Going Online on the Road
by Jan Davis Tudor
I'm outside my own country, combining work with pleasure is not a problemwhen
I do that, I am able to stay longer! While trying initially to run my
independent information business while on the road, I found that having
access to a cyber café wasn't enough. In order to communicate
with my clients in a cost-effective way, perform projects successfully
from beginning to end, stay in touch with my bookkeeper and administrative
assistant, and do my banking, I needed to find and implement a few good
electronic tools and programs. Luckily I've found some good solutions.
ONLINE FOR WORK AND PLAY
I have accounts with two Internet service providers (ISPs): AT&T
Broadband for use while I'm at home in Portland, Oregon, and Earthlink
for dial-up access while on the road. I selected Earthlink because
it has hundreds of local access numbers in cities and countries worldwide.
Whether I'm dialing up from a friend's home or a hotel, it is nice
to not have to pay extra for 1-800 Internet access or a toll call to
nearby city. And while many of the higher-end hotels in the U.S. now
have DSL or cable modem access, the majority of the places I stay do
Before logging on, it is always good to find out what constitutes
a "local" call from the place where I am staying. The first time I
spent an afternoon online at my dad's house in Idaho, I racked up a
significant phone bill because I assumed that Coeur d'Alene, the closest
town with an Earthlink number, was a cheaper call. But, in fact, the
Spokane Washington, Earthlink number is the cheaper way to go. Calling
Coeur d'Alene is considered an intrastate call, with fees up to 14-15
cents a minute, while calling Spokane is a long-distance call, with
a rate of 7 cents a minute.
KNOW LOCAL PHONE CHARGE CONVENTIONS
A world of caution while using an ISP in another country: While in
Madrid, Spain, I had a local Earthlink access number to use, but could
find no one at the hotel who could tell me if I would be charged a
per-minute fee for the local call, as is the custom in many hotels.
I found that out in Buenos Aires, Argentina. From the hotel
I used the same local access number of the ISP I was using at the local
office where I was working. Yet, when I checked out, I was confronted
with a $90 phone bill because of per-minute charges!
However, in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, I was able to use a local access
number from my hotel room without worrying because each local call
was only 60 cents with no additional hotel charges. Yet what I didn't know
was that Earthlink charges $0.15 per minute for international roaming.
Because I had spent a total of 4 hours online, this seemingly insignificant
charge added $24 to my monthly Earthlink bill. But I certainly didn't
mind paying for the convenience of logging on from the comfort of my
hotel room. In the U.K., the Earthlink access number is toll free.
However, more and more hotels are adding the charge to your hotel bill.
While on the road I use the AT&T Broadband Web site [www.attbi.com] to
send and retrieve my e-mail.
FAXES FOR FUN AND PROFIT
I got a chuckle and some affirmation about still using faxes when
I read a recent article by Monte Enbysk titled "Fax Machines: Endangered?
Yes. Extinct? No." [www.bcentral.com/articles/enbysk/165.asp].
Several of my clients prefer to send me a fax with their project requests,
rather than the telephone or e-mail. This really isn't surprising,
given the fact that about 90 percent of businesses in the U.S. still
have fax machines, according to Enbysk.
In order to retrieve my faxes while on the road, I use eFax [www.eFax.com],
a free Internet faxing service from J2Global Communications Inc. Before
leaving town, I set up the "call forwarding" feature with my local
phone carrier by simply forwarding my fax number to my dedicated eFax
number. Any fax sent to my regular JT Research fax number is automatically
forwarded to my free dedicated eFax number. eFax.com then processes
the fax and e-mails it to me as an attached file.
Granted, this isn't exactly free. I pay Qwest, my local telephone
company, $2.50/month for the ability to forward calls. And because
my free eFax number happens to reside in California, I am charged a
long-distance call for each forwarded call. But I have such a good
long-distance rate through MCI that each call is just a few cents,
depending on the length of the fax. If I received a lot of faxes, however,
I would consider paying $9.95 a month for an eFax Plus account, which
would provide me with a local fax number.
In order to open the attachments, I had to download the free eFax
Messenger software. When I'm in a cyber café and a fax arrives
in my mailbox, I have two options. I can download the attachment onto
a floppy and open it up on my laptop back in my room. Or, I can ask
the café manager if I can download the eFax Messenger software
onto the PC I am using. I did this in Morocco. Since I had been visiting
the same cyber café for several weeks, the manager didn't have
a problem with me downloading the software on a designated machine.
You may not encounter such a trusting person in your travels.
Now sending faxes is another story. A couple of times I have
had to fill out forms e-mailed to me in PDF format and fax them. If
I had the Adobe Acrobat software, I could use it to fill in the form,
resave it, and e-mail it back. But it is not all that easythis
is not like filling in a Word form. Adobe is a graphics program.
Another time I had to fax a document when my client needed a signature.
In my opinion, faxing is still the easiest way to send and receive
signed documents. I know that the ability to send a digital signature
exists, but I haven't approached it yet. Still, while there are a lot
more steps required to send a fax via the Internet, it can be very
expensive to send a fax through the traditional machine. In Morocco
I was charged anywhere from $5-7 a page!
In the past, I hired someone to check my voice mail, follow up on
calls, and e-mail me the outcome. The next time I'm out of the U.S.,
I am going to use J2 Global Communications' voice-mail service, jConnect.
I heard about this service (literally) by listening to a gentleman
listen to his voice mail messages while in a cyber café in Mexico.
Because he told me he loves the service, I gave it a try.
The free service works just the same as the eFax service, which isn't
surprising since both are owned by the same company. I obtained a free
jConnect voice mail number, to which I forward my JT Research calls
while I am away. When a call comes in, jConnect saves the message and
e-mails it to me as an attachment, which I open with the same software
I downloaded to open my eFax documents. I can then listen to the message
over my computer speakers and store them in my e-mail. Since my jConnect
voice mail number is a local Portland number, I am not charged any
toll other than the $2.50/month fee that Qwest charges for the forwarding
With this free service I can then listen to my client's messages
and e-mail my assistant with instructions or e-mail my clients directly.
jConnect also provides the ability to for me to record and e-mail voice
mail messages for $4.95 a month, but I haven't tried this yet because
my clients would need to have the Messenger software downloaded on
KEEPING TRACK OF CASH FLOW
No need for my cash flow to suffer while on the road. QuickBooks,
the program I use for bookkeeping, has a built-in online billing feature
that allows me to e-mail invoices, statements, and estimates directly
to my clients. In fact, I found that I was paid a lot quicker when
I e-mailed invoices rather than sending them with the final hard copy
of the report because the client often left the invoice in their in-box,
or worse, filed it away with the supporting documentation I sent. I
can also have QuickBooks track outstanding invoices and send custom
reminders for $14.95/month, but at this point I have my bookkeeper
A new QuickBooks feature that I haven't looked into yet is the merchant
account service that is integrated with the software program. I currently
accept Visa and MasterCard with Key Bank Merchant Services, but my
assistant has to process the transactions while I'm on the road. If
I used QuickBooks' Merchant Account Service, I could accept payments
online by having my clients enter their credit card information directly
into QuickBooks' secure payment system.
I love online banking. I bank with Key Bank, a community-focused
bank located in 13 U.S. states. Its online banking feature is excellent
and allows me to access my account and/or pay bills from anywhere I
have an Internet connection. Though I now have a bookkeeper to pay
my bills, in the past I successfully paid my bills while in another
country. My assistant faxed me my bills, (which came as eFax attachments!)
and I paid them with Key Bank Online Banking.
Here is one problem I encountered once with online banking: In Morocco,
I couldn't access my account for some unknown reason. The number provided
to use for help was a 1-800 number, which is useless from Morocco.
I then went on the bank's Web site to find a number to use outside
of the country and didn't find one. I sent e-mail but never heard
back. So, I simply couldn't use my account unless I called someone
in the States to call customer service for me. When I returned to the
States I called the bank to regain access and I was informed that I
had entered the wrong password. When using keyboards designed for non-English
language users, it is much too easy to hit the wrong key. The bank
has a default cut-off of one misspelling and you're out of luck! I
better be careful next time!
I back up all of my files regularly onto an Internet-based hard drive
called Ibackup.com [www.ibackup.com].
The service is great because it allows me to store files from my home
computer, access them from anywhere, and share them with other people
if necessary. I can't count how many times I've accessed my files on
Ibackup while on the road. Plus, once I finish a project in a remote
location, I immediately upload it to Ibackup.com.
Subscription plans are based on storage space needed, for example,
500 MB for $108/year. The price is well worth it. In the past I've
used the free Internet-based hard drives, but these were tedious to
use and one of them virtually disappeared after I spent hours uploading
my files one by one. With Ibackup.com's Idrive, my account becomes
a local drive on my computer. This saves me a lot of time because it
allows me to drag-'n'-drop, open, edit, and save entire folders of
files in my Ibackup account as though they were on my local computer.
And, with Ibackup.com I haven't found it necessary to use a program
that allows me remote access to my office PC, such as GoToMyPc [www.gotomypc.com].
I haven't begun to tap into wireless networks that may allow me to
access my e-mails, voice mails, and faxes, while also letting me do
my banking and bookkeeping. And I imagine there is a lot more I could
be doing with my Palm Pilot. Maybe during my next trip I'll observe
a traveler running an online search via a wireless device and I'll
learn from her. In the meantime, I'm happy with my collection of useful,
affordable, reliable, and easy-to-use tools that allows me to convert
my at-home business to an away-from-home business.
Jan Davis Tudor [email@example.com] is
a world traveling independent information professional specializing
in business and company valuation research and principal of JT Research.
Comments? E-mail letters to the editor to firstname.lastname@example.org.