The road and the office are one. Wifi vs. postal. Mobility and credibility. I though about several titles for this piece, and I don’t have one that captures it exactly, because the old way is easy to describe – it’s static. But the new way is so much more dynamic – it won’t hold still long enough to be nailed down.
So, snazzy title or not, here goes. Once you weren’t considered a business without a postal address. And if you had a PO Box, it was like a strike against you. You were “fly by night”. But the brick and mortar began crumbling long ago. Now, postal addresses are just something tech businesses do to make customers feel better. And physical storefronts? In a global market, it doesn’t matter. I’ve met very few of my clients face to face and, because of that, we’re able to concentrate on getting things done. The postal address has no reality – a street address can be had almost anywhere in the country for $10/mo.
The same holds true with publishing that darned fax number. I publish mine, because it costs me nothing to do it, but I haven’t plugged a fax machine into the wall in a decade. I think I’ve received one fax in that ten years. As far as image, it’s more of an annoyance than anything. Can you even buy a device now that will fax but doesn’t scan and e-mail?
Toll free numbers, likewise, once conferred “professional” status. Now, they say that your primary clientelle doesn’t carry a cell phone. They’re a vestige of the days when long distance was $2.50/minute. Yes, you can brand it, but it’s like putting vanity plates on all my shipping trucks. Come to think of it, that might be a better idea than advertising with 866-call-daniel
So back to the topic of physical addresses. I’ll get one if I need one for product-based sales (even then, your fulfillment people are the ones who really need the address), but I’m willing to have a customer put off now and then by the fact I don’t publish it for service-based work. I don’t apologize for the fact that I work from wherever – I’m proud of it. Coffee shops, planes, trains, automobiles – the best deal on office space comes with a latte and some Sade. Why anchor down and plug in when WiFi is on every corner patio?
The perception gap will persist a while. But I’m not bowing to it. Mobility, flexibility, and technology should be the call signs of someone you want working on cutting edge projects for you. Where can you find me in person? You can’t, and you shouldn’t need to. Have you ever had to hunt down your handyman, chase someone for a payment, wait on someone to show up at a job site or to a meeting? Has your drywaller had to sit on the tailgate waiting for the plumber or the electrician to get there? All that synchronous communication is the bottleneck that keeps businesses from scaling and you from getting better service. And people are figuring this out. Free me from the landline, the postal address, and the fax machine, and you free me to be better than ever at what I do for you. Don’t trust me unless we move slower and cost more? The times they are a changing. The rest of the world darned sure works from outside the zip code! I can live with 10% of my prospects not trusting me and not pulling the trigger, because I don’t move at the rate of the postal service (which, frankly, I think does a damned good job at what they do) – what I can’t live with is 90% of my clients who just want results going to the guy who won’t wait, won’t slow down, and won’t sit still in one place.
It’s one thing if I’m a local Insurance Agent – you want to know where to find me. It’s another if I’m helping you in the fast-moving, ever-changing stream of the internet. In that case, all you really need to know is how to google me – if I’m in business, I’m there in force. And so is everyone else. Where I park the Mazda, really doesn’t matter, does it? Besides, there’s that secret-agent aura of being all over the place and carrying high-end equipment in a duffel bag. Who could pass that up?
In the future, the stability and solidity of a business will be judged not by whether you can drive down that lonely industrial road and find someone reading a romance novel and manning the front desk, while the owner jiggles the handle on the water cooler. In the already present future, in the now, stability and solidity will be judged by a continual pattern of delivering high quality at excellent prices, as consistently as the client requires. To do that, I work while I’m driving, instead of driving to work. I don’t take coffee breaks – I work at the coffee shop. I take my work to lunch, instead of taking my lunch to work. I have the largest office, with the best view, in the nicest parts of town, of anyone I know. And when I get tired, I put my work down and go to sleep.
An address may even underscore, for a consultant, the old ineffective corporate work ethic of evaluating professionals by presence and activity, rather than by effectiveness and results. I sell the latter, and the former I guard, protect, and preserve, and lend sparingly when the contract really requires it. Not everyone gets the new way, so there’s some negotiation for the biggest work but, if they’d get rid of the desk that’s nailed to the floor, and contract with people like me, they’d get twice the bang at half the buck in half the time for half the headache.
The people who need “watching” or “tracking” or “locating” to be effective, are the people who don’t realize there’s a tsunami coming. China, India, and the world are waking up. It’s a tidal wave of overwhelmingly bright people that are willing to be outstanding without being parented and without anyone even knowing or caring where they’re sitting right now. It’s a flood. If you’re in my shoes, you’ll have to be mobile just to survive, but it sure will be exciting.
Hmm. Maybe I should give out the address of my local coffee shop. If they’d offer that service, I’d pay more for the latte.