How We Run Our Business Full Time in a Sprinter Van
Some people shy away from talking about money or letting others inside their businesses. Not us! You may have read our earlier blog posts about how we make money while living in a van and how much are we really saving by living in a van. This week, we wanted to talk about how we actually run our business on the road!
Let me just start out by saying this. No, our parents didn’t pay for our sprinter van and we actually do work. A lot.
We started freelancing about 7 years ago. We did wedding photography, senior portraits, logo designs, birthday and wedding invitations… you name it. In 2014, we decided to start our own business called State of Mind Studio. Since then, it has evolved into what you see today... Dynamo Ultima!
We’re a branding studio, but we’re not your average branding studio.
We take our customer’s brands and we bring them to life using video, photography, dynamic website design, menu design, and so much more. In order for us to do this, we need to be able to communicate with our clients, have access to internet, and plan out our days so that we can meet deadlines.
While it may seem like it would be so much more difficult to run a business from a van, we think it’s even better than your standard stationery studio. To us, good ideas don’t come from sitting in an office all day. They come from our experiences, especially the ones we have out in nature.
Running a business remotely is a lot different than a desk job. Even if you already work from home, transitioning to working from the road requires quite a few adjustments that you may not think about right off the bat.
I’m going to go over everything that goes into running our business full time on the road and how we make it work for us.
The first and most important thing we need to consider at all times is how we can effectively do our job from whatever location we find ourselves in. We aren’t required to be in our client's offices or meet them at coffee shops because the work we do doesn’t hinge on us being there in person. We use Skype to conduct virtual meetings rather than meeting up with our clients in person.
Sometimes our work does require us to be on location, for example, some of the photography and video work that we do. This is great because we are able to work with a client ANYWHERE in North America to get the job done. If a client needs a brand video, we’ll plan a trip to that location for the specific job. This is perfect for clients that want images or shots in their video that aren’t in their hometown.
Vlogging & Video Production
This could be its own blog post and vlog all by itself, but we figured we’d give a brief overview of how we do this while we’re on the road. We use our Canon MKIII 5D to record all of our vlogs and create videos for our clients. We have some lighting and other video equipment stored in our van as well. Our setup is really simple and we make it work with what we already have! We eventually want to buy a vlogging camera, but for now, we use the MKIII. Once we record all of our footage, we upload all of that content into our external hard drives like this one here. It’s rugged, so it’s great for on-the-go work.
As for video production, Cody usually spends hours (and hours) editing our videos. He uses Adobe Premiere to edit all of our content. We also like to add animated hand drawings into our videos, so I usually write and draw everything we’ll need, then we scan it in, trace it in Adobe Illustrator, and Cody will drop the .png image into Adobe Premiere. It’s quite the process, but we are working on developing a custom font so that we don’t have to waste as much paper scanning things in for every video.
Editing our videos doesn’t require internet access, so we’re able to do It from anywhere!
Cody and I are pretty introverted, which means we’d rather not go to networking events. But over the years, we’ve learned that networking is crucial to our success.
Networking doesn’t have to be lame or scary. It’s simply just putting yourself out there and being kind to others. The best way for us to network is to go to events, van life gatherings, meet other van dwellers, etc. We also use social media as a networking tool. By interacting with people through messaging, comments, and stories, we are able to build meaningful relationships with people. This in turn will grow our brand awareness, and eventually help us find people that are interested in what we offer.
Pricing our Services
Let’s face it, putting a price on what you do is straight up one of the hardest things about running a business. Basically, you need to come up with an hourly rate that is based off how much money you need to get by + how many years you’ve been in business + your experience and how much people are seeking your expertise + taxes… etc. etc.
Pricing is a challenge, but you have to start somewhere. The best way to figure out pricing is to just pick something that feels right based off of the general formula I have above. This requires a little bit of time spent examining your expenses and making a budget. Then, as you work with more and more people you can slowly raise your rates over time. We have to be mindful of the fact that there’s two of us, and we try to price our jobs accordingly so we both receive a fair salary for the work we do. If you are a solo freelancer, your rates may be a little lower than a larger studio with multiple employees.
Finding clients is probably the most difficult thing about running a 1:1 service-based business. We’ve ran into a few times where we were so focused on our work that we forgot to market our services to draw in more future clients. We would wrap up all of our projects and realize we have no income coming in the next month.
We’ve discovered that if you don’t nurture your audience and let them know what you do, they won’t think of you when they are looking for help with a project. So, you constantly have to tell people what you do, share your work, promote your products, etc. This doesn’t have to feel gross or sound salesy. You just have to show people that you have some valuable skills to offer. We use Instagram, YouTube, and our blog to help us find clients. In fact, a lot of our clients have found us through Youtube. While we don’t overly promote our services on our videos, we often talk about what we are working on which in turn causes people to become interested in what we do.
By sharing who we are, what we do, and the value we provide our clients, we’re able to build trust with our audience so they think of us next time they need a new brand identity for a business idea, a video for social media, or photography of their products.
Other Sources of Income
When we first moved into the van, the only source of income we had was through our business and our 1:1 client work. We quickly learned that there are slow seasons and sometimes we wouldn’t have any clients coming in. To alleviate those stressful situations, we’ve learned to create multiple sources of income. This also helps when clients are late with payments or they have to put a project on hold. We earn money through Hipcamp, YouTube, affiliate marketing, and through our blog. We’re also developing digital products that we’re going to sell on our website so that we can earn even more.
These additional income streams have made van life and running our business on the road really easy and a lot less stressful, which is why we are creating an extremely helpful toolkit for you! This toolkit will show you all of the ways we earn an income on the road. If you are interested, click the link to sign up for our interest list while we develop the product.
“What do you do for internet?” We get asked this question a lot. Because we are running a full-time business, we need to be able to access the internet for emails, bookkeeping, banking, accounting, social media, marketing, and more. So, we had to come up with a few solutions for internet access while we are on the road. The first solution was a mobile hotspot. We get 25GB of data per month through our phone plan. This is more than enough to do basic stuff like emails, bookkeeping, etc.
When it comes to uploading videos and downloading files from our clients, we had to find another solution. Uploading and downloading files can easily burn through a TON of data. So, when we have to do this, we head to a local library, Starbucks, or any local coffee shop we can find. We like Starbucks the most because they have food and coffee and reliable internet. The library is also great because it’s quiet and you can pretty much stay there all day to get stuff done.
Working at a Desk
When we work at the library and coffee shops we automatically get a desk. But what about when we don’t need to use the internet? Where do we work? That’s where our van studio comes into play. Our bed turns into a huge 6-7 seat table, complete with outlets and USB ports so we can charge our computers, cameras, and other electronic devices.
Working in our van is our favorite part about having our own remote studio. Our laptops allow us the freedom to take our work anywhere, but the table in our van allows us to work in beautiful locations that definitely help us generate ideas and become more inspired creatives.
Communicating with Clients
Working 1:1 with our clients requires a lot of communication. While we sometimes may not have internet access, we always make sure to check our emails in a timely manner and give our clients our phone number just in case anything urgent comes up.
Communication is normally done through email and we have a set process and timeline for our branding projects which helps us plan out which days we need to be readily available for communication. This requires a good amount of planning and using apps like Asana to help with project management. We also use a standard paper calendar so we can keep track of projects and important deadlines even when we don’t have access to an app.
This is something we’ve found to be extremely helpful in running our business. Every time we sign on a new client, there are a lot of steps that go into getting them all set up. To save time and accommodate our limited access to the internet, we use Hello Bonsai to automate sending contracts, proposals, and invoices to our clients. After we started using this app in our business, we found we get paid much faster. Plus, if our clients’ payment is due it will automatically send reminders to them so that we don’t have to have that awkward money convo.
We also use Convertkit to automate our email list. This helps us get people on our email list and it automatically sends out our free Van Life Resource Guide. We can send content to our audience in our sleep! This not only keeps people engaged with our business on a consistent basis, it also saves us a lot of time.
Keeping up with the Real World
Because we live in a van, our schedule is a little off. We’re a lot more spontaneous in our decisions and sometimes we don’t work on Mondays. So, in order to keep aligned with the rest of the world, we make sure that we set deadlines for ourselves and we write everything down on our calendar. We also make sure to upload blog posts, send emails, post social media updates, and communicate with our clients during the week and we leave the weekends as their “day off.”
Scheduling our blog posts, automating our tasks, and even scheduling our emails ahead of time helps us stick to the real world 9-5 schedule without actually having to do it.
When you live in a van and work full time as an entrepreneur, you have to figure out ways to stay productive and get things done while having fun and traveling.
We make sure we take days off, and we also try to plan when we will be working and where. We know we’re most productive at the library, so sometimes we have to go there to get our work done. It’s not too hard to stay productive when you’re doing what you love! But, there are times when you have to figure out which project to prioritize. We use Asana and our handy dandy paper calendar like this one to keep track of everything and it works out really well for us.
This is just a brief overview of how we run our business on the road. I hope you enjoyed it! If you are interested in these topics, leave a comment below and let us know what else you’d like us to cover!