What Is a Lifestyle Business, Anyway?

I recently witnessed a conversation in the Arena that took on a surprisingly emotional reaction. Not emotional as in tears, but emotional as in I know my answer but I feel like I have to explain myself because other people not in the Arena seem to have O-p-i-n-i-o-n-s about it.

You know, that kind of emotional reaction.

The question was simple. One member of the Arena was curious about what other members call themselves when describing their businesses, and he asked, “do you prefer the term ‘freelancer,’ ‘contractor,’ or ‘entrepreneur?’”

The answers varied. Most people nixed the word ‘freelancer’ straight away — Ahem, I work for myself, not other people — whereas the word ‘consultant’ was freely and happily accepted by many. But those who preferred the word ‘entrepreneur’ admitted that it might not be a popularly accepted definition of what they do.

So why didn’t those few say ‘entrepreneur’ boldly, without feeling a need to explain themselves? Because the companies in the Arena are what’s called ‘lifestyle businesses,’ and that’s become perhaps the most loaded term of all.

What started out as a way to illustrate the goal of a certain type of business, the word ‘lifestyle business’ has been twisted and convoluted into so many other meanings that now it’s often used as an insult, a way to say what a business is not. And that’s exactly why we need to reclaim that term in its original meaning and all its glory.

Because not everyone wants to create the next Uber.

So, What Is a Lifestyle Business, Anyway?

Let’s keep this as simple as it really is:

A lifestyle business is a business that seeks to be operated without a focus on rapid growth.

Before startups became mainstream, one might just call it a business.

That’s not to say that startups were the first businesses to aim for rapid growth. Large corporations have always had the same eye towards increasing their foothold on whatever market they’re in. But if you knew someone personally who owned a small business, such as a coffee shop or their own accounting firm, you were probably friends with someone whose sole goal was to be self-employed.

Now that internet businesses are more common than brick-and-mortars (and infinitely easier to grow and cheaper to run), all of the terms have gotten fuzzy. Anyone can call themselves a founder, anyone can claim to own an agency (even if it’s an agency of one), and few people have the time or energy to figure out if the claims are as bombastic as they might sound.

Inevitably there was going to be some backlash against such lofty claims.

… And Where Did It All Go Wrong?

When your friend says they’re running their own company so they can travel through Southeast Asia for nine months of every year, you might have to bite your tongue to avoid saying, “no, you found a way to earn money remotely — not the same.” And when you overhear conversations at your local Starbucks in which someone promotes their new “firm,” you might wonder if the office of such firm exists beyond the dude’s living room couch.

In truth, there isn’t a damn thing wrong with finding ways to earn money that will enable you to live the lifestyle you always wanted. That is, in essence, the dream. But as startups have grown and the idea of becoming a founder has become so attractive, the truth behind the reality of being a founder has been traded for a dream of saying the name.

Enter wantrepreneurs.

Wantrepreneurs’ favorite hobby is to talk about the business they’re running. They’ll gladly wax poetic over dinner and drinks about how their business will change the world. And the next time you see them, they’re probably still just talking about it.

Entrepreneurs don’t have time for such poetics. Hell, they might not even have time to meet you for dinner. That’s because they’re too busy shipping. And when you do finally lasso them into a quick drink date, they’ll probably be more interested in talking about the challenges they’re facing rather than any success they envision on the horizon.

Wantrepreneurs talk. Entrepreneurs do. That’s the only designation that should exist when it comes to reading through the lines of someone’s claims. The term ‘lifestyle business’ shouldn’t matter — and it definitely shouldn’t be used to de-legitimize someone’s work.

Reclaiming the Term ‘Lifestyle Business’

If you, like the members of the Arena, run a lifestyle business, own it. And if someone tries to tell you that’s not a “real” business, here’s what you do:

Just go back to shipping.

It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks of the business you’re running. The only thing that does matter is that you’re creating the work and the life you envisioned.

Let’s be honest. Creating a lifestyle business, for anyone who wants to run their own shop but doesn’t dream of becoming a corporate CEO or an internet startup founder, is pretty much the epitome of the American Dream.

You get to decide how much money your time is worth.
You get to choose who to serve and who to ignore.
You get to set your work hours.

And if cultivating the life you’ve always wanted in both work and play is your top priority, what could be better than that?