Communications and computing technology mean many businesses can operate from almost anywhere. Providing they have access to a reliable internet connection, it is possible for entrepreneurs to work from anywhere or to relocate to the most unlikely places. But what are the pros and cons of having a non-traditional base, asks Rachel Miller
For many entrepreneurs, one of the main attractions of working for yourself is choosing where and when you work. Running your own business can mean no more commuting, for example, although many small businesses are still tied to traditional workplaces such as offices, shops and workshops.
New technology is changing attitudes, to the extent that for some classes of business the choice of where you work can be wide open. Whether you want to stay at home, travel, live in a remote spot or run a flexible operation with staff working from home, it may be entirely achievable.
Being 'location independent' is growing in popularity. Working away from a traditional office can suit any type of consultant or professional that works at a computer and communicates largely via phone and email. Many ecommerce businesses also have few constraints when it comes to location, as long as they can take deliveries, store and ship their goods.
People in creative industries have been working remotely for years and some business-owners have taken advantage of technology to live lives that border on fantasy.
For land industries, manufacturers and engineering companies or people who make some kinds of bespoke goods to their customers' specifications (suits and bicycles, for instance), being tied to a specific location may be unavoidable. However, they can still benefit from some of the techniques being pioneered by firms in other sectors. A Suit That Fits, for example, blends traditional tailoring practice with online ordering and outsourced manufacturing.
Working from home
Working away from the office is not just a lifestyle choice but can also be good for business, argues Shirley Borrett, development director of the Telework Association. "When staff work from home, it often improves productivity and loyalty and it's also good for traffic congestion and for the environment," she claims.
You could say Shirley works from home, but it's a home with a difference. She sold her house to buy a large American motor home. Since then, she has spent winters in Spain, summers in the UK and the rest of the time travelling around Europe. With a satellite dish on its roof giving her broadband, Shirley's mobile home/office allows her to work anywhere.
The three essentials need to work from anywhere are email, phone and internet. "You can access your email wherever you are with webmail such as Gmail," says Emma Jones, one of the entrepreneurs behind StartUp Britain and founder of home business website, Enterprise Nation. "It's very speedy and you can use your own domain name in the address so nobody needs to know where you are."
Most smartphones allow you to 'push' your email messages to your phone. The ability to respond to them from your phone means you don't even need to have access to your computer or laptop.
You can also set up a 'follow-me' telephone number (available with Skype as well as landlines), which means you give clients one number to ring and it will find you wherever you are. Emma also recommends software that enables you to access your PC from anywhere (for example, Go to my PC by Citrix). "You can go on any computer and access everything on the desktop of your PC," she points out. "All you have to do is leave your PC on back at your office."
'Cloud computing' can also enable you to access applications, including customer relationship management systems, on remote servers that you can access from any internet-enabled device. Many phone packages give you mobile internet access and 'all-you-can-eat' data, so it is possible to conduct business from your smartphone and tablet computer or laptop by sharing your mobile internet connection.
A 3G 'dongle' that plugs into your laptop or a SIM card will allow you to get online anywhere using mobile phone signals, although it can be expensive overseas. If you are choosing a permanent base in a remote location, reliable broadband is vital.
Meeting clients can be a problem for businesses without a permanent base. "A lot of cities have business centres with meeting rooms and internet access," Emma counters. "One of my favourite places to meet in London is One Alfred Place which is a cross between a private members' club and a business facility." There is also an ever increasing range of online options that can enable you to vitually collaborate with and 'meet' with customers, clients and suppliers.
Various local authorities, business support organisations and even hotels also provide temporary work and meeting space for small businesses.
Working remotely or from home does not suit everyone, however. Nick Hand, a freelance graphic designer, worked from home for six years. He now rents a space in a creative hub in Bristol called Spike Island. "It will be a more creative environment to work in. It's also good to work with younger people so I'll be more up to date with new ideas and trends," he explains.
Not everyone wants to work on a beach in Bali. However, with flexible working practices, new technology and more enlightened attitudes, many more people have that choice now than ever before.