Marketing and acquisition of coliving guests is usually the last thing new operators focus on when they’re getting started. Marketing tends to stay a low priority until operators realize that the rooms are empty. Often, they end up looking for magic (and fast!) solutions. Too late.
This is a very common mistake for any new business, not just coliving, when the founders don't have a sales and marketing background.
Good news is that marketing for coliving spaces is not rocket science.
Here are some tips to get started:
a) Start as soon as possible
I built a website 6 months before launching my first coliving space. At the same time I created social media channels and started reaching out to people asking for their feedback. This way we got the first backlinks (important for SEO), the first followers and even the first customers before we had even launched.
b) Focus on 1-2 channels, test and iterate
Trying too many marketing channels is a trap that is easy to fall into. Choose one or two channels and then start experimenting. Constantly iterate. Abandon channels that don't work and try new ones but take it one at a time.
c) Direct bookings on your website are the holy grail
Your goal is to get as many direct bookings as possible. If you have to pay a commission to acquire customers on another platform, make sure that the second time these customers book it’s directly through you. It's hard to get direct bookings when you first start, but keep focussed, don't stress about it and they will grow over time.
d) Don't try to copy VC funded coliving startups
Their goals are completely different from yours. The only goal of a VC funded startup is growth. Fast. Your goals are growth AND profitability. It's easy to burn tons of money on Instagram ads or hire the best PR person, but if you don't want to worry about ending up in the red at the end of the month I suggest trying a few alternative methods.
My ambition with this article is to give you a general overview of what to focus on and what not to waste your time with. When you focus on the right channels, you can master them relatively fast. You really only need 1 channel that works well to make a successful business.
I know, it’s sounds counterintuitive. Nobody who’s figured out a well-oiled marketing machine will tell you that. They will tell you that “it's all word of mouth”. Which is sometimes true. But what they won’t tell you is that their word of month is working because of massive media outreach, social media boosting or a hidden referral program.
So, where to start? Let's have a look at some channels you can start to test.
Many people understand SEO as something super complex. This is unfortunately the reputation of the SEO industry that makes you think you need an SEO wizard with secret tactics to hack the Google algorithm.
Not true at all.
In your case its actually very simple: you want customers to find you when they are searching on Google for a coliving space in your area.
When I started a coliving space in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, there were no other colivings there at the time.
There were also no coworking spaces with the website in English.
So adding to the title and the text of my website “coliving and coworking in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria” allowed us to rank number 1 on Google for these keywords:
By writing a few blog post you can cover more niche keywords like:
You really need just SEO Basics to achieve reasonable success. Create a website and start with basic SEO before you open your coliving space.
With my coliving space, we had all the coliving guests booking directly with us. I've been hesitant for a very long time to create listings on Airbnb and similar sites. My main concern was mixing these requests and the impact this could have on the concept we were trying to build.
The fact is, nobody cares about your concept on these websites. Your coliving space is a commodity.
So, when should you use these websites?
Guests on these sites don't understand your concept, they are looking for a place to stay. In this case, it’s fine to have different pricing and reduce some types of services. This way you can explain the price difference to your coliving guests who booked directly.
When hosting guests from these rental websites, try to explain your concept and ask them if they might subscribe to your newsletter. Having a minimum stay also helps filter out certain types of guests and keep the good vibes.
As a heads up, Airbnb charges around 3% and Booking.com 15% commission from hosts. Don't try to cheat the Airbnb system by messaging potential guests a link to your website for direct booking, you can be easily banned.
Good hack: write “coliving” and “name of your brand” to the title of your listings. Some of them will use Google and find you directly.
If you offer monthly or weekly stays, listing websites like Craigslist in the US or Idealista in Spain/Portugal/Italy can work very well. The same applies to thousands of Facebook groups dedicated to accommodation.
Your advantage is that you have good pictures, a cool concept and flexible rent. Your disadvantage is that you probably want to charge more than others do with a yearly contract. Try to emphasize the flexibility in the title, it will bring attention to the people you want to target.
So you launched a while ago and already have some happy customers. Perhaps even some subscribers in your mailing list and a couple hundred followers on social media. Fantastic!
I’d recommend you shift your focus to a channel you own, your mailing list. You can leverage social media for a while but sooner or later, social channels that work well will start showing your posts less and less. Until you pay that is.
Always focus most of your time on the channels that you own: mailing list, podcasts and content hosted on your website (SEO). These are the channels that are going to work for you long-term. Nothing against social media, but think about it as a funnel to the channels you own.
Some people think that word of mouth is about delivering a great service and then, voilà, customers talk about you and recommend you to others. Sure, it works like this in a sense but you want to amplify it. “Talk” to your customers by newsletters, interview guests on your blog, share authentic stories on Instagram or consider building a referral program.
All these activities will increase the word of mouth and can even bring you some media attention without a need to reach out to journalists.
I was lucky with my coliving space, there wasn’t much competition at that time. Journalists were contacting me because they wanted to write a story about our concept, even the NYTimes did. We were very lucky. I wrote to nobody and I had zero relationships with journalists.
This was years ago. The bad news is that now probably nobody is excited about your new coliving startup, unless you have some amazing story or hire a PR expert (which you don't want to do because you are not a VC funded coliving startup, right?).
So who might be interested to write about you? You can try local newspapers or the tourism agency in your region. Are these articles going to bring you some new customers? Probably not. But they can bring you a few valuable backlinks (SEO) and little boost to your reputation.
Reaching out to journalists is probably not the best time investment in your coliving venture, unless you already have some good contacts.
Ads are the easiest and fastest way to bring traffic to your website. But also the most expensive one. It's a trap.
Coliving is not a business with huge margins. They are actually very thin. Ads can easily make your margins non-existent. Unless you have a professional who can create, test and iterate you Facebook ads, you will waste a lot of money. Hiring such a professional is not cheap either.
I'm not saying that you shouldn't try ads but try to be smart:
Do you think that people who see your ad for the first time are going to visit your website and make a booking? This is very rare.
You need to capture that traffic - make those who visit your website subscribe to your mailing list, lead magnet or at least social media. Then work hard to convert them into customers over time.
If you follow the advice in this article I'm sure that you can build a solid customer acquisition strategy for your coliving space. Good luck!
This article is a part of coliving guide.
I'm the founder of Surf Office, a one-stop shop for anyone organizing company retreats.
A few side-projects I'm involved in: Hoodpicker, Surfpreneurs Club and Epic Monday.
I write about my experiments that combine hospitality, real estate and tech.
You can reach me out on Twitter and Linkedin.
No Playbook 🤷
Subscribe to my newsletter where I share experiments of building hospitality products.