By Janin Ayala
Technology is a powerful thing for small business owners, regardless what type of business they run. Using technology can help entrepreneurs do amazing things, including save money, streamline business processes, promote their products and services in new ways, and work more productively.
Technology also gives many small business owners the ability to leave their home or business offices behind and create mobile offices so they can work from anywhere, at any time. This kind of mobility eliminates geographic challenges, and helps small business owners become nimble and more flexible.
If you are ready to take your business on the road, here is some advice for creating an operational mobile office that allows you to work from anywhere.
Choose the Right Mobile Computer
If your work requires a computer, you will need a light and movable system that you can pick up and take with you when you leave your main office. That eliminates a desktop computer, but you still have other options to consider.
Depending on the work you do, you may need a powerhouse laptop, such as a MacBook Pro. If you won’t be doing any heavy lifting from your mobile office, a less expensive and more streamlined netbook, such as an Asus Eee PC, may fit your needs. In some cases, a tablet computer, such as an Apple iPad, may provide enough features to help you bridge the gap between your primary office and your mobile office.
Get a Reliable and Secure Internet Connection
You can’t run a business these days without an Internet connection, but free Wi-Fi hotspots are not going to cut it. First, free access points are typically not reliable enough for business work. And second, Wi-Fi hotspots are not secure. Using one with a business computer can put your data at risk.
One alternative is a high-speed mobile access card, or a MiFi (a compact wireless router). You can purchase the device and data plan from your mobile phone service provider, or from a company that offers pre-paid or pay-as-you-go wireless access. Whichever option you choose, make sure you protect your data by using an encrypted password.
Make Your Data Accessible
If you have multiple computers (a desktop in your office and a laptop for mobile working, for example), you will need a way to share files between your computers. You can manually email yourself files, or use a USB drive to move files from one computer to the other. This is tedious, however, and can present version control issues. The best option is using an online backup service that will automatically backup and synchronize your data across multiple devices.
An online backup service makes it easy to access data from a mobile office. And even if you have just one main computer, this is a great way to ensure consistent backup and accessibility of your data in case of a system crash.
Consider Going Virtual Across the Board
Mobile offices need to be easy to break down, pack up and take anywhere. That means you can’t drag your double file cabinet along with you on the road. That may leave you in a tough spot if you are traveling, though, and find that you need to review a paper document back in your office. If this is a recurring challenge for you, it may be worth transitioning to a paperless (or at least mostly digital) office.
You can create a paperless office and digital document management system by scanning in hard copy files and creating a virtual file cabinet; managing finances, bookkeeping and budgets on your computer; taking meeting notes on your computer, or transferring them later on; and using electronic agreements. Once you create a digital document management system, you will have all of your paper documents accessible and searchable on your computer. And once those files sync to your online backup service, you can access them from anywhere, making your office truly mobile.
You can even use virtual phone lines and digital fax lines to create a telephone system you can bring with you wherever you go. This can help you run a professional and seamless business on the road.
Run System Maintenance Regularly
There is nothing like booting up your computer, only to find that there are a slew of operating system and software updates that need to download and install. This is a major productivity-killer, especially when you’re mobile. Make sure you update your system before traveling to avoid this unnecessary downtime.
You should also make sure you have reliable anti-virus software installed and updated. And don’t skip those security patches that need to be installed. Keeping your system updated and virus-free is vital for every business, mobile or stationary.
Don’t Forget Peripherals
Whether it’s a portable printer or scanner, an extra battery, or your favorite mouse, make sure your mobile office is ready to support your work, comfortably and efficiently. You should also bring the power cord for your mobile computer so you can keep it charged and ready to go. And it’s a good idea to travel with a small surge protector to protect your computer in case of an unexpected power surge.
Setting up a mobile office can be a very individual process. Start by deciding how much access you really need and work backwards to create your mobile office. Once you perfect your mobile workspace, you may even find that you don’t need a stationary central office any longer.
To get started on your mobile office shopping list, check out this list of products that are recommended for business travelers.