FORTUNE Small Business:

Doing business across time zones

Low-cost technologies help an entrepreneur run businesses on two continents - and still get some sleep.

By Nick Leighton, as told to Eilene Zimmerman, FSB Magazine

(FSB Magazine) -- When I tell friends that I run businesses in both the United Arab Emirates and California, they assume that I never sleep. But technology makes it easy to bridge the time zones.

I run two public relations agencies - an eight-year-old firm called NettResults ( based in Dubai and an offshoot with different clients, headquartered in Irvine, Calif. I also own a consulting business ( in Irvine that specializes in change management.

Leighton in the Emirates Tower Hotel in Dubai.

To juggle these three ventures, I spend ten days a month in Dubai and 20 days in Irvine. I keep a house, a full wardrobe, and cars in both countries to simplify my 24-hour airplane trips twice a month. (My wife, who lives in Irvine, jokes that I also have a wife in Dubai.)

Managing the 12-hour time difference between my companies is easier than you might think. When I'm in the U.S., I do a videoconference with my 14 Dubai employees at 9 P.M. Sunday, which is 9 A.M. Monday there. I use Skype ( - an Internet phone service that lets you reach other subscribers free - with a Creative Lab Webcam ($80 to $100; plugged into my HP Pavilion laptop ($800 to $1,200; In the Middle East the workweek starts on Sunday and ends on Thursday. When I am in Irvine, I finish up my Middle East business on Thursday morning and then focus on my projects in the U.S. through the end of the day Friday.

Two Web-based software programs, Microsoft SharePoint and Project Insight, make it easy to work directly with my employees and clients from wherever I can connect my laptop to the Internet. SharePoint ($19.95 a month; lets me store each client's case studies, press releases and photos, as well as calendars for current projects. Project Insight (about $40 a month per user; is a project-management program that lets me work with my team on documents in real time.

Being 12 hours away works in my favor when it comes to being responsive to clients. If a question arises on one of our accounts in the Middle East during the workday there, my team e-mails it to me. I have the whole day in California to reply by the next business morning in Dubai.

Clients can always reach me through a 24-hour call center in the Middle East. It forwards my calls to the cell phone I am using. In the UAE, I use an O2 Xda Stealth ($550; For the U.S., I chose a Motorola RAZR (included in service contracts for $180 to $350;

My system seems to be working. With clients such as Computer Associates (Charts) and the United Nations World Food Programme, we brought in $2 million in combined sales last year. Even though I travel a lot, I have a strong relationship with my wife, Tara, a partner in the management consultancy. We both work hard during the days we're apart so that we can enjoy our time together.

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