SBX 6: Signing Your First Commercial Lease

The Small Business Express

Signing a commercial  lease can be one of the most intimidating and rewarding experiences that an owner has.  On one hand, it shows your commitment and optimism for the future.  On the other, it puts you on the hook for a lot of money, sometimes for a lot of years.  A $1000 lease for 5 years is a $60,000 decision, not counting all the other expenses that come with it.  Before walking through potential spaces and signing your name on the dotted line, you want to leave no stone unturned.  This means learning the language, having a plan, and following some of the ninja lease-signing techniques from this episode.  “This should be required listening before any would-be owner sets foot into their first potential [commercial space].”  -Andrew (first time business owner)

In this episode of The Small Biz Express podcast we discuss:

  • The excitement of landing your first lease and how it legitimizes you as a business

  • All the wrong reasons to get a lease and a brief case-study on the (one) right reason

  • That it’s better to be profitable than fancy and why “location, location, location” isn’t the magic bullet

  • Making sure you’re paying for usable square footage (and not extra, useless stuff)

  • All the vocabulary you’ll need to communicate like a pro while lease-hunting

  • Details on how to pound the pavement to get yourself the best space at the best price

  • Three lease negotiation tips that you won’t hear anywhere else (nice, Mike, nice)

  • How to make an intelligent offer depending on the size of the space you need


Action Steps from this episode:

  1. Know the difference between needs and wants.  Many whimsical owners get caught up in emotion and sign leases for the wrong reason.  Ask yourself, why am I pursuing a lease at this time?  If the answer anything other than “to grow the business and increase profit,” HIT THE BRAKES.  Make a list of needs and wants for your perfect office space including layout, location, parking, and price.  Necessity is the mother of creativity.  You may have to give up some of your wants, but you will be able to find the space you need at a price you can afford.
  2. Pound the pavement and collect options.  Finding the perfect lease is a numbers game.  That means the odds will be way more in your favor if you walk through 25 spaces than 10.  Pounding the pavement means more than just checking Craigslist and setting up appointments.  It means driving to the area you want space in, writing down and calling numbers, walking into buildings that have no signs on them, and asking everybody you see “is there space available here?”  Bring a notebook to draw layouts and to write down all necessary information, including details of all the various charges.  Asking the right questions (listen to the episode) is essential to making the best decision.
  3. Evaluate your alternatives.  Once you’ve collected a pile of real possibilities, it’s time to sleep on it.  Emotional decisions lead to frustrating futures and it can be helpful to get the opinions of others at this stage.  Follow-up with landlords and agents (preferably landlords) and do your best to negotiate the exact terms you want, whether that’s length, price, or something else.  Check over the contract multiple times before signing anything.  If you’re considering a six figure financial commitment, pay for a lawyer who specializes in leases to grind the thing down.  No matter how much work you’ve done, never be afraid to walk away.  The perfect space for your business is out there.

Links and Resources Discussed in this Episode

  1. A simple calculator to determine your monthly rent, based on the size of the space and the cost per square foot.  Knowing the monthly rent is essential when comparing spaces against each other, as well as figuring out budgets and how much business you’ll have to do to cover the cost of the lease.(
  2. How to Cut Costs on Conventional Offices – an exceptional guest post on The Small Business Playbook (
  3. 5 Ways to Reduce Operating Costs for Your Business – a more general look at how to reduce fixed costs and keep your business lean (and profitable!).  You may not need a lease after all…(

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