By Rene Agredano #103274 and Michelle Boyer #99588
Did you know that launching a small business from your RV can be one of the best ways to ensure your financial well-being? When a small business is managed correctly, it can bring in additional monetary streams that protect you from sudden income loss. Entrepreneurship can also enable you to take advantage of certain tax breaks on expenses like cell phone bills and rent. Whether you are age 30 or age 60, the more income-generation tools you have at your disposal, the less you’re at risk of being affected by an economic downturn.
According to the latest Escapees demographics survey, over 15 percent of full-time RVers are non-retired, working-age people. These full-time RVers are on the road, making a living in dozens of creative ways that support their mobile lifestyle. From creative businesses, such as crafting and writing, to highly specialized technical jobs like windmill mechanics and computer programming, more and more RVers are taking their small businesses on the road while setting out to see America.
But don’t order your business cards just yet. Before getting started, you will need to take an honest assessment of your finances, your aptitudes and your ability to remain self-disciplined. For example:
• Do you have the wherewithal to make work a priority when you’re under a deadline?
• Have you saved for a rainy day? Since small businesses typically have “feast or famine” income cycles, you should have at least three to six months of living expenses saved up in an emergency fund to see you through down times.
• Can you start a business without going into debt?
• Would the natural gifts you have make a good mobile business?
Find a Need, Then Meet It
Once you have these basic elements in place, the next step is finding a business that can meet the needs of certain customers. Instead of reaching out to the widest audience possible, consider starting a very specific, niche business. A niche business is one that can profitably address the needs of a small group of people. Fulfilling the needs of smaller groups of people who share a common interest can be more profitable because it’s easier to reach out and serve this audience.
To run a successful niche business, find that need, then learn how fill it. Begin by thinking about your community and what it’s missing. Of those missing products or services, what can you provide? How big a market is there for what you are considering and how much can you earn by providing it?
If you have no idea what kind of business you want to start, RVing entrepreneur Michele (Micki) Boyer #99588 can provide some insight.
“The simplest way is to recall what captivated you when you were a kid,” she advises. “What ideas and activities were such magnets for you that you missed the dinner bell or your favorite TV shows and never noticed?”
Another approach Boyer suggests is to “listen carefully to fellow RVers as they comment and complain. Listen between their lines for hints that can seed some ideas for a profitable on-the-road business. Don’t hesitate to talk to them and draw them out to see if they really would pay for whatever they talk about and how much they would pay for it.”
Boyer is a full-time RVer who operates the Ad Hoc Group, an information-based company that provides resources for people who want to start their own home-based business. As a full-time RVer, she is well aware of what it takes to operate a niche business on the road and offers volumes of advice for others.
“Ask yourself how can you use your experience and accomplishments to build up an income niche that works for you? Join forums and see what other people do. Ask how they set themselves up, with an intent to learn how to turn interests and talents into revenue-generating efforts. Then learn how to do it or hire someone to help you get it off the ground,” she suggests.
Can you sell? Do you tell stories well? Are you investigative? Maybe you like surfing the Net. You could be a researcher.
Boyer tells people to think about those activities they loved as a kid and how they can be combined with a profitable business. “For example, if your life revolved around ham radio or baseball as a kid, maybe your niche is in electronics or sports coaching,” she suggests.
“Are you artistic?” Boyer asks. “Book writers need graphic artists to design book covers and illustrations. Art programs help kids focus and develop creativity. One summer an art and history group came through town and got kids together to paint murals on city building walls. Another summer, a group organized local kids to put on a play. Both groups started and finished their projects in about two weeks. Then they traveled to the next town. Working on grant funding, they arranged with town councils for these projects that paid their expenses and gave kids some healthy, creative summer activities. Now 25 years later, these kids still feel proud of their little section of a mural that still graces the side of an old building,” she said.
Your education and life accomplishments can also help guide you. No matter what type of work you did in the past, there are some things you’re naturally good at doing, and oftentimes they can be great income sources. “These are natural inclinations that you’ll gravitate towards, no matter what you do,” Boyer said.
“For example, my former profession was respiratory therapist, but starting with my first job in this industry, I found a way to write. I wrote up instructions for patients going home with medical equipment, lists to keep storage cabinets organized, and one time I actually begged them to let me write policies and procedures.”
Boyer has been self-employed since 1977, and today she uses her skills to help others reach their entrepreneurial dreams while living on the road. Among her many services, she provides freelance writing help for businesses and creates start-up guides for niche businesses such as CPR instruction and grant writing/management.
Boyer’s business requires little in the way of equipment other than a computer, printer and reliable Internet connection. And while this type of low-inventory business is ideal for the RVing lifestyle, others that do require carrying inventory can work as long as your RV has the space to accommodate it.
Design Your Way to Success
Michelle Brunner is one such entrepreneur who carries inventory on the road. As a professional jewelry designer who’s been full-timing for over 12 years from a 36-foot, class-A Country Coach motorhome, this talented artist has a wealth of suggestions for those who want to start a small business from their RV.
Her successful business, ReMik’s Jewelry, started accidentally when she began crafting wearable art that reflected her passion for the environment.
“My jewelry making began as a hobby, a creative outlet that quickly took over my life. I was simply wearing my pieces and giving them as gifts. Soon I had custom orders and, before I knew it, a full-blown business was born,” she explains.
Today she creates fine jewelry tailor-made for environmentally conscious shoppers. She utilizes materials made from recycled and organic materials such as rocks, minerals, seashells, wood, bark, leaves, flowers and naturally expired butterfly wings. Brunner enjoys a core following of loyal, repeat shoppers who share her respect for the environment and appreciate how she utilizes sustainable materials.
Brunner’s nomadic lifestyle allows her to expand her audience by exhibiting year-round at craft fairs in the U.S., but doing so also comes with its own challenges. “When you work in a lot of different states on a temporary basis, there are a lot of different licenses and tax information that you have got to keep straight,” she says. And while being your own boss brings plenty of freedom, it also means that you won’t have paid vacations or benefits, she points out.
To grow her customer base, she also sells wholesale to jewelry shops and galleries and maintains an online storefront at Etsy.com, the world’s largest marketplace for crafters and artists. “With the connectivity of mobile devices, some of my online customers probably don’t even realize that I am making earrings from tree bark on a picnic table somewhere,” she said.
Her inventory and supplies require minimal space, but event display items, such as a pop-up tent, tables and signs, take up a considerable amount of space in the RV. When selecting her RV, she purposely chose one with enough basement storage to accommodate these tools of the trade.
With a rigorous travel schedule to follow while simultaneously finding time to fulfill orders from existing clients, Brunner must constantly keep her home office on wheels organized. She advises aspiring entrepreneurs to stay disciplined and organized in order to have a healthy, balanced life.
“You want to work from home, not live in your office,” she explains. “I keep my work and personal space as separate as possible, to keep the peace in my brain.” She advises aspiring entrepreneurs to make that distinction from the beginning, then “remember to get out and enjoy all of the reasons that you wanted to work from the road in the first place,” she suggests.
Living on the road feels like home to this 36-year-old, and although she never anticipated full-timing for so long, today she can’t see living life any other way. “I am really in love with the lifestyle,” she enthusiastically says.
The variety of businesses you can run from your RV are limitless. If you believe you have a promising business idea and want to implement it your way, be sure to seek a few professional opinions before you invest any large amounts of money. Talk to other Escapees in the Discussion Forums’ “Working on the Road” topic to see how seasoned RVing entrepreneurs earn money while traveling. Then be sure to contact a small business development center, www.sbdc.org, near you. Regional SBDC centers are a program of the Small Business Administration, and they help aspiring business owners successfully launch new businesses, usually at no charge or on a sliding scale.
Rene Agredano #103274 is a full-time RVer, writer and owner of Agreda Communications, a small business coaching and marketing firm. She is co-author of Income, Anywhere!, a guide that teaches full-time RVers how to make money from their home on wheels.bit.ly/incomeanywhere
Michele “Micki” Boyer #99588 (photo unavailable) is a full-time RVer, failed retiree and owner of Ad Hoc Group, providing survival solutions from preparedness products to home-based income for the vagabond in all of us.