When we started putting together our water system we decided to look for a stainless steel tank. Even though plastic tank options are FDA-approved for potable water use, we still don’t like the idea of our drinking water being in contact with plastic for extended periods. Sure, they say it’s “safe,” but not long ago water bottles containing BPA were considered to be safe.
As part of my antique restoration work I do a lot of faux finishing – hence the supply of stains and paints. Since I didn’t want to dust the house, the new shop is not connected to the house heat and air system. But, having just finished our first winter I now know the shop didn’t get below 45 degrees – and, the oven in the corner can make the shop toasty in no time at all.
I wouldn’t give up on Craigslist or garage sales.. For around $1K or less, you can pretty easily find the four big ticket items (TS, BS, Jointer and Planer) and have the extra $2K to spend on accessories, material, DC, other goodies, etc. The key is patience and persistence, and if applied correctly, you can have a fantastic setup for very little compared to purchasing new. If you are setting up a business, you don’t usually have the time to scour for good deals, but for a personal shop, there is no pressing need other than that itch to get something done.
You can see I broke the ultimate goal down into smaller tasks. Now you just need to do this for all the big goals that you have mapped out for the year. You may have more ideas or goals throughout the year and that’s okay. With this type of document, you are able to add another category and tasks anytime you want. This is just the best way to keep track of all the little things you need to do to accomplish your goals so you never are stuck wondering what you have to do next.

Perhaps the most satisfying move I made was to automate the dust collection system. I used the iVACPro system to link all machines to the dust collector. When I turn on any machine in the shop, the dust collector fires up and whisks the dust into the bin. The system also has a programmable delay to allow the dust to make it to the bin before the dust collector shuts down. I set my system for a five-second delay. The system works flawlessly for my band saw, planer, and router table at 115 volts, and also my table saw and jointer at 240 volts. 
Some people lean towards starting a small business because they seek freedom, others to fulfill their passions. Some entrepreneurs, however, are driven by a desire to build a legacy, one that that they can hand down to generations to come. Whatever your reasons are for reaching for the stars and aiming for the moon, before you start, remember, there is a dark side.
We first obtained legal permission from Hasbro [which originally developed the Transformer toy line back in the 1980s] to build it late in 2015. I also had to obtain my commercial driver’s license (CDL), so I spent a few months learning how to drive a truck while simultaneously spending the winter of 2015-16 working with Western Star to piece together on paper a vehicle that mirrored the Optimus Prime truck. Once the factory delivered the truck in April 2016, we got to work on the customization and fabrication right away. It was roadworthy again by October 2016. So the entire process from start to finish was about a year.
Now nobody reasonably expects you to actually hit that exact number in five years time, but the point here is accountability. A really great small business plan forces you to think through your goals, associate a dollar value with each, and articulate clearly how you will make them a reality. By declaring your projected revenue in month seven or your expenses in year five, you are giving yourself a benchmark for success.
Great article, Ryan! I love the detailed explanations of the various options for sleeping. I consider myself a veteran “light-duty traveler” who stumbled across some of these things by accident over the years. My needs are different than yours (I’m usually traveling long distances for days and weeks at a time for work or vacation, so I usually don’t hunker down in a base camp very often), but I have a few questions and points to share:

Once you have your space secured, hang some pictures in the windows that illustrate what’s to come. It’s also a good idea to provide leaflets that people can take away with them and hang a clipboard and pen on the front door where people can sign up to hear more about your business. This list is pure gold! So once you have it, why not stage a launch party and invite the local community (and local journalists). The first step for any business is always getting people to try out your products!
If you want that homey cabin feel inside your van, then lining the walls and/or ceiling with tongue-and-groove paneling is a good choice. Paneling looks awesome - the cedar paneling on our ceiling is one of the defining features of our van. And we cut ours to random lengths and stained it several colors to really give it that mismatched, rustic look.

“Your sales floor is a living, breathing entity that needs to change—frequently—in order to flourish. It’s the retailer’s job to make that happen. If your store is filled with the latest and greatest products, but your sales are in a rut, it could be because your customers are bored. They come to your store not just to buy; they come for ideas and inspiration. And they come to be entertained—even when they don’t buy anything, that experience is what brings them back.”
A warning out of concern and love for my fellow 'ablers. A framing nailer is a VERY dangerous tool. Not something to loan out willy-nilly to just anybody. For a small project like this it's just not going to save a lot of time. Most of us are better off burning the extra calories that swinging a hammer uses anyhow. Emergency rooms are seeing a lot of visits because a lot of guys see these on TV and at your big box stores and think they look cool. They are only marginally safer than shooting at the nails with a pistol. (Hmmm...). Be careful, PLEASE.

As always, great article! While my dirtbag adventure will likely only be about 6-7 months, I am starting to wonder about logistics. You mention that most people use the automobile they have. I drive a Prius. Not ideal for sleeping in, but I’m a pretty content ground dweller. I know that long-term I may start to question this. Here’s the proposition I’m considering: by saving on gas (45-50 mpg), I can occasionally cough up the money for lodging when I feel the need for added comfort. I can definitely do the number crunching, but I’m wondering if you’ve encountered people doing this or did similar analyses of your own at any point. I’d love to hear any insights you may have on this.


Couldn’t disagree more. Still got the same setup a few years in. As mentioned the sag is minimal (not non-existent), I place a small removable 2×2 near the tailgate so I can hop up top. You’re not building a home up to code, you’re building a practical truck camping solution, and in my extensive experience it is more than fine. You can do thicker plywood, but realize that it will be much heavier and more cumbersome to move.
From building websites for other small businesses to providing technical support for certain projects, quality web development is in high demand right now. With such a technical skillset, make sure you can describe what you do and how you will do it in easy-to-understand language. Test your messaging on friends and family who don’t have a firm understanding of the work you do.

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The issue with the old shop was manufacturing capacity and layout. We get runs of 4 to 6 of the frames on the left in the last pic and sometimes frames twice that size. We were masters of having everything on wheels, which works for a while but it takes twice as long to build anything that way. Then the office ladies walk through the shop to the kitchen while you are grinding and complain about all the dust etc.
The router—The router is the master when it comes to flexibility. Its potential far exceeds trimming and decorative edge treatments. A router will cut mortises, rabbets, and dadoes, and adding a router table builds in even more versatility, including biscuit joinery and raised-panel doors. But where the router distinguishes itself from all other tools is in its ability to produce identical parts using a pattern.
Finding reliable cellular service (and the internet that comes with it) is a constant challenge in vanlife, especially if you do computer-based work on the road. A cell signal booster like the WeBoost Drive 4G-X helps a lot in areas where service is spotty. It can take a weak cellular signal and amplify it into usable internet for web browsing and getting work done.
There’s a lot of space above the shelf in most closets. Even though it’s a little hard to reach, it’s a great place to store seldom-used items. Make use of this wasted space by adding a second shelf above the existing one. Buy enough closet shelving material to match the length of the existing shelf plus enough for two end supports and middle supports over each bracket. Twelve-inch-wide shelving is available in various lengths and finishes at home centers and lumberyards.
As part of my antique restoration work I do a lot of faux finishing – hence the supply of stains and paints. Since I didn’t want to dust the house, the new shop is not connected to the house heat and air system. But, having just finished our first winter I now know the shop didn’t get below 45 degrees – and, the oven in the corner can make the shop toasty in no time at all.

Ordinary clip-in-place shelf brackets with slotted metal supports can hold a lot of weight. But some-times they’re unstable and can be easily knocked loose. The play in the slots allows the bracket and shelf to shift from side to side. To prevent this, use your circular saw to cut 1/8-in. deep slots into the undersides of the shelves, aligned with each bracket. When the shelf is assembled, the brackets fit into the slots, eliminating the sway. Also check out: How To Build Floating Shelves.


Hey Joe, I just hit 178k on my truck. I remember when I started out the first time around it had like 144k or so. They are known to go quite far, so we’ll see how it goes. Maintenance on the road… I just stop at those oil lube places for the most part, and do regular weekly checks under the hood for fluid levels, etc. I’m not too mechanically inclined!
Just stumbled across your article and it’s right on time as I am about to launch a special events venue (ballrooms, meeting rooms, outside garden area, outsourced caterer, etc). Not sure what type of zoning this business falls under. I read that zones are usually for office, retail, industrial and leisure. Any idea what type of zone I should be looking for? Also first time trying to get a commercial space for this type of business, any specific suggestions?
Some people lean towards starting a small business because they seek freedom, others to fulfill their passions. Some entrepreneurs, however, are driven by a desire to build a legacy, one that that they can hand down to generations to come. Whatever your reasons are for reaching for the stars and aiming for the moon, before you start, remember, there is a dark side.
Radiation is heat transferred through air or a vacuum- think the heat radiating off of a fire. In a van, the biggest source of radiant heat is your windows. Sunlight (radiant heat) shines in through the windows and heats up the inside of your van. Using a reflective window covering will help deflect radiant heat and keep your van cool. Reflective surfaces also help keep radiant heat inside the van during the winter.
A table saw is one of the most important tools in the workshop for its ability to make long straight cuts. It will also cross cut with ease and if you don’t want to cut clean through a board you can adjust the height of the blade to make a dado or rabbet. A handy feature with the BTS10ST table saw is the vertical stand which also saves on storage space.

Inventory management — especially when first starting a small business — at its most basic level consists of counting how many of a given product (let’s say apples) you have for sale in the morning, keeping track of that number, then reducing it by one each time an apple is sold. At the end of the sales day, you count the leftover apples and make sure the number of apples in your inventory system matches whatever you actually have in store. When you have an accurate apple count, you call your supplier and order as many as you need to make sure you have enough on hand for the next day.

The first is that they will need to be powered by a product catalog. Many times that already exists and an app will just leverage APIs or web services to pull back products. If it doesn't, however, it will require either a custom buildout (beware!) or leveraging platforms like Shopify, Magento, or comparable solutions. The strength of these tools include providing the administration interface to add new inventory, APIs or SDKs, ways to store items in a cart, and similar features. The downsides are that you'll be limited by their workflow and customizations.

Simply get a one-inch drywall screw and drive it into the hole right beside the hook. You want to use a one inch screw because you don’t want to hit the wall behind it and you just drive the screw in until the head of it is tight against the hook, it’ll just act as a shim, and you’ll see once I get this all the way in, it lock the hook in place, and now when you take the tool on and off it won’t come off. The hook won’t pop out.

The core criteria of small business site selection will always be foot traffic and ease of access. In places like New York City, this means being by the subway or on a busy street. But for most of America it’s about considering traffic flow and parking accessibility. Ever see three gas stations at the same intersection? They are all picking off different traffic flows because they know customers are looking for the shortest possible detour.
One of the best deals on portable power tools, including routers and sometimes planers, comes in the form of factory-reconditioned tools. These are primarily tools that have been repaired at the factory after failing quality inspections or being returned by customers. While they cannot be sold as new, they are identical to new tools in quality and appearance and usually feature the same warranty (be sure to check). Typical savings are anywhere from 15% to 30%, though you sometimes can find even bigger bargains. These tools can be found at Amazon.com and other online tool sellers. It is also possible to buy them through retail stores and, in some cases, directly from the manufacturer’s Web site.

After years of digging through piles of stuff on my workbench for the air compressor accessory I needed, I had this idea. I simply drilled 7/16- in. holes on the underside of my workbench top and threaded in a few 1/4-in. NPT male couplings with quick-connect couplers. A wrench and some upward pressure are all it took to screw the couplings into the wood. Now I just snap my accessories onto the couplers when I’m not using them. — Donnie Dressler. These are the best tools for automotive work.
Power outlets are also needed for lighting, heaters, AC units, radios, televisions, CNC machines, 3D printers, and computers—all of which you’ll find in many workshops (although maybe not together, and maybe not all in your garage.) You simply can never have too many outlets and it’s much safer to have too many than not enough. Bring in an electrician to help install your outlets and setup 220v power if needed for larger shop tools.
With the third category, franchise businesses , the risk of getting started is potentially the lowest of all when it comes to starting a small business, as you are often buying into a clearly established business model. You will also often benefit from the initial support of the franchisor, including advice around site selection, training and orientation, employee hiring, and product mix coordination. This support and assurance, however, comes at a premium. On top of the normal startup costs (space, equipment, etc...), you’ll have to pay a franchise fee to the owner, which is often tens of thousands of dollars, as well as a percentage of your revenues on an ongoing basis.

I’m a 60 year young widow who just bought a bright yellow 2003 S10 step side with the intention of camping in it. But I discovered that finding a used S10 step side topper is harder than finding hen’s teeth!! Buying a new one wasn’t an option. Just found a black step side topper for a Ford Ranger. Isn’t a perfect fit but it works. And the colors compliment each other although color wasn’t my primary concern. I took two days to drive from the St. Louis area of MO to the Kansas City area to pick it up.


Once you’ve considered the questions in the previous paragraph, start thinking about how your products/services stack up against the local competition. Because unless you are offering something ground-breaking and innovative, chances are that your potential customers are currently having their needs met by another business. That means it’s going to be your job to convince them that Blue Sheep Bakery is a better option than Bob’s Bake Shop. If your first thought was to compete on price, sorry to break it to you but, that’s not going to cut it. There is more to starting a successful small business than matching the price to the guy down the street.
Use this model whether you’re looking to turn your team of one into a two-person shop or you’re hoping to build out your marketing department to a team of 10 or more.  By focusing on the skill sets your business needs to be successful — rather than on the resume of an individual candidate — you’ll ensure vital functions are covered while expanding in a sustainable way. 
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