Oct 222010

A few readers have asked lately about operating a business on the road, and more specifically, how we run our business as we travel. While there are some websites whose owners go into depth about their finances, how much they need to earn, and how they plan to earn it, I really don’t feel comfortable doing so to that extent. But I will share some thoughts on our business model and on mobile businesses in general.

Over the years, Terry and I have built a successful business on the road publishing the Gypsy Journal RV Travel Newspaper, our books and RV guides, web publishing, and speaking at RV rallies and shows. As with any small business, we had some very tight times over the years, but we hung in there, we improvised when necessary, we adapted to the changing marketplace, and we listened to what our customers told us they wanted and tried to supply it.

We operate as a sole proprietorship, which is the simplest form of business structure. Each business form, sole proprietorship, partnership, subchapter S corporation, or a full corporation has it’s advantages and disadvantages. There is no “one size fits all,” so I won’t even begin to suggest which might be right for you.

Our motorhome and van are not registered to the business. If you are financing an RV, you’ll be hard pressed to find a bank that will loan the money to purchase an RV or automobile to a new mobile business, nor will they usually allow you to register it in your business name.

We had signs on our pickup with the name of our business on them, but on the advice of a friend who is an insurance agent, when we got the van we didn’t put signs on it. If we were to do so, and then got into an accident, who knows what our insurance company would say about a claim? Might they say that we insured the vehicle for personal use, and are using it for a business, and deny a claim? My experiences with insurance companies makes me very wary of giving them any reason at all to try to weasel out of a claim.

We use QuickBooks Pro to keep track of our income and expenses, and I have found it to be an excellent program that is easy to use and adaptable to most business structures.

Okay, that’s how we do things. It might or might not be right for you and your business.

What kind of business should you start? That depends on you, on your skills and talents, on your interests, and on how much money you have to invest to get it off the ground. We know RVers who have successful service and sales businesses, or operate online businesses as they travel. We have also seen a lot of people come and go over the years, who just couldn’t make it.

One mistake I see a lot of wannabe entrepreneurs make is to decide that since they see a lot of vendors selling waterless car wash, Chia pets, or solar lights, or XYZ widgets, they must all be making money, so they’ll sell them too. The market is saturated with a lot of products, which means that most of those vendors selling the same things are barely making a buck, if they are at all. Find new, unique, and useful products that shoppers can’t see at every other vending table and I believe you’ll have a much better chance of success.

The internet has become a big part of our income stream, and I think it offers many RVers the best opportunity to earn money with the least financial investment. Specialty blogs and websites serving a niche market can bring in revenue from display advertising, from ad networks such as Google AdSense, and through the sale of your own or affiliate products. We do all of them on our various blogs and websites and they all help our bottom line.

Recently we have seen a trend among some websites and blogs posting donation links and asking their readers to contribute. The feedback I have heard from the reading public makes me believe that this can do more harm to a website’s reputation and to the public’s perception of it, than the income they might receive. maybe it would be wiser to look into ways that you can make your website more effective when trying to draw in and keep customers. Of course, user experience flow will be imperative for this.

There is a misconception among many RVers that all you have to do is say you are in business, find a product and display it at a few RV rallies or swap meets, and you can write off all of your travels, the cost of your RV, campground fees, and anything else you spend. Unfortunately, that’s just not true. The nice folks at the tax office expect you to operate as a business and make a profit, not just play around at it.

And even if you have a viable working business, there are limits on what you can declare as legitimate expenses. I’m not an accountant, but you need to speak to one to understand what you can and cannot write off.

Customer service, hard work, dedication, and innovation are all important to making a business work. But if there is one secret to success in any business, be it in a fixed location, or on the road, I believe that it is to give it your all, 100% of the time, no matter what happens or what obstacles you encounter. And tomorrow, you need to get up and do it all over again. Eventually you outlive or outlast the competition.

On another topic, Bad Nick has been busy posting a new Bad Nick Blog titled And Yet They Did Nothing. Check it out and leave a comment.

Thought For The Day – Every morning I get up and look through the Forbes list of the richest people in America. If I’m not there, I go to work.

Register Now For Our Arizona Gypsy Gathering Rally

Nick Russell

World-Famous, New York Times Best Selling Author, and All-Around Nice Guy!

  14 Responses to “Mobile Businesses”

  1. I am turned off by the donation buttons. I know Tioga George has one, but I don’t think he gets that many donation for it. Last time I checked his budget he had a 10.00 donation. You are not exactly going to get rich from that!

  2. I also agree with the negative attitude toward the donation button. I was mildly put off when one showed up on the RV Travel newsletter.

    I also heartily endorse your comments about the low probability of success for the casual traveling businessman. As I’ve said before, one of the things I most admire about your business model is your dilligence. You publish your newspaper on schedule every two months, and you post something on this website every day, without fail. That, as well as content, is what keeps me, and other readers, coming back every day or so. Bravo!

    On the topic of travel plans, don’t overlook the SKP resort in Wachula, Florida. The people there are extrodinarily friendly and welcoming; perphaps more so even than Sumpter Oaks, and the park is truly beautiful. We liked it so much that we put our name on the list for a permanent site. Unfortunately, we decided to remove it when we bought a sticks-and-bricks residence on the east coast.

    Travel safe.

  3. The RV Rally venue is really a tough act.

    Even with little competition, a high quality product that has very visible benefits to both RVers and homeowners, it can be very tough making enough sales to even cover expenses.

    My advise to someone wanting to try that route, find a cute gimmick, people will waste money on “wants” faster than on “needs” or beneficial products.

    And as you say (and do), be persistent, keep up the great work.

    Butch and Fonda

  4. I’ll endorse what Keith said, and add that this post is probably the most cogent and honest explanation of running an RV based business that I have seen. Very nice explanation without all the “pie in the sky” fantasies that you often hear.

    Running any business takes fortitude and hard work, along with the talent that got one started in the first place. I admire your perseverance.

    Keep up the good work! We all enjoy your product and treasure your friendship.

  5. Hi Nick, Thanks for posting this. Even though I don’t think I’ll want to have a business on the road, I am always curious to learn what others are doing. One thing that I notice as I read your blog is that (except when you are attending a rally or show) you guys seem to move around almost every couple of days rather than staying put for a week or so and using the van to explore the surrounding areas. Am I getting the wrong impression about your movements? And, if not, how do you decide when it’s time to “move on?”

  6. Good info, Nick, thanks. We have considered vending at RV rallies but agree that most products seem to be oversold. At a couple of ralies we have attended the only person doing any business was a lady selling gaudy costume jewlery. This pretty much echoes what Butch said about wants and needs.

  7. Bob,
    Actually, we do a lot of exploring in our van when we’re not busy with rallies. We like to stay in one place and check out a new area, or go to places we missed if we were there before. I don’t always write about them in the blog, because we need some new and fresh stories for the printed version of the paper.

    Sometimes we will stay two weeks, as we did at Hershey, Pennsylvania, and at the Thousand Trails in Virginia. Other times we only stay a few days, like we did in Gettysburg and in Lexington. It all depends on if we have someplace else that we need to be or want to be. As the RV saying goes, if we don’t like the neighbors we leave. As much as is possible, our plans are always written in Jello.

  8. I can understand that you do not want to share all of your financial information but I’d like to know at least how much a person can expect to earn from an RV blog. I have seen some scams online that claim you can make millions (which I do not believe) and I have had bloggers tell me that they only make a few cents a day if that.

    I also agree that donation buttons on a blog or web site are a major turnoff.

  9. Nick – Great post. As vendors for many years, we can attest to how difficult it can be. It is definately not for everyone, but we do enjoy it, especially the camaraderie of our fellow vendors (our family on the road). We have found over the years that customer service is what really makes the difference. We always chuckle when we remember a lady who visited our booths at the Tampa SuperShow a few years back, inquired about becoming a vendor, and was shocked when she learned that vendors had to pay for our booths. She quickly changed her mind.

  10. Nick,

    Excellent blog. I have owned a small business and I agree with everything you said. I used to be amused by people who would approach me with the attitude that I was making a ton of money and I would gently dissuade them from their position of ignorance by citing the expenses they never thought about: liability insurance, health insurance for employees, equipment, equipment service and repairs, raw materials, travel, matching FICA deductions, credit card service fees of nearly 3 percent, union labor in union controlled venues and on and on. Usually around the fifth item they would say something like: “Gee! I never even thought about all of those expenses.”

  11. I want to comment on the donation button thing. It is ridiculous and demeaning.
    Ridiculous because who in their right mind wants a handout? If someone wants to sell their website as a product or on a subscription basis, then do it that way. Demeaning because you are admitting that you will live on handouts. One of these free loaders has a quarter of a millions dollars the the bank. Give me a break!!!!!

  12. Nick,
    Thank you for today’s blog. It confirmed a lot of what I always suspected about operating a business as we travel. My brother is convinced that all we have to do is print up some business cards, stick magnetic signs on the doors of our truck, and Uncle Sam will write off all of our expenses. I forwarded today’s blog to him.

  13. I also am offended by “donation buttons” on websites. I was a quiet but regular follower of another popular RV website until a short time ago when they put a donation button on and asked for a commitment of $24 a year. Instead of selling a product or making it a subscription site they just want readers to give them money. For what? There is so much free info out there to read. If someone feels they offer true value, charge for it, or else put some links in and make money off advertising. If a website has a true following they will see things that interest them and punch those little ad links. But to just say “gimme” really makes them look pathetic in my opinion. I am a treasure hunter, and my favorite metal detecting website went to a subscription basis of $10 a year a while back. I happily paid it because I see a lot of value in what they have. My wife also has two subscription websites she reads daily. Again because she sees real value in what they have to offer. But they don’t beg for money like panhandlers on a street corner.

  14. Great write-up….thanks, Nick!

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