By Narelle Coulter
At the Waterman Business Centre in Narre Warren, small business owners network in the funky kitchen, type up business proposals perched in beanbags and bounce ideas off each at the water cooler.
There is a buzz in the air at Waterman as people type on laptops, clinch deals on their mobile phones and catch up at the coffee station.
A cool vibe permeates the sleek, modern centre at 66 Victor Crescent which is an incubator for small and sole operators wanting to grow their micro businesses.
Psychologist Tessa Young and energy efficiency expert Rob Iacono are two Waterman tenants who have embraced the collaborative environment.
“The wonderful thing is you can grab your coffee and you see a lot of people and they are all quite friendly,” said Tessa, who runs her counselling service from an office at Waterman.
“Even if your work is individual and isolated there are always lots of people around.”
Rob, the founder of PassivEnergy, hot desks in Waterman’s co-working space.
PassivEnergy is a building sustainability company. Builders and home owners hire Rob to ensure new home designs or renovation plans satisfy the government’s energy rating requirements.
“There are lots of small business people here who are all at a similar stage to you so you’re not isolated by yourself, you’re not cooped up at home alone,” Rob said.
“If you need to walk away from your computer screen for a second you can talk to someone else, see how they’re going. You get inspired by what they’re doing.
“Or they may be dealing with a problem that you’ve faced in the past so you can help each other out.
“I found my accountant here. Another guy is going to help me with advertising.
“The people in the co-working space want to help you out, you want to help them out. It’s a very healthy space to be in.”
The Waterman Business Centres was founded by Neville Waterman to help small business owners overcome the “success-limiting” symptoms of isolation which are often inevitable when working at home.
“But our offering is more than bricks and mortar,” Mr Waterman said.
“Our real success is in the creation of close-knit communities where members really support and challenge each other to achieve their own goals.
“And their success is our success, which is why, in addition to our centres in Narre Warren and in Scoresby, we will be opening another two centres, one at Chadstone and another at Caribbean Business Park before the end of 2017.”
Tessa Young has been counselling for 20 years. Prior to moving into Waterman she practised from a conventional office in Beaconsfield.
Her clients are greeted at reception by Waterman staff and Tessa is alerted to her next appointment by a discreet phone call.
“I can’t tell you how many clients of mine have said these are beautiful rooms,” she said.
“From a consulting point of view, the ambiance is very important so you do worry about how the clients are going to take the space.
“But there is genuine warmth around here. You can see people talking to each other and there is that real familiarity so people feel really comfortable coming in.
“The communal feel was something I was really interested in. It’s a very supportive environment and the operation is quite seamless. Your clients are shown in, everything is done really well.”
Tessa is relieved that she doesn’t have to worry about the minutiae of running an office.
“If you have any problems with computing the support is there. You have access to everything, state-of-the-art photocopiers, administration support and receptionists who are very well versed in anything about the Waterman group.
“If you are running your own business all those costs are yours. In a facility like this the costs are shared. Certainly for a small business you are really well looked after.”
She also loves chatting to other tenants when she stops to grab a coffee or lunch.
“You have other people in the same boat running their own business so there is a real comradery.
“You can also access different services, you don’t have to go far if you want to update your website or access marketing help. The people are here.”
Tessa is part of a Waterman program called Support 12 which she credits with helping her grow both personally and professionally.
“It’s been quite good coming in here and learning that there are different ways of doing things. It expands your thinking.”
Support 12 involves business owners meeting regularly to be mentored by Neville Waterman and his business development staff.
“They go through your business with a fine tooth comb,” Tessa said.
“It gets you to step outside your business and look at what you’re doing. They want to ensure you have the foundations correct.
“The support has been above and beyond. I don’t think I’ve ever worked in or been involved with an organisation like it.”
Rob moved into Waterman in July. He didn’t want to commute to the city, and with high-speed Wi-Fi at his disposal he can conduct business all over Victoria and interstate from Narre Warren.
He said he had “journeyed with Neville Waterman”.
“I met Neville few years back and I’ve seen what he does and the passion he has for small business. That attracted me to stay here and not venture out.
“As long as I have a Wi-Fi connection I could be in the middle of Spain doing what I do.”
In the second half of the year Rob will give up hot desking for a more permanent desk within Waterman as part of a ‘neighbourhood’ of eight to 10 like-minded business owners
“We’ll all grow together and keep each other accountable for everything we say we’re going to do,” Rob said.
“You can fall into the trap of just doing work and not plan on growing it. With these neighbourhoods they want to create environments where people are saying ‘hey, have you done this yet?’
“It forces you to do that extra bit to grow your business instead of coasting.
“I can say personally I would love someone to hold me accountable. Because you are your own boss, at the end of the day if you keep pushing things back it’s only yourself you let down.
“It’s inspiring to see other people do what they are doing and work hard every day to make their business better.”
To find out more about any of the Waterman centres. visit waterman.com.au.