New York — If you're running your company from your kitchen table, you probably wish you could get out of the house and find more professional digs. But lining up space in an office building can be pricey.
Melissa Thompson, veteran of a string of startups, recently launched an online counseling service called TalkSession out of her New York City apartment. Based on that experience, the Columbia MBA advises: "Don't code where you cook!"
Working from her apartment was "purgatory," she says. "We had to get creative, but having more professional space has made us tremendously more productive."
How do you find an office without busting your budget? Thompson, a former Goldman Sachs trader, offers five ways to get a desk outside your home:
1. Find a "foster office." Plenty of big companies have empty office space these days. "Ask around among your friends who work in large office buildings," Thompson suggests. "We've had three different foster offices so far." At one of her earlier startups, she bartered her tech skills -- mostly "basic help-desk stuff" -- for free cubicles, Wi-Fi, and access to a conference room.
2. Ask your local government. "Cities want the intellectual capital and youthful vibe, not to mention new jobs, that startups bring," Thompson notes. "So find out whether there is government space you can borrow." You might even propose starting a business incubator that other entrepreneurs could use, too.
3. Befriend a hotel manager (or two). A quiet corner of a hotel lobby can be a good spot for a client meeting, and "they often have 'business centers' -- with Wi-Fi, copiers, and so on -- that are empty during the day," Thompson says. Hotel staffers often don't mind your using these as long as you stay out of paying guests' way, she adds.
4. Look for a desk-for-a-day service. More firms lately are getting into the business of matching small companies with excess office space. A service called PivotDesk (www.pivotdesk.com ), for instance, now operates in New York, San Francisco, Denver, and Boulder, Colo. Other rent-a-desk services operate in just one location, like Indy Hall (http://indyhall.org ) in Philadelphia and NeueHouse (www.neuehouse.com ) in New York. To see if something similar is happening near you, Google "shared office space."
5. Planes, trains, and buses. "I welcome out-of-town meetings," says Thompson. "The train from New York to Boston or Washington gives me four hours each way with few distractions -- mostly because no one's popping in."