Considering a Shared Office? Ask These 5 Questions First

05/27/2014 05:47 pm ET | Updated Jul 27, 2014

Whether you're a freelancer, contractor or small business owner looking to leave the home office, it's important to find a workspace that's both affordable and free of distractions that can undermine productivity and hurt your professional image.

Rather than crunching numbers to see if you can afford a location of your own, you may want to look into some budget-friendly alternatives like private office space in a shared office center. While these communities offer a number of social and financial benefits to companies of all sizes, they're especially ideal for solopreneurs who are looking to take their businesses to the next level. Not only do they make it easy to network with other professionals, but they also assist with various administrative functions, allowing you to focus on the core, revenue-generating aspects of your business.

Before committing to a long-term contract, however, you should take a close look at the services and amenities offered at each center to find the one that best suits your personal and professional needs. Here are five important questions to ask:

1. What is included in the monthly fee?
While some office space providers offer a low base fee, seemingly standard services like phone and internet may be billed as an additional charge. Ask whether a receptionist and use of common areas like conference rooms and lounges are part of your contract.

2. How is the space branded?
You want to leave an impression of your brand with your clients, not the brand of your office space provider. Look closely at how the common areas and conference rooms are decorated. Branding can even pop up in unexpected places like water bottle labels or pens, so check that out, too. And ask whether you can paint your office or bring in your own furniture to make your space your own.

3. Can I bring my own phone number and take it with me when I move?
Whether you're an established company or growing startup, it's imperative your clients are able to reach you. Make sure you'll be allowed to use your existing phone number and/or take your new number with you when you move.

4. Can I adjust my contract as my business needs evolve?
Find out whether you'll be able to modify your contract as your business grows or contracts. Also ask whether the office provider has any programs or brokerage services to help you find a new home if you ever outgrow their facility.

5. What special perks are available?

Just as you strive to create value for your clients, so should your office provider. Discounted or free parking, complimentary coffee and water service and access to amenities like an on-site gym or café are all things to look for when evaluating your office space options. It's also important to consider location and how easily you--and your clients--will be able to get to the facility. Choosing a center within walking distance of the central business district and with easy access to public transportation will save valuable time that would otherwise be spent sitting in traffic.