Running a business from the road

We’re four weeks into our trip to Europe and having a fantastic time. Tomorrow we’ll head to Paris for 4 weeks after spending 3 weeks in Berlin. The first week of the trip was spent in London and I knew it was going to be a time spent packing in as many sights as possible time so I didn’t try to get into a work groove. The time in Berlin was going to be slower and less jam packed with tourist stuff so I would work here. Also, I’ll need to work in order for our goal of long term travel to be sustainable.

Over the past few weeks there are a few things that have stood out as very important for anyone trying to run a business from the road. One of these will come from a change of habit, two require pre-trip research and one is a good idea wherever you’re located.

Time zones

Right before we came to Europe the US had a time change. Time changes are only an hour but they normally take the family an entire week to adjust to. We adjusted then it was time to start our trip. The first week in London there was a time change in Europe! Still adjusting to jet lag we had another time change to adjust to. Then we came to Berlin and were an hour ahead of our routine in London!

This time zone tomfoolery caused my internal clock and “work clock” to get way out of whack. I missed about 5 meetings because I got time zones mixed up. I then decided to reference everything as if I was in Eastern Time Zone and work from there. I also started using two tools to help me keep an idea of what time was what.

Every Time Zone is a free web site that has a handy slider interface so that you can see what time it is in different time zones compared to your current location. I’d check this site before agreeing to a meeting time over email. I haven’t missed a meeting recently, but have had to be up at 11pm in order to connect with some clients located in Pacific Standard Time.

Mach Clock

I’d love to have a wall of clocks like a newsroom to instantly reference what the time is in cities around the world. I settled for a simple Mac app called Mach Clock. At the coworking space there were several huge monitors so I setup my laptop next to an external monitor and put Mach Clock and chat apps on the laptop screen for easy reference.

Work space

In order to get in a coding groove most developers need a distraction free area and I’m no different. At our home apartment I’ve learned to work from my bedroom with a closed door and headphones. This would have worked fine in our Berlin apartment, but the walls were very thick and the AirPort Express and my bedroom were on two opposite sides of the apartment. The wifi connection in the bedroom was weak and intermittent.

Thankfully I had already located a coworking space very close to our apartment – Co Up. I paid €145 (~$203) for enough passes to cover my three weeks. I really enjoyed my 20 min commute by train to the space as it was a good time to start thinking about my work day and disconnect from home life.

The coworking space is open from 10am to 7pm, but I normally worked 11am to 5pm. Then I’d do some email and phone calls later at night to be in US time zones.

 

Fast internet

Having all your data in the cloud means nothing if you don’t have good connectivity to get to it. Our AirBnb did have internet access to which we hooked up our AirPort Express to. But the moderate speed was often overwhelmed by the many devices we had. We’d normally have the Apple TV streaming, one or more iPads running, and a few laptops pushing/pulling data or someone trying to Skype with the USA.

Co Up had a blazing connection!
Co Up had a blazing connection!

Having access to the coworking space’s fast internet was very, very helpful to catch up on Dropbox photo sync and backing up some of the larger video files that I had. Before you travel anywhere be sure you can get access to fast internet even if it costs money to rent. Also, if you’re staying at an AirBnb you can ask your host to send you a screen shot of a Speed Test so you can know what to expect.

Communication

The last tip is to be sure to keep up communication. Let clients know what to expect regarding amount of communication and let clients know if support tickets won’t be addressed in a timely manner.

One area I messed up with is managing leads. I would work all day and take some calls in the evening, but wasn’t timely with a few leads so my ‘tomorrow’ response turned into a week. I probably won’t be winning those projects, but I chalked it up to a learning experience.

I do second level support for my plugins that sell on WooThemes.com so I let them know which days I’d be out of pocket. I also let other clients know when I’d be traveling and when to expect responses from me. That worked out great since the ticket load is low, but if it ticket volume were higher and my offline time were longer I’d look into hiring a capable developer to help respond to my tickets.

Business from the road: Go for it!

There are many digital nomads in the developer community, but not that many who do it with a family. This trip has been a proof of concept for our family of five to see if we can live, school, and work from the road. So far there hasn’t been any reason that we can’t!

What are your tips for running a business from the road?