Work from anywhere? How to install a VPN for small office or home office (SOHO)

Here is the situation

I run a small advisory firm. My colleagues collaborate on files from their own homes or small office. I have a partner who is currently basking in the sun and working from Turks & Caicos. We don’t have an IT staffer so that makes me “Head of Mobility”. We basically work from anywhere. We hang out in airports, hotels and espresso bars with public wifi hotspots. Despite all the convenience of free wifi hotspots, I would not dare send anything confidential. That would be asking for trouble. A friend of mine discovered she was about to be fired when an email from her boss was intercepted by another friend at a Montreal airport. Isn’t that cool?

Another reason to consider a Virtual Private Network (VPN) is to change your digital jurisdiction. It drives me crazy that I can’t watch Homeland series in Canada because I am not subscribed to the right cable provider. Changing digital jurisdiction from Canada to the US can solve some of my TV woes (small problems, really).Continue Reading

Digitize and organize your business cards & contacts with Evernote & Shoeboxed

and never leave work (or your job) without them…..

My friend was fired from her employment last week. After 18 years, severance package in hand, she is skipping all the way to Hong Kong to reflect on her life:). Sensing her imminent dismissal, she printed all her 800 + contacts in Outlook. When she realized she had to manually re-enter all of her contacts to a new system, she gave up. Don’t let that happen to you. From now on, when you get a new business card, here is an easy 1-2-3 system to move your contact management to Evernote via Shoeboxed.

Step 1: Scan your business cards with using your iPhone/iPad

I created my workflow system in Evernote with the help of Shoeboxed. Shoeboxed is an online service which helps digitize bills, receipts for your accounting and tax system. However, they have a free service to digitize business cards. You can download the app on your iPad/iPhone for free. All you do is take a picture of your business card and then upload it for scanning and human review. You get a digitized version of the business card along with a photo of the card the very next day via email.

Step 2: Get Evernote

If you don’t have Evernote, you don’t have an online anchor system (video). Remember when you first discovered Google? No one does. It just entered our lives, seemlessly. It is the same for Evernote. All my research, my ideas, my marketing materials, pictures of favorites wines, recipes, are all there. But the power feature is my contact management system. When I moved contact management to my Mac, the synchronization between my computer and my iPhone went crazy.  I got stuck with 3 or 4 versions of duplicate contacts. I refuse to move my contacts to Gmail because Google knows too much about me. Moreover, being a lawyer, I still have major issues about privacy and Google. I needed a “safe haven” for my contacts where I can easily upload, access, email and call. Evernote is the easiest, most powerful online contact management system out there.

Step 3: Create a Contact notebook in Evernote

All your contacts will be located in this easy file in Evernote. When Shoeboxed emails you your digitized card, upload it in your Evernote’s contact notebook. From there, search keywords (maybe name, business, context) in Evernote to access your contact. Done. Easy.

Watch the workflow in this video below:



How to use Web tools to set up your Virtual Office

A friend of mine was getting ready to migrate south to escape our Canadian winter. This solo entrepreneur/lawyer needed a basic checklist of web tools to set up his own virtual office and work from anywhere. So, I decided to write a post about my favourite web services supporting my own virtual office. Here goes:

1. Security. I love working from expresso bars and hotel rooms but it is easy for others to steal your passwords and info. Therefore, if you are planning on using wi-fi away from home, you need your virtual Virtual Private Network (or private VPN). I use StrongVPN just because other lawyers like me are using it and it is really easy to set up. A year subscription is about $60 US.

VPN Basics:

I chose OpenVPN, which is the best VPN package to protect my home-office computer. The Open VPN’s advantage is twofold: I get an US IP address so I can watch the upcoming SuperBowl and the ads. It also provides additional encryption to protect my clients’ files. The disadvantage is that OpenVPN does not work on my iPhone or iPad. Therefore, if you want medium security (better than what you have right now) and apply it to all of your devices, like iPad and Macbook, go with the L2TP VPN setup. StrongVPN has great video tutorials to assist us, the non-geeks.

2. Gmail and Calendar: Many geeks love Google Apps for their email and calendar applications. I do too. I love gmail. It allows me to personalize my gmail address to something like *****, as opposed to ***** If you are not on gmail and you are still using your cable or phone company’s domain address, get out of there, fast. Gmail is without any doubt, the quintessential virtual office email manager. Then add your new gmail address to your iPad, your iPhone and all of your other computers so to stay in constant touch. As for my calendar, I use Google calendar but I sync with Apple’s iCal application. It remains the easiest path to stay connected.

3. Skype Calls: The best way to stay connected and avoid the ridiculous high costs of long distance is internet based calls or VOIP. The best VOIP is Skype. Skype Premium has all the essential features for the mobile entrepreneur, such as ability to call phone & mobile numbers, set up conference calls and get your own Skype number for international calling. I tried everything else. I currently have 2 other VOIP apps on my iPhone but I get unreliable audio and spam calls. Not with Skype. If you are a solo entrepreneur or run a small modern office, get the Skype Premium upgrade and get connnected. Just remember to change your location settings when you change countries otherwise you will pull your hair trying to figure out why you can’t make local calls.

4. Online filing cabinet: One filing cabinet, one cloud, one place: Dropbox. Easy. Imagine working on a Word document on your laptop and then finalizing it on your iPad. File all of your documents, pdf, Power Point (oh God, not PowerPoint), Excel spreadsheet, pictures, videos (use sparingly as you will quickly consume your free 5G of free storage space if you upload too many multimedia files). Everything sychronizes to your iPhone, iPad laptop within seconds. You can even send large files without jamming your clients’ inbox (or yours). However, make sure you activate your lock code on your iPhone and iPad because if you lose your gear, crooks will go through your filing cabinet.

5. Evernote: Have you ever racked your brains trying to find an old receipt, wine bottle or someone’s business card? Maybe a website on political gossip? Newspaper online or physical clippings? Passwords? (I know I know…it is not the place to store passwords but we will get into that later) Where do you keep all of this stuff? Now imagine if you could find it with keyword search? Evernote is the quintessential application for all of your gear, like iPhone, iPad, laptop, cloud storage. Easy easy to set up.

There you have it: Your basic business guide to set up your virtual office, be independent and work from anywhere you play.

How to take handwritten notes on your iPad

Business professionals love their iPad but for many of us, we just don’t know what apps are out there to make our lives easier. So, I posted a quick video lesson on how to use your iPad for great handwritten notes and then save it to the clouds.

In this video, I use three tools:

– Just | Mobile pen for the best iPad stylus experience (go to my product guide page to order from Amazon)

Noteshelf for iPad: available in the iTunes store

Evernote: the “Remember everything” cloud

I hope this video will help you work from anywhere!