Somehow it has become a bad word. Lifestyle business. It carries a negative connotation, scorned by the startup realm. Looked down upon by entrepreneurs who have failed to achieve some idealistic recurring income with the minimal effort. They were promised a 4-hour work week. Instead they toil away endlessly with no direction.
Usually I would say "screw what other people say or think." This is different though. It's a problem with industry perception. People who want the lifestyle business... uh, lifestyle, they struggle to brand themselves as a community without being sneered at by someone whose opinion does matter. Potential clients hear that a contractor runs a lifestyle business and assume he's lazy, or that he'll be distracted because he works with his laptop at the beach. Potential customers see that a SaaS tool is run by a lifestyler and jump straight to, "what if he's hit by a bus?" syndrome. (Because we know tools created by startups and tech giants are so reliable.)
The Search Engine Optimization industry ran into this a few years ago. There were many, many people out there abusing the system at every turn, so much so that SEO became a disdainful term. When someone heard SEO they thought of a person gaming the system, spamming links, stuffing keywords, and making the Internet a terrible place. Meanwhile thousands of honest people were attempting to do legitimate work amidst the chaos. They suffered an identity problem. It's tough to get SEO clients when everyone has this misconception about what you do. (Or worse, the client came to you expecting you to do the shady things they associated with SEO.)
Lifestylers are in the same boat. A misconstrued identity. I'm not a startup focusing on exponential growth with a large IPO or acquisition looming on the horizon. Am I just a small business? I guess so, but that's not very descriptive in the end. The U.S. Small Business Association actually has standard requirements to be considered a small business. Depending on the industry a "small business" might have as many as 1500 employees. This makes most startups small businesses too. It's a useless terminology in this instance.
Small business doesn't wholly describe the purpose and meaning behind what I do. That's why lifestyle was coined. The business is there to support a certain lifestyle, one not comprised of 18 hour work days. Sprints that never end. Sleeping under my desk, working for no pay with the hope of scoring a huge payout at some mystical future IPO or aquihire.
Alright, maybe I'm throwing a little shade at the startup life, but that's because the lifestyle movement is anti startup. It's about enjoying life and working to support that life without the work becoming the life. It's not to say that ALL startups operate this way. But it's the going perception. If it's wrong, well, I can only fight one perception problem at a time.
The lifestyle business is about not just enjoying life, but also enjoying the work you do. If something ceases to be what you want you have the capacity to change that.
It isn't about being lazy. Or about working as little as possible at the detriment of your business. We aren't scamming anyone. Most of us aren't sipping Corona at the beach (that's a thing, right?) while watching our automated systems generate cash by the bucket load. We work every week. But we work smart. We like what we do, and we're good at it. We sometimes make good money, and sometimes we vacation. But that doesn't mean we don't work hard and do a good job.
Programmers have embraced the word "hacker", and to some degree it has wormed its way back into the pop culture lexicon. Life hacks are everywhere. But tell a client or a random person on the street that you're a hacker and their mind goes to stolen celebrity photos or Matthew Broderick.
SEOs have largely moved on. They are now online marketers or content marketers. They are doing the same legitimate SEO tasks they were doing 5-10 years ago, just under a different moniker with a cleaner perception.
And it's time we move on from the lifestyle to something that describes us without the negative connotation. A moniker we can unite under as a community. That we can describe ourselves with and not instantly lose a potential customer.
I've seen dozens of discussions about the failure of lifestyle, and inevitably they end with someone saying they should coin a new term. So I sat down and brainstormed about it.
Many people have tried solopreneur and bootstrapped. These work for a few people, but we are not all solo operations. Bootstrap hints at a lack of funding - which is almost invariably true, but it shifts the defining focus of the business too much in the direction of money. MicroISV was popular in some circles briefly, but it's a misnomer and worse, it is too technical sounding to catch on.
What about some new portmanteaus? Lifepreneur. Eww. Lifestrapper. Lifestake. Lovestyle. No, no, no.
Well, we are somewhat anti startup. And they are all about rapid growth. Maybe slow growth businesses? Not bad, but slow brings its own negative vibe. Steady. Stalwart. Rock solid. Linear or saw tooth describe the growth pattern compared to the startup's ideal hockey stick. Not bad, but not quite good enough.
I love the idea of a values business. It shows that our values are the mission and the business dealings are the means of living and propagating those values. We think about the why behind every what. That's a great fit for me, and oh so close. But if we are a values business are we implying startups and other business types are not? Hm.
That brings me to this: startups are about rapid growth toward some exit strategy. They are focused on their destination. We are focused on the journey itself. We are profitable, living off those profits, and happy to not sell or IPO.
We are journey businesses. And proud of it.