What is a lifestyle business?

Following a review of Flying Solo’s survey results, where we sought to delve deeper into the sentiment and motivations of our audience, it is clear that most FSers are most definitely running a ‘lifestyle business’ and very importantly, this is their absolute choice.  So, what is  lifestyle business? For more articles on this topic visit our lifestyle business category or check out our lifestyle business podcast.

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

So, what is a lifestyle business to Flying Solo

While it’s a term with various meanings and understandings, we define it like this:

“A ‘lifestyle business’ as one that, while making money, has as its primary purpose the need to support the business owner’s desired lifestyle.”

Clearly ‘lifestyle’ can manifest in different ways –  whether one that allows frequent travel; the ability to be location independent; to be more present for kids and family, or to be working at a less hectic pace.

Currently the term ‘lifestyle business’ is too frequently (and very disappointingly) used disparagingly, as a label for those seeking ‘less’ or opting out a bit.

We intend to change all this by celebrating the reality of a lifestyle business and by being known as the go-to people in this sector to demonstrate with real stories that running a business that makes you the money you need and that allows you to have a life is entirely possible.

What is a lifestyle business? More definitions…

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…”

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 [email protected]#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’.”

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.”

It doesn’t have to be one or the other.

At Flying Solo we believe you can 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.

What is a lifestyle business? 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?

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.

What is a lifestyle business? The definition itself doesn’t matter, 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?


128,871 people use Flying Solo to help them create a business with life. Do you?

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