Wherever You Go, There You Are

Travel Guide

A secondary work site doesn't always have a permanent address. Today's entrepreneurs are more mobile than ever. Your work doesn't stop when you're on the road or catching an airplane. Technology is what keeps you in touch and keeps your productivity up when you're traveling. What's the number-one road technology? Wireless. That's a broad category that covers everything from your cell phone to the Wi-Fi card in your laptop.

We assume you have your cell phone all figured out, but we'll look a little closer at Wi-Fi. It's hard to find a business-class laptop that doesn't come with built-in Wi-Fi these days. Those with older machines can easily upgrade with an inexpensive Wi-Fi card. Both Cohen and Miller rely on their wireless laptops when they're traveling. Miller even admits to having run her business from a beach in Hawaii while on vacation. Cohen often finds himself logging on from hot spots in less exotic locales like Kinko's and Starbucks.

While hot spots abound across the nation, sometimes entrepreneurs find themselves high and dry with nowhere to get online. The most common problem is in airports. While many have hot spots, just as many don't. Cohen found a way to deal with it: He has a Bluetooth card in his laptop and a Bluetooth-equipped cell phone. Getting online through a phone means the speeds are comparable to dial-up, but it gets the job done. Says Cohen, "It has a nice convenience factor."

Expert Advice

Wilson has really seen it all. The technology he has installed for businesses with multiple work sites runs the spectrum of what's available. He has some tips for entrepreneurs who are looking for higher-end solutions to connect things like branch offices back to the main office. Depending on needs and budget, Comnexia will set up either a private frame network or a public VPN over the internet. "Sometimes the internet choice is a lot more friendly on the budget," Wilson says.

When it comes to branch offices, Wilson recommends going with a low-end Windows 2003 server at each branch. Using distributed file systems, files can be automatically synchronized with the server back at the main office. It's a low-hassle way to keep everybody up-to-date and working with the latest versions of documents and data. This method also works well across multiple offices. The cost can vary quite a bit with the chosen hardware and software, but expect to land in the $5,000 to $6,000 range.

No two businesses are the same when it comes to choosing and setting up technology to handle multiple work sites. But some advice applies to everybody. "Don't get carried away by bells and whistles," Cohen suggests. "Simple solutions are very often the best solutions. Figure out your baseline needs, and start there." You may, like Cohen, be comfortable testing and installing new technologies yourself. If not, do what Miller Consultants does and find a trusty IT consultant to handle the nuts and bolts.

There are solutions available for every challenge and every budget level. Whether it's just you on the road, a branch office or a whole slew of employees working from their own home offices, your technology will hold you together. Look for ways to boost collaboration and improve communication with your hardware and software choices. It will pay off in a healthy, modern business where traditional office walls are just remnants of the past.

VoIP Primer

VoIP is an increasingly popular tool that can help growing businesses save on their communications bills. For entrepreneurs dealing with multiple locations, it has some enticing features. Find me/follow me services can forward phone calls to wherever the user is. Employees located in home offices can be hooked up with in-office extensions, so dialing is the same as if you're calling somebody two doors down in the same building. For frequent travelers, IP softphones can get you up and calling normally from your hotel room.

Some companies may choose to go with an in-house IP PBX to converge their data and communications networks. In that case, it helps to have a trusty IT consultant to select and set up equipment. Others will look to service providers like AT&T and Vonage. The basic Vonage small-business plan starts around $40 per month, but that's the bottom end of the scale. Multiple work sites may call for more complex installations. Cost savings come in the form of long-distance savings, productivity-boosting call features and the ability to pull your various offices together as if they were under one roof.

If you're just getting started or are looking to upgrade your current phone system, VoIP is a tempting alternative that's worth a good, long look. Choose a provider based on call features, its experience with growing businesses, network quality and price. Check in with your in-house IT person or IT consultant about getting all your various offices onto the same VoIP page.

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This article was originally published in the February 2005 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Wherever You Go, There You Are.

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