Going Solo And Launching A $14K/Month Flexible Office Space Business

Published: July 20th, 2023
Mike Gardener
The Office Providers
from Manchester, UK
started April 2018
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Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

Hi, my name is Mike Gardener and I am the founder of The Office Providers which is an online office space and workspace search platform that is backed by offline commercial real estate expertise.

It helps businesses of all sizes from one-person-bands to multinational corporations find the perfect flexible workspace for their business. We provide a completely free service to the occupier as we are paid a fee by the office provider, operator, or landlord of the property that is chosen by the occupier.

We are regulated by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and were the first flexible-focused office space rental agency to be so.

As opposed to leased office space which can be restrictive and requires a high level of commitment, we specialize in flexible workspace products such as turnkey offices that are fully fitted and are serviced by the provider, managed full-floor office suites, coworking desk space memberships and part-time offices for hybrid working companies, as well as other bespoke flexi space solutions.

All of the workspaces that we broker are available on short-term flexible contracts that allow an occupier to easily expand or contract, and the rental fee is inclusive of overheads such as utilities, cleaning, building insurance, and most other overheads that would normally be paid for separately when renting an office on a conventional basis.

External conditions have made the last 3 years somewhat unpredictable, to say the least! However, revenue is approximately $14k per month during a time of global economic uncertainty so we expect this to improve significantly when the market regains momentum again, particularly as more and more occupiers are moving away from leased offices to flexible workspaces post-pandemic.

Consistent daily work with long-term patience is the best formula that I have found.


What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

I am a chartered commercial property surveyor by trade specializing in office agency. My career up until starting this company involved working for small partnerships, national firms, and large multinational commercial real estate consultancies.

Working as an office leasing agent, I helped landlord clients rent out office space within their buildings and development schemes, and I also worked occupier-side helping companies find office space to rent.

The last company that I worked for had international serviced office providers as clients and we would pass them inquiries from clients that did not want to rent office space on a traditional lease because of the commitment required – they wanted shorter-term contracts with the ability to easily expand or contract within the space.

They wanted the space and the building managed for them and they wanted to pay just one bill every month that covered rent, buildings insurance, utilities, cleaning, reception services, furniture, and so on.

And these office providers provided a range of solutions that matched those requirements including turnkey serviced offices, managed office suites, and coworking memberships.

These flexible workspace products had been available since the mid-1980s and were particularly popular with start-ups and with businesses requiring temporary swing space, however, the Great Recession changed the market significantly.

That financial crisis made many companies realize the risk of exposure to long leases on large office spaces and so there was a seismic shift in the appetite for managed flexibility. Out of the last recession also came a household name within the flex space industry, WeWork, which, despite its faults, undeniably changed the image of the flexi space industry.

Once seen as a little practical and uninspired, private serviced offices became cool and the buildings started offering barista bars, yoga classes, and meditation rooms as well as many other attractive amenities.

In London, for instance, the number of providers went from tens to hundreds in a decade, and in New York City (the second largest flex space market after London) there are already just under one hundred. I knew that the market had grown massively, and I felt that it would continue to expand into the future.

I had been observing the market for many years and I had seen that many of the companies that specialized in flexible office space had a strong online presence. I spoke to a friend that worked in the tech sector who advised that they could set me up with a basic website to test the water.

So, I decided to go it alone and commit 100% to the business for 18 months. It took 9 months from launch to complete and invoice my first deal, and in that month another deal was invoiced. Those two deals validated the website that my friend had built and the outline business model canvas for me. Although there was far more to learn.


Take us through the process of building the first version of your product.

Building the first version of the website involved me writing enough content for around 10 pages and curating images and graphic designs. Another friend is an artist and graphic designer so he produced those.

This was just a prototype to test the market so it needed to convey what we did, how the service was free to occupiers, why they should choose and trust us, and calls to action (CTA) such as displaying phone numbers and contact forms.

Whilst the website was being built, I was also establishing relationships with office agent partners that would give us the full geographical spread of the UK on a variety of fee-sharing bases. I also set up a limited company with my accountant and I went about the process of having the firm regulated by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) as I felt that this was an important trust signal as well as a unique selling point as no other flexible office space agencies were regulated by the body.

The build time was approximately 6 months and the costs at that stage totaled approximately $2,000.

Your body and brain are the engine behind the business, particularly at the beginning so be sure to take good care of both.


Describe the process of launching the business.

Once the website went live, it was important to increase visibility in the search engines through search engine optimization (SEO) - it was time to add more content.

It was clear that the big players in the market had thousands of pages on their websites so we started to build content that included property listings, guides to renting office space in various towns and cities, daily news articles about the office space industry, and so on.

When launching a website ‘organically’ and not using paid advertising, it is somewhat of a slow and drawn-out process whilst waiting for the search engines to find you and place you. And SEO is a constant task (we still add fresh content daily).

I outsourced content creation to freelance writing friends as well as to Copify, and I wrote a lot of content myself. To fund the initial cost of outsourcing, I exchanged some shares in the company with some family members for cash.

It was also important to get the business on as many online platforms as possible for both search engine and human visibility. This involved setting up profiles on every relevant social media platform, setting up profiles on business directories, and creating profiles on commercial property-specific forums and directories.

We wrote guest posts on industry-related websites, put the business on mapping platforms such as Google Maps and Waze, and set up accounts with virtual property tour companies such as Matterport so that website viewers could view offices without leaving home.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

As the majority of our business is generated online, keeping the website relevant and visible is important so adding fresh, useful, and unique content attracts new customers because the search engines reward this by placing the website higher up in the search engine results pages (SERPS). Writing useful and informed content for other relevant websites in our industry is also important as this builds trust signals.

We have found that creating something useful and completely free helps to establish trust. During the pandemic, all of our office provider clients were suffering – they had been ordered to close their doors and the public was advised to work from home.

I decided to create a directory that profiles all office and workspace providers in the UK to improve their visibility for when the market eventually came back. I also did this in New York City and a few European cities.

It was quite a task to compile (it took me over 12 months), however, because the directories were unique, they became some of the most popular web pages on the website.

Because of their popularity, I decided to repurpose the content and self-publish two of the directories as free books – one on Amazon and the other on Apple Books. I also used the content of the directories to write a series of episodes on the podcast that I had set up on Anchor.fm (Anchor.fm was later acquired by Spotify) and this helped us get to over 60 episodes.

The nature of an office space agency business is that it is transactional and long-term relationships are not automatically formed with clients. Therefore, it is important to create and nurture these relationships by staying in contact.

We have found that email marketing is the best way to do this, and we send out newsletters and various check-ins to clients and subscribers to retain customers so that we can help when they require new office space in the future.

We use Constant Contact for our email marketing and the analytics allow us to track click-throughs and responses to CTAs. Being active on social media also helps with relationship-building indirectly although this is more difficult to measure.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

Whilst we may not be in an official recession, the economic environment is adverse at present and this is affecting most businesses that use office space. The high level of inflation and the interest rate rises applied by central banks to combat it have created a state of inertia across many markets, ours included.

There will likely be further interest rate rises, in the UK at least, before conditions get better, and, using the latest IMF forecasts, we will begin to see signs of recovery in the second half of 2023 and into 2024. And this recovery will be coupled with a move away from, for many, leased office space.

There will always be businesses that will choose to rent office space on a traditional leasehold business. However, we are seeing more and more businesses of all sizes from all sectors including the banking and financial services sector, the professional services sector, and the technology, media, and telecoms (TMT) sector either fully switching to flexible workspace solutions completely or, at least, incorporating elements of flex space into their commercial real estate strategies.

I keep the business extremely lean because of the cyclical nature of the commercial property market so we are managing to remain profitable. Because over 90% of our customers come through organic search, the ongoing cost of acquisition is very low. The customer acquisition investment, in terms of time and cash, was frontloaded.

That being said, we continue to grow the website by adding fresh content every day and improving SEO by link building, writing content on other platforms, and social media marketing.

Website traffic has grown by around 10% compared to pre-pandemic levels to around 3k visitors per month. However, currently, conversion rates are low due to the aforementioned inertia. Ironically, this is causing the average time on site to increase which is improving SEO so there are positives in the long run!

Our email marketing list continues to grow and is currently at around 2k subscribers and we will use social media in the future to grow it further. On social media, we have a combined following of 11.5k. We recently hit 2k followers on LinkedIn and 4k followers on Instagram and continue to grow these by posting content and interacting with followers.


Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

There are certain things that you don’t need to invest in when you first start your business. Some of it is pushed towards you and some may be your wrong decision-making off your own back.

For instance, I chose to pay to protect some intellectual property and copy very early on. There was no need to do this because your competitors will copy many of the things that you do anyway, no matter what size you are, and it’s simply not worth the time and effort to prove you’ve been copied.

The best solution is to keep producing unique content and your readers and the search engines will soon recognize the originator.

It is somewhat of a cliché that overnight successes take 10 to 15 years to build but it’s true in many cases. It does take time, patience, hard work, and grit.

Whilst you may be highly experienced in your field in an employed environment, you enter another realm of learning and it can feel like you’re beginning your career again from day one. Consistent daily work with long-term patience is the best formula that I have found.

It’s important to remain stoic as the first few years can be a rollercoaster ride for so many reasons. Whilst it’s important to celebrate the wins, it’s important to not become too invested in the mistakes and losses. Mistakes will be made but these are learning experiences and help you evolve and develop.

We found that creating free content and products works well. After creating the aforementioned directories, I created a free course on Udemy about flexible office space and this has attracted over 850 students. This led to interviews and other content creation opportunities.

When operating in a market such as ours that will be affected by macroeconomic conditions which cannot be controlled, it is important to recognize the things that you can control. And, if you can, keep on going and building when the market is quiet so that when these external conditions change, you are ready to hit the ground running again.

Although it sometimes feels counterintuitive in business especially when your competition is often hidden behind screens, I have found that it is important to do the right thing. It is a small world and your market is even smaller and, if you’re planning to be in your market for the long haul, it is a lot easier to do so with your reputation and integrity intact.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

As with many areas of the business, our website development and management are outsourced. The website is a bespoke solution and is built on WordPress and hosted on GoDaddy. We are in the process of restructuring the whole website to make for a better user experience, and so that we can integrate other tools, which we are very excited about.

We use a wide variety of other tools and platforms throughout the business. For instance, we built an app using Beezer which requires little technical knowledge and a monthly subscription so was far more cost-effective than employing an agency.

We also built a chatbot using Landbot which requires no code and a monthly subscription. I am a big fan of email marketing as it’s one of the oldest communication channels and more stable than social media platforms, and for that, we use Constant Contact.

In terms of social media, as the business is B2B, LinkedIn is an important platform for us although we also use the majority of other platforms including Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, and Google My Business. Personally, my favorite platform is Instagram as I prefer to tell a story visually – it also has many features. In terms of creating content, we like to use Canva and Adobe. We also tend to repurpose content and use the same content across multiple platforms for efficiency.

For personal productivity, I find E.ggTimer is very effective for beating procrastination, particularly when writing. And Grammarly is a lifesaver when it comes to spellchecking and punctuation, especially on long tasks.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

For me, there is such a diverse range of books out there that are directly or indirectly helpful ranging from autobiographies by CEOs of multinational corporations such as Richard Branson, to books on strategy from HBR, to books on stoicism by Ryan Holiday (I just finished reading his latest, Courage is Calling, yesterday, funnily enough).

I have found that curating my various social media feeds by following authors, podcasters, and others that I have already received a benefit from elsewhere, or have received a recommendation, is extremely useful as my web of resources continues to grow.

I listen to podcasts by the likes of Tim Ferriss and Steven Bartlett because many of their guests have traveled on entrepreneurial journeys and can often provide great wisdom and tips. I also find podcasts by the likes of Joe Rogan and Conan O’Brien quite inspirational too.

Although many of their guests are from the entertainment industry, I find their journeys often parallel those of entrepreneurs in terms of the grind, the rejections, the determination, grit, and patience required to reach their goals.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

When you are researching your market pre-launch, it will not always be possible to understand the true earnings of others in the market (unless you have an inside track) so be aware of the validity of what is being presented.

When you are starting a business, you will be excited and driven (otherwise you wouldn’t be doing it!). However, it is important not to let that translate into blind naivety. It is important to check in with yourself and seek trusted 3rd party counsel in certain areas.

Related to the above, be aware that when you start a business, you will flag up on many lists and will be inundated with sales calls. Beware of these – whilst some products and services will be genuinely useful, others will be overpriced for what you need at the beginning, and others could be a complete waste of money.

Make sure that you, or someone that you trust, is taking care of the business’s finances and taxes.

Your body and brain are the engine behind the business, particularly at the beginning so be sure to take good care of both. Take a break, take a walk, eat well, meditate, and get good sleep.

Related to the last point is making sure that you celebrate the small wins. At first, you won’t be able to celebrate profit so celebrate a sale, a deal, your 50th follower, writing a certain amount of content in a day, or anything that reminds you why you started your business.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

We are not actively hiring at present whilst the market is relatively slow – I like to keep the business as lean as possible at times like this and will only hire if I am confident that the team member does not have to be let down at a later date, due to market conditions.

We will be hiring in late 2023/24 and will initially be looking for content managers ideally with both experience of the commercial real estate industry and content marketing via organic and paid search and social media.

Check out The Office Providers’ Indeed page for the job posts or email us as we welcome speculative resumes.

Where can we go to learn more?

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!