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Mobile office

According to the blurb on the cover, I get Fortune Small Business magazine because I am an American Express Business Cardmember. Usually I find most of the magazine's content to be irrelevant to the type of business I run (small, virtual, mobile) but in the Sept 2007 issue I was amused to find a piece entitled, "Business in a Backpack".

In it, the author, Michelle Labrosse, describes how she is able to run a $9 million company with 30 employees and 40 contractors from her backpack. (You can read the article here.) In the magazine, a photo of the backpack's contents was provided, which is pictured below since it doesn't seem to appear in the online version.

Mobile office2.jpg
Click for larger

I've often written about how I run my business from the road, including my strategies of digitizing all paper, using online software tools, and using mobile technology for voice and Internet. A lot of how I do things is echoed in the FSB article. It was encouraging to see that the solutions I -- and many other mobile small businesspeople -- have worked out have finally started to get acknowledged by the business media.

The author keeps a lot more tech in her bag than I do. She's got a Blackberry, a Bluetooth headset, a GPS locator beacon, a noise-canceling headset and a lot more cords. Plus she carries emergency food for long airplane rides. All that stuff makes her bag about 15 pounds heavier than mine. But then, I don't fly very much these days, and I definitely don't ride bush planes in Alaska, so the GPS locator and noise-canceling headset aren't necessary for me.

mobile office contents.jpg
Contents of my mobile office bag. Click for larger

My bag contains many of the same items: laptop, wireless card, iPod, sunglasses, and cell phone. I also carry an external Lacie hard drive, a blank CD-R with mailer, an Ethernet cable, and a portfolio containing notepad, pens, and paperwork that I'm currently dealing with. I also carry a few small bits not pictured above: a thumbdrive (also known as a USB key) for exchanging files, a cable that connects my laptop to a presentation projector, and a flash card reader. (I don't put things like money and keys in my bag. Those usually ride in my pockets.)

My goal is to keep the bag as light as possible, so I try to avoid excess technology. My laptop does almost everything for me. Since it is a Mac Powerbook it conveniently goes to sleep in about 2 seconds and wakes up equally fast, which means it is readily available to answer my questions at any time. The iPod and cell phone both carry copies of my Contact list, and I find it sufficient to get my email in one place (the laptop) so I don't feel the need for a separate PDA, organizer, or Blackberry. Consolidating the tech means fewer chargers and cords to deal with.

There are some "outside the bag" pieces of tech that I use occasionally, but don't usually carry around when I'm working at remote locations. These include the flatbed scanner that I use to convert paper into PDFs, my camera bag, and a backup hard drive. I also have other stuff in the Airstream for specific tasks, like a printer, FedEx envelopes, spare magazines, an Airport Express, etc. But for grab-and-go office work, my backpack works just like Ms. Labrosse's backpack.

Slowly the business world is catching on to the idea that people can work very efficiently with less, and that offices are not about banks of file cabinets anymore. In the meantime, the low cost and high efficiency of this format is working for a lot of RV'ers and traveling entrepreneurs.



Have you played around with the iPhone yet? Amazing piece of work for a version 1.0 product, but we're never disappointed with the stuff coming out of Cupertino. With the iPhone, your bag could get even lighter.


I second Michael's comments on the iPhone. I just bought one and can't believe how well it does work and the convenience of having one tool with my music, contacts, phone, email and internet all in one device.

Took me a couple days to fine tune the email thing but think I have it working for me now.

Rich, I really like the idea of this kind of moble office. It would be great to see an Airstream Life article with more depth. Especially something about digital photography on the road. Like downloading, storing photos and creating prints on the road.

My collection is similar Rich. :) The whole Digital RV concept goes well beyond just RV's. Most anyone can become a portable professional with very little in the way of hardware now.

Sounds like we need to check out an IPhone for the magazine as well! :)

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