From the November 2001 issue of Startups

Starting a business from a dorm room was en vogue during the dotcom boom, but with the proliferation of high-bandwidth Internet connections and technology tools these days, you can start and run a business from just about anyplace. People are running their businesses from a potpourri of exotic locations, including houseboats, sailboats, hotel rooms and even planes.

If you think a view of your rose garden helps get your creative juices flowing, just imagine what working from a houseboat can do. Jim Peters, the thirtysomething president and CEO of 24-7 Consulting, a PR firm based out of a houseboat on the Columbia River in Oregon, started her high-tech strategic marketing and public relations firm from a houseboat in 1995 but moved her firm to a larger houseboat three years ago, tripling her office space to accommodate her growing business. She insists on living and working from her houseboat: "[My] creativity is nurtured by [my] surroundings-I am much more relaxed and focused when working on the houseboat. [I have] the ability to stay focused on a project without the hustle and bustle of a large office setting."

The houseboat, which is anchored to a pier, is large enough to accommodate several employees, who access the Internet using T1 lines. Meetings with clients are held on the boat, though occasionally Peters will meet them at an airport lounge.

Cell phones and Internet access make staying connected a breeze for these office-free entrepreneurs. Mike Foster, CEO of the Foster Institute, a high-tech training firm, travels around the world giving seminars to executives and has been without an office for the past four years. His assistant is based in Texas, as is Foster's P.O. Box, but Foster himself, until recently, spent 360 days of the year on the road, living from a suitcase and shuffling from hotel to hotel.

Though six months ago he decided to "settle down" in Santa Barbara, California (he now spends six days a month at his home there), Foster continues to travel around the world; has his mail forwarded to him once a month; and uses the Wildfire telephone answering service to forward calls to his Nextel phone, which features a toll-free number clients can call to reach him even when he's out of the country. His faxes are converted into an e-mail that he can access from anywhere, including his Palm Vx. So he's accessible 24/7, without having a physical address. "I spend a tremendous amount of time flying, so the airline clubs are really helpful," says Foster, adding that he frequents Kinko's. "I can prepare handouts and other documents, convert them to .pdf format, e-mail them to a Kinko's near where I'll be presenting, and Kinko's delivers the handouts to the venue all bound and ready." An added advantage of traveling nonstop has been Foster's ability to explore every city where he has worked instead of just flying in and out.

Then there are entrepreneurs like Aliza Sherman, who, affected by the market crash of 2000 and her failure to acquire funding for her second dotcom, left New York, purchased an RV and headed for the open road. She is currently penning a book for Entrepreneur Press (Power Tools for Women, due out this fall at www.smallbizbooks.com) as well as speaking at various engagements around the country. According to Sherman, the main disadvantage of being on the road is that it "makes it difficult to know what day it is and to keep my appointments straight. I have three calendars in the RV to remind me of what I need to do." But it has also given her the opportunity to look for a new town from which to start her next business.

Quick Tips
James Walsh, author of Workers Comp for Employers and The Insurance Buying Guide, suggests homebased entrepreneurs keep the following in mind when working in nontraditional environments:

1. Most states require you to have workers' compensation insurance as long as you have a single full-time, nonfamily employee. In most cases, it's better for a start-up to buy coverage from a state-run compensation plan; coverage may be bare-bones but will cover you in case of a mishap.

2. Insure your office equipment as part of your existing homeowner's or renter's insurance. Most insurance will cover you for up to $5,000 or even $10,000 as long as your business doesn't involve taking possession of inventory (keeping a garage stocked with products, for example).

3. An umbrella liability policy will protect you against personal liability claims that go beyond what standard home and auto policies might offer. It may limit coverage for business-related claims, but the liability coverage will protect you and your business from non-business-related problems you might find yourself in.

4. Once you begin generating a steady cash flow, you may want to look into a business owner's policy that will offer at least $20,000 in property coverage, coverage for inventory and liability coverage. It may be your best bet for management liabilities such as hiring, firing, product complaints or third-party injuries on your property.

 

Toolkit for the Mobile Entrepreneur

Tech gadgets and software that'll take you anywhere

Some products Mike Foster can't live without:

  • 3 Toshiba Protégé laptops (models: one 7200CT, two 3480CTs) to illustrate networking, routing, proxy servers
  • Quicken with Citibank Online Banking for managing his finances
  • VisionLab (http://www.visionlab.com) for faxes that are e-mailed to him daily
  • Various software programs, including DeLorme's Street Atlas USA, Eudora Pro for e-mail filtering and Goldmine contact management software
  • Black Ice firewall
  • Adobe Acrobat PDF Writer for sending brochures
  • Various Macromedia products
  • MobileStar wireless Internet access
  • Nextel i2000plus mobile phone with headset and car adaptor
  • Wildfire for voice mail
  • Digital camera for still shots and video to use during presentations
  • A cordless mouse for use in presentations (allows him to move around the room)
  • Digitizer tablet for use in presentations (eliminates flip charts and dry-erase boards)
  • Toshiba Video Projection unit (with a BoxLight extended warranty that will ship a replacement in 24 hours)

For additional product ideas and tips for mobile entrepreneurs, visit our Mobile Warrior section.