Mobile Entrepreneurs Meet Clients at the Coffice

August, 2011

It’s Monday morning and Melissa Chang has gathered her laptop and smartphone, and is on her way to her “coffice,” a comfortable setting likeBlue Hawaii Lifestyle, Burgers on the Edge or Good to Grill. There she can settle down with coffee, free Wi-Fi and her daily work sending client news into the Twittersphere.

The laptop is loaded with everything she needs, the phone makes her constantly available, and the hip cafes of urban Honolulu offer the buzz of people and activity she likes.

“There’s a Twitter account called ‘The Coffice.’ That’s a place where you can get coffee and free Wi-Fi and just set up office,” says Chang. “It’s not a total super-raging trend yet, but it’s becoming more common with more independent practitioners, like Realtors or other people on the go.”

By the end of 2011, there will be about one billion mobile workers worldwide, according to Runzheimer International Inc., which provides mobile business services. The “mobilocracy” includes independent businesspeople like Chang and others who work for a company but are not tied to an office.

The May 2011 iPass Global Workforce Report found that 91 percent of these mobile workers check their smartphones during nonwork downtime and 61 percent sleep with them within reach. The iPass study estimates they work, on average, 240 hours more a year than their office-bound counterparts. Chang agrees with that assessment of mobile work. “On one hand, it’s flexible, but I think you work more hours because you’re always plugged in.”

While there’s nothing new about loving mobility and independence – or working from home – technology is making it much easier. The recession made mobility even more desirable as a way to trim expenses and customers are more comfortable nowadays with businesspeople who don’t have a traditional office.

“Basically I work from my laptop,” says management consultant Kimberly Miyazawa Frank. “If I’m working with other people, we can work virtually. We have virtual teams and partners.”

On a typical morning, Miyazawa Frank heads downtown by 7 or 7:30 a.m. – once her daughters are off to school with dad, and her son’s babysitter has arrived. She’s not going to an office but to the Pacific Club, where she’ll sit beside a tropical garden and meet clients, work on her laptop, eat lunch with associates, finish and print a project in the library, and, at day’s end, relax at the pool with her children.

Despite club dues and monthly charges, Miyazawa Frank says she saves about $45,000 a year by dispensing with an office, a secretary and the tech support all that implies.

“Most of my work is done either in the client’s office or can be done anywhere, like the club. I did look at office space, but I kept going back to: ‘But it’s really just me.’ ”

Wendy Nakamura discovered the same thing. “I found I wasn’t really in need of an office,” says Nakamura, president of Foresight Consulting and another Pacific Club regular toting laptop and smartphone. Eight years ago, when she and her husband moved back home to Hawaii and she started her business, she made Starbucks an unofficial coffice. But soon it was more convenient and enjoyable – both for her and clients – to meet at the club or the clients’ offices and homes.

“I was moving around town going to different client offices. As my business grew, I considered hanging a shingle somewhere, more to legitimize the business, as it were, and talked to several clients and asked if it would make a difference if they came to my office. They said, ‘We like that you come to us,’ so I decided not to open one. And there are certainly a lot of cost savings I can pass on.”

While the fields and job descriptions change, what’s similar for so many of Hawaii’s mobile workforce is the desire for flexibility, the choice to be independent, the quest for a job that works around family schedules and the need to keep costs down. There are as many additional benefits as there are individuals.

For Ulrike Cutter, it’s important to sit at her jewelry artist’s desk at home and gaze at mountains, palms and the lights heading up St. Louis Heights for a sense of calm as well as artistic inspiration.

For accountant Sean Kleeman, it’s about fitting client meetings around time to help home-school his children, take them on excursions and coach track each afternoon at Punahou School.

For organizational development expert Cynthia Kitagawa, president of Insight Consulting & Training, it’s about finding solitude in the spare bedroom lined with bookcases and fitted with a topnotch color laser printer and scanner.

“I specialize in generational differences (in employment),” says Kitagawa, “and I think mobile work gives people the sense of freedom and the balance they’re looking for. Generally speaking, the younger generation does prefer it. … They want to stay in their sweats all day.”

Flying often to meet with clients in both Hawaii and Washington, Kitagawa decided it made no sense to rent office space here. Now that she and her husband have moved back to Hawaii fulltime, the spare bedroom has become the ideal office, though much of her business is done in their car that is equipped with plug-in Bluetooth accessibility. Oftentimes, she’ll handle an important conference call on the road or after pulling into a shady parking lot where she can also work on her laptop between meetings.

“For me to make my business model viable, I can’t afford office space. … At my last job with AT&T, they were really open to working from home, so I had already been doing it on an as-needed basis.”

While tax breaks exist, especially for entrepreneurs who use part of their home for work, they can be tricky and require study to fully understand the ramifications. For instance, if you sell your home, you may need to pay back all the home-office tax breaks you took.

Working from home can keep costs down during a business’s uncertain startup. Kleeman had to trim costs to the bone when he started his own mobile accounting firm almost a decade ago after three years in a downtown office.

“No way could I afford a commercial space,” he says. “If I went that route, I wouldn’t be able to survive. From there, I found a niche with clientele that appreciated the fact I went to them. This has just been a good fit for myself and my clientele, especially my clients who are older and may not like to drive. When I visit someone in their home, 99 percent of the time any missing papers are in the next room and immediately accessible. That’s just the opposite of working out of an office. Sometimes it would take days or weeks to consolidate all the needed papers.”

Carol Kozlovich, an interior designer with her own firm, has watched her business and personal needs change over the years, and, with them, the necessity of office space.

“In all my career, we always went out to the client,” says Kozlovich. “The offices were a place for the staff and samples, not a place where clients came. So when the recession hit, I realized it wasn’t necessary to carry on with the office anymore.”

There was also a time when Kozlovich needed to marry care-giving of elderly parents with her work schedule. Working from home made that possible. “It gave me peace of mind,” she says. “Having an office in the home made it easier to do the care-giving.”

It was a particularly delicious challenge for her design skills to divide her small studio into living space, office, entertainment area and bedroom. The results of working from home include savings on gasoline and safety (she likes working late and used to walk home from the office at night).

“One of the challenging things about life is finding new ways to do old things,” says Kozlovich. “This is just another way to conduct business.”

Advice from Mobile and Work-at-Home Entrepreneurs

1  Working from home requires discipline and professionalism. “You can’t just roll out of bed and feel you’re ready for work,” says Cynthia Kitagawa, president of Insight Consulting & Training. “You have to set up a workspace and get into the work frame of mind.” For Kitagawa that means donning business attire and setting work hours at home just as she would in an office.

2  With a mobile “coffice” or working from home, you have to be your own tech support. Making sure you’re familiar with your tech needs or who to call. “You have to be really comfortable with technology,” Kitagawa says.

3  Keep your work in an area designated as your workspace. “If the work is scattered all around the house it’s hard to find everything,” says interior designer Carol Kozlovich. “It’s not professional and it’s not very healthy.”

4  Your workspace should not be your bedroom. “If you can see the bed from your work area, you should make it every day so you can’t look at it and be tempted to get back in,” says Kozlovich.

5  If you’re working from home, “use a P.O. box on your business cards, not your home address,” Kozlovich suggests. “Business cards are often given out at random and if you’re working from home you don’t want someone to show up at your doorstep when they’re not expected.”

6  Back up computer files daily with an external hard-drive or in the cloud. “That’s probably the biggest security issue when you’re mobile, protecting your information,” says accountant Sean Kleeman.

7  Consider storing files in the cloud, as a backstop and for access on multiple devices. “I keep my calendar not just on my phone but on the platform Google Calendar,” says management consultant Kimberly Miyazawa Frank. “I can access it from anywhere even if my computer is stolen. As well, my business partners can also view my calendar if they want to book meetings. You can have different levels of access (for others) with either details of who I’m meeting with or just available dates depending on the access level.”

In addition to Blue Hawaii Lifestyle, Burgers on the Edge and Good to Grill, Melissa Chang’s favorite coffices in urban Honolulu are:

Yogurstory on Keeaumoku Street, with outlets upstairs and free Wi-Fi throughout. “They encourage you to camp as long as you like.”

Kapahulu Safeway, which includes a comfortable seating area with outlets nearby for computers, and a nearby restroom. Visitors have even been known to bring their own printers and Wi-Fi.

Glazers on King Street near Puck’s Alley.

Kissaten Café on Piikoi Street, open 24 hours, but bring your own Wi-Fi.

Starbucks everywhere, especially the one in Manoa, and the one downtown in the Bank of Hawaii building. The former offers a lot of outlets in different spots; the latter has loads of tables in the back, including a large worktable on which to spread out materials.

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