Pretty much the biggest downside to travel is the fact that is costs money, potentially a lot of money. Earning money generally requires that we stay in one place and show up at work regularly. This creates a problem since staying in one place is the opposite of what you want to do. Solving this conflict requires that you find a way to earn money while you travel from place to place which is not trivial.
In this blog post I'm going to talk a little about how you can create mobile income streams that aren't tied to a physical location or a single employer very similar to this site. To start with there are a million and one resources on the web that will talk about these topics and most of them are absolute crap. The biggest problem is most of them treat the topic like a get rich quick scheme. Earning money online is not a get rich quick scheme, it is actually a fair bit of work, certainly not quick and while you can make a decent living you probably won't get rich.
All that said here are a few of my best tips:
It Takes Time: My biggest criticism of some of the advice you will see online is how quick and easy they will make it sound. If anyone could go out and start a site making $5000/month in a few months essentially everyone would - it just doesn't work that way. In my experience to get a site up to the point where it is earning consistent and reliable revenue to the point where you can actually take a profit from it takes at least a year. Growing the site (writing blog posts, handling orders, answering emails, ect) takes time every week and there is no such thing as passive income. You will always need to work to maintain the site and much of the actual skill involved is understanding how to minimize that work. My approach is to aim to start a new stream every 8 to 12 months. Since the work involved in growing an income stream varies over the life of the income stream this has the added benefit of keeping things different for me.
Diversified Income Streams are Better: The gist is that having one income stream paying you $5000/month is not as good as having ten income streams paying you $500/month each. The logic is that all income streams are inherently variable, the world changes and that blog that made you a ton last December might only pay you a few dollars this month. Having a diversified selection of income streams helps smooth out this variability and makes things a bit easier to plan around. We own multiple online properties in addition to BCGoodsIntl.com as well as standard investments and mobile jobs which gives us a lot of flexibility and a certain degree of security. Relying on any one income stream is not wise in my opinion.
Never Build on Leased Land: This is related to the topic of diversification but is different enough to warrant a separate tip. It might be a bit difficult to understand so I'll work with an example. Say you are a travel blogger and you primarily earn money by posting on Youtube. You've worked really hard and you've managed to grow your audience to a million subscribers then Youtube decides that they want to change their algorithm. If you've only built your audience in Youtube you could be basically at zero overnight. It sounds extreme but exactly this situation has happened to people. To avoid this in addition to building multiple income streams you need to whenever possible make sure that you diversify the traffic and revenue within an income stream particularly as it gets more substantial. So rather than just rely on Youtube you should buy a domain name and setup a site that you own and drive traffic there via multiple platforms like Twitter or Facebook. This insures that you have at least some control over your own future and it won't all go away in a day.
The exact same logic applies to selling on platforms like Etsy, Ebay and Amazon. Selling on a platform like these is a great way to go as they bring crazy amounts of traffic but at any point they could raise their (already outrageous) fees and if you only had sales via their platform what could you do about it. For this reason even when we start something on an platform like Etsy we always make sure to build a parallel site on a domain we control. BCGoodsIntl.com is a perfect example in that we started on Etsy and still get 66% of our revenue from there but we own our own domain so we can have some stability.
Building the Income Stream can be an Income Stream: Related to the above is the notion that an income stream can be bought and sold. Various sites like Flippa.com and Shopify Exchange will let you buy and sell online properties of all types. So lets say you really love starting online retail sites and building them to a few hundred dollars a month in profit but beyond that point it bores you. You can absolutely build the sites and keep them making the small amount of profit forever or you could built them and sell them to someone who really dislikes that part of the process (like me) and wanted an already started site. It depends a lot on the type of income stream and the general economy but typically a site is worth at least 1.5x the annual profit so a site making $500/month can be sold for $9000 (or way more depending). This relates to the previous point because certain platforms like Etsy do not let you sell the sites you build on them. This is a major consideration if you are not planning to keep the site forever. Note even if you are planning to keep the site forever plans can and do change so having options is key. It is for this reason that I'd strongly recommend a platform like Shopify and a domain that you own.
You need to be Unique: A big challenge that people overlook when trying to create an mobile income stream is that they are now competing with 6+billion people. To stand out in a crowd that size you need to do something at least a bit different then anyone else. You can't just take an existing idea and copy it unless the market is really big and those aren't usually the sorts of niches that are exploitable by small companies.
Take an Existing Idea and Copy it: Remember when I said copying an existing idea was a bad idea - there is one big exception and that is geography. Let's say you are in Germany and your German friends are all talking about a cool site that doesn't exist back home. You can easily take an idea and tweak it for a different market. This is a tried and true method of success and something I'd highly recommend you consider. One of my most successful income streams is a site that I started as an almost identical service to a site serving the US market but focused on the Canadian market. I eventually grew my site to large enough that I entered the US market and I am now the bigger site there as well. You should also see the risk in this story as well - if you are in a dominant position in a regional market make sure you are expanding to all similar markets otherwise your new competitor might.
Do Something that Scales: If you are first thinking about building a mobile income stream you probably start with how can I take my existing job and just do it online. This is a great way to start if you can get your boss to let you work remotely it gives you a ton of freedom. The challenge with your average job is that you don't get paid based on what you produce you get paid based upon how many hours you work. So if you produce ten times as much in an eight hour period too bad you get the same wage as you did yesterday. If BCGoodsIntl sells ten times as much tomorrow I get ten times as much. This scale factor is huge and part of the reason I strongly recommend income streams that scale over things like consulting.
Automation is the Key: As much as possible you need to reduce the day to day boring work of running your income stream. For online sites tools like Zapier allow you to setup zaps that will for example post this blog post to all the BCGoodsIntl social media when I hit publish. This is important because it frees me up to do something more interesting and it also saves me from having to remember all the things that need to be done to publish a blog post. Having a income stream that scales and is automatable is obviously the dream.
Inventory is a Pain: One of the key pain points and things you need to optimize in any business in inventory management. If you look at a large mega corp like Walmart or a small little venture like BCGoodsIntl.com keeping the amount of inventory on hand as low as possible is the secret to success. The simple reason is that inventory costs money and having a bunch of inventory sitting in a warehouse (or your spare bedroom) is very very expensive. The other problem with inventory if you are looking for an income stream to support travel is that you won't be able to handle the storage and shipping yourself so you'll need to pay someone to store the inventory. The last few tips are details on a few online business models with a focus on how they minimize inventory and keep your life simple.
Print-on-Demand: BCGoodsIntl.com is primarily a print on demand company so we'll talk about that one first. Essentially we created all the art work and setup automation such that when an order is received it is sent to a company called Printful which prints the order and ships it directly to our customer. By operating this way we keep zero dollars of inventory in stock and we have no work to do when orders are placed. We only need to step in when a shipping error occurs or we want to create a custom poster for someone. In my humble opinion print on demand is the second best business model out there.
Digital Content: Digital content is the dream business model in my opinion. If you can get people to pay you any amount of money to email them a file or some piece of content and then you can scale that it is brilliant. The reason has to do with the cost of production being fixed versus variable. Not to get too far into MBA land but in business anytime you can shift a variable cost to a fixed cost it is probably a good idea. Let's say you sell vintage travel posters via the print on demand model above. It costs you X dollars to print and ship a poster so you sell the posters for Y dollars and roughly speaking Y-X = P your profit. If you sell 500 posters your profit is 500 P if you sell 1000 posters your profit is 1000 P. This is good but compare it to selling digital content. If your cost to produce the digital content is X and you sell 500 copies your profit is 500Y-X = P but if you sell 1000 copies your profit is 1000Y-X=P. Simply put with digital content your revenue increases but your costs stay fixed and at a certain point the profit margin will run away from any other business model.
Advertising: Rather then sell your digital content you can simply give the content away for free and use the traffic it draws to sell advertising. This business model should be obvious as it is pretty much the backbone of the modern internet so I won't say much about it beyond the fact that making content that people want to consume is not as easy as it sounds. This downside applies to direct sales of digital content as well of course.
Drop Shipping or Outsourced Shipping: Physical goods are a pain in that you need to manage inventory but the way around this is to pay someone else to ship your orders for you. The simplest way to do this is a practice called drop shipping which essentially has the manufacturer ship the orders directly from the factory. This is great in that you hold zero inventory and there are various ways to automate the process but it will not allow you to create properly branded and unique products. Having an off the shelf product arrive in an unbranded envelope (probably from China) is not a good experience for people and will not get you repeat customers. A better way to do this is to pay a warehousing company to hold your inventory and ship it in branded packages to your customers. This can create the experience you want while at the same time saving you from having to pack orders yourself. A great way to start especially if you are not yet travelling is to initially handle the orders yourself and when you get to about 500-1000 orders a month start talking to outsourced shipping companies. This will let you get a decent rate.
Hopefully this has given you some ideas on the sorts of mobile income streams that you could create. If you have any questions feel free to drop them in the comments or on Twitter. If we get interest I'd be happy to do a follow up post as this is an area I've obviously spent a lot of time thinking and learning about.