Planning a new business can already feel a bit scary.
It’s even more overwhelming if you tell yourself that you need to come up with a multimillion-dollar business idea. Or, even worse, a billion-dollar idea.
I experienced that last bit of stress when I met with a potential investor to discuss a startup I was planning back in 2011. I still think it would be a cool product and business, by the way. Imagine backstage access to your favorite performance artists during their informal practice sessions, for example. Yeah, I still want it!
He said, “I don’t think we’d be interested. At most, that idea would generate $50M/year. We only invest in startups that have the potential to reach a billion.”
Let’s not set a ridiculous goal like that for your business. Hey, if you do end up making millions and billions from your idea, kudos! But I know a more realistic goal will set you free from your 9-5 job more quickly and give you an enjoyable life during your business journey.
Do you know what that goal is?
Just replace the income you receive from your current 9-5 job.
The first lifestyle business I created did that easily within the first few months. Even better, it started generating a greater annual income than my previous 9-5 salary by the end of the first year. I was doing well enough to be the only income earner supporting my family of four. We were renting a house, bought a new SUV with cash, and felt pretty darn comfortable with our lifestyle.
However, maybe you’re not familiar with the term “lifestyle business.” So, let me start with a nice definition from WallStreetMojo:
A lifestyle business is a type of business that is designed to support the owner’s preferred lifestyle rather than solely focusing on maximizing profits or achieving high levels of growth. Owners of lifestyle businesses prioritize personal goals, such as flexibility, work-life balance, and the pursuit of their passions, over the traditional business objective of maximizing profits.
I like the point they make about the owner prioritizing personal goals over business goals. That’s a tremendous difference from being an employee at a traditional company. There is no way your personal goals would ever be more important than the business goals of the company. Even when someone is a founder and owner of a traditional business, they often put the company’s goals ahead of their own needs. That’s a recipe for burnout if you ask me.
Here’s my shorter definition of a lifestyle business:
A lifestyle business generates profit equivalent to the compensation you’re currently receiving from your job, and it immediately enables you to live a better life right now.
That last part is essential. This isn’t about building a business that may eventually generate millions in revenue so you can live a lavish lifestyle later, but you’re miserable now working yourself to death to—hopefully—get there before you die.
If you reach this level of revenue, you can maintain your current lifestyle without a hitch. For some people, that’s easier than they would imagine (e.g., they’re currently working a minimum-wage job). For other folks (e.g., a tech executive), that number might be a lot higher and perhaps more challenging to achieve.
I’ll let you in on a little secret:
You get to define what “lifestyle” means for you.
For example, I made pretty decent money as a tech exec in my past life. I also lived in one of the most expensive parts of the U.S.; the Bay Area of California.
So, if I had stayed in the Bay Area and had to replace my executive compensation, I would have had to create a business that generated considerable revenue and profit.
I did that for a while, but it was pretty stressful. I considered grinding harder to make it work.
However, I finally realized that my life could be much easier and better if I reduced my cost of living. So, we sold our house and moved to a more affordable location. We downsized our home and life, which was a good idea anyway, as we became empty nesters. What’s the point of an enormous house when it's only two of you?
It wasn’t only about reducing our cost-of-living expenses, though. I was tired of the city life, crowding, and traffic jams. We had always dreamed of living in the country with more land, near the mountains for skiing, and close enough to a forest to go for quick hikes.
So, I intentionally designed the life I wanted and a business to enable it. It wasn’t about getting rich. It was about being free, controlling my time, and living a good life while I was still young enough to enjoy it.
“When you make a company, you make a utopia. It’s where you design your perfect world.”
— Derek Sivers
So, be creative and explore different models of what your potential business would have to generate to support different lifestyles. Let me tell you, I don’t mind living a little leaner since it means never having a boss again. I haven’t had a job in over 13 years and the freedom to decide how I spend my days is pretty darn sweet.
5 creative examples of lifestyle businesses:
Copy and paste your job description
Fill an empty seat as an “interim employee”
1. Copy and paste your job description
One of the fastest and easiest ways to build a lifestyle business is to leverage your current job description. Get paid directly by clients to do the same work you do every day for an employer. This is exactly how I created my first solopreneur business.
In my last year working at Apple, a startup wooed me away. However, I don't think I worked there even a full year before a much larger company acquired us. The new parent company took our technology and patents and then laid all of us off.
Our founder and CEO relaunched the company as a new startup a few weeks later. Most of the employees rejoined that new company, but I saw this as an opportunity to work with them as a consultant instead of becoming an employee again.
I had been working with several consultants at the previous company, and we became good friends. They encouraged me and helped guide me as I ventured into the solopreneurial world for the first time.
My lifestyle business was a solopreneur design agency that offered web and application design services to startups. As a design consultant, I delivered the same work to my clients that I had been providing as an employee (i.e., I copied and pasted my job description). My very first client was the new startup (i.e., my former employer), and I started working with more clients later that year.
Of course, running a business is more complex than being an employee, but this is an excellent example of using your job description to define a business plan. You're still doing what you did before in your 9-5 job, but now you're providing those services as an independent business owner.
2. Fill an empty seat as an “interim employee”
This business is a slight modification of the first one. I often tell my clients that a job opening is a chance to pitch your services to fill that seat. I’ve had a few engagements like that.
One tech startup wanted to hire a full-time CPO and approached me about the role. Unfortunately, it would have required an international relocation for my family. So, I said that I wasn’t interested in becoming an employee, but I could play the role of the interim CPO until they hired their full-time person. I consulted with the company on retainer for years.
Another company wanted to hire a full-time Head of Design. Again, I wasn’t interested in full-time employment, so I offered to consult with the company as their interim Head of Design and help them find and hire my replacement. That gig lasted about 1.5 years.
When you’re experienced and good at what you do, you can build a business around being an interim employee (e.g., an interim CPO) or providing fractional services (e.g., a fractional CFO). Offering a fractional role is great for companies that don’t need—or can’t afford—someone in a full-time position. For example, smaller startups need someone to play that role at key points in their lifecycle (e.g., raising funding).
3. Dog walker
I’m going to keep sharing fun and unexpected examples of solopreneur businesses over the coming months. The intent isn’t to give you an exact example of a business you should create. I’m really just trying to inspire you and spark your creative thinking about what is possible.
For example, who knew that a dog walker could earn over $100,000/year?
Earlier this year, the New York Times reported that some dog walkers in NYC are earning six figures. They suggested that this is due to people getting dogs for companionship during the pandemic, which was all well and good. But, now companies are asking employees to return to the office (Boo!). So, these dog owners need someone to take their pets for walks while they are stuck at work.
Entrepreneur shared more information about Bethany Lane. She founded her dog-care business Whistle & Wag back in 2014, and charges around $35 for a walk. She was looking for a way to pay rent and pay off some loans she’d taken on while pursuing a public health career.
I’d say her lifestyle business has worked out well:
Her business is in the six-figure range (she wasn’t specific).
She paid off her loans.
She’s hired more dog walkers (so no longer a true solopreneur, if they’re employees).
She was able to purchase a vacation home!
"If I would have told my younger self I can make a living caring for dogs, I never would have believed it."
— Bethany Lane
Pretty cool to make a comfortable living doing something you love, isn’t it?
4. Life coach
Life coaching is an unregulated profession. You don’t need a license to become one, although some people do get certified. There are no oversight boards, no standard curricula for training, and there really isn’t a standard code of ethics.
Basically, if you want to say you’re a life coach, you can. No one can stop you from putting up a website to start finding and working with clients.
From Verywell Mind:
Life coaches can help you clarify your goals, identify the obstacles holding you back, and then come up with strategies for overcoming each obstacle.
They tend to work with people on life issues (e.g., how can I break this bad habit?), financial challenges (e.g., I can’t seem to stop wasting money), relationship problems (e.g., why do all of my dating relationships end in disaster?), and even career coaching (e.g., why am I struggling so much at work?).
Stacey Smith is a life coach who built a six-figure business before she even had a website. She did hire a coach and got certified before getting the business up and running (Note: many coaches have their own coach, too). She’s location-independent and does everything via Zoom or phone, which is the same way I operate my coaching practice.
I’ve seen life coaches offering sessions for anything from $65 to $600/hour. Obviously, coaches with more experience, specialty services (e.g., executive coaching), and credentialed backgrounds tend to charge more.
5. Calligraphy Business
One of my business group acquaintances has over 40 years of experience as a professional calligrapher. Her lifestyle business directly provides calligraphy services (e.g., beautiful custom calligraphy on invitations). But, she has expanded and diversified her business to sell books and courses on calligraphy, too.
It reminds me of this Forbes article by Adam Coffey. He described his sister’s calligraphy business as the “quintessential lifestyle business.” She earned money by teaching calligraphy seminars all over the world.
However, she wanted to diversify her income streams and eventually be able to retire and sell her business. That can be challenging as a solopreneur when you are your business. However, she was able to come up with ways to scale her business and transform it into an asset that could be sold later.
She built a studio other artists could rent, began teaching online seminars to reach a larger global audience, recorded her seminars to create online courses, etc. Now, she doesn’t have to worry about taking breaks or even retiring.
This is a great example of why it’s so important to get out of the model of selling your time for money. I love my 1-on-1 coaching, but I knew I had to scale and create diverse income streams. That’s why I started my private community, a paid newsletter, courses, and more.
Always be looking for ways to scale your business and create products that can sell 24/7. You need to sleep, take vacations, and retire someday!
I’m Larry Cornett, a coach who can work with you 1-on-1 to design, launch, and optimize your business. You might also be interested in my “Employee to Solopreneur” workshop. I live in Northern California near Lake Tahoe with my wife and Great Dane while running my businesses 100% remotely.