In order to run your business from the road, you need to have some infrastructure in place to keep things going smoothly. For starters, you probably require phone connectivity, Internet access, and a functional mailing address.
As a location independent entrepreneur, I have my own systems in place for doing business, but my way most certainly isn’t the only way. So I’ve asked a few other location independent entrepreneurs who travel full-time to weigh in with their own strategies for running a business from the road.
Lea Woodward started her location independent career in 2007 and has traveled the world with her work ever since. She and her husband Jonathan run Kinetiva, an online marketing and branding consultancy. In 2009 they had a baby girl, and hit the road again when she was four months old to continue their nomadic lives and businesses. They are currently in Turkey.
Cherie Ve Ard and her partner Chris Dunphy have been living a fully mobile life in their solar-powered RV, traveling around the States since May 2007. Cherie is a project manager for her software development business, Chris consults in the competitive analysis arena for the mobile technology industry, and together they run a technical consulting firm developing mobile applications and advising start-up technology companies. They blog about their location independent nomadic lives at Technomadia.
Anil Polat was a telecommuter for six years working as a security consultant before branching off in 2009 and working independently from the road. He is currently writing about technology and travel (primarily on Fox Nomad), as well as doing some freelance programming and computer security work. He has recently been in Germany and Ecuador, and is returning to the US for a few months before moving to North Cyprus.
Here are basic essential services for operating your business on the road.
Using the phone can be broken down to two categories: making calls and receiving calls. Making calls from the road is pretty easy since (as a worst case scenario) you can purchase a long distance phone card and make calls fairly inexpensively from whatever phone you can find. Alternately, having an Internet connection makes long distance calls a cinch with services like Skype and Google Voice. But having an incoming number takes a little more creativity.
Lea uses Skype for both making and receiving calls. "When we can't make Skype-to-Skype calls (which are free), we have SkypeIn numbers for the US and the UK — this gives us a UK and US phone number which we can give to people who would prefer to dial an actual phone number. This rings through to the Skype on our laptops."
Anil also enjoys using SkypeIn and remarks that the low monthly fee of $6 also includes voicemail. Both Lea and Anil spend a good chunk of their working days online so they receive calls for free, but you can also forward your SkypeIn calls to any phone (subject to long distance or mobile air-time fees, depending on where in the world you are).
Cherie isn’t as big a fan of Skype and instead has a phone number with Google Voice (formerly Grand Central). Because they stick to the States, they have iPhones (with a national carrier) to which their calls are forwarded. "We have it on a schedule to send calls directly to voice mail in the early morning, so that work calls don't wake us up as we traverse time zones."
For local connectivity on the international scene, most long-term traveling business people have an unlocked cell phone into which they insert a local SIM card to make and receive local calls, which also acts as a forwarding number for SkypeIn or Google Voice calls.
If you keep a phone and voicemail system in one location, checking your voicemail from abroad can be costly and time-consuming. Voicemail retrieval systems such as Callwave use speech recognition software to allow you to receive your voicemails by text or email.
When I’m actively traveling, I’m always on the hunt for an Internet connection, and without a doubt I need solid Internet anywhere I choose to hang my hat for a while. And I’m not the only person for whom Internet is a non-negotiable essential business service.
Anil relies heavily on Wi-Fi connections, and enhances his ability to find them with a USB antenna to exponentially extend his range. "I also use a program called NetStumber to find hidden networks at airports or bus stations. Other than that I plan my travels around Wi-Fi. I schedule when I'll work based on when I think I can get online."
If you are traveling around one country or region for a while, it may be worthwhile to purchase a USB wireless Internet service. Cherie uses an air card from Sprint that becomes her own Wi-Fi hotspot in the RV to which she connects all her devices.
When actively traveling, Lea uses SkypeAccess to pay for available wireless connections on a per-minute basis. "We also both have Blackberry handsets with the global email/messaging service enabled so we always have access to the email, even when we don't have Wi-Fi or other Internet connections." When staying in one place for a month or more, she stipulates Internet inclusion as a requirement for any furnished accommodation she rents.
As much as we may strive towards being a paperless workplace, we can’t quite eliminate it entirely. We can reduce the amount of mail we receive dramatically, but we must also have a mailing address to receive the occasional piece of mail. But even if you’re on the road all the time, it’s not an impossible task.
Cherie uses a virtual mailbox service to take care of her affairs. "We use MyDakotaAddress as our mail and domicile address. The service gathers our mail, discards the junk and forwards it to us monthly at an address we send them. And they also serve as our legal address for vehicle registration, insurance, voting and taxes."
Most virtual mailbox services will email you a scan of the unopened envelope when it arrives. You can then choose for it to be recycled, mailed to an address you give them, or opened and scanned for you to view electronically. Some services will also arrange to deposit checks to your bank account, and even take care of certain legal matters on your behalf.
However, these services can be costly, especially if you are a small business without a huge amount of mail to manage. Lea formerly used Earth Class Mail but dropped it due to increasing costs and her initially low-volume needs. But after being without for a while, she’s considering a UK-based virtual mailbox service again. "It's a handy service to have if you think you'll be receiving enough email to warrant the monthly fee."
Both Lea and Anil (and myself for that matter) have reduced their anticipated mail to almost nothing, and have benefited from family members who are willing and able to receive and action any unexpected pieces of mail.
"Typically I do everything online and don't expect any important bills or anything in the mail. When I do need to receive a package or mail, my rule of thumb is to have it sent to where I'll be in 2 weeks just to make sure I get it," says Anil of managing his ongoing mail.
Earth Class Mail isn’t your only virtual mailbox option; there are a number of virtual mailbox services available, depending on your location and needs.
Although the ability to send and receive faxes was once a staunch necessity for business, it is being replaced with electronic equivalents. In most cases, we can scan and email documents that formerly required faxing. In fact, Cherie swears by it: "Most businesses now send PDF documents via email in place of fax — and generally we can just annotate them with Apple Preview and email them right back. Occasionally there's something we need to print out, fill out and then photograph to return. We've used this method for selling a house, employment papers, insurance claims, media releases and government contracting."
Both Lea and Cherie liked eFax.com, but found that they didn’t send or receive a high enough volume of faxes to justify the monthly fee. For free (or inexpensive standalone) faxing services, Anil and Lea use FaxZero.com.
With these basic essential communication services sorted, you can take your business just about anywhere you want, for as long as you wish. Later we will examine some other tools for running your location independent business smoothly and effectively.