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This guest article was written by Krista Ann, a nomadic knitter. She lives in a 26-foot Grand Design Imagine RV with her husband Garner and their cat Phinny. She knits for the film industry, sells finished pieces from her RV and offers free and paid patterns from her website. She fulfills orders from wherever in the world she is at the moment and is loving exploring new places and being inspired by new adventures! You can follower her on Instagram at @knitsyknits or check out her website, ExploreWithKnitsy.com.
Did you know that running a crafty business as a way to earn income while living a nomadic lifestyle is totally possible? Seriously! I’ve been doing it for almost two years now and my business is continuing to grow as fast as my new experiences are.
After twenty years in Los Angeles, I finally talked my husband into leaving his beloved city and hitting the road indefinitely. I have been a nomadic knitter living and traveling in an RV full time for almost two years now, and we are absolutely loving the freedom it allows. (You can read more about how we downsized our lives so we could hit the road here.)
I make the bulk of my money from working with costume designers and knitting for the film and TV industry. Being in LA was helpful, but as more and more shows move film production outside of Hollywood, not much has changed for my process. I was concerned about how my longtime clients would react to my leaving LA, but they have been wonderfully supportive in my quest for more adventure. I continue to be responsive to texts and emails as well as working hard to stay ahead of my clients’ deadlines. I keep my clients informed about shipping times, tracking numbers, and any delays that happen in the process. As the months have passed, I have also discovered new ways of making some quick cash as a nomadic knitter right out of our RV.
Creating and selling your crafty goods while on the road is an amazing way to pay for your adventures, but there are definitely some obstacles to be aware of and be prepared to overcome. Once you get into the groove of running your creative business from the road, you will see that the benefits outweigh the struggles by a longshot! (Read my article here on the reasons why I love being a nomadic knitter!)
In this article, I'm going to share some insights into running a craft business on the road and tips for how to handle the logistics while still enjoying a nomadic life by answering some of the questions I'm most frequently asked by people interested in running a craft business as a full time RVer.
Q: How am I going to ship orders and receive supplies by mail while traveling full time in an RV?
Getting regular mail while on the road isn’t too tricky: set up a mailbox somewhere that you consider to be your home base, or have it sent to a relative or trusted friend who is willing to forward it on to you. But what about when you need large packages of supplies delivered? And then after you have worked your magic with those supplies, how do you quickly get them shipped off to their new homes when you make a sale? This is a valid concern and a situation that I encounter almost weekly.
The first thing you must accept is that most places where you take your RV will not be near big cities where overnighting packages is easily accessible. I lived in Los Angeles for twenty years and I absolutely took for granted how easy it was to get something shipped to or from New York in less than twenty-four hours. This luxury is not an option for me these days.
When receiving packages, plan ahead and do your research. Look on the website you are having materials shipped from and see what their shipping cut off times and estimated delivery times are. Don’t be afraid to call them right after you place your order and ask them to verify with their shipping department that they received the order. And be aware that their shipping times are generalized and weekends are not included in those day estimates. If you order something Friday night and it says 2-3 day delivery, don’t expect to receive it until Wednesday or Thursday.
Call the campground you are having the package shipped to (or if you are already there, go to the front office and talk to them in person) and confirm you have the right shipping address. Don’t make the mistake I did in trusting Google to give me the correct address. I had to chase four packages down in Middle-of-Nowhere Montana because Google gave me the wrong address for the campground.
During this phone or in-person conversation, you'll also want to confirm that having packages shipped is okay. Sometimes the campground will want the package labeled in a certain way to ensure you receive it. For example, if my husband has something shipped, he puts it under my name because my name is what our reservations are under. If a package arrives to a campground office and they don’t recognize the name on the package, it is possible that they will deny acceptance.
When it comes to sending out packages to fulfill orders you have completed, make sure your customer has accurate shipping options. Don’t offer overnight delivery in your shipping options if this isn’t always possible. As I stated above, most of the time overnighting won’t be possible! Be up front with your customers and let them know if a package is going to go out later than you expected. Over estimate the amount of time it will take for a package to arrive. If you think it will take 4-5 days, tell them a week so you can under promise and over deliver when their package ends up arriving earlier than they expected.
Lastly, check the hours of the post office local to where you are currently staying. The smaller the town, the fewer hours per day it will be open. Few things are more frustrating than showing up to a post office at 3 p.m. on a Friday to ship a package only to see a sign on the door that says they closed at 2 p.m. and aren’t open on the weekends.
Q: How can I ensure I have strong enough WiFi to run an online business and communicate with customers?
My favorite thing to read on a campground website is, “We have free WiFi!” Well, I love it until I show up and try to get on said WiFi and I can’t even open an email – let alone send a file to anyone. Not all WiFi is created equal, and you can’t always trust the claims a campground makes on the strength of their WiFi speed.
Some RVers suggest having a jetpack by one service provider and keeping your cell phone through a different service provider. If I need to get a lot of serious internet work happening (like when I was working with my web designer and needed to send her lots of photos and files), I do one of two things: Either I drive around town and find a coffee shop or a McDonald's and check their signal strength, or I wait until around midnight or 1 a.m. and get on the campground WiFi to do my work. When most people are sleeping, there is more bandwidth to get your files sent. Sometimes Visitor Centers also have free WiFi that can be decent, so be sure and check them out (and pick up a pile of brochures on things to do when you aren’t busy working!).
The good news is that access to WiFi is only getting better as each day goes by. Elon Musk is working on his Starlink satellite program that will give RVers some serious reasons to celebrate. (You can read more about Starlink in this article.) Right now finding solid signal is a bit of a struggle in more remote areas, but I don’t expect it to be too long before the hunt for signal is a thing of the past.
Q: Where am I going to keep all of my supplies and finished pieces?
The struggle is real! My business is yarn and lots of yarn takes up lots of space! RVs have come a long way with offering unique places for storage, but an RV will never have the space a foundation home has, and that’s the reality of it.
Keep space limitations in mind when deciding what you want your business to be and what types of variations you want to offer. If you crochet and want to sell finished pieces, maybe don’t offer that beautiful crocheted hat in twenty different colors and five different sizes.
Also, think about your particular needs when planning to store supplies in exterior compartments or inside a tow vehicle. Perhaps you want to make soap from the road, for example; in that case, remember that most of your supplies have to be kept inside where they won’t melt or go bad from extreme weather conditions.
I have become a master at finding places to cram yarn, but our rig still has its limits. Plan ahead and choose two or three types of items you want to focus on selling. Then really focus on selling those items until they are gone and you can order a new box of supplies and make your next batch. Pay attention to what your customers are buying, and do your research to see what items sell well so that you aren’t creating pieces that will only take up space and not sell quickly.
Q: How can I maintain a clutter free work space?
When I lived in a foundation home, I had an entire room where I could stash away all of my in-progress projects and finished pieces. Now our entire living space is half the size of that one room.
Keep your setup so that it is easy to take out and put away. Maybe you make jewelry and have a supply of beads stashed under your bed. In that case, you won’t be using all of those beads for one project. Take out what you need and tuck the rest away in a place not easily accessible. Create your in-progress setup so that it fits on your table and can be closed up and put away to somewhere much more accessible when it’s time to eat dinner.
I highly recommend keeping a supply of Command hooks on hand. There is more hanging space around your RV than you might think! If it’s hanging on a wall, that means it isn’t taking up space in a storage compartment!
Q: How will I find new customers?
Don’t narrow your customer base to only online. Yes, Facebook, Instagram, and Etsy are wonderful places to push your goods, but open your eyes up to where else you can find potential buyers.
Maybe you are handy with fabric and have a portable sewing machine that you take on the road with you and sell your lovely handmade bags. If it’s a beautiful day out, set up your sewing machine outside and work in the fresh air. Stake a sign in front of your RV telling people that you make and sell one-of-a-kind bags. RVers are massively supportive of each other, and many have dogs to walk! Being outside working and letting people see you work is a wonderful way to bring in new customers and make immediate cash. And the best part – you don’t have to deal with shipping costs or the hassle of finding a post office!
Ask the campground front office if you can put a pile of your business cards at the check-in desk. Leave a little sign that tells people what site you are in and that you have beautiful items for sale. (Be sure to check the state’s website for their tax laws. Every state is different, and some states will allow you to sell goods up to a certain amount of money before they require you to file a local sales tax form.)
Take advantage of your mobility! Have a clipboard with a place where people you meet along the way can sign up for your newsletter. Pack cards in your hiking backpack and hand them out when you meet people on the trails. Seriously, you have a massive advantage as an RVer: your potential customer changes as often as you change locations!
Q: Can a crafty person actually make and grow a creative business from the road?
I hope you see that this is not only 100% possible, but there are definitely advantages to being mobile and running a creative business. No matter where you are, what your lifestyle is, or what you sell, you are going to encounter obstacles. But when the upside is that you can have the freedom to explore new places and take on new adventures often…finding a post office or a space to stash your stash really isn’t a major obstacle to overcome!
Here are some resources I like where you can further explore this career path:
- The RV Entrepreneur Podcast – Not exclusively about crafting, but great for people who want to work on the road in any type of business. The show features interviews with all kinds of nomadic business owners, including musicians, digital creators, photographers, and more. (I was interviewed on Episode 208!) They also have a private Facebook group that people can join to connect with other nomadic entrepreneurs.
- Handmade Business Summit – Interviews with 14 Experts in the Creative Business world (I might be on there! ☺)
- Craftcation: The Handmade Life Conference – This is a conference I like to go to when I can that has a lot of wonderful speakers about making money in a handmade business.