Tools for Running Your Location Independent Business
Your clients and customers don't necessarily need to know that you are running your business from across the globe. With the advent of the internet, outsourcing, and other services, you can operate your location independent business just as effectively from 2,000 miles away as you can from 20 miles away. Here are tools to help you do just this.
In addition to my own experience of traveling full-time since 2007, I've solicited the advice of three location independent business people who have loads of experience working from locations around the world.
Anil Polat started out by telecommuting for six years as a security consultant, before branching off in 2009 and working independently from the road. As an expert on technology, you can learn about his various tricks of the trade at Fox Nomad.
Cherie Ve Ard and her partner Chris Dunphy have been living a fully mobile life in their solar-powered RV, traveling around the States since May 2007. They juggle a few business ventures and government contracts, and share their methods and costs to operate on the road at Technomadia.
Lea Woodward has been traveling with her location independent career since 2007. She and her husband Jonathan run Kinetiva, an online marketing and branding consultancy. They even travel and run their businesses with a baby girl in tow.
Your business won't go far if you don't get paid. With the advent of online banking and other services, it's not difficult to manage your business finances from abroad.
Lea emails her invoices and uses FreshBooks (which offers time-tracking, billing, and invoice management services) to organize it all. As a web-based platform, it can be accessed from any computer, which enhances the appeal for location independent businesses.
Anil likes to use another invoicing service:
For formal invoices I use CurdBee; it's free and makes setting up invoices and saving templates very easy.
Cherie's major clients employ online vendor payment systems which negate the need for invoicing. And she's not alone in the infrequent need to create invoices.
For individual clients, we'll email a manually created invoice when appropriate — however that's a fairly infrequent need.
Receiving Electronic Payments
Services like AcceptPay and Paypal offers the ability for customers to pay via a few different avenues including credit and debit cards. PayPal is also a great cross-border transaction tool, since it converts currencies and avoids costly international bank transfers.
Direct bank transfers are also popular (especially in the UK), and Lea likes to use them as much as possible. "For any UK-based clients, we receive payments via bank transfer since this is free and usually faster than Paypal." Cherie also cites her primary sources of income as direct deposits to her business account, since they are regular payments.
Although it's less and less common, receiving checks in the mail can happen, and is possibly the biggest hurtle to managing location independent finances. But even this is relatively easily to overcome.
Some virtual mailbox services will deposit checks into your bank account for a fee. Some banks also have worldwide branches, which makes depositing a check from wherever you are fairly straightforward.
Otherwise, many location independent business people who are out of the country will simply have the check sent to a friend, family member, or business colleague in their home town, who can in turn deposit it on their behalf. Anil says:
If someone wants to send me a paper cheque I have it sent to friends or family in the US — most banks don't have a problem accepting cheques made out to you no matter who they're deposited by.
Paying the Bills
One of the benefits of a location independent business is a lack of bills to pay! You don't have rent, power, and a host of other expenses you might juggle if you operate out of a traditional office space. And for what expenses you do have, you can use a debit or credit card (which can be managed online), and set up automatic debits for regular expenses.
From staying in touch, to networking, to managing documents and calendars, your location independent business may benefit from some of these virtual helping hands.
Lea is a big fan of Google in general.
We use Google Apps as our main 'engine' — so we use Gmail, Google Docs (including Google forms) and Google sites for most of our business admin and communications. Anything important, we download onto our hard drives but we leave the majority 'in the cloud.'
Cherie is also a fan of Google for coordinating schedules and documents across long distances:
We use Google Docs and Calendars for collaborating on our schedules and any documents we're creating.
She also uses Evernote for digital records of receipts.
Formerly used by the "young crowd," Facebook is increasingly becoming a multi-generational tool for staying in touch. Both Lea and I use it quite regularly. (Warning: It can become addictive; I am a very unsuspecting case in point)!
Twitter is an incredibly powerful social media tool if used properly. You have to sort through spammy users to establish sincere connections, but it can be done. Judicious use of searches and hashtags can result in finding information you want, helping out fellow Twitterers, or meeting valuable business connections. Through #traveltuesday, I met (first online, and eventually in person) three fellow female travelers and writers the last time I was in Canada. More recently, I met a Spanish photographer who gave me important information on festivals in Spain, where I'll be shortly.
LinkedIn is the last of the mainstream social media sites, although none of the experts specifically mentioned it as an essential tool. Developing a profile complete with recommendations will increase your search-ability through Google, and act as an informal resume. Some of the newsgroups are also quite informative, and participating in them can lead to new business opportunities.
Admittedly, there seems to be a movement away from the 140-character craze that has seized the world in favor of some deeper and more meaningful connections. But to meet new people and establish lines of communication, these social media engines have revolutionized location independent networking.
And with his extensive computer security work, Anil is pedantic (in a good way!) about his backups. "Backups are essential when traveling and I'm a huge fan of Crashplan since it's free online backup and allows you to set up more than one backup location." He backs up his information both on his own computer, as well as a secondary computer that is in a more central location while he is on the road.
It's robust and easy to restore things if I have to.
Anil also suggests that using virtual machines are beneficial, especially if you are trying out new software that you don't want to compromise your primary system.
Some free options are VirtualBox, VirtualPC, and VMWare Player. They basically let you run Windows in a Mac, or an extra copy of Windows on your Vista machine without affecting your main system at all. The benefit is if you screw up a virtual machine you can always create another — much harder and riskier to do on your 'real' computer.
Other Location Independent Business Tools
Digital Product Delivery
Escrow can be valuable as an impartial "middle-man" for long-distance business transactions. It holds the fees payable in a special escrow account until all parties agree that the product or service is satisfactorily delivered. Escrow services can also increase customer confidence (and their likelihood in buying). Escrow.com is one such service.
Project Management, Help Desk, etc.
WORKetc offers project management software, web-based CRM, and invoice/billing software, on top of document and calendar-sharing services. It also has help desk software that help you to answer customer queries effectively.
Location independent businesses struggle most in getting documents signed by multiple parties in different locations. EchoSign is a service that can take care of the leg-work for you by sending documents, obtaining signatures, and copying, delivering, and filing the final product.
We want to hear from you! What location independent business tools do you swear by? Feel free to leave a comment and help the OpenForum community learn from your expertise!