Wellbeing / Lifestyle business

What is a lifestyle business? Is it an insult or compliment?

What is a lifestyle business? It was suggested to me recently that I had a ‘lifestyle business’. It was intended as a compliment, but I’ve since been mulling over what that term really means. For me it has connotations that don’t sit well. And I’m not alone.

6 October 2015 by

What is a lifestyle business? ‘Lifestyle business’ is a phrase that is applied to a lot of solo and micro businesses, so let’s look at what it means.

What is a lifestyle business?

There are many different takes on this, but paraphrasing Wikipedia:

“…a lifestyle business is run primarily with the aim of sustaining a particular level of income and no more … or to provide a foundation from which to enjoy a particular lifestyle.”

And this definition from John Warrillow, author of “Built to Sell:

“A lifestyle business is where the owner’s motivations go beyond a strict definition of return on investment … a business owner makes decisions that include more factors than just what will increase shareholder value…”

"If your business (or job) doesn’t empower you to live the life you want – or isn’t at least heading in that direction – then what’s the point of all the hard work?"

While the goal is to make a sustainable profit, a lifestyle business is also designed to deliver non-financial benefits such as flexibility, balance, lower risk, control, community benefits or lower stress. Money is the means to an end.

What is a non-lifestyle business?

With a purely commercial business or more traditional ‘start-up’, the core objective is to grow as large and as fast as possible, maximise revenue (or users) and then ultimately cash out through a sale.

Wealth creation for the founders and investors is the focus. Lifestyle benefits are not factored into the success equation.

So, what’s the problem?

While these definitions are pretty self-explanatory at face value, both have negative undertones.

Where money is made the king, then at its extreme we’re into the ruthless world of 80-hour weeks, decades climbing the corporate ladder or taking big risks and making huge sacrifices to build a global empire. While it the surest way to wealth, there’s a big price to pay in sacrificing many other areas of life.

On the other hand, the term ‘lifestyle business’ comes pre-loaded with its own patronising connotations.

In their cutting article The lifestyle business bulls@#t, wildly successful tech business 37 Signals summed it up nicely.

“When the lifestyle card is pulled from its tired deck, it’s usually meant as a pat on the top of the head. An ‘oh, that’s such a pretty drawing, dear little boy’.”

To me it can imply that you’ve dropped out and taken the easy option, you’re not really serious about your business, you’re not creating anything of real value or you’re not sharp enough to make real money. Taken defensively, you’re an underachiever that can’t match it with the big boys.

More particularly I feel it’s the binary either/or positioning that is the problem. As 37 Signals explain:

“It’s the archetypical false dilemma: Either you (1) let your business devour your life and you’ll be incredibly successful or (2) you balance your life with other things than work but are relegated to paying-the-rent success.

I’m not saying that you can’t have success by pouring in all your waking hours. Of course you can. I’m saying that you don’t have to. That the correlation between the two is weak.”

What about a ‘life-giving’ business?

Does it have to be one or the other? Why can’t we go for gold and create a business that provides the freedom to live the life you want AND all the money you need to live it? A successful business, big or small, that gives you energy, freedom, lifestyle and control and allows you to pursue your passions and live in line with your values.

Striving for this sort of business is not an easy option, quite the opposite. It’s a serious endeavour that takes years of hard work and commitment to the cause. But isn’t that something worth betting your life on?

Want more articles like this? Check out the lifestyle business and work styles section.

Choose your own adventure.

You may love the adrenalin-charged 24/7 lifestyle of a global tech startup, prefer the quieter existence of a freelance writer, or thrive on the challenge of an executive role. If your current work-life is ticking the right lifestyle box for you then you’re living the dream.

But, if you do find yourself in a big company that sucks your soul dry, a job that leaves you empty, or a small business that falls short of your big ambitions, you have a life-draining business.

The point is to make a conscious choice that matches your priorities around love AND money.

After all if your business (or job) doesn’t empower you to live the life you want – or isn’t at least heading in that direction – then what’s the point of all the hard work?

What is a lifestyle business? Does it describe what you do?
Is there a better term, or am I just overthinking it!?

Peter Crocker

is a director of Flying Solo responsible for marketing and advertising. As a business copywriter he partners with digital agencies and corporate clients on websites and digital content. He’s the co-author of Flying Solo Revisited – How to go it alone in business.


  • I happily set up what may be referred to as a ‘lifestyle business’ and haven’t given a single thought about what other people, not even wildly successful tech businesses, think about my business model. If I did put my mind to it, I would probably sit here staring out the window at my horses enjoying the sunshine in their paddock, my puppy playing on the lawn, and smugly consider my low overheads, my wonderful boss, my flexible lifestyle, my 30 second commute and then I might possibly start work, but only if it suited me.

    • Hi Mascot! Thanks for reading and commenting. Sounds like you’ve got yourself in a great position 🙂 If you’ve got choice and freedom then you’ve got the power to create the life you want. Enjoy!!

  • Excellent words, Peter. I was recently offered an opportunity to return to a previous employer in what would have been a financially lucrative, though restricting position. After struggling for a time with the decision, ultimately I couldn’t turn my back on my “lifestyle business” which I have poured heart and soul into for the past four years. As a soloist, cashflow and work continuity can be stressful at times, but the non financial benefits and the greater freedom to steer your life in the direction that you want do outweigh the negatives.

    • Thanks Ian, I think the powerful lure of money can be a good test of your convictions in terms of where you want to head and how you want to live. Nothing wrong at all of course with earning good money if it is also considered in line with the bigger direction you want to head.

  • I joined a Franchise that allows its members to work at their own pace,
    where individual goals for the particular franchise are set by the
    Franchisee. Some strive to create the super franchise that makes the
    most money, whist others are content to make enough to cover the costs
    and provide a little extra for the “lifestyle” they choose. I work when
    I want too, when I need to (to meet deadlines) and enjoy the life I
    have. I love my “lifestyle business”!

    • Congrats! Sounds like the best of both worlds to get that flexibility. I imagine it would also be valuable for people at different life stages who may want to dial things up/down to suit their goals at the time.

  • Moya Sharp

    Hi Peter Just read your article on the title ‘Lifestyle Business’ a(or is it a label?)’ and found it very interesting. Im not sure what to call myself really. I have gone from something I did first as a hobby and now as a business and find it hard for me to be taken seriously. I often get the proverbial ‘pat on the’ head’ response when I say what I do or something like ‘Thats Nice, Something to keep you busy’. Also people often say “Oh it must be so nice to do your stuff from home” where as it is quite difficult to manage you own time when at home. I have discarded using the term ‘Blogger’ as this sems to come with a lot of conotations so now I stick to ‘Writer and Historian’ still not compleatly happy with this but it will do till I come up with something else.

    • Hi Moya – thanks a lot for reading 🙂 Yes, you’re definitely not alone in getting those reactions (and frustrations) as it’s something I hear a lot from soloists, particularly those who work from home. It is changing fast as more and more people are freelancing and working from home, but there are still some old-school condescending attitudes lingering around! As Mascot commented below the ideal is to be so happily set up on your own course that you don’t give a second thought to what others say/think. That’s harder said than done of course! All the best with the business and thanks again, Peter

  • No, ‘Lifestyle business’ doesn’t describe what I do. But you describe it pretty well, thanks Peter- I have freedom, control and energy and I made a conscious choice that matches my priorities, values and it has taken a number of years hard work. There is a better term and I haven’t the time to work out what it might be. i just enjoy what I do and for whom.

  • When I’ve heard the term lifestyle business used it has been different to your experiences. A lifestyle business is one that you own, earn a good income from, but have developed to the point where the business keeps running with little or no input from you. Your managers and workers happily do the work that pays your bills.

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