Free Agent Services
So You Want to Be Independent?

If you would know the value of money, go try to borrow some; for he that goes a-borrowing goes a-sorrowing.


    1. Benjamin Franklin
    2. US author, diplomat, inventor, physicist, politician, & printer (1706 - 1790)


The Basics


Everyone wants the latest and greatest office;  nice furnishings, decorations, wide-screen monitor, 4G cell phone, super fast multi-core computer/server.


All that is really nice, but will it make you any money?


Don't get distracted by the 'neat shit'!

    Dick Branum, The Limited Inc. (Retired)


Spend your available resource wisely.  If you don't need an internet enabled cell phone, don't pay for one.  If you don't need a Montblanc when a ballpoint may do, don't purchase one.  Impress your future clients with what you can DO, not the accoutrements you have.


Dress neatly and cleanly.  ALWAYS polish your shoes/boots/heals/loafers (or get it done at the airport upon exiting your plane!).  Dress according to the client workplace environment.  If you don't know, ASK!

If you will be traveling as many Free Agents do and work at the client office, then you probably DO need the following:


    •  Cell Phone
    •  Laptop & Accessories
    •  Business Cards
    •  Credit/Debit card

This would be the minimum in my opinion.  If you are a tool & die setup expert, you may not need a laptop, but since most businesses and clients will communicate via email and you will need to record and maintain your travel and business expenses (always best to keep them recorded as you go...), the laptop will be a valuable tool.  Besides, think of all the work you can do in that hotel room in the evening!


Home Office


Most Free Agents have some sort of home office.  Like the IRS guidelines indicate, this should be a place used EXCLUSIVELY for your business.  A den or second bedroom used for other activities won't qualify for the IRS and won't provide you with a proper environment in which to work!  If you can't do a separate room, then partition one so that some area will be your workspace. (Get used to working in small work spaces.  Your client may only provide an orange crate for you!)


Communications is always key.  Current and future clients need to be able to contact you.  DSL or other form of high speed Internet should be a minimum.  Cell phone can be used in conjunction with or solely as your 'office number'.  While faxes are really just 'old school' a surprisingly number of businesses still use them for document transmittals. A toll free number (voice and fax) is nice, and not as expensive as you might think.  A separate landline is not really necessary but can be a real convenience.


You MUST have a good high-speed broadband service.  A static/dedicated IP address is not required but will provide many added benefits.  You can usually get a static IP with 'business class' service for around $75.00 a month or less.  Shop for the best deal!


If you get a dedicated broadband IP address, you will be able to implement very cost effective VOIP (voice over Internet Protocal) services.  There are several companies who offer this including Skype, RingCentral and others.  This will provide you with virtual phone numbers all over the same broadband circuit. (I have six VOIP lines that look like tradional POP circuits!)


Although I hate paper in any form but money, you will need a printer; preferable one with a combined 'scanner/copier' configuration.  These are very common and almost 'cheap'.  Watch out for the ink cartridge costs; this is where these guys really get you!  Shop the ink cartridge first, THEN the printer!


A home office computer workstation is another 'nice to have'.  If you have purchased your laptop, consider a small incremental cost for a 'docking station'.  This allows you to plug in your laptop and use a standard monitor, keyboard and mouse at your home office desk.  If you have a separate workstation to your laptop, you will probably benefit from a wireless router (connected to your high-speed internet).  This will provide a number of benefits, in addition to being able to use your laptop anywhere in the house or out by the pool to check email and still be in the same room as the family (don't do this too much!).


Data Services and Storage


There are loads of options on how your obtain/retrieve and store your data.  You may be entrusted with data from your client; often you will have a client based email account.  This is often where a separate home office computer workstation is a great idea.  When you do to a client site, they will often 'inspect' your laptop and possibly install 'security' software if you are to use their corporate/network resources.  While this is nice, often as not, they will screw up your laptop configuration! 


I advise you to use your laptop only for client business; keeping no personal files on it that you don't want someone else to see!  Also, after your project is completed, you may want to reload your laptop from the 'recovery disks' back to the factory configuration before your next client project.


If you will be working for multiple clients con-currently, partition your laptop storage drive to isolate client data.  You can encrypt each sector separately and demonstrate to the client security team that you understand the privacy and confidentiality with which you have been entrusted. 


Each weekend, as part of your regular home office routine, back up the client data to your home office workstation or to a separate backup device.  Terebit drives are available from Costco, CompUSA and others for under $200; it's a good investment.  Also, your laptop and/or your home office workstation will have a DVD RW drive you can archive data to.  I encourage you to do this at the end of your project or every three months for longer projects.  Store all your archives in a fire-safe cabinet or safe; also available from Costco and others for minimum expense.  Consider it a cost of doing business!


There are now a multitude of 'online' backup services are farily reasonable costs.  They offer software that will dymanicall backup any changed files (either as they are created or periodically/daily).  Google and other online networks offer 'free' online storage but you often get what you pay for!


If you have hosted your own domain on a ISP site, most of them are now almost unlimited when it comes to storage space.  You can usually create a folder under or adjacent to your hosted domain(s) and FTP your backup files to that location (using TrueCrypt the 'file' you back up will contain all the folder/files in that instance).  I use a service called SOS but there are others.  This also give you access to current data anywhered on the Planet; helpfull if that file you 'forgot' to load onto your laptop is back at the office on your server/workstation.


So, now you have a place to work and something to work with!  What's next?


Working with your clients.... Clients!=>>