Tons of entrepreneurs have been there: You're at a party or a work event when you mention that you intentionally keep your business small, or you let drop that you're only working four days a week for the summer.
"Oh," comes the scorn-tinged reply, "it's just a lifestyle business then."
Many in the jet-fueled, unicorn-worshipping startup community often have a subtle (or not so subtle) contempt for entrepreneurs focused more on personal fulfillment than world-changing growth (though, of course, there are notable exceptions). Coach and former "lifestyle entrepreneur" Lauren Bacon is done with it.
On her blog recently, Bacon wrote a barnstorming defense of those who think of their work more in terms of their quality of life than the number of zeros in their bank account, employees on their payroll, or valuation among VCs. It's a must read for anyone who has felt looked down on for their "modest" ambitions or because they insist on balance.
Building a lifestyle business is a radical move.
Rather than being an option for the weak, lazy, or uninspired, the decision to build a lifestyle business focused on making you happy or doing good in the world is actually a radical assertion of counter-culture values, Bacon asserts. It's a move for the brave, not the timid. Just-big-enough businesses, she argues, annoy some in startup community because they demonstrate other values are valid.
If your setup proves that constant work isn't necessary for fulfillment or success, that's going to raise some uncomfortable questions for workaholics, and annoy them greatly. If you make taking care of yourself and your loved ones a priority, that's going to hold a less-than-flattering mirror up to those who throw their own health and relationships under the speeding startup bus. No wonder you get sneered at at parties.
But it's time to refuse others' judgments about your small-but-beautiful business, Bacon says. "There's genuinely revolutionary potential in doing business the way my co-founder and I did. We built a sustainable, consistently profitable company, eventually supporting nine full-time staff, while prioritizing reasonable work weeks, working with world-changing clients, and building capacity internally and externally," she relates.
"In redefining the standard definitions of business growth to promote the kinds of growth we found most meaningful, we put our stake in the ground about what we believed business was good for. Not just profit. Not just scale. Not just feeding the consumption beast," she continues. "It's about creating spaces in the world where livelihood and life are in closer alignment."
If that's what you're doing with your "lifestyle business," wear your work as a badge of honor. You're not a slacker. You're a revolutionary. And if others fail to see that, it says more about their thoughtlessness than it does about you or your business. Go talk to someone else at that event with your head held high.