Any business that doesn’t operate out of a particular location is a mobile business. That definition covers a wide range: anything from trucking, to electricians, to hot dog stands. For people who want to be their own boss but don’t have access to much capital, a small mobile business can be a great solution.
However, determining how to start a mobile business can be more complicated than starting a regular business, so you have to review mobile business ideas carefully and learn exactly how to start a mobile business before you consider yourself open for business.
Mobile businesses can be broken down into three categories:
1. Your Business Is Your Vehicle
This category includes any business that transports people or things. You may own a cab, a fleet of trucks, or a delivery bike. No matter how much time and money you have to invest, or how much ground you’d like to cover, this category will include something to fit your needs.
2. Your Vehicles Take You to Your Business
In this category, the vehicle isn’t the main part of the business. A lot of professions are, by definition, mobile businesses. Any job that requires going to the client’s work site is technically a mobile business, even if you also have an office. For example, contractors, electricians, and plumbers work, by definition, in their clients’ space. Service providers like personal trainers or cosmetologists often work out of a gym or salon but some go directly to their clients, in which case they are also included in this type of mobile business.
3. Your Business Is Inside Your Vehicle
The most common examples of this are food trucks of all sorts but mobile truck business ideas go well beyond sandwiches and street meat. Around the country, people are selling everything from haircuts to art classes out of the backs of trucks. With a little imagination and marketing flair, almost any type of small business can be turned into a mobile truck business.
The Advantages of Operating a Mobile Business
Mobile businesses offer a number of advantages. As a mobile business owner, you’re out of the house but don’t have to spend a lot on commercial real estate. Moving around means that your client base isn’t limited to a specific area and you can meet your customers where they are, instead of hoping they come to you. This way, if business slows down in one area, you can just get up and move.
The Disadvantages of Mobile Businesses
Mobile businesses offer some great opportunities but they also come with some added headache and risk. For example, a mobile business relies on your staying mobile. If you work in an office, you could probably keep working with a broken ankle. But if you run a mobile business, even a minor fall or car trouble can be a serious setback. You’ll also need completely different sets of licenses and insurance policies if you’re operating in other people’s homes or on city streets.
A mobile business will always be slightly different from a business run out of a brick-and-mortar storefront. But there are ways to minimize the risks and maximize the benefits of operating on-the-go:
Certifications and Licensing
These are often different for mobile businesses and will take some time to sort through. Of course, you’ll need a drivers’ license for whatever type of vehicle you use. You may also need a special type of business license. Depending on your city and the radius you’ll be traveling, you may need to get business licenses for more than one municipality. If you’re planning to operate outdoors, selling a product or service out of your vehicle, you may need a street vendor license and may have to do some research about exactly where you’re allowed to set up shop.
Taxes and Tax Deductions
Taxes and tax deductions for mobile businesses can get very complicated. Even within a single state, each city and county can charge their own sales and businesses taxes and so you may need to pay one tax rate at your first stop of the day and a different rate when you’re working one block over. On the other hand, you may be eligible for more tax deductions than if you worked in a single location. For example, you’d have trouble claiming a business deduction on a car that you just drove to the office every day, but if you’re driving all day to visit clients you can probably claim the car, gas, and even maintenance as self-employment tax deductions.
This is one of the most important ways that you can lower the risks associated with mobile businesses. General liability insurance is important for any business, but when you’re working on other people’s property or in public spaces with lots of passersby, it’s critical. Commercial auto insurance is also vital when your income relies heavily on your vehicle. It’s what you’ll rely on if your vehicle is involved in an accident. It covers damage to third parties but also helps keep your vehicle up and running.
Good marketing is especially important with a mobile business but your strategy will have to depend on the type of business you run. If you work in people’s homes, you can’t rely on potential clients to wander in as they pass by. If you are selling products from a vehicle, cart, or mobile store, you’ll have to find ways to present yourself as reliable. Make it clear that you work out of your truck because you’re hip, spontaneous, and fun, and not because you can’t afford a permanent workspace.
There are a lot of small mobile business ideas that can work for you. But to successfully determine how to start a mobile business, you’ll have to carefully choose the best mobile business to start based on the market in your area and your personal skill set. Once you’ve done that, make sure to do the research and get set up right, and then you’ll be on your way!