When people think of a startup they often imagine something that needs investors who believe in a vision before there's a product or people to sell it to. Since it has no revenue it may need to exist for several months before it generates revenues, let alone a profit. And because it has investors, the expectation is that it scales quickly and to a high summit so the investors and founders can sell and make their money and sweat back.
While on paper a lifestyle business may do all the same things as a startup — selling things to people who want them while paying its people, taxes and expenses — it doesn’t share the traits above. A lifestyle business can be profitable from day one (mine was), it doesn’t need outside investment, and it can grow slowly.
Because a lifestyle business is under the complete control of its owners, which in the case of my business is 100% me, its activities can be intentionally designed to operate however the owners want, as long it can still make money, of course.
But the word lifestyle can mean a lot of things. What kind of lifestyle?
It’s possible to build a lifestyle business in which you work 60 hour weeks with no holidays and where your services need you to be working at the time. Coaching is a good example of this. You get paid per coaching session, but if you’re the coach then you need to be at the session.
It’s also possible to build a lifestyle business where you work fewer than ten hours a week, where those ten hours can happen whenever you want them to, and where your products sell regardless of whether or not you’re working. This is the kind of lifestyle business I want to build.
This all sounds great and obvious — very Tim Ferriss circa 2007 — so why am I talking about it? Because I need to keep renewing this commitment over and over again in the face of every opportunity that comes my way. If I’m not careful, I’ll end up building that other kind of lifestyle business.
Most of my revenue comes from the sale of my Alexander Technique course. At the moment this is basically fully self-paced for students. All I have to do is answer questions in the forum, do research and make new materials. I do plan to develop more synchronous workshops and office hours, though.
It could so easily be different.
All those shiny cohort-based courses that sell for a few thousand $ a pop. So alluring. Much prestige. Having been a mentor for two of the big ones (Write of Passage and the Part Time YouTuber Academy), I have seen how much work is involved in those. You need a proper business, the kind with employees! You need team meetings, Slack channels and, I don’t know, internal policies, or something.
That sounds a lot like a job to me. Sure, a fun, creative, fulfilling, exciting and wholly-owned job, but a job nonetheless. I did that for ten years and I want a break.
Maybe I’ll want that one day. Actually, I probably will want that one day. But today is not that day. That’s why, whenever I encounter the siren call of much more money, I tie myself to the mast of but I don’t want to work that hard.
For now I shall build my business around the lifestyle I want, one where I can spend my days reading, thinking, writing, travelling, talking to people and, yes obviously, also working. To me, today, the sense of freedom and flexibility I get is worth sacrificing more money.
And, to be honest, I have a suspicion this approach will still lead to plenty of money, just indirectly. Money will happen serendipitously from the quiet reflection, the adventures and the new friends I’ll be able to make in all that space and time.
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I publish a newsletter called Thinking Out Loud, which chronicles my journey as an online maker of things, but it's also is where I talk about whatever I'm interested in at the time. There are 900 of us now, come play!