Learning a lesson from lifestyle businesses

Our obsession with labelling and categorising people and groups has to be one of the most absurd habits of the 21st century. In an age where we are constantly legislated against discrimination, it just adds a layer of excuses for people to disparage each other.

Entrepreneurs consider themselves a rather elitist group and have developed their own categories, such as ‘start-ups’ (the babies) and ‘lifestyle businesses’ (the amateurs who play at business). But aren’t entrepreneurs defined as enterprising individuals who build capital through risk or initiative? I don’t think owning a lifestyle business precludes any of that.

Lifestyle businesses provide the foundation for enjoying a particular lifestyle. One could argue that the entrepreneur runs a company like that to attain the lifestyle that they aim for, be it in financial terms or even just for the sake of adrenaline. If they are living the life that makes them happy, then they’re too living a lifestyle business owner’s life.

An underlying insult towards lifestyle business owners is that they don’t work hard. The irony is that many entrepreneurs struggle to maintain any sort of work life balance and have to recognise that balance means higher productivity and happiness, for both them and their employees. The business world has welcomed the term work smarter not harder – surely the lifestyler does more of exactly that.

There are of course start-ups who have a duty of return to their investors. This is partly brought about with our obsession with funding and expansion. Necessarily, outside investors have expectations on the owner and the owner quite often has a vague conscience about the amount of work they do to get the investor their return. Not all businesses require vast investment – does that make them something to be sneered at? One could argue that the cleverest get the highest return on the smallest investment, which goes hand in hand with saying that turnover is more important than the lowest outgoings. For many people, it is their staff who affect their lifestyle – or lack of it – the most. 

One advantage of today’s economic pressures is that more and more businesses have been forced to see the benefits of subcontracting, keeping regular overheads low. Slowly we are realising that this can be a smart thing to do, and often much more in keeping with a lifestyle business. Are we back to the old question of ‘does size matter’?

Some lifestyle business owners have to become more entrepreneurial to achieve an exit. At the same time, I have met many entrepreneurs in my travels who have evened up their lives and achieved an extremely nice lifestyle. Should they re-categorize themselves to join the lower classes of the ‘lifestyler’? Perhaps if they do, we will stop being quite so snobby over very happy and often very successful people.

Jan Cavelle is founder of the Jan Cavelle Furniture Company.

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