Long hours at the office and a calendar packed with meetings can cause important things in your personal life to fall to the bottom of an infinite to-do list. But a growing crop of entrepreneurs are starting lifestyle businesses that reverse that trend, building companies where life comes first and work comes second.
In practice, building a lifestyle business can mean working as a freelance designer while traveling the world or starting a dropshipping ecommerce business from your home office in an idyllic small town. Despite what your specific passion-centered company might look like, lifestyle businesses have something in common: they grant the freedom, flexibility, and fun that many people lack in their 9-to-5 jobs.
This article will explore how to start a lifestyle business—from coming up with an idea and validating it to scaling your business and beyond. Like any business, your lifestyle business won’t emerge overnight: there will be false starts, ideas that don’t pan out, and a period without pay. But by taking an intentional and iterative approach to starting and scaling your lifestyle business, you can gradually grow something that supports your ideal life.
1. Define your life and business goals
The motivation to start a lifestyle business often arises from a dissatastication with your current status quo. That could mean working long hours at a job you find uninspiring and that leaves little time for hobbies, or running a stressful business that causes you to miss dinners with family.
Before diving into potential business ideas, take time to set life goals that will guide your lifestyle business journey. If you currently work 40 to 60 hours a week, you might set a goal to work a four-day week. If bumper-to-bumper traffic commutes detract from your life, you might aim to work from home. While life goals will naturally differ for everyone, here are a few common ones to consider:
- Spend more time with friends and family
- Make time for more physical activity
- Eliminate long daily commute
- Have a flexible schedule
- Make more time for hobbies
- Move to a lower cost-of-living city
- Stop working on weekends
- Work four days per week
- Become a digital nomad
- Spend more time outdoors
- Live abroad
- Sell motor vehicle
Write down your lifestyle goals to track them as you build your business and look back on as they evolve over time.
With your goals in mind, create a rough monthly budget on how much your ideal lifestyle would cost, with your current lifestyle as a baseline. Your lifestyle costs could decrease if your aim is to move to a lower cost of living location that’s more walkable, removing the costs of car ownership. Your lifestyle costs could stay the same if you want to maintain the same lifestyle. Your lifestyle costs could increase if your desire is to move to a bigger city center, splurging on restaurant dinners and sporting events. Consider the full breadth of your potential budget: housing, transportation, travel visas, Airbnbs and hotels, food, monthly bills and expenses, savings, and more.
This should give you “the number”—the minimum amount of money your lifestyle business needs to generate in profit per month to support the way you want to live. A lifestyle business can be successful bringing in $30,000 a year or $300,000 per year—you get to determine what financial success looks like for your lifestyle business.
One you have the number, ask yourself the following questions and plan accordingly:
- Will I stay at my current job while exploring my lifestyle business idea?
- How long do I have to get my lifestyle business off the ground, given current savings?
- How long will I give myself to hit my monthly number?
After setting your business goals, creating your budget, finding your number, and thinking through the questions above, you should walk away with your own version of this statement:
“I aim to work 35 hours per week and have the flexibility to spend time traveling modestly across Europe, spending extended periods in England visiting family. This will cost $3,500 per month. I will explore lifestyle business ideas during evenings and weekends for February, March, and April while maintaining my full-time job. This will allow me to save $9,000 before handing in my resignation letter in early June to pursue my lifestyle business and travel full time. I aim to make at least $2,000 a month during May, June, and July, and start making $3,500 a month from August onward.”
You won’t have all the answers right away, and your goals and objectives may change over time, but having some idea of what you want to achieve and what that entails will guide you as you pursue a lifestyle business.
2. Take inventory of your skills, interests, and expertise
Whether you have your eyes set on freelancing or want to cut your teeth as an indie hacker, it’s important to start first with the skills and expertise you possess. If part of your desire to start a lifestyle business is developing new skills or having different professional experiences, consider what you might have a natural aptitude for or a passion to learn.
Aside from considering the skills you have and want to develop, also consider what is currently in demand. For example, a 2022 report from UpWork revealed information about the top 10 most in-demand tech skills:
- Web design
- Web programming
- Graphic design
Upwork made the same list for in-demand marketing skills (e.g., social media marketing, lead generation, etc.) and in-demand customer service skills (e.g., online chat support, data entry).
Whether you’re thinking about consulting or becoming a content creator, take inventory of your areas of expertise and your professional strengths and consider how they can help you start a lifestyle business.
3. Find your lifestyle business niche
Once you’ve narrowed down your skills, think about zeroing in on a specific niche. For instance, while you might be a strong writer interested in freelancing, that’s a broad category that will make it difficult to sell your services to specific clients.
While it might feel counterintuitive to narrow in on one particular customer segment, often clients and customers are looking for specialists, not generalists. Here are examples of specific business niches:
SaaS copywriting, financial technology white papers, profile writing, executive ghost writing, ecommerce content marketing
Short-form documentaries, influencer vlogs, corporate commercials, music videos, news segments
Social media marketing, email marketing, Facebook ad marketing, influencer marketing, account-based marketing
Wedding photography, food product photography, landscape photography, real estate photography, lifestyle photography
Once you have your niche, think about how you can apply it to your specific lifestyle business. If you’re a skilled video editor with experience helping brands make video ads for social media, you could create a digital course teaching others to do the same. If you previously worked in-house at a magazine doing food photography, consider a lifestyle business selling to clients in this space. Narrow in and be specific about the skills you can offer to customers or clients. But don’t push ahead without validating your business idea.
4. Validate your lifestyle business idea
Tim Ferriss, the serial entrepreneur behind TheFour-Hour Workweek, is a bestselling author, podcaster, and investor. But before he propelled his books to the top of bestseller lists, one of his first business pursuits was a dud. In 1997 he came up with the idea to sell an audiobook to college guidance counselors, called How I Beat the Ivy League. He spent copious amounts of time and money on the project, eventually manufacturing 500 audio tapes. He was only able to sell one: to his mother.
His experience taught him the importance of validating a business idea before investing in it fully. It’s this advice he shares with aspiring entrepreneurs within the pages of TheFour-Hour Workweek, one of the most oft-read books about starting a lifestyle business:
“Intuition and experience are poor predictors of which products and businesses will be profitable. … To get an accurate indicator of commercial viability, don’t ask people if they would buy—ask them to buy. The response to the second is the only one that matters.”
If you are interested in freelancing or consulting, validating your idea is often as simple as approaching clients about your services and seeing if they will contract them. If you’re a budding influencer who wants to work with a particular brand, send them an impassioned proposal with your vision (and your rates). Winning a client will mean your approach works, while getting a rejection provides you with information on how you need to adapt your offering.
However, when it comes to ideas like digital products, ecommerce dropshipping, and indie hacking an app, validating the idea before spending your time and money is trickier. Luckily, that doesn’t mean it’s not possible. Before investing weeks into writing an ebook that nobody will buy or a video course that costs $2,000 to produce but only yields $20 in sales, try these tactics to validate your business idea:
- Try pre-selling and pre-orders. If you’re selling a digital product or physical merchandise, offer and advertise prospective products as pre-sales or pre-orders to gauge interest.
- Experiment with digital ads. Create a landing page for your prospective product and use Google Ads and Facebook ads to drive traffic to the website. Include information and visuals about your product and add a form to collect emails from website visitors.
- Create an email mini-course. Creating a full-scale course can take weeks or months. Instead, create an email mini-course that upsells the larger course and collects emails for when it launches.
- Host a webinar. Similar to an email mini-course, hosting a webinar is a good opportunity to tease the content for a greater course and upsell it at the end of the webinar.
- Start a crowdfunding campaign. If you have a prototype of a physical product or an idea that’s fleshed out, consider a crowdfunding campaign on a platform like Indiegogo or Kickstarter to see if there’s enough interest to fund the full development of your idea.
Validating a business idea still requires some time and money. However, these investments pale in comparison to the hours and dollars you might spend and not see again if your business idea fails. Testing your idea before you go to market will help you find success in creating your lifestyle business.
5. Choose your lifestyle business tool stack
As a lifestyle entrepreneur, much of the work you do will only require a laptop and an internet connection. But it’s the tools found on your computer—the websites you use, the apps you download, and the subscriptions you buy—that will enable you to actually build a lifestyle business. If you’re looking to build an audience as a writer, you’ll need a newsletter or blog platform. As a course creator, you’ll need an education platform to host your content.
Every lifestyle business “tech stack” will look different, but here are some popular tools and platforms to consider as you build your entrepreneurial toolset:
- Online courses: Podia, Skillshare, Gumroad, Udemy, Teachable, Maven, MasterClass
- Membership and monetization: Patreon, Memberful, Mighty Networks, OnlyFans, Fanhouse, Cameo
- Email marketing: Mailchimp, ConvertKit, MailerLite,
- Audio editing: Descript, GarageBand, Audacity
- Ecommerce: Shopify, Fanjoy, Etsy, Popshop Live, Pietra, Teespring
- Website: Squarespace, Webflow, Wix, Carrd
- Link pages: Linktree, Lnk.Bio, Beacons, Stan.Me
- Blog: Medium, WordPress, Ghost, Mirror,
- Newsletter: Substack, TinyLetter, Revue
- Advertising: Google Ads, Facebook ads, and Instagram ads
- Social media marketing: Buffer,Hootsuite, Sprout Social, Loomly, Agorapulse
- Productivity: Notion, Todoist, Dropbox, Google Workspace, Trello, Things, Fantastical
- Digital events: Hopin, Zoom, Crowdcast, Run the World, Airmeet
- Creator platforms: YouTube, YouTube Studio, Twitch, YouTube Gaming, Facebook Gaming, TikTok, Snapchat, Instagram Reels, YouTube Shorts
- Podcasting: Anchor, Libsyn, Buzzsprout, Transistor
- Freelancing: Freelancer, Upwork, Fiverr, Toptal
- Invoicing and analytics: Stir, Karat, QuickBooks, Wave, Sage, FreshBooks
The kind of tools you use will depend entirely on the category of your lifestyle business. Select tools that help you do your best work, make business operations easier, and enable your company to grow.
6. Market your lifestyle business
After validating your idea and using the right tools to build your business, marketing will be the channel that allows your company to sustain business and grow overtime.
If you’re an indie hacker who’s built a personal budgeting app, that might mean sharing budgeting tips in a weekly newsletter. If you’re a skilled videographer, marketing might mean posting your work on TikTok to attract clients and customers.
- Paid advertising. Use digitals ads, like Facebook ads, Instagram ads, and Google Ads, to advertise your digital product, online store, or services. Online ads help you narrow in on your ideal customer by targeting based on demographics, interests, and behaviors. You only need a modest budget to start.
- Social media marketing. Depending on your business, posting organically on social media could help people find your business. If you’re interested in consulting with financial professionals, consider platforms like LinkedIn. If your dropshipping product is aimed at people aged 18 to 25, try posting on TikTok.
- Email marketing. Embed an email sign-up form on your website, collect email addresses from visitors, and develop an email marketing strategy to turn website visitors into customers.
- SEO marketing. Optimize your site to help your website rank in Google search results. Focus on SEO marketing best practices like ensuring your site’s content matches a visitor’s search intent, internal link building, image optimization, mobile optimization, and more.
- Content marketing. Position yourself as an expert and answer questions related to your product that people search for through blogging. Conduct keyword research and write SEO-friendly articles that surface in search, and in turn, get more people to learn about your business.
- Influencer marketing. Partner with internet influencers and online creators by paying them to promote your product or service to their audience. Narrow in on the right person. Find a productivity focused influencer for your to-do list app and a cooking YouTuber to promote your vegan recipes ebook. If your budget is small, try working with a micro-influencer.
- Guest posts and podcast appearances. Find new audiences by pitching yourself as a guest writer on a relevant blog or a guest on a podcast related to your business. This is an opportunity to showcase your expertise and attract new customers and clients.
Marketing can take a variety of different forms. It can also take time to find the right channel that works for your business. Start broadly, experimenting with multiple mediums. Then, zero in on the channels that effectively drive traffic to your business or customer and client leads to your inbox.
Marketing Decoded blog series
Learning how to market your lifestyle business is a topic for an entire blog post…or seven. Read the Shopify Marketing Decoded series for advice on attracting people to your business and converting them into customers.
- How to Create a Brand Voice as Unique as Your Business
- Marketing Funnels Explained: Why They Matter & How to Build Yours
- Inbox Inspiration: 21 Email Marketing Examples to Follow in 2022
- 20 Email Marketing Best Practices to Turn Campaigns Into Sales
- 17 Creative Marketing Ideas for Small Businesses
- How to Create a Newsletter That Grows Your Business
- Landing Page Design: How to Create Better Pages That Convert
- The 65 Best Marketing Tools for Online Businesses
7. Add additional income streams
One of the risks of starting a lifestyle business is over reliance on one stream of income. If much of your work comes from a single freelancing client, your income could plummet to zero if they cancel your contract or go out of business. If the majority of your money comes from a digital course that you promote with Facebook ads, one algorithmic change could reduce the effectiveness of your advertising and leave you struggling to make sales.
Diversifying your income allows you to avoid overreliance on one source, making your lifestyle business more resilient. Here are a list of ideas for adding additional income streams to proactively add more lifestyle business:
- Ask your current clients for referrals
- Create a digital product for passive income
- Add a new payment tier to your digital app
- Pitch a brand partnership with a company you admire
- Seek out licensing deals on your writing, photos, or music
- Add affiliate links to your blog or YouTube video descriptions
- Start a paid newsletter
- Invest your money
Be cognizant of how many hours you have in a day or week—adding additional income streams should ideally not mean jumping from 20 hours a week to 60 hours. Instead, think of passive income streams or marginal changes you can make to your lifestyle business that would make a big difference.
8. Automate and outsource
If you’re determined and fortunate as a lifestyle entrepreneur, your business will grow. You’ll gain social media followers as a creator, have a waitlist of clients as a freelance photographer, or build traction with your app that leads to thousands of sign-ups.
With this success can come long hours and more work. Gradually, your lifestyle business can start to feel like the job or business you left—eating away at your hours, loaded with drudgery, and forcing you, yet again, to put life on the back burner. But growing a successful lifestyle business shouldn’t mean giving up on the reason you started it in the first place.
That’s where outsourcing and automation come in:
- Automation. Use tools like Zapier, IFTTT, and Automate to create automated workflows for manual processes.
- Outsourcing. Pay others to do the tasks that get in the way of the work you want to do. If you’re finding yourself spending more time in your calendar and inbox than audio editing, consider hiring a virtual personal assistant. If you’re tired of tweaking headlines on your website, pay a freelance copywriter instead. If customer service for your app is eating into the time you need to build new features, higher a customer service rep. Find talented freelancers through referrals and recommendations, or use platforms like Freelancer, Upwork, Fiverr, and Toptal to find the right person for the job.
Automation and outsourcing can free up your time to do the work that’s most impactful for your business rather than what’s most urgent.
9. Make time for learning
Getting better at your craft and improving your business will naturally come with years of experience and practice. But you can also be intentional about personal and professional growth by making time for learning and upskilling.
Here are a few ways to inject learning into your life and business:
- Read books. From self-development and productivity books to guides on advertising and pricing, lessons from books can help you grow as a person and as a professional. Browse through this list of the 29 best business books for entrepreneurs for inspiration on what to read.
- Listen to podcasts. If you prefer listening over reading, podcasts can be an excellent source of information and insight. Find podcasts on growth and self development, like The Tim Ferriss Show and Huberman Lab; shows about lifestyle entrepreneurship or lifestyle design, like Indie Hackers and About Abroad; or podcasts directly related to your area of interest on topics like writing, content creation, software development, leadership consulting, and more.
- Follow leaders in your space. Follow the social profiles, newsletters, blogs, or podcasts of people you admire to learn how they approach their own work and business.
- Take a course. A well-designed course taught by a reputable instructor can answer questions you didn’t know you had and unlock opportunities you didn’t think were possible. Research courses in your field and ask questions before signing up.
- Expand your services. Often, the best way to learn is by doing. Offer clients and customers new service at a lower cost as you learn the ropes of a new skill and put your knowledge into action.
Ultimately, education is an investment in your lifestyle business. Learning more about yourself—how you’re most productive and the ways you do your best work—and how to improve aspects of your business—marketing, writing, video editing—will help you grow your lifestyle business over time.
10. Find your community
Working for yourself as a solopreneur comes with freedom, but can also come with loneliness. Without the camaraderie of colleagues, it’s easy for the feeling of isolation to grow. Additionally, one of the benefits of working with large groups is having a collective to learn from. Approaching business alone can make it more challenging to grow in your craft—whether you’re a YouTuber or a freelance software engineer.
Be intentional about cultivating a community of like-minded professionals who can relate to your experiences as a lifestyle entrepreneur and lend advice and a listening ear when you need it. Here are a few ways to find a professional community as a lifestyle entrepreneur:
- Attend industry conferences. Conferences and events related to your field are a good opportunity to learn about the latest trends in your industry while also meeting new people in your field.
- Join online communities. Use Google, Facebook, and LinkedIn to seek out communities related to your work where you can connect with peers and share resources and learnings. If you’re an indie hacker, join Indie Hackers. If you're a freelance writer in the media, join Study Hall.
- Reach out individually. Be bold and make the first move—reach out to potential peers or mentors you want to connect with and learn from. Send a thoughtful note and ask for a virtual coffee meeting. Be specific with your request rather than broad, and be respectful of their time, asking for 30 minutes instead of an hour. The worst they can say is no.
- Join a co-working space. Even if you mostly want to work from home, occasionally visiting a co-working space is a good opportunity to get out of the house and meet other people who are pioneering their own income path. If you’re early in your lifestyle business journey, going to a coworking space also exposes you to more ideas as you get to know people and ask what they do.
- Take a cohort-based course. Brush up on your skills and acquire new ones while meeting like-minded people. Cohort-based courses have the advantage of everyone moving through the course at the same time. Often, cohort-based courses have a live video component, which means you can actually connect to people one-on-one versus doing a self-paced course on your own.
Staying motivated on your own can be hard. Working for yourself as a lifestyle entrepreneur means you’re creating your own deadlines and keeping yourself committed. But finding a community of like-minded people creates a sense of belonging and accountability that will serve your lifestyle business in the long-run.
Are you ready to build the lifestyle business of your dreams?
The process of starting a lifestyle business might seem complex with an infinite number of steps. While starting on this journey isn’t necessarily easy, it is rather simple: a lifestyle business means working for yourself and earning money on your own terms, often packaging skills and expertise you already possess into services or products that clients or customers will pay for.
Becoming a lifestyle entrepreneur means ditching the 9-to-5—or, in some cases, 9-to-9—in favor of working hours that allow you to live the life you want, whether that’s working on the go from your laptop as a digital nomad or starting work at noon from your home office after dropping off your kids at school and taking the morning to explore your hobbies. The beauty of a lifestyle business is the removal of obstacles and the entry of opportunity in living the life you want.
Starting a lifestyle business FAQ
How do I start a lifestyle business?
- Define your life and business goals
- Take inventory of your skills, interests, and expertise
- Find your business niche
- Validate your idea
- Choose your tool stack
- Market your business
- Add additional income streams
- Automate and outsource
- Make time for learning
- Find your entrepreneur community