Office support on the road

Trip update: Last weekend, I rode from Gainesville to Ocala, Florida, through the vast horse country in Marion County. Marion is one of the largest counties in Florida and has more horses than any other county in the USA. What I found surprising was that the oldest horse farm in Marion is only 50 years old, so the equine industry made a massive impact on Central Florida in a very short time. We are talking racehorses here, and the animals staring proudly at me across the fences were some of the most beautiful horses I have ever seen.

I spent four days with my high school classmate Tom and his wife Marcia. It has been a special pleasure of this trip to connect with people whom I have not seen for decades. I felt so very much at home, that I hated to leave on Wednesday, to continue my trip. I stayed with George and Susan in Inverness, thanks to the Warm Showers organization (www.warmshowers.org). They rode the Withlacoochie Trail with me, and showed me where to shop, eat and even get my bike fixed. They ride Cat-trikes, which are high-end recumbents made of aluminum. Very cool and very lightweight (www.catrike.com).

Susan and George head out on their Cat-trikes.

Susan and George head out on their Cat-trikes.

Now I am on my way to connect with the bounce box that I mailed from Gainesville. I am also looking forward to a mail shipment at the next stop, which brings me to the subject of this week’s article.

Back on 7 December, I promised to look into the various services that might provide for you what Tracy and Daniel in Charlottesville do for me. My research yielded things that I had not planned to use, but might be interesting to others.

Here is what I need to live on the road:

  1. Mail receipt. Daniel and Tracy get my mail at home and at the PO Box. A mail forwarding service would provide me a “permanent” address, to which I would have everything sent. If you want to “live” in a particular place, some services will offer a choice of address locations; others only have their one location.
  2. Mail forwarding. It has to be regular, and I have to be able to tell the forwarder where to send the mail, because my location keeps changing. I do that by email, even preparing the shipping label as a PDF, which I send to Daniel. Mail forwarding services have telephone support and online dashboards so you can tell them where to send things.
  3. Mail screening. Daniel and Tracy remove the magazines and junk mail. They hold the magazines and recycle the junk. They know me and my business, so they can decide what is junk, just using the lists that I sent them. Some mail forwarding services will scan all envelopes (front and back) so you can do that “sorting” yourself online. Others will send only certain classes of mail, at your request. Still others will scan the envelopes, then (at your request online) open and scan the contents, so you may not even have to have the paper sent to you at all. Almost all the services shred the discarded mail before recycling it.
  4. Package receipt and storage. If I have things that I do not need, or have purchased but do not want to carry, I can send them to Daniel to be kept at home. While none of the mail services offer to receive and store packages for you, some do have the ability to receive, store and ship inventory, which would allow them to do this for anything you need kept.
  5. Order fulfillment. Tracy mails the booklets that people order from our website. Some mail services offer order fulfillment, inventory management and storage. The idea is to allow you to ship them your products from wherever you are, and they will send the products out as orders come in. You control the process through an inventory management interface.

Here are some of the services that these companies provide, which I was not looking for:

  1. Virtual office. Some companies will do more than provide an answering service. They provide a business address in an office park or business building and a receptionist to field calls to your company. Regus also has 1800 locations worldwide, where you can book a physical office or meeting room by the day or week.
  2. In-state residency. Mail forwarding services that are located in just one place (e.g., Florida or Oregon) will also assist with filing for voter registration, license plates for your car, driver’s license and the other trapping of legal residence in their state. Some people may use this as a tax dodge, but the fact is that an expatriate or a full-time traveler needs a legal home of record, so this can be a valuable service.
  3. Concierge services. Some of these companies go beyond having a call-center to answer the phone. Some will go find out if a particular piece of mail you are awaiting has arrived. Others will go shopping for you if you are overseas, then pack and ship the item to the person you want to send it to, using local postage and avoiding customs.

Cost. The various services had very different pricing structures, so there is no substitute for checking them out yourself and adding up the numbers. However, you should be able to find a service that offers what you need, so that you do not pay for what you do not. If you are already using a support service at home (as I do with Bright Business Solutions in Charlottesville), comparing the cost of that service to these mail forwarding services will be part of the exercise.

While my research turned up mostly US-based mail forwarding services, I could tell from the websites that several of them were globally organized, and perhaps even based outside the US. Services like these should be available in most countries, offering differing levels of support at varying cost. Here is a list of eight services, arranged alphabetically. I am not recommending any of them in particular, because you will see that what they offer must and can fit your individual needs, not mine. Also, I have not contacted them for information outside of what is on their websites:

  1. Earth Class Mail (ECM). Very focused on mail, and well-known for handling packages, including order fulfillment. Offers addresses in 19 American cities. www.earthclassmail.com.
  2. Mailbox Forwarding. Also focused on mail. Offers addresses in Michigan (free), Florida or California. www.mailboxforwarding.com.
  3. Mail Forwarding Services. Located in Jefferson, Oregon. Offers mail forwarding and Oregon residence assistance. www.mailforwardingservices.com.
  4. Postal Service. The US Postal Service (as well as the Post Office in most countries) offers mail forwarding for up to one year. You can do this as a Change of Address (free) or use Premium Mail Forwarding (PFS), which bundles the mail every week and sends it by Priority Mail to wherever you are. You can also use General Delivery at the next town that you will be going to, and pick up your mail at the Post Office. www.usps.com.
  5. Regus. Specializes in “flexible workplaces,” so mail forwarding is only a part of what they do. Offers addresses worldwide. www.regus.com
  6. St. Brendan’s Isle. One location, near Jacksonville, Florida. Originally set up to service RV’er in the US, now has clients worldwide. Offers Florida residence assistance. www.sbimailservice.com.
  7. Traveling Mailbox. Offers three different service plans and multiple addresses. www.travelingmailbox.com.
  8. US Global Mail. Offers mail forwarding as well as order fulfillment and a range of services from their location in Houston, Texas. www.usglobalmail.com.

So far, my topics each week have come from a six-month outline, which I prepared before launching the blog. I am nearing the end of that outline, so if you have questions, or would like me to discuss a particular aspect of freewheel freelancing, now is the time to ask.

Next week, I hope to begin answering the question, “Are we home yet?” by looking at the cash flow since 25 September. Until then,

Smooth roads & tailwinds,

Jonathan.

3 thoughts on “Office support on the road

  1. Dear Peter —
    I agree: the Withlacoochie Trail and its neighbor to the north, the Nature Coast Trail, are world-class facilities. We used it regularly to go to Inverness.
    I still prefer a wide shoulder or bike lane on a main road, because I want to go as directly as possible to my next destination. I also like being in traffic. Only road rage worries me, and if the drivers can get around me easily (think two lanes in each carriageway), that goes away as a problem. Also, if you think about it, if something happens to me (most accidents happen to the cyclist without any help from others), I am more likely to be spotted and helped on a well-traveled road than a bike path in the woods.
    I am writing to you from a Starbucks on Dale-Mabry Highway in Hillsborough County. Still, it was a wonderful ride on the Withlacoochie.
    SR&T, Jonathan.

    Like

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