Overcome start-up jitters by going mobile


It’s likely that at some stage in your career you’ve dreamt of running your own business, due to the perceived flexibility, but haven’t yet taken the entrepreneurial plunge for one reason or another. Perhaps it’s job security, budget constraints, or just a general fear of the unknown – all valid reasons for hesitation. Fortunately, there’s a simple, affordable and relatively low-risk way for aspiring business owners to begin living the entrepreneurial dream: starting a mobile business.

The benefits of taking your skills on the road include lower start-up costs and overheads, flexibility, and of course, the ability to go where your customers are, rather than having to wait for them to come to you. And with a seemingly unlimited number of choices for the type of mobile business you could operate – be it a food truck, mobile catering, hairdressing, pet grooming, retail fashion or fresh produce delivery – you really can harness your existing skills to try something different, without a lot of the pressures and costs associated with running a business in a fixed location.

Learning the ropes.

By starting your business on a smaller scale and budget, you have the unique opportunity to test what works and what doesn’t, and refine what you’re doing to get it right. The flexibility of going mobile also means you can retain your existing employment whilst you establish your business, if you have concerns about cashflow.

Taking your brand mobile also means that customers are your top priority, so by working closely with them and obtaining honest feedback you’ll be able to define your target audience, and go where they go. This way, if you ever want to transition to a fixed address you will already have an established customer-base and choosing an area in which to operate will be less of a gamble.

A flexible lifestyle.

Should you decide to keep your current job or operate your business as a side project initially, being mobile means that you are not restricted to operating within business hours – you can manage your own schedule and determine your own hours. However, many people these days are looking for flexible and convenient services due to their own busy schedules, so it’s important to be open to operating at times that best suit your customers. What the mobile lifestyle does give you is control over how much time you put in, which means you can try to fill your calendar, or say no to things that don’t suit.

You’ll also need to invest time into marketing in order to attract and maintain customers, as unlike a business with a fixed location, people are less likely to simply stumble across you. This is where social media and word-of-mouth can really take you to the next level.

A good example of this is Knafeh Bakery (aka the Bearded Bakers), who run a pop-up bakery from a portable converted shipping container in Sydney and Melbourne. Every day they update their Instagram account with their current locations, and with nearly 63k followers, that is quite the customer base to keep in the loop!

Getting around.

One of the major perks of running a mobile business is the ability to pick up and move if your chosen location isn’t working out. You’re not tied down by a lease and you don’t need to pay rent; you’re the boss and you can go wherever you please – or at least, where you are authorised to operate. You can also start slow, perhaps working only on weekends while you test the waters to figure out which areas you should be targeting, and at what times.

Another great benefit for mobile businesses – especially food-related businesses – is their popularity with festivals and events. Once you are established and make contact with the organisers, it’s likely you will start to be invited to attend events regularly, which is great exposure for your brand, and even better for sales.

On the flipside, if you’ve done your research and determined a location that seems perfect for your business, you may indeed be better off with a fixed location where you’ll spend more time serving customers, instead of looking for them.

Learn on the job.

If you’ve never run a business before, a small-scale mobile business can be an excellent opportunity to learn the skills required to run a larger operation. By starting out small you can learn all there is to know about marketing, branding, organisation and administration, which are some of the key elements that drive successful business.

Costs and risks.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, more than 60% of small businesses will cease operation within the first three years of starting [Source: Huffington Post] But don’t let this deter you! By establishing a comprehensive business plan and considering each move before you make it, you can substantially lower the risks.

What’s great about a mobile business is that there is less risk if things do go wrong, thanks to the lower start-up costs and absence of a lock-in lease. Though that’s not to say the costs involved are by any means small. Generally speaking, the biggest single expense for a mobile business is the vehicle itself, and in some cases the equipment that needs to go in it.

Though the numbers vary depending on your type of business, initial costs of equipment, customisation, branding and stock often add up quickly. Vehicle and equipment maintenance, insurance, access to portable electricity and internet, hiring staff, POS systems and replenishing stock are continuous expenses, so you’ll need to plan your budget carefully to ensure you get the foundations and ongoing cost estimates right.

Hard work ahead.

Being mobile certainly doesn’t go hand in hand with things being easy, because owning your own business will always be hard work – fixed or mobile.

Running a successful mobile business means being across the regulations and licenses you are required to adhere to – particularly when it comes to food service – and of course you can’t just park wherever you like. Local councils often have different rules and requirements, and it’s your responsibility to make sure you comply.

Before you take the plunge, it’s a good idea to research what potential competitors are up to and see if there’s a gap in the market for your business. Try contacting the local authorities to understand the many codes, regulations and permit requirements, and even talk to other local mobile vendors who may give you advice on how to get started. You want to be as informed as possible so there are no nasty surprises when you do eventually put yourself out there.


About the author

Adrian Cordiner is a writer for Nisbets Australia, and recently put together a full guide on How to Start a Mobile Catering Business. He is passionate about business, marketing, and technology, and gets a lot out of sharing his discoveries with other passionate people.