The next time you check into a campground, look around and try to guess which of your fellow campers are on a temporary vacation and which lucky folks are on a permanent road trip. Chances are, you’ll be neighbors with at least one or two “location independent entrepreneurs,” smart folks who earn their income working from their home, wherever they park it.
With just an Internet connection and a laptop computer, business savvy full-time RVers can operate a home-based business anywhere from the shores of Key West to the rim of the Grand Canyon. Today, many younger RVers aren’t waiting until retirement to fulfill their travel dreams—these free spirits are taking their small businesses on the road and changing their office view as often as they please.
Twelve years ago, 36-year old jewelry designer Michelle Brunner bought an RV for an extended road trip, and life has not been the same since. Today this young nomad operates ReMik’s Jewelry (remiksjewelry.com) from her Class A Country Coach motorhome, building a loyal clientele on the Internet and traveling to fine art and jewelry shows across America.
“I never anticipated full-timing this long, but now I can’t see it any other way,” she says. “I am really in love with the lifestyle; the constant change keeps my mind busy and my perspective fresh.”
Whether she’s exhibiting at winter market days in the Texas Hill Country or following the Midwest craft fair circuit during summer, Brunner’s ever-changing workshop view inspires her to create eco-friendly jewelry and accessories crafted from earth-friendly organic material such as seashells, naturally expired butterfly wings and orchids.
From Hobby to Business
Brunner has always had a flair for fashion accessories, but her mobile business started somewhat accidentally, she explains. “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.”
Today Brunner enjoys a core following of repeat shoppers who share her deep respect for the environment and value her dedication to utilizing sustainable materials in her creations. To grow her customer base, she attends craft fairs year-round, sells wholesale to jewelry shops and galleries, and maintains an online store at Etsy.com, a 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 explains.
Plying your trade on the road isn’t a new phenomenon. Joe and Kay Peterson, the founders of Escapees RV Club, were just 42 years old when they hit the road in 1972 with two school-age children. Friends and family thought they were nuts for doing it, but as Joe found jobs across America that utilized his electrical engineering talents and Kay worked in a variety of places, the couple enabled their kids to experience the wonders of America firsthand instead of only reading about them in textbooks.
Adventurous families like the Petersons paved the way for today’s entrepreneurial families like Jason and Shianne Condie, two 30-somethings who recently left upstate New York with their two small children to explore America by RV.
The Condies operate HippyMotorsUSA.com, which specializes in custom-designed, colorful vinyl decals reminiscent of 1960s flower power décor. HippyMotorsUSA sells, makes and ships products from a fifth wheel trailer that has been modified to comfortably house a vinyl plotter, worktables, computer station and bunk beds for the kids.
With just a $3,000 investment in startup costs, HippyMotorsUSA has blossomed into a thriving portable enterprise that grows with every turn of the wheel. Each day the business receives Internet orders from all over the country to embellish everything from delivery vans to Volkswagen Beetles. With more than 2,000 different designs, HippyMotorsUSA helps adorn RVs, cars, boats and any vehicle with lettering, fun images and humorous slogans that reflect a driver’s individuality.
The HippyMotorsUSA rig is hard to miss. Whenever the family’s highly decorated rig rolls into a campground, new customers come calling with requests to decorate everything from horse trailers to RV exteriors.
The Condies gave careful thought to the full-timing lifestyle before they actually made the leap. When the couple began planning their road trip, they assumed that their rural homestead would take at least two years to sell, which would give them enough time to downsize and start the business at home. But success arrived faster than they anticipated and in April of this year, less than 24 hours after their home went on the market, they had a buyer. Instead of taking two years to transition to full-timing, they only had a few weeks to pack up and leave.
Hitting the road was scary, but “we’ve always wanted to travel,” said Shianne.
“We had an opportunity, and we knew if we didn’t take that opportunity we’d regret it,” Jason added.
So in just a few weeks, they bought a rig at auction, sold most of their possessions, moved the business into their new mobile home office and hit the highway.
“To be out here so soon is really trial by fire but we’re really excited that the business is allowing us to be on the road,” says Jason. “We’ve conquered a lot in the last year; the business has grown immensely, way more than we ever suspected.”
The Condies aren’t strangers to business management, but as they travel around America, they realize that new challenges are on the horizon. For example, RVing entrepreneurs who exhibit at events or work in different states need to obtain sales licenses and file tax returns in every state where they earn money. Finding a bookkeeper who is familiar with the intricacies of filing taxes in different states is critical for staying in good graces with the IRS.
As a long-term mobile entrepreneur, jewelry designer Brunner knows all about the challenges of keeping your home and work life so closely intertwined. When she talks to aspiring RVers who want to work on the road, she tells them that staying organized is one of the key components for having a healthy, balanced life on the road.
“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!”
An endless variety of businesses can be operated from the comfort of an RV. Perhaps one of the greatest rewards is being able to change your office view as often as you wish in order to work from stunning destinations like the Rocky Mountains or the California coast.
But before attempting to implement any business idea, it’s highly advisable to seek a few professional opinions from others who are leading similar lifestyles. Find out how seasoned RVing entrepreneurs earn money on the road by joining RVing discussion forums at websites such as escapees.com and RV.net. Study business books like Dave Ramsey’s EntreLeadership (daveramsey.com), and then make an appointment at a local Small Business Development Center (sbdc.org) for specific help implementing your plan. SBDC centers can be found across the country and are a program of the Small Business Administration. Their experienced business advisers help all types of entrepreneurs launch new businesses.
Rene Agredano 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. (http://bit.ly/incomeanywhere).
Nikki is a writer and editor for Do It Yourself RV, RV LIFE, and Camper Report. She is based on the Oregon Coast and has traveled all over the Pacific Northwest.