What's Different about Starting a Mobile Business?

Mobile businesses like boutiques and food trucks are more popular than ever. And that makes sense. With traditional brick-and-mortar locations struggling to reinvent themselves while losing business to eCommerce sites, it makes sense that a new type of experience would emerge.

Mobile businesses are an excellent investment for entrepreneurs because they blend the best parts of physical storefronts with the hip, social media savvy presentation that serves eCommerce businesses so well.

With new opportunities come new challenges for aspiring owners. If you’re interested in starting your own mobile business, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the unique journey you’re about to take.

Service vs. Product

The first thing you need to do, as with any new business, is decide what you’re going to sell to your customers. Is your mobile business centered on providing specialty services to people, or are you going to bring quality products or food to different locations to your customers?

While there’s value in both, you’ll need to consider how much you’re willing to invest in your mobile business in terms of the market potential. For example, if you’re planning on offering cleaning services to clients, you’ll need to invest in a medium-sized van and cleaning supplies. There’s a big difference in overhead in this instance than there would be for the mobile boutique that needs a fully stocked RV or trailer.

Of course the majority of decisions like these will be made for you based on your skills and passions, but it’s worth pausing to examine your upfront costs associated with your general business model. 

Once you’ve narrowed down what you’ll be taking with you on the road, check out the competition in your area both for inspiration and to make sure you’re diversifying your offerings.

Choice of Vehicle

When your business is mobile, the vehicle you use is your most important asset. Whether you’re launching a mobile boutique or a food truck, the vehicle you drive needs to be clean, professional, and reliable.

The size of your vehicle will come into play if you plan on selling products and allowing customers to move around inside. Many mobile boutiques are housed in refurbished RVs, campers, or trailers. Depending on the vehicle you choose, you might also need to perform extensive remodeling, so be prepared to factor these changes into your plan.

Regardless of the size of your vehicle, you’ll also need to be prepared to pay for regular maintenance and gas. While some of these costs will be tax deductible, you’ll still want to work them into your planning.

Get Licensed

In traditional businesses, the only license you apply for is the one for your business itself. While you should still secure an LLC or sole proprietorship for your mobile business, you also might need a special driver’s license. 

Traditional Business License

Licensing your business provides more than just that official stamp that you’ve started your own venture. Securing entity statuses like an LLC or sole proprietorship provides you with legal and financial protection from a wide variety of liabilities. It also allows you to structure your business for optimal returns and deductions at tax time.

Every state requires different criteria and paperwork when applying for business licensing, so make sure you check with your Secretary of State’s Office to see what you need to do to become official. You can also consult an accountant to find out more about what business entity will work best.

Vendor Permit

In addition to your traditional business license, you might need to procure a special vendor’s permit that allows you to sell goods and services outside the address listed on your official license. Because different cities have different rules, you’ll need to do some research before you start selling products or services in new locations.

A great place to start is by calling the city itself. You can also check out resources from those who have been there and done that. There are incredibly useful networks of street vendors and mobile businesses, like The Street Vendor Project or the American Mobile Retail Aossociation, that use everything they’ve learned over the years to create a helpful community full of information.

Specialty Drivers License

Depending on the type of vehicle you decide to use for your mobile business, you might need to secure a specialty drivers license like a CDL or Class D. You might need to take an extra test and pay an additional fee to secure specialty drivers licenses, so check with your local DMV or Secretary of State after you decide your vehicle type.

Food License

If you plan on running a food truck, make sure you fulfill the requirements to obtain a food handler’s license and stay up-to-date with testing and other requirements. Every state has its own set of requirements, so make sure you get licensed first before you start serving up your fare.

Marketing When You’re Mobile

Marketing a mobile business is a different challenge from those faced by traditional brick-and-mortar and eCommerce businesses. While you might have a website to supplement your retail product sales or advertise your services, you don’t have a storefront that stays in one place. That means your social media presence needs to be strong and connected to your audience and customers.

If you’re running a mobile boutique, you need to consistently post about where you’ll be popping up each week so your followers can find you. You’ll also want to dedicate an ample portion of your feed to the products you’ll be bringing along for the ride. The same rule applies to food trucks. Post pictures of your unique offerings and make sure your customers know where you’ll be each day.

If you’re offering services, make it perfectly clear how far you’re willing to travel. Post before and after images if it makes sense for your service, as well as photos of the neighborhoods you visit if it’s not a confidentiality issue. You’re much more likely to attract new clients if they see you represented often in their area.

Remain Consistent

Just because your business never stays in the same place doesn’t mean you can let consistent business habits fall to the wayside. If anything, the changing location of your business makes things like precise bookkeeping, inventory, and tax reporting even more crucial.

Keeping detailed records will also help you more accurately plan where to take your business next. If you start to notice that one location consistently provides you with a higher profit, return to it often or find similar locations that are worth traveling to in the future.

Part of being consistent in business is running regular financial statements to compare your profits and expenses from month to month and year to year. Don’t be afraid to enlist the help of an accountant to help you out with this aspect of your business. As long as you provide accurate information, your accountant can save you hours every month, allowing you to spend more time hitting the road with your business.