Entrepreneurs are always on the road, whether it’s to attend a sales meeting in-person, check in on customers, visit production sites across the country or taking off to recharge and relax for a few days – entrepreneurs need to be able to handle their business from every corner of the world.
Whether you consider business travel exhilarating or exhausting, there is a bright side.
Today, thanks to technology—no matter where you go—you’re always connected to your small business.
So how do you travel light and stay connected all while making sure your data stays secure? We talked to Steve Cooper, a tech journalist, small business owner and editor of Hitchedmag.com, for his expert insight.
Q: Before recent technological advancements, smaller, light-weight computers used to mean less computing power. This is no longer the case, especially when products like the Ultrabook and MacBook Air are on the market. But do these devices pack as much power as a bigger laptop?
A: No they don't, but most small business owners can get by with less. Remember that even though our computers have gotten smaller and thinner, they've actually also gotten more powerful. On top of that, it’s now easy to move our storage needs to the cloud.
Q: Can you give up your laptop altogether for a tablet such as an iPad or a Surface?
A: It depends. I personally couldn't give up my laptop because of my needs to use processing-intensive apps for multimedia creation. I must admit though, Adobe has done a fantastic job with their mobile apps and cloud-syncing technology; so much so that small business owners, myself included, will be able to use a tablet exclusively in the not-too-distant-future. In fact, research firm IDC reports 40 percent of business users currently use tablets exclusively. On the flip side, I know many business owners that primarily use theirs computer for e-mail, Web browsing and document creation who could easily make the switch.
Q: What’s the minimum computer capacity you need to run your business from the road?
A: First and foremost, you need a good Internet connection because without that you won’t be able to get your work done. To be safe, I recommend carrying a mobile Hotspot device, so you’re never without a connection—and you can avoid paying for overpriced Wi-Fi at many hotels.
With cloud storage becoming increasingly easy to use, chances are you won’t need a device with huge storage capacity to take with you. However, you should have a device with a baseline storage capacity of at least 128GB so you have enough room on that local device to run your applications, to save what you need and push the rest to the cloud. When it comes to processing and memory, technology has gotten so good today that just about any halfway decent piece of hardware will provide more than enough power for most tasks.
Q: Many hotels still charge for Wi-Fi. What do you recommend that keeps you connected, but doesn’t cost a fortune?
A: As I said, I recommend having a mobile hotspot device (I use a MiFi). But, depending on your data plan, most modern smartphones can be turned into their own hotspot. When booking your room, many hotel chains have loyalty programs where free Wi-Fi is a perk—so be sure to look into that. If all else fails, find a coffee shop, but be very cautious when using a public network. Don’t access confidential data, or use credit cards when accessing public Wi-Fi.
Q: With so many peripherals on the market, what do you recommend for entrepreneurs on-the-go that won’t weigh a suitcase down?
A: I believe in packing as light as possible. If you’re not going to use a particular peripheral on a trip, don’t pack it. That said, make sure all your chargers are easily accessible (don’t pack them in checked luggage).
If you’re going on a road trip (in a car), be sure to take a car charger. Headphones are always handy to have, especially a noise-reducing one for plane trips. It’s smart to always have an extra flash drive and in case of emergency an Ethernet cable (you never know). If you need it for your business, make sure to pack a credit card reader.
Other peripherals you might need, depending on your situation:
- Mini power strips (hotel rooms rarely have enough outlets)
- Portable wireless speakers for presentations
- Laptop lock
- Portable projector
- Portable battery pack
- Keyboard for your tablet
- Laptop mat
Q: All companies deal with sensitive corporate info. Is cloud-based storage a smarter alternative to using a thumb drive that could be easily lost or stolen?
A: If you’re traveling with sensitive information (on your hard drive, disk or flash drive) don’t let that information leave your side. It’s better to store your sensitive information in the cloud and on third-party services. Make sure you use really strong passwords and, as I mentioned do not access sensitive data on an open public network like in the airport or a coffee shop. If you must use a public network to access sensitive information make sure your sharing preferences are turned off and use a virtual private network (VPN) to encrypt your data. A simple Web search will explain how to set one up for computers and desktop devices (it's really easy).
Q: Now it’s easier than ever to take payments from almost anywhere. What should we know about systems like Square and Stripe?
A: Those systems are great but in the near future it’s likely that physical credit cards will no longer be the norm, eliminating the need for a mobile payment processing system. All the major tech and credit card companies are working to make transactions as seamless as possible, so accepting money in the future won't require a credit card, but rather two secure devices talking to one another other. I don't think this will happen overnight, but it is definitely coming.