Coworking, Online Social Collaboration Create Community

Online collaboration tools, such as Mavenlink, enhance connections and networking in physical spaces, such as Link Coworking.
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Mavenlink aims to help very small businesses and freelancers work more effectively online, and Austin's Link Coworking gives them a place to work. Together, the services hope to help their customers do business more effectively, overall.

Mavenlink co-founder Sean Crafts sees a market opportunity in partnering with the operators of coworking spaces--shared office spaces where sole practitioners come together to share office space, equipment, and each other's company.

"This is a vibrant community that's right within our sweet spot in terms of need," Crafts said. He also sees the coworking audience consisting of "highly networked individuals" who are likely to introduce his service to their contacts if he does a good job for them.

Mavenlink provides an online collaboration service where freelancers and independent can pull together virtual teams and collaborate with their customers. Liz Elam, who launched Link Coworking last year, decided that's just the sort of service her customers need and is promoting it by offering a group discount she negotiated with Mavenlink.

One of the things a coworking space provides, beyond a desk and a phone, are opportunities for social networking collaboration--but in the physical world. People come looking for a place to work, she said, "but they stay because that's where the community forms. If we have 25 people in the office, and each of them has 100 really good connections, when you join you've now got 2,500 new connections." At the same time, one of the things coworking tenants wind up discussing a lot is online social networking and other online tools that can help them do business more effectively, she said. The combination of the two things means they can share online connections, as well as business cards.

"I've also seen a need from my members for something to help them with their billing and their marketing, and so I've also had MailChimp and BatchBlue in to do presentations, and I'd like to approach them about offering a discount," Elam said.

Crafts said he has also been talking with BatchBlue Software, the company behind the BatchBook online customer relationship management application, and the MailChimp email marketing service about ways to serve this marketing niche better. All three were among the sponsors of the recent Coworking Unconference in Austin.

Elam actually got her introduction to Mavenlink from one of her customers, Rick L'Amie, the proprietor of Moxie Marketing, who is a customer of the service.

"I run almost a virtual firm engage where I engage writers and designers, individuals work with me with my clients, and bring on extra collaborators as needed. I run this whole virtual project team through Mavenlink," L'Amie said. "It provides a very simplified but efficient collaboration space."

L'Amie sees online collaboration and interaction at the coworking space filling two different social networking needs in his work life. The online form has given him worldwide connections, he said, but "something authentic happens in a coworking space that amplifies that."