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September 10, 2017

RUNNING A BUSINESS ON THE ROAD

We hit the road over a year ago looking for some excitement and a change of lifestyle, but didn’t want to lose a sense of purpose or building something. We hoped that we would maybe find a way to grow our adventure into something bigger and something that could make a difference along the way. The result has been Bumbu Lifestyle, which is ethical underwear built for adventure. We aim to incorporate what we have learned from our own experiences and encourage people to explore and look after the natural world in the way we have done and found so rewarding. You wear underwear every day, so the encouragement and support will always be there as constant motivation!
We knew when we set off that we would like to start a business that would be born out of our adventure, but we had no idea at the time that this would be Bumbu Lifestyle or anything to do with bamboo underwear. However, it did mean we equipped the van with a few essentials for running a business a smoothly as possible. As a result, Bumbu has been taken from an initial concept to a developed product ready for sale, and this has happened entirely on the road. Now, this can cause a few issues, but can also be really helpful.
All the technology required is readily available and is an easily achievable DIY job for anybody. Solar power and an inverter to keep laptops and phones charged for communications are a must. In other words, we went off the grid, without being entirely off the grid! You don’t want to be tied to visiting caravan parks and paying for power or sitting in coffee shops waiting for things to charge. The whole point of running a business while on the road is that you maximise your adventure time, and fit in the work alongside it to strike the work life balance that suits you best.
This means dual batteries and an isolator are vital. Work out what you want to run. Product websites will tell you the power it takes to run things like fridges, lights, and inverters in terms of amp hours. Don’t skimp on the battery, get one with plenty of amp hours that isn’t going to drain too quickly. Better still, get more than one if you have the space and budget. You will make savings in the long run. That way if you find that perfect camp spot, but it’s deep in the shade of the jungle, you can go without solar for a few days. Another tip here is having your solar panel detachable. It’s great to have it charging on the roof of the van all the time, but it’s good to be able to make camp in the shade and run an extension cable to a panel that’s in the full sun all day. Easily done by having your panel detachable from roof bars and joined with an Anderson plug.
As for the inverter, just get the smallest you need to charge your laptops. Modified sine wave 300 watts is fine for most, no need to go for the large wattage expensive pure wave ones. They will just empty your power store faster (and your wallet!). Only use the inverter when you need to  – be sure to install some USB sockets to charge any other devices through 12V battery power.
Plan your wiring and run everything through a switchboard. That way you can easily turn things off at the switch and make sure you don’t accidentally drain the battery. We went to a marine store and bought one for a boat, they are tough and water resistant. It’s also a good idea to get a fused switch board as to protect your technology.
While for some the pleasure of hitting the road is being able to disconnect, it’s vital to have easy access to communications (internet) if you plan on running a business on the road. Remember you can disconnect whenever you want, it’s just a mindset and the flick of a switch. It’s so easy and convenient these days to hotspot a phone that you can have the internet wherever you have a connection. If there’s a couple of you, get a service plan with different providers, that way if one doesn’t have coverage, the other might. It’s helped us out quite a few times on the road when we need to get an email out.
Something that was important was to have plenty of data available, particularly if you plan on developing a website for your business. We have built our website www.bumbu.com.au while we have been on the road. This is easily achievable for even biggest web developer novice (aka me!). With lots of website hosting options out there, it’s easy to build and maintain your own website. Sure the extra data costs a bit more, but it’s way cheaper than buying lunch in cafes for their wifi, and the amount of freedom and flexibility it gives you makes it well worth any extra cost. There are lots of options for even more remote internet access out there through satellite connections but the kit required and cost of the data involved makes it fairly impractical and out of reach. If comms is that vital – stay a little closer to civilization for a while. Which leads me to my next point…

Plan your adventures around your business, and plan your business around your adventures.

We have always been super keen to make our business and adventure one and the same. We want our business to be part of our adventure, and our adventure to be reflected in the product. That is what the Bumbu Lifestyle is all about. That’s not to say it doesn’t take some thought and planning. If you are at a critical stage of negotiations or need to be able to respond quickly to emails, plan some adventures that you know will allow you to have a phone (internet) connection, and that will obviously let you take your phone along. That means canoeing or a hike deep into the backcountry is probably out, but a cliff top hike along the coast in a beautiful country town, or a quick surf between calls is easily achievable.
Any business selling a physical product will go through a research and development phase. For us, this has meant lots of fabric samples of different bamboo and organic cotton blends, along with different waistbands, so lots of bulky packages coming and going. If you are getting a product delivery or some samples sent, discuss postage time frames with your supplier and plan ahead to decide upon a suitable delivery address. You can get things delivered to any Post Office so no need to be restricted to one address. Or if it’s a significant delivery and you have friends or family somewhere, plan a visit and get it sent there. You get to catch up and run your business efficiently at the same time! Win win!
Sometimes you will also have to accept that you will have to dedicate a few days away from nature and head to the big smoke to get things done. Don’t view this as a hindrance,  it’s all part of the adventure, view this as your opportunity to maximise your business productivity. For example, with our business being about bamboo underwear, we have to meet with specifically skilled people such as designers and pattern makers who specialize in stretch fabrics. When we meet them in a city, we take the opportunity to make other meetings with packing suppliers to see if we can reduce our environmental impact further.
I mentioned before the benefits of being on the road. You’re available and flexible all the time to go wherever you need to for your business. A meeting with a designer in Melbourne? Easy. A check of your fabric in Brisbane? No problem. A market promotion in Byron Bay on the way? Sounds like fun! No need to pay for expensive flights or accommodation either. And you get to road trip your way everywhere and take in all the fun opportunities this presents. Just check out @bumbulifestyle to see what we mean. Not only that, you get to develop marketing material, promote your business and visit trade fairs and markets connecting with like minded people the entire way! I think for a business born on the road, it would be hard to operate if you set up in an office and take that flexibility away once you’re used to the freedom and opportunity it provides.
So sure, it takes a bit of thought and planning. But if you get the balance right, you won’t even think of it as running a business. We don’t think of Bumbu Lifestyle as a separate business. It’s a large part of our adventure on the road and it’s taking us to some amazing places along the way. If anyone would like any more info on running a business on the road, feel free to contact hello@bumbu.com.au and I’ll get back to you from wherever the adventure has taken us!