Out-of-Towners

Stay in Touch

It's not enough to have well-stocked luggage-you've also got to be ready to reach out and touch your office. In Chris Mortonson's line of work, a couple of hours can make or break a deal. The 48-year-old chief sales officer of Chicago enterprise software company Fieldglass Inc. relies on his BlackBerry pager to get e-mail even as he's boarding planes. Visit www.blackberry.net for more information on the company's $399 (all prices street) RIM 950 device, which is designed for mobile professionals. Monthly service fees start at $39.99. And when he's driving, Mortonson always uses a hands-free kit.

Mortonson has found many ways to stay productive while traveling. "I'll use the Internet as a means to catch up during the evening," he says. "Or, if need be, I'll sneak down into the office in the front lobby to connect to a fax line to download e-mail." Of course, 24-hour services like Kinko's and hotels with computer business centers work well as after-hours lifelines to the office and clients.

"If there's one thing every road warrior has in common," says Brooks, "it's the fact that we need to keep in touch with our contacts." That includes clients, employees and management. Brooks recommends using a contact manager like ACT! or Goldmine. He personally uses Multiactive's Maximizer. He keeps versions of the software installed both on his laptop and on his Palm OS Smartphone.

Sometimes, the simplest solutions work best for keeping all your contacts flowing smoothly. Consider installing a voice-mail system at the office that can forward callers or messages to your mobile phone. And make sure your office contacts have the phone and fax numbers for the hotels you'll be staying at during your business travels.

 
ALL PACKED?
 
  • Cell phone charger
  • Connection cables
  • Extra batteries
  • Extra CD-RWs
  • Extra diskettes
  • Headphones
  • Laptop
  • Laptop security cable
  • Mini tool kit
  • Mobile phone
  • PDA
  • Portable surge protector

But just because you're out of the office doesn't mean you can't have real-time face-to-face discussions from hundreds of miles away. Your laptop, a digital camera and a fast Internet connection can get you there from your hotel room. If you've already made the move to Windows 2000, Microsoft Windows NetMeeting software came with it. NetMeeting offers videoconferencing and audioconferencing as well as a shared white-board feature. You supply the microphone, speakers, video capture card and camera.

Another alternative is a hardware device like the $1,200 VCON ViGO Professional. The laptop-ready ViGO weighs less than 5 pounds and hooks up through a USB port-no special video capture card is required. Sites like MeetingOne.com and Umeeting.com can also set you up for Web-based interaction. The ability to share documents and visual aids makes them a big step above the standard phone call.

Image quality and Internet connection issues still make portable videoconferencing better-suited for chatting with employees back at the office or engaging in informal meetings. When it's a matter of dealing with clients and making a strong professional impression, however, you may want to book a videoconferencing room at a local facility. Visit the SAVIE Videoconferencing Atlas for a directory of videoconferencing locations worldwide.

When you want to be prepared for any conference call contingency, turn to a service such as AT&T's TeleConference Services Reservationless Conferencing. When you sign up, you get a dedicated dial-in number and access codes for participants to log in. You're then free to arrange a teleconference anytime, day or night, without having to make a reservation or go through customer service to get there. It's ideal for spur-of-the-moment, on-the-go office meetings or quick contact with clients.

Lastly, always have a backup. Keep hard copies of your itinerary, important contacts and any vital information. It will come in handy when your cell phone dies or your laptop crashes.

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This article was originally published in the November 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Out-of-Towners.

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