Most business owners rent more space than they can realistically occupy, leaving plenty of vacant space around the office.
Renting your facility’s unused space to others for meetings and classes can generate easy income, but offering that space free of charge may actually prove to be a more valuable business move in the long run, says Vinny Ribas (pictured), founder and CEO of Nashville, Tenn.-based Indie Connect.
Indie Connect is a for-profit member organization that hosts workshops, seminars, networking events, and songwriter nights for music industry professionals. Although Ribas could rent out his space, he offers it to arts-related nonprofit groups for free.
The Intuit Small Business Blog recently caught up with Ribas to get the scoop on why he makes the space available gratis — and how this benefits his small business.
ISBB: How do you spread the word that you offer free space?
Ribas: We primarily use LinkedIn and Facebook to get the word out about the availability of our venue. I also contact several organizations that I think might have trouble finding a proper meeting space directly.
How has the “free space” feature impacted your business?
Simply posting the space availability to various social-networking sites and groups has increased our exposure to our target customer (music industry professionals), and offering the space has helped build our credibility in both the music and business communities. When organizations use our space, they send meeting notices out to members; we benefit from that press as well. It has introduced us to new customers, who have since given workshops or seminars at our facility.
In Nashville, everyone knows a handful of musicians. Offering the space for free has led to introductions and direct referrals to industry professionals with whom we want to connect. There is also an element of personal satisfaction. By offering space for free, we are giving back to the community in our own way.
Do you see any measurable “lift” in business because you offer free space?
There is no question that every event positively impacts my business. Some benefits are instantaneous, when attendees recognize that they need our services. Other times, it comes from building strong new relationships (which ultimately lead to new business).
How do you leverage relationships with the groups that use your free space?
There are multiple ways. We keep our business cards and brochures on a large desk that most groups use for their meeting registration; a large number of attendees pick them up. If it is appropriate, we also ask for a five-minute “introduction speech” before the meeting starts to explain what we do and to circulate a sign-in sheet so attendees can sign up for our mailing list. We also ask each organization using the free space to link to our website in meeting announcements, giving us added exposure and higher search-engine rankings.
What advice do you have for a small-business owner who is considering offering free space?
Offer space free of charge to nonprofit organizations when you can: The exposure is tremendous; the good will is priceless; the relationships you build are real; and the return is inevitable. Make it a win-win situation, if possible. Be available for the event; they will most likely invite you in to thank you and perhaps give you a chance to give your “elevator speech.” Have business cards and brochures in plain sight, and don’t cut corners just because they are getting the space for free. The more comfortable they are, the more they will talk about the experience.