Tomorrow is moving day – the first of two travel days we’ll need to get to our next stop.
Brian (my husband and business partner) is outside taking care of RV-related travel prep. Right now he’s handling the sewer hose. An hour ago it was a proposal for a prospective client’s website refresh.
I’m in front of my Mac, on live chat with a support rep trying to figure out why our client’s domain name hasn’t yet transferred. It’s one item on a list of many I’m trying to tie up before our travel days.
Just as I’m musing about whether our clients realize everything that passes through our hands, Brian rushes up the steps into the RV.
“We have a leak!” he announces.
A year ago I’d have been near tears hearing those words.
Now, like wayward website domains, it’s just another thing we need to handle.
I don’t mean to suggest we have this whole live-work-travel thing completely figured out. No way. What we have figured out is to expect problems.
RV problems. Internet issues. Client crises. They’re inevitable when you’re running a business from the road. What’s optional, however, is how much you worry about them.
It’s my hope that sharing what we’ve done will give you ideas about how to set your business up for success – and roll with the punches when things go wrong.
Our business – the prequel
We were actually in business before we decided to RV full time. Separately.
Brian’s business was the bread and butter. Mine occasionally brought in big bucks. Most of the time, though, it barely covered the grocery bill.
That’s because I hated all the peripheral tasks that are part of running a business. I liked just doing my thing, making clients happy, and putting money in the bank.
Bookkeeping? Marketing? Not so much.
The problem with my approach was that it’s impossible to create anything sustainable by doing only what’s fun. I knew this, but my efforts around the less creative aspects of my business were half-hearted. At best.
Brian, on the other hand, single handedly ran a gunsmithing business that covered all our bills for the nine years leading up to our move to full-timing. He did all the work, managed the bookkeeping and taxes and promoted the heck out of it to get it going.
Fortunately for us, the business was in a popular niche. Brian had little legitimate competition. Once he opened up shop, the business and his reputation grew quickly. It wasn’t long before all we needed to do to market it was make it easy for people to find him.
I designed and developed a website, and Brian was off to the races. He only had to log in occasionally to maintain the site. No blogging. No marketing. Only basic SEO.
Boy was that a downhill coast compared to where we are now – and compared with what most businesses need to do to attract visitors and create customers.
So, why would anyone quit such a successful and lucrative business?
For one thing, it wasn’t something we could have done from the RV without drastically morphing it. We did come up with a couple of seemingly good ideas for an RV-friendly transformation, and even started pursuing one.
Partway into it, though, Brian admitted he was pretty much over the entire niche and ready for a new challenge.
Like, business strategy and project management for my formerly solo website consultancy.
I loved parts of what I did, but constantly got bogged down in things I hated. I was certain that Brian could help make the difficult parts work better. We just needed to figure out how to work together.
Roadworthy business experience
We’re 10 months into full-timing and only began traveling four months ago.
Still, as we’ve struggled to build and run our business in a way that works for us and supports us, we’ve learned a lot.
It’s my hope the suggestions below will help you if you’re on a similar journey.
1. Find (or morph) your thing
You don’t have to be absolutely passionate about every bit of the niche you choose. Just find something you love enough to do a lot – and that others are willing to spend enough on that you can earn a living.
Brian’s gunsmithing business was profitable but not portable, largely thanks to complicated regulations.
When we decided to hit the road, we looked at ways he could offer value in this niche without getting on the wrong side of the law. Firearm appraisal seemed like a way we could morph the business for RV life.
But at the end of the day, it was not for us.
The primary reason we nixed the appraisal business was that it was such a small niche we’d have to have next-level marketing and pricing to survive. A deeper reason for getting out of firearm-related business altogether was that Brian came to realize he was burnt out on it.
As for my website consulting business, I loved most aspects of it. But the parts I hated were sucking up huge amounts of time and energy.
I liked fixing broken websites, making websites faster, and building websites for people with interesting businesses or projects. The more business I got the more time I spent outside of my favorite parts of it.
The negative (for me) aspects of my niche almost caused me to completely ditch it. I planned to help Brian with the appraisal business, and maybe scratch my creative itch by writing on the side.
When we decided we didn’t want to continue down the appraisal business road, we realized that Brian’s experience – pre-gunsmithing as well as running his shop – could help us create something sustainable from my WordPress consulting business.
2. Get real about weaknesses
I’m the creative one, and the website expert. I’d rather get lost in design, code or words than deal with goals or invoicing. I know we need these things as much as we need the things that are my forte.
But I struggle with them.
When we first started, Brian thought I was just being obstinate. I was, a little. The bigger problem is that it’s such a leap for the way my brain works best. Obstinance was a side effect – not the cause.
Brian has strengths in many areas I don’t.
He has an MBA. His experience handling 100% of a small business has been invaluable in our new venture. Before opening the shop, he worked in IT project management, IT staffing and sales.
Except for websites, he’s way nerdier than me.
I’ve long been an open book about my weaknesses. Saying that is one thing, but actually seeing the gory details is quite another.
Brian wasn’t amused. There was much strife in our 400-ish square feet.
Now, I think we’re on a good track. He’s gotten better about giving me executive summaries I can relate to. I gladly surrendered control to most things outside of website work or writing.
What’s been more difficult to sort out is balancing our strengths, weaknesses and workload.
We’re rebuilding what was a solo freelance business in my niche. Not Brian’s. His workload is constantly expanding as we find more things that are a natural fit for him. But it’s not a 50/50 split right now.
I’m OK with that. But if all the tasks at hand are creative, he gets frustrated. He wants to help and feels like I’m not letting go of enough. Plus, he’s legitimately concerned about things that affect our bottom line.
It’s important to recognize strengths and weaknesses not only to decide who does what, but to play to our strengths to better serve and attract clients.
If that means the business load gets a bit lopsided at times, it’s OK. We can always shift personal chores so neither of us is overloaded.
3. Buy time, tools & talent – carefully
We’ve learned it’s important to be willing to invest in systems, services or help as soon as it makes financial sense.
Not before you have money. And ideally, not after you’re already having problems the expenditure could have prevented.
When you’re starting from scratch, it might feel difficult to justify the expense of tools/services, etc. We’ve learned to stay in tune with what things are costing us time-wise, and look at spending money there as an investment – not an expense.
Be careful about where you spend limited dollars, though.
Sometimes it seems like “everybody” uses a certain tool or service, but the reality is that affiliate commission, limited experience or both are often driving a recommendation.
If you’re truly starting with a near-zero bank account, resist the temptation to spend money on expensive products or services. Big-ticket expenses that are easy for beginners to get wrong include designers, promotional products, and even websites.
You’ll change your mind about a lot in that first year. Instead of depleting your bank account before your business is up and running well, consider starting more simply. DIY or even do without where you can.
Delaying big-budget expenses will give you time to figure out what you’re doing with your business, and decreases the odds of making costly mistakes.
4. Build in wiggle room
When the aim is to live, work and travel in an RV, flexibility is key. Not only for us, but for clients, too.
We set our clients’ expectations from the get-go, making sure they know we’re full-time RVers who can’t/won’t be at their beck and call. We work hard to over deliver so they know that, as much as possible, we’ll go to the ends of the earth for them.
Flexibility works the other way, too.
Today we said a sad no to stand-up paddleboarding because it would’ve unreasonably crunched our workload and taxed our clients’ expectations.
People pay us to serve them. They may be understanding about our lifestyle, but they’re clients because they need our help. Not because they want to fund our travels.
Along those lines, we never want to tell a client that their urgent issue has to wait until we can get on the internet. That’s a problem we need to solve in advance, and one any internet-connected business should plan for.
We’ve worked hard to maximize the internet connectivity that drives our business. Yes, we’re RVing so we can enjoy freedom and fun and not work ridiculous hours. Without dependable RV internet, however, we’d be at the mercy of whatever free WiFi we can find.
That’s no way to run a business.
Our Mobile Internet Resource Center membership has been worth its weight in gold. We’ve used it to create what so far has been a reliable, four-network mobile connectivity arsenal – and do it at a price that doesn’t kill our bank account.
If the business you’re considering has any web or internet component to it, plan to have as many options for connecting as your budget allows.
5. Learn to share your value
I used to assume that people were smart enough to realize the benefits of working with me, and leave it up to them to hire me or not.
The reality is that people often don’t understand what we do, or how we can help them. Plus they’re busy and bombarded by all kinds of distractions.
Without the right promotion, we are likely to get lost in the shuffle.
As an introvert, networking for our business is up there on my list of things I’d rather avoid. Right next to karaoke. Brian, on the other hand, is a former sales pro.
Brian thinks I do OK but would love it if I pushed a little harder. I think he does OK but I’d love it if he was a little less pushy. We each have our own styles, but the bottom line is that we both advocate for the business.
We solve real problems for people on entrepreneurial journeys similar to ours. While I don’t want to make every blog post or conversation about what we can do for them, if I care about what they’re doing I’m going to let them know how we might be able to help.
Brian will do that and then some!
Whatever your style, understand that you must let people you can help know that you can help them. If you don’t, you’ll be back where I was when I was freelancing by myself – barely making grocery money.
What’s on your mind?
Choosing to build a business and work from the road is easily the best, most exciting thing I’ve ever done.
While it’s definitely still a work in progress, after years of doing what everyone else does (or trying), it feels great to do it all differently.
Struggling with something I didn’t cover? Or have something helpful to add? Leave a comment below and share – I’d love to hear where you’re at.
Teresa Rosche Ott
Teresa is a website fixer and writer living, working and traveling in a Class A motorhome with husband and business partner Brian and their Greyhound John Lee. Teresa and Brian own A Fearless Venture, a consultancy focused on preventive maintenance and problem solving for WordPress websites. Teresa also blogs at Wandering Porcupine, where she chronicles her quest to live a more-free life.