Consulting as a lifestyle business

Consulting as a lifestyle business

Maybe you’ve heard it, steeped in scorn. “Oh, you’ve got a lifestyle business”. For whatever reason, some people love to slag entrepreneurs who’ve built out businesses that work with their lifestyle.

The first time I heard this, I was about three years into my practice. I’d built out a solid business plan, brought in – and retained – Fortune 500 and A-list clients and my business was growing. I’d travelled, managed a chronic health condition, and gone back to school for an MBA, all while running my company. Still, some guy felt he needed to tell me I had a lifestyle business, not a real business. Of course, he didn’t even have a business, just a business plan he hoped someone would fund. It was still hard to hear. In fact, when Lauren Bacon posted her fantastic article on the subversion of running a lifestyle business, I had all those same feelings bubble up, all these years later.

Does hearing someone call your practice a “lifestyle business” gut you? It can be pretty hard to take, when you’ve gone to all the effort of building up a business of which you can be proud. 

Realistically, though, people who make those comments are just ticked off that they haven’t found a way to do what you do. It’s easier for them to find fault with you and your values than to questions whether there’s something not quite feeling right about theirs. And it’s a way for them to dismiss and minimize their efforts. I find that people are more likely to make these comments to both women and PoC, which makes me wonder if there’s oppression built right into the idea that people who find balance somehow have businesses that are less worthy.

As for those people ready to lay into consultants as lifestylers, maybe they’re feeling overwhelmed with work, trapped in social and financial obligations, or chained to a need to prove themselves. They may be mad that you found a way to prioritize a variety of values, needs and wants that haven’t worked out for them.

It’s a difficult thing to stand up against in a world that talks up increasing valuation, getting to IPO, improving ROI, reducing churn, climbing sometimes toxic hierarchies, and Leaning In. And you may already be trying to navigate barriers around childcare, caregiving, health or family obligations, not to mention systemic oppression. Figuring out a way to make that work may take business acumen and creativity that goes beyond working any executive track position. Bacon’s right when she calls that an act of subversion. 

Still, people and businesses appear ready to buck the trend. I recall someone saying Millennials aren’t entitled — they’re just the first generation to refuse to accept abuse in the workplace. And that belief is starting to shift entrenched values in business. From the rise of B-Corps to corporate social responsibility, there are signs everywhere that some people want to do business differently.

For me, I’ve struggled with this lifestyle issue too. I look back on a post from a decade a go, where a fellow entrepreneur informed me I was too wrapped up in revenues and growth.  My friend was right. I remember the joys from that time, but not so much my revenues or website traffic.

If you’re struggling with having a lifestyle business, it may help to focus on you, not people trying to offload their own struggles by putting your business down. Take a deep dive into your own reasons for consulting – see our list of reasons to become a consultant. Your own motivations and needs will drive your plan.

In the end, your work, your career, your life and the legacy you leave are about what makes you feel happy and fulfilled. So focus on your own needs and wants and let the naysayers go do their thing. You do you.

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