Bookmobiles offer a unique opportunity for the public to access reading materials. Since librarian Mary Titcomb launched the first bookmobile at the turn of the 20th century, these small businesses have served the reading needs of the public in both rural and urban areas. Whether operating as a for-profit business selling books to customers or a public service offered by some libraries, bookmobiles bring entertainment and education to those who may not otherwise have access to books.
While the popularity of bookmobiles waxed and waned during the past century, these mobile bookstores and libraries remain uniquely equipped to meet the needs of the modern reader. Since the early 2000s, the number of bookmobiles has grown nationwide. That increase likely will accelerate in today’s environment with more people — both adults and children — staying home for work and education. Bookmobiles can provide for the reading needs of their communities by meeting residents wherever they’re located.
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Learn how to start your own Bookmobile Business and whether it is the right fit for you.
Start a bookmobile business by following these 10 steps:
- Plan your Bookmobile Business
- Form your Bookmobile Business into a Legal Entity
- Register your Bookmobile Business for Taxes
- Open a Business Bank Account & Credit Card
- Set up Accounting for your Bookmobile Business
- Get the Necessary Permits & Licenses for your Bookmobile Business
- Get Bookmobile Business Insurance
- Define your Bookmobile Business Brand
- Create your Bookmobile Business Website
- Set up your Business Phone System
There is more to starting a business than just registering it with the state. We have put together this simple guide to starting your bookmobile business. These steps will ensure that your new business is well planned out, registered properly and legally compliant.
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STEP 1: Plan your business
A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. It will help you map out the specifics of your business and discover some unknowns. A few important topics to consider are:
- What are the startup and ongoing costs?
- Who is your target market?
- How much can you charge customers?
- What will you name your business?
Luckily we have done a lot of this research for you.
What are the costs involved in opening a bookmobile business?
The costs for starting a bookmobile business can vary considerably, depending on your requirements. Buying a new vehicle, equipping it for business with shelves, etc., and purchasing an inventory of new books could cost more than $100,000. On the low end, you could purchase a used vehicle for less than $5,000, do the renovations yourself, and begin with a stock of used books. In this case, you could potentially get started for $10,000 or less.
What are the ongoing expenses for a bookmobile business?
The average annual cost of keeping a bookmobile on the road is around $200,000, according to the Association of Bookmobile and Outreach Services (ABOS). The need to continually replenish your book inventory is obvious, but you also must prepare for other ongoing expenses like vehicle repairs. You’ll likely need to drive your bookmobile every day, which results in wear and tear. As with any work vehicle, you should budget for repairs as part of your business.
Who is the target market?
A bookmobile business can serve multiple market segments. Literature enthusiasts, students, children, the elderly, and people without access to a nearby library or bookstore all represent potential target markets.
How does a bookmobile business make money?
Bookmobile businesses make money by selling books and related items to the public. Some bookmobiles may operate as nonprofits, such as those run by libraries. Nonprofit bookmobiles typically receive public funding.
How much can you charge customers?
A bookmobile business sells similar products to bookstores at similar prices. A typical paperback book can cost between $9.99 and $19.99 while hardcover books tend to cost $27.99 and up.
How much profit can a bookmobile business make?
Independent bookselling typically isn’t a highly lucrative business. Most independent booksellers only manage a 2 percent to 3 percent profit margin. If you can minimize your bookmobile operational costs, you may be able to save some money over what you’d pay renting a brick-and-mortar space for your business. But, you should still expect to run on fairly thin profit margins.
How can you make your business more profitable?
You can make your business more profitable in several ways. First, try to find items to sell in addition to books because you often can make a better profit margin on them. Items like bookmarks, journals, and themed souvenirs can help you boost your revenue. If your market demand will support it, operating more than one bookmobile is another way to make your business more profitable. Once you expand to multiple bookmobiles and can serve more of your area, you can increase revenue while benefiting from economies of scale.
What will you name your business?
Choosing the right name is important and challenging. If you don’t already have a name in mind, visit our How to Name a Business guide or get help brainstorming a name with our Business Name Generator
When registering a business name, we recommend researching your business name by checking:
- Your state's business records
- Federal and state trademark records
- Social media platforms
- Web domain availability.
It's very important to secure your domain name before someone else does.
STEP 2: Form a legal entity
Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC or corporation protects you from being held personally liable if your bookmobile business is sued.
Form Your LLC
Read our Guide to Form Your Own LLC
Recommended: You will need to elect a registered agent for your LLC. LLC formation packages usually include a free year of registered agent services. You can choose to hire a registered agent or act as your own.
STEP 3: Register for taxes
You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
In order to register for taxes you will need to apply for an EIN. It's really easy and free!
You can acquire your EIN for free through the IRS website, via fax, or by mail. If you would like to learn more about EINs and how they can benefit your LLC, read our article, What is an EIN?.
Small Business Taxes
Depending on which business structure you choose, you might have different options for how your business will be taxed. For example, some LLCs could benefit from being taxed as an S corporation (S corp).
You can learn more about small business taxes in these guides:
- LLC Taxes
- Sole Proprietorship vs LLC
- LLC vs Corporation
- LLC vs S Corp
- How to Start an S Corp
- S Corp vs C Corp
There are specific state taxes that might apply to your business. Learn more about state sales tax and franchise taxes in our state sales tax guides.
STEP 4: Open a business bank account & credit card
Using dedicated business banking and credit accounts is essential for personal asset protection.
When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your business is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.
Additionally, learning how to build business credit can help you get credit cards and other financing in your business's name (instead of yours), better interest rates, higher lines of credit, and more.
Open a business bank account
Besides being a requirement when applying for business loans, opening a business bank account:
- Separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
- Makes accounting and tax filing easier.
Recommended: Read our Best Banks for Small Business review to find the best national bank or credit union.
Open net 30 accounts
Net 30 accounts are used to establish and build business credit as well as increase business cash flow. With a net 30 account, businesses buy goods and repay the full balance within a 30-day term.
NetMany net 30 credit vendors report to the major business credit bureaus (Dun & Bradstreet, Experian Business, and Equifax Business Credit). This is how businesses build business credit so they can qualify for credit cards and other lines of credit.
Recommended: Read our best net 30 vendors, guide and start building business credit.
Get a business credit card
Getting a business credit card helps you:
- Separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
- Build your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money later on.
Recommended: Apply for an easy approval business credit card from Divvy and build your business credit quickly.
STEP 5: Set up business accounting
Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.
Make LLC accounting easy with our LLC Expenses Cheat Sheet.
STEP 6: Obtain necessary permits and licenses
Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
State & Local Business Licensing Requirements
Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate an affiliate marketing business. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.
Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, read our article, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.
For information about local licenses and permits:
- Check with your town, city or county clerk’s office
- Get assistance from one of the local associations listed in US Small Business Associations directory of local business resources.
STEP 7: Get business insurance
Just as with licenses and permits, your business needs insurance in order to operate safely and lawfully. Business Insurance protects your company’s financial wellbeing in the event of a covered loss.
There are several types of insurance policies created for different types of businesses with different risks. If you’re unsure of the types of risks that your business may face, begin with General Liability Insurance. This is the most common coverage that small businesses need, so it’s a great place to start for your business.
Learn more about General Liability Insurance.
Another notable insurance policy that many businesses need is Workers’ Compensation Insurance. If your business will have employees, it’s a good chance that your state will require you to carry Workers' Compensation Coverage.
STEP 8: Define your brand
Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
If you aren't feeling confident about designing your small business logo, then check out our Design Guides for Beginners, we'll give you helpful tips and advice for creating the best unique logo for your business.
If you already have a logo, you can also add it to a QR code with our Free QR Code Generator. Choose from 13 QR code types to create a code for your business cards and publications, or to help spread awareness for your new website.
How to promote & market a bookmobile business
If you conduct community outreach before you start your business, you’ll already have some public recognition on which you can capitalize. But, you must do a lot more to market your business. Start by making your bookmobile memorable. Create a fun logo and paint your vehicle so people immediately understand the nature of your business. Next, experiment with social media marketing. Regular updates on social media channels that tell people about your upcoming locations and offerings will help you attract more business.
How to keep customers coming back
Personalized service is the key to enticing customers back to your bookmobile. If you can help your customers find books they love, they’ll return again and again. It’s also important to keep customers informed of your location and offerings. Because your business moves around, you have to let people know where to find you.
Still unsure about what kind of business you want to start? Check out the latest Small Business Trends to help inspire you.
STEP 9: Create your business website
After defining your brand and creating your logo the next step is to create a website for your business.
While creating a website is an essential step, some may fear that it’s out of their reach because they don’t have any website-building experience. While this may have been a reasonable fear back in 2015, web technology has seen huge advancements in the past few years that makes the lives of small business owners much simpler.
Here are the main reasons why you shouldn’t delay building your website:
- All legitimate businesses have websites - full stop. The size or industry of your business does not matter when it comes to getting your business online.
- Social media accounts like Facebook pages or LinkedIn business profiles are not a replacement for a business website that you own.
- Website builder tools like the GoDaddy Website Builder have made creating a basic website extremely simple. You don’t need to hire a web developer or designer to create a website that you can be proud of.
Using our website building guides, the process will be simple and painless and shouldn’t take you any longer than 2-3 hours to complete.
STEP 10: Set up your business phone system
Getting a phone set up for your business is one of the best ways to help keep your personal life and business life separate and private. That’s not the only benefit; it also helps you make your business more automated, gives your business legitimacy, and makes it easier for potential customers to find and contact you.
There are many services available to entrepreneurs who want to set up a business phone system. We’ve reviewed the top companies and rated them based on price, features, and ease of use. Check out our review of the Best Business Phone Systems 2022 to find the best phone service for your small business.
Recommended Business Phone Service: Phone.com
Phone.com is our top choice for small business phone numbers because of all the features it offers for small businesses and it's fair pricing.
Start a Bookmobile Business in your State
- District of Columbia
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
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Is this Business Right For You?
Book lovers make obvious candidates to start a bookmobile business. But, a passion for books isn’t enough — you also must enjoy interacting with the public and traveling a fair bit. If you love books and want to share that love with others in a mobile environment, you’re probably the right fit for this business idea.
Want to know if you are cut out to be an entrepreneur?
Take our Entrepreneurship Quiz to find out!
What happens during a typical day at a bookmobile business?
A typical day at a bookmobile business starts with preparing the bookmobile for travel. You may already know your route or you may need to determine that before you hit the road. Once you head out, you must get your bookmobile safely to your destination and open for business before you can start serving the public.
After you open for business, you’ll spend your time helping customers and keeping your inventory organized. Customers will ask for suggestions, and some may be quite eager to talk for hours about their favorite books. Your job will require the ability to successfully juggle friendly customer service with the practical needs of running your business.
At the end of the day, you’ll need to close up shop and prepare to hit the road again. Once you return to your home base, you must prepare for the next day and lock up.
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful bookmobile business?
Book knowledge is one of the most important skills a bookmobile business owner needs because many of your customers will ask for recommendations. The more widely you read — both fiction and nonfiction books — the better equipped you’ll be to provide personalized recommendations and build rapport with your customers.
Customer service is another key skill bookmobile business owners need. To attract customers and keep them coming back, you must make a positive impression and know how to keep customers happy.
Auto repair experience is another useful, but perhaps not obvious requirement for this line of work. Like all automobiles, bookmobiles can break down from time to time. The better you are at fixing your vehicle, the less money you’ll need to spend on repairs.
What is the growth potential for a bookmobile business?
The growth potential for a bookmobile business depends on the size of the market in which it operates. A bookmobile business in a rural area, for example, may be able to meet market demand with a single bookmobile. In contrast, a bookmobile business in an urban area could expand into operating multiple bookmobiles to meet local demand. Another popular option for expansion is to open a brick-and-mortar bookstore after your bookmobile business develops name recognition.
Take the Next Step
Find a business mentor
One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.
Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.
Learn from other business owners
Want to learn more about starting a business from entrepreneurs themselves? Visit Startup Savant’s startup founder series to gain entrepreneurial insights, lessons, and advice from founders themselves.
Resources to Help Women in Business
There are many resources out there specifically for women entrepreneurs. We’ve gathered necessary and useful information to help you succeed both professionally and personally:
If you’re a woman looking for some guidance in entrepreneurship, check out this great new series Women in Business created by the women of our partner Startup Savant.
What are some insider tips for jump starting a bookmobile business?
Start off by gauging local interest for your bookmobile business. The more people you talk to, the more connections you’ll make and the more you’ll learn about the market’s needs. You might be surprised at how excited your community is to have a bookmobile on the way and the support you receive for your venture.
If you aren’t mechanically inclined, make friends with a mechanic so you can keep your bookmobile on the road. Things will break and, if you can’t fix them, your business will remain stuck where it is – which likely will halt your income generation.
How and when to build a team
While you may be able to run your bookmobile business on your own at first, you’ll eventually want help — especially if you plan to expand your business by adding more trucks. Start small and see what you can accomplish on your own or with the help of those closest to you. Once you start to find yourself stretched thin, it’s time to consider hiring help. You’ll also need to hire additional employees if you want to operate more than one truck.