One of the benefits of working for yourself is having the ability to work from wherever you want, whenever you want. This means you can keep working when you have to be away from home (i.e., if you’re having work done on your house). You can make the most of downtime when you are in waiting mode (i.e., in line at the DMV waiting to have your license renewed). And you can take working vacations (but please, be sure to schedule no-work time!).
There are varying degrees of being mobile – from having a Smartphone and being able to keep up with e-mail, to having a fully functioning mobile office. Since most of us are already connected through our phones and other devices in some capacity when we’re away from work, I’m going to focus on the latter – creating a completely operational mobile office.
I’ve gone through this process myself, and here are the most important steps I’ve taken to ensure I really can work from anywhere, anytime.
1. Get a Laptop
This is an obvious, but vital step. You certainly can’t be a mobile worker if you’re tethered to your big desktop with your 22-inch widescreen LCD monitor. Ideally, you will have a powerful laptop that can replace your desktop and become your primary computer so you automatically have all of your files and necessary data accessible wherever your laptop is. You can even dock it when home so you can still take advantage of your big screen.
If you plan to keep your desktop and use a second mobile machine, step two is a must for you.
2. Use an Online Data Backup Site
If you are working on multiple computers, you have to have a system for sharing files between the systems. This is extremely easy to do these days with services like SugarSync and Box.net. For a monthly fee, these and other similar services automatically backup and synchronize your data across multiple computers, and even allow Internet access to your files.
Even if you have a laptop as your main computer, this is a great way to ensure consistent backup and accessibility of your data in case of a system crash.
3. Make Sure You Can Get Online
There are a lot of wi-fi access points around that you can probably connect to in order to work from anywhere, but in order to have a more stable and secure connection (which you need for a business), you will need a high-speed mobile access card. You can get one from your cell phone service provider (or get access by tethering your BlackBerry or iPhone), or from a company that offers pre-paid or pay-as-you-go wireless access. Make sure you use a firewall and data encryption however you connect.
4. Trash the Paper
Inevitably, there will come a time when you’re working on the road that you need access to some paper files back in the office. This can be a problem if you don’t have another way to get that information. If you start to make a habit of making all paper files electronic, you can create a secondary digital file cabinet, and eventually replace your hard copy files entirely.
For me, this means taking all of my meeting notes on my computer (or transferring them later on), managing my finances and my bookkeeping without any paper files, using electronic agreements, and scanning in any paper files that come my way. It’s a huge time-saver to have all of the standard paper documents accessible (and searchable) on my computer…and it’s good for the environment, too.
5. Get Mobile Phone/Fax Service
If you’re away from your home base, you won’t be able to run a business without a hitch unless you are able to maintain your phone and fax service. While you can certainly use your cell phone to make and receive calls as necessary, it can be more professional to use a virtual phone line and digital fax service so your clients don’t experience any changes in your accessibility.
I am setup to get e-mail notifications every time I receive a call or fax, and can make outgoing calls and send faxes right from my computer so it stays with me wherever I am.
6. Update Your OS and Software
Before hitting the road, make sure your operating system and software reflect the most recent updates and security patches. Not only is this a major time-killer if you have to do it when you’re mobile, but it will likely take a bit longer and result is some annoying downtime.
7. Setup Your Peripherals
The biggest peripheral for me is my trackball. I hate laptop touch pads and have zero patience with them, so my trackball comes with me wherever I go. Other equipment you may want to consider: a surge protector, an extension cord, a wireless mouse, a portable scanner, extra batteries/chargers, and a portable printer (only if printing is an absolute must).
Do you have a mobile office? What steps would you add to this list?