Why do I love so-called “lifestyle businesses”?
Why do I think they’re a brilliant choice for people who are ready to leave the 9-5 world but feel overwhelmed by the idea of building a large company with investors, employees, and a lot of complexity?
Well, let me take you on a walk with me down memory lane to illustrate how quickly you can start a simple business like this to replace the income from your job.
I created my first lifestyle business in less than a day after a layoff. It doubled my annual income from what I had been earning from an earlier employer.
I secretly created my second lifestyle business in about a week as a potential side hustle. I immediately landed a part-time client with a retained engagement of $10K/month.
I built my third lifestyle business in about two weeks. I’ve been running this business ever since then, and I haven’t worked in a 9-5 job for over 12 years.
Nothing will give you more freedom and security than running a business you fully control.
But, let me be clear about something. A lifestyle business isn’t about getting rich (although it could happen).
A lifestyle business is about being free. If you value freedom more than wealth, this article is for you.
If you love money more than your health, well-being, happiness, and family, click away and read some other article about the hustle and clawing your way to the top of the corporate ladder.
Could I still be making more money as a senior exec at a tech company? Sure, I probably could. I know some of my friends do.
But then again, I’d probably have to be kissing up to some narcissistic sociopathic boss every day. I’d have to put up with all the corporate politics, games, and BS that drove me crazy and made me hate my working life. I’d be spending my precious time and life energy building someone else’s dream instead of my own.
When you break free from your 9-5 job and start your own business, the benefits are many.
You no longer have a boss.
You no longer have coworkers.
You choose your clients.
You pick your projects.
You determine your compensation.
You choose your title.
You work when you want.
You work where you want.
You work how you want.
You work with the people you want.
You take vacations when you want.
You make all the decisions.
Is it the right choice for everyone? Of course not!
Some people truly do enjoy working for someone else. They like going to an office and having coworkers. They don’t want the responsibility that comes with owning and running a business.
Other people dream of creating a larger company than a lifestyle business. They want to hire employees and build a team. They have set their sights on running the next billion-dollar company.
But, if you like the idea of being free to do your own thing and earning enough money to be happy and make a living, this may be the right path for you, too.
Yes, I’ll repeat it: I love running a lifestyle business! I’m not sure why they get such a bad rap.
Well, maybe they don’t get badmouthed so much elsewhere, but they sure do in Silicon Valley, where I lived for over 20 years. You don’t get respect there unless you’re a full-blown entrepreneur, raising millions in venture capital, and trying to build the next billion-dollar startup.
Hey, I went that route several years ago. I loved the experience, and I don’t really regret it (although I’m not happy about the outcome). I had little freedom, couldn’t quickly pivot to an entirely new product or business, and I had a team of employees counting on me. It was super stressful!
A lifestyle business is a different beast. You’re not trying to create the next billion-dollar company that will support thousands of employees and service millions of customers. You’re essentially replacing the income you’re used to making from your 9-5 job as an employee. Your goal is to make enough revenue to provide a comfortable lifestyle for you and your family.
You don’t have to deal with investors, a board, partners, or employees. It’s still hard work, of course. But you are in control, you have way more freedom, and it’s way less complex and stressful.
At a high level, building and launching your lifestyle business is a 3-step process:
Build your lifestyle business.
Market your lifestyle business.
Sell your knowledge and services.
If you want to accomplish this in 30 days for less than $30, it’s hard to beat the speed and affordability of launching a services business. I call this the “Employee to Solopreneur” model. You essentially transform your job description into a business plan. It works very well for knowledge workers (e.g., designers, engineers, project managers, marketers, accountants, lawyers, architects, data analysts, coaches, researchers, and writers).
It’s more challenging to apply this model to other types of small businesses that sell goods or require retail space (e.g., restaurant owners, bakers, craftspeople, dentists, barbers). They require more planning, legal paperwork, and financial investment up front. But many of the steps and recommendations I will share are still valuable since most modern businesses require websites, digital communication, and online marketing.
A lifestyle business does require some planning as you begin defining and building it. But, the simplicity of the model means that you don’t need to spend as much time upfront before you can start quickly testing, learning, and evolving your business while you are already generating revenue from it.
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1. Build your lifestyle business
I recommend moving quickly while defining Phase 1 of your new lifestyle business. What you define and create at this point will not survive first contact with your first customers or clients, anyway.
You want to move fast, learn, and adapt quickly. Yes, you will feel like your business isn’t ready. You do need to offer something valuable, but it doesn’t need to be perfect.
“I've long believed that if you're not embarrassed by your first product release, you've released too late.”
— Reid Hoffman
If you’re defining and building your business in about two weeks (which is what I recommend before you move into marketing and selling), you don’t have time to reinvent the wheel. You must sell what you already know and do.
The fastest path from being an employee to becoming a solopreneur with your own lifestyle business is to sell one or more of these three things.
Selling what you can do.
Selling what you know.
Selling who you are.
I defined and “launched” my first lifestyle business in less than a day. I immediately had a client and enough income to support my family.
I was selling what I could do. I had been a software designer working for employers like IBM, Apple, and a startup. So, I went direct and sold my design services to tech corporations and startups. I worked solo for some clients, and I partnered with other designers, engineers, etc. on larger projects.
I defined and “launched” my second lifestyle business in about a week. In a few days after I left my corporate job, I had a part-time retained client providing me a 6-figure annual income.
I was selling what I knew vs. what I could do as an individual contributor. The work I performed for clients was more strategic and often in the role of an acting head of product or design.
I defined and launched my third lifestyle business in about two weeks. This one took longer to ramp up, because I wasn’t dedicating myself to 1-3 corporate clients with big budgets.
In some sense, this business is a combination of selling what I know and who I am (or who I used to be). My clients want help to get ahead at work, solve problems, get promoted, or find new jobs. They want to learn how to climb the corporate ladder (like I did) to reach an executive level in a corporation.
In this business, I began working directly with individuals, so it required a new business model and strategy. It also required a whole new marketing plan that included building a new professional brand and “putting myself out there” in a way I’d never done before.
2. Market your lifestyle business
Speaking of putting yourself out there, if you want to make a living from your small business, people need to know that it exists. They have to know who you are, what you do, and how you can help them.
If you only build it, they will not come. Traffic to your website won’t occur magically. Very few people are going to stumble across your business and hire you or purchase your product.
My first two lifestyle businesses were powered 100% by networking and referrals. I still believe they are incredibly powerful ways to find customers for your business. A decent percentage of my business growth is because of my friends, colleagues, acquaintances, and clients sending people my way.
However, if you want to scale your business and keep your pipeline of leads full and flowing, you must learn marketing. You need to create useful content (e.g., articles, videos), put yourself out there (e.g., Twitter, LinkedIn), and consistently be present in people’s feeds.
Organic marketing is wonderful, but you may want to experiment with paid advertising as well. In the beginning, your system can be fairly simple. You’re selling one thing (e.g., consulting) and leveraging social media, some content, your network, and referrals to attract new clients.
However, as you grow and scale your business later, you will have multiple marketing and sales channels. You should also have multiple revenue streams.
3. Sell your knowledge and services
Selling is all about relationships, listening, and providing value.
I can’t say that I was some sales expert when I was running my previous lifestyle businesses. Sure, I had to negotiate and close deals with corporate clients, but it differed greatly from what I’m doing now.
Selling to individuals is a whole different game. Initially, I took some sales training and tried traditional sales methods.
However, I hated it. It felt inauthentic, and it didn’t seem to work well for me.
So, I changed things up completely. I stopped selling, and I started helping. I’m going to recommend that you try this approach, too.
I give freely. For the past six years, I have written hundreds of articles that help people solve problems in their professional lives. I’ve had people read an article and then tell me they already knew they wanted to work with me before we even talked.
I offer free coaching calls. I try to help people as much as I can with that call. I've literally had people tell me they received more value in 20 mins than they had received in months with another coach. I’m proud of that! And, again, it’s free.
I don’t make a hard sell at all. In fact, I don’t even pitch to people during those free calls. But, do you know what happens when you give and help and deliver value freely? About 98% of the time at the end of the call, people ask me how they can keep working with me. They ask me vs. me pushing my services on them.
That’s the secret to selling. Listen to people, care about them, and do your best to help solve their problems. Let them see that you’re a good person who really wants to help, and they’ll want more from you.
You’ll stand apart from all the folks who “go for the kill” and only want to close the deal. People will want to work with you instead of them.
Send a follow-up message with your proposal that meets the client’s needs and describes how you’ll solve their problems. Transparently provide pricing options that give people a range from affordable to a number that is a more considered investment.
You will have to decide what each potential client needs and how you sell your services and provide value for them. For example:
A fixed price and time engagement (i.e., a package).
An ongoing retained engagement (e.g., $X per month).
One-off consulting calls ($X per hour).
Group services at a discounted rate.
DIY solutions using your information products, courses, etc.
Get started for free
Free is a great price and a lot less than $30! You actually don’t need to spend any money to:
Announce your business and services.
Start attracting leads and clients.
Create an online presence.
Schedule the work.
I built my very first lifestyle business in less than a day with a $0 investment and a paying client ready to go. It was definitely a case of opportunity, timing, and a leap of faith happening all at once.
$0.00 - Existing laptop that I already owned.
$0.00 - Existing software that I already owned (no subscriptions back then).
$0.00 - Free email account.
$0.00 - Phone that I already owned and used.
I was an employee at a startup that was acquired by a much larger company. The honeymoon only lasted a few months before they laid off our entire team! So, the founders and original investors regrouped and relaunched the company as a new startup.
However, I decided I didn’t want to be an employee again in this new company. So, I told my manager that he could hire me as a consultant to receive exactly the same design services I had provided before when I was an employee.
We signed a contract, and I immediately got back to work. However, now I could offer my services to other tech companies and startups, too (which I soon did). All of my new business came through my network and word of mouth from past clients.
You can launch your new business for free. For example, you could:
Set up a storefront on Gumroad (e.g., to sell digital products, courses, subscriptions).
Announce your new business and services on LinkedIn and Twitter.
Spend time helping solve people’s problems online (e.g., demonstrate your value in a subreddit).
Let people know they can DM you to learn more.
Create a PDF doc that summarizes your goods and services for potential clients.
Respond to inquiries and schedule calls with potential clients to check fit.
Accept payments via Venmo or through Gumroad.
Launch with minimal investment
When I launched my coaching business six years ago, I used what I already had in terms of equipment, software, and services. I invested a little money in a domain, website hosting, and scheduling service (e.g., Acuity Scheduling). But I didn’t spend very much until I knew the business was working and I was ready to take on more clients.
However, that small investment did allow me to create a more professional business presence online. For example:
I wanted to host my website on my domain (e.g., invinciblecareer.com), not the free subdomain most services offer (e.g., larrycornett.carrd.co).
$10/year for domain.
$10/month for hosting.
I wanted to make it easier for people to schedule appointments with me.
$14/month for scheduling service.
I wanted to integrate payments with my website and scheduling service.
Stripe at 2.9% + 30¢ per successful charge.
But that was it! I ran lean for a long time before I started scaling things later.
I want to emphasize how important it is to make money before you spend a lot of money. Too many new business owners get excited about building out all the bells and whistles of a “real business” before they have customers and revenue flowing in. Heck, I know a few local business owners who spent tons of money remodeling their retail space and shut their business down before they even opened their doors!
To start a business, you do not need:
A fancy logo (I designed my own logo).
A complex website (I designed and created my own WordPress website).
A trademark for your business name (I didn’t trademark anything until several years later).
Patents for anything, yet.
Custom contracts crafted by a lawyer (I used Rocket Lawyer).
An expensive accountant (I used QuickBooks and TurboTax).
I know people who spent several thousand dollars setting up a business that never generated a single dollar. Why would you do that?
Start simple, land your first paying client, and make sure you have a desirable product/service and reasonable business model before you invest more time and money in growing the business. Spend smart money after you’re making money. Scale and formalize everything letter when you know you’re going to continue.
For example, I was operating one of my businesses for several years before I bothered incorporating it. One day, I said to myself, “My business is working, and I guess I’m never going back to a 9-5 job. I suppose it’s time to make it official!”
On the other hand, I launched a different business with some partners who wanted to be more formal and buttoned up before we launched. So, we spent money on incorporation, a website, and various other services. Guess what? After two years of running that business, it still hadn’t earned a single dime.
Focus on your customer pipeline, learning as much as you can, refining your business model and offerings, and making money. Revenue is the lifeblood of your lifestyle business, and a steady flow of income is what will keep you going and supporting you and your family.
Start now and scale later
When I launched my coaching practice, I started with a single one-on-client. We agreed on a coaching engagement, established a schedule, signed a contract, and got started right away.
That was it.
I didn’t add additional clients until I knew that my business plan was working. I didn’t want to invest more time and money until I was sure I wanted to continue the coaching business.
You don’t have to have it all figured out before you get started. When you keep it simple and focus on your first client, you have time to test, learn, refine, adapt, and evolve your business model before you bring on new clients. You learn more and get better as you go.
As you become more confident and have things dialed in a bit, you can start adding clients to fill your reasonable capacity. Be careful about trying to scale too quickly. It’s easy to get excited about your early success, eager to grow your income, and bite off more than you can chew.
Time is your most finite resource. As a solopreneur with a lifestyle business, you are it. So, plan accordingly. Calculate the number of 1-on-1 clients you can handle based on the time commitment. But this will have a ceiling when you hit your maximum capacity. For example, I find it mentally challenging to juggle over 10 clients at a time.
However, you can still scale your business in other ways, and you should. You want to create multiple revenue streams to increase your income potential, provide more financial stability and security, and give you more freedom and flexibility.
After all, what’s the point of building your own business if you’re so busy and stressed out that it’s just as bad — if not worse — than being an employee? This is your business! Intentionally design it to give you the lifestyle you want.
I’ve carefully expanded and scaled my business over the past six years, and I’m always testing and exploring new ideas. Some work. Some don’t. That’s ok when you have a business model that gives you some breathing room to try things out!
I think of this as a portfolio model. The different components of my business model require different amounts of my time and yield unique value. Each ROI is different, and some of these experiments are longer-term investments that will pay off much later.
Some examples from my business revenue portfolio:
Retained 1-on-1 coaching with individuals
Consulting with corporate clients
Live paid workshops
Of course, you will learn more about your business, what your clients want, how to differentiate yourself from the competition, and the growth model that is right for you and the kind of business you're building. For example, you could choose to scale your business by hiring employees, using contractors, or bringing on a partner.
More income is always nice, but consider the associated costs of the additional complexity and potential loss of flexibility and freedom (e.g., losing some of your decision-making power and speed).
Some useful business services and tools
My go to services and tools that I use for my business include (some links are my affiliate links):
Cloudflare for DNS and performance.
Flywheel for WordPress hosting.
Substack for my newsletters and podcasts.
Ulysses for writing.
Acuity Scheduling to schedule client appointments.
Zoom for video chats.
Slack for my original career community.
Mighty Networks for my community platform.
Podia for my courses and digital downloads.
Hypefury for social media scheduling.
Zencastr for recording podcasts with guests.
And various services to publish and share my content (e.g., Medium, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Quora, Instagram, YouTube).
Here are a few more services and tools that can help you build and operate your lifestyle business. Let me know if you’ve discovered other tools that you think are amazing!
Domain Registration - Price and features vary by service, so do your homework (e.g., check renewal fees). Cheaper isn’t always better! Here is an example using the same domain name as a test.
Free Websites - Check the features to see what will work best for your new business. Most require a subscription plan to support custom domains.
Multiple themes, blog, and other pages (e.g., portfolio page)
Free one-page site
Simple and fully responsive
Dozens of templates
Basic site for free
No-code website designer
Feature-rich design tools
Free blogging site
Dozens of templates
Set up an online booking page
Set up to take payments
Sell digital products, courses, subscriptions, memberships, etc.
The more you sell, the lower the fee is
Cloudflare - Free website protection and performance
Fast, Easy-to-use DNS
Unmetered DDoS Protection
Universal SSL Certificate
Canva (my affiliate link) - Free design tool
Create elegant designs easily
Access to thousands of templates, images, and other media
Collaborate with others on your designs
Hypefury (my affiliate link) - Free social media tool
Grow your Twitter audience with scheduled tweets
Create new content seamlessly
Inspiration features to overcome writer’s block
Substack - Free email list, newsletter, podcast, online archive of articles
Free newsletter (with the option to upgrade and offer paid subscriptions)
Free podcast hosting
A website of sorts (landing page, about page, articles)
I know this article just scratches the surface of what’s required to build, launch, and operate a successful business. But, I hope it was enough to intrigue you to learn more and explore the possibilities of running a lifestyle business.
Do you know what else is less than $30/month and will be an incredible investment in your business success?
My Invincible Solopreneurs courses and community, of course!
Learn more about how we can help you build, maintain, and scale a thriving solopreneurial business.
Larry Cornett is a leadership coach and business advisor. If you’re interested in starting your own business or side hustle someday (or accelerating an existing one), check out his “Employee to Solopreneur” course (launching later this year).
Larry lives in Northern California near Lake Tahoe with his wife and children, and a gigantic Great Dane. He does his best to share advice to help others take complete control of their work and life. He’s also on Twitter @cornett.