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Location, location, location? Forget about it
One of the big selling points of Internet telephone services, such as Vonage, is that customers can pick any area code they want. Running a small financial consulting company out of Montana and want it to look a bit more cosmopolitan? Get a tony 617 (Boston) area code. (Unfortunately, Vonage seems to be fresh out of the primo Manhattan 212 area code--but, then, even some people who live there can't get those anymore.)
Or say you're running a small tech business in Bangalore but want customers to think you're operating out of Silicon Valley. You can get a nice 408 area code to go with your hip Web address. Take your VoIP (Voice over IP) router to your office in India, and not only will you save a fortune in overseas calls, your customers won't ever know you're 8,800 miles away.
During a speech at the VON (Voice on the Net) conference two weeks ago, Robert Pepper, the FCC chief of policy development, predicted that this little selling point could be a big driver for small businesses adopting VoIP technology. I'm sure he's right--but only for the next couple of years.
The reason it won't last: If you can get a telephone with any area or country code, the whole idea of a vanity area code will eventually evaporate. It won't be like a real-world address, which for the most part still represents a physical location. While roaming cellular phones have already begun to make area codes irrelevant, VoIP will finish the job. Soon, area code will be one of those anachronistic telecom terms, like dialing, that doesn't mean anything close to what it once did.
Eventually you'll even be able to get VoIP service on other country codes, but that's a little further down the road, as the government-run telephone authorities in many countries haven't figured out what to do about VoIP yet.
Speaking of the importance of location to business: During the three years I spent as a consultant and contractor, I worked out of my home office, but my business card displayed my Mail Boxes Etc. address, which is where a lot of people wanted to set up meetings with me. Needless to say, that would have been a tight squeeze.
Instead, I held most of my business meetings at the neighborhood Starbucks--and I was far from the only person doing so. The T-Mobile wireless setup at Starbucks, while absurdly expensive, allowed me to check e-mail while waiting for meetings and to see live demos during the presentations.
The people I met with seemed accustomed to this arrangement. Consultants out there, listen up: You don't need to spend big bucks renting a downtown office or an anonymous executive suite. Work out of your home and use the local coffee shop as your conference room. But be careful what you say--there might be a journalist a table away from you, taking notes.
You can take it with you. In response to my column about leaving your laptop at the office, several people pointed out that there's another simple way to take your computer data with you: Use a small portable hard drive as your main storage.
That's what Tom Dunlap, our laptop guru, does, with a tiny Apricot 20GB drive that runs off his USB port. I suppose you could even do this with a hard disk-based MP3 player. If you don't have much data going back and forth, you might be able to fit it on a USB flash drive. With either an external drive or a USB key, you'll end up with an item either dangling from or sticking out of your laptop when you travel, but it's a quick and dirty solution if you don't want to schlep a notebook with you on your commute.
Rafe Needleman is editor for CNET Business Buying Advice.
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