isn’t necessarily cheap either.

And so the choice of whether to be a bedroom, Bedouin or coworking worker can’t simply come down to dollars and cents. Instead you’ve got to look beyond hard costs to the soft amenities that Ben refers to. The benefits of having people and community an arms-length away, the ability to store your equipment safely (and not carry it wherever your go), to offer a professional atmosphere for your clients and partners, to collaborate with your peers and to simply not work alone, to hold events as you like… are just a few of the basic things that make running a coworking space worthwhile.

Ultimately, if you’re going to be spending money on a place to work, why not think about it from the standpoint of making an investment in your community and in cultivating the conditions in which you want to work? I mean, that’s what being an independent is all about: creating your own conditions for success and consciously creating the circumstances in which you thrive. Doing so in the context of community does make it somewhat easier and at minimum, makes it more fun and more socially rewarding.

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