12 Things I Learned From Starting 3 Successful Lifestyle Businesses

Since my wife became pregnant with our first child in 2007, I’ve created 3 different lifestyle businesses, an ecommerce store selling wedding linens, a blog about entrepreneurship and a course on how to start an online store.

And these businesses were created so my wife and I could spend more time with these two.



For all of you who are unfamiliar with the terminology, a lifestyle business is a business that you can run on the side to earn extra money so that you don’t feel obligated to work your day job.

And the primary difference between a “lifestyle business” versus what I call a “true startup company” is that a lifestyle business requires a much smaller time commitment and can be heavily leveraged to make the best use of your resources.

The best part is that if all goes well, you can make enough money to quit your day job altogether and focus on doing the things that you love.

However, the one downside with a “lifestyle” business is that it will probably never result in you becoming filthy rich. Sure it’s possible but highly unlikely. But who needs to be filthy rich anyways?

The most important things in life come from spending time with those that you love, not slogging away at some company…unless of course your startup company happens to be what you are the most passionate about.

The Power Of A Lifestyle Business

My wife and I started our ecommerce store so that she could stay at home with our kids and be there for them as they grew up. Our store made over 100K in profit during our first year and has grown in the double and triple digits since.

I started my blog in 2009, and while it did not make much money in the first two years, it has already made 6 figures this year and the year isn’t even over yet. Next year, the blog will probably surpass my day job salary. It already has.

Similarly, my online store course has seen triple digit growth since it launched a year ago.

I run all of these businesses at the same time and still work my full time job. And the truth is that I don’t even feel like I’m working my butt off. I have plenty of free time to spend with my kids and I hang out with my family and friends a heck of a lot.

Even though I’m pretty happy with where I am right now, it was definitely not a smooth and easy path. So today, I thought that I’d share with you 12 things that I learned while creating my online businesses.

Find Out What You Are Good At And Focus On It

Most businesses try to spread themselves too thin and as a result, they don’t do anything particularly well. They key to starting a successful lifestyle business is to be hyper focused on one thing and be the best at it.

With our online wedding linens store, we decided to focus our product selection on handkerchiefs and became the largest purveyor of hankies on the Internet.

With my blog, I positioned myself as an ecommerce entrepreneur because I noticed that there were very few blogs out there that wrote about ecommerce in the context of running a real online shop.

With my online store course, I decided to focus on teaching ecommerce instead of going broad and showing people how to start a generic online business.

Every lifestyle business needs to find its thing, the one thing where you have a decent shot of being the best at. Otherwise, you will simply blend in with the rest of the pack.

Work With People Who You Love And Will Challenge You

There’s no one I can think of who I love more than my wife (except for my kiddos) so working with her was a natural choice for me. Though I can’t wholeheartedly recommend working with your spouse for everyone, there is no one else out there that you will be able to trust more.

Plus, your spouse will never hesitate to challenge you or make you sleep on the couch when push comes to shove:)

No matter who you decide to work with, the key is to find someone with a complementary skill set who will push you harder than you are normally comfortable with.

Make Decisions And Execute

In the beginning when you have no clue what you are doing, it’s easy to sit on the sidelines until you are sure which path to take. The problem however is that you’ll never know which path to take unless you pick something and go for it.

So whenever you feel indecisive, take action regardless of how you feel about your decision. By getting off your butt and jumping into the ring, you will obtain valuable data that you can learn from and make adjustments accordingly.

Remember, you’ll never get anywhere by staying on the sidelines. Go out there and gather some data points!

Build And Own As Much As You Can

Many people who start their own online business want to outsource as much as they can. As a result, many would be entrepreneurs take shortcuts and rely on third party services to run their websites for them. While going this route may reduce your time to market, relying on a 3rd party will limit your flexibility and potentially put you at their mercy in the future.

For example, many entrepreneurs who used to rely on Ebay as their primary sales channel got shafted when Ebay drastically increased their prices. Similarly, many Etsy users saw drastically reduced sales when Etsy decided to change their product display and ranking algorithms.

Do you want to be at the mercy of someone else? That is why it’s important to own your own website. Sure, it takes a little more work to understand how websites work. But it is valuable knowledge to have and will make you more self sufficient.

Understand The Underlying Principles Of What You Are Outsourcing

Sometimes it makes sense to outsource certain parts of your business if it will save you time. But make sure you understand the underlying principles of what you are outsourcing!

I’ve had friends who have hired website developers and wasted a ton of money because they had no clue what they were doing. Every time they wanted to make a simple change, they would have to contact their developer and pay an additional fee to get things done.

The problem was that they had no clue how much time or effort was required for each task and as a result they were taken advantage of by their contractors.

Take some time and understand the underlying principles of what you are trying to outsource! And try to learn as much about the technology as possible so you understand the effort involved and what is actually feasible to implement.

Establish A Routine And Stick With It

The key to starting a successful business is to not burn yourself out by pulling a bunch of all nighters and getting things done all at once. Instead, you should establish a set routine and plan on slowly making progress over time.

For my wife and I, we devoted Sundays mornings and certain nights during the week towards working on the business. And our objective was to just accomplish one thing per day. By creating a priority list and checking off our goals one at a time, we always made consistent progress and our shop was ready to launch before we knew it.

Treat Your Customers Like Royalty

To this day, I’m still shocked by how fast word of mouth travels. When you treat a customer with the utmost of respect, they will return the favor and tell all of their friends about your business. On the flip side, if you treat a customer poorly, you will lose a lot more than just a single customer.

Treat all of your customers like royalty and your business will be guaranteed to grow. Never underestimate word of mouth and social media.

Get Some Exercise

When my wife and I were working our butts off starting our first business, I stopped exercising and it took a tremendous toll on my psyche. I’d feel listless from a lack of energy. I’d lose focus easily. But once I set aside some time to lift weights, run and play sports, I found that I was way more productive afterwards.

If you don’t treat your body right, your mind will gradually deteriorate. Don’t neglect your health!

Just Ship It

I remember wasting a ton of time tweaking the aesthetics of my website and having endless debates with my wife about the “right” way to do things. There’s no way to find out how good your business is until you actually go live and get feedback from real customers.

If you find yourself making too many minor tweaks or second guessing yourself, then you are likely stalling your business on purpose because you are afraid. Break things down into small obtainable goals and constantly work towards your launch!

Don’t Be Too Cheap

I’m probably one of the cheapest, most conservative entrepreneurs that you’ll ever meet. But over the years, I’ve started to factor in the costs of my time when it comes to making purchases that make things more efficient. These days, if a piece of software or a tool will save me a decent chunk of time, I’ll usually pull the trigger..

Don’t neglect the costs of your own time and efforts!

Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously

I’m not that intense of a person and I rarely take myself too seriously, but I know a lot of people that do. Hell, I sell wedding linens. I can barely say that with a straight face! As you are running your business, take some time out and simply enjoy the process.

Chances are, you are learning way more than you ever have before so take a break every now and then and just take it all in. You are doing something that 90% of other people never dream of doing! Enjoy it while it lasts!

Be Inspired

My final tip is to hang out with the right people and get inspired. If your current social group is bringing you down, find some other like minded entrepreneurs and start a support group.

After all, the best way to stay motivated is to be amongst those who inspire you to push yourself beyond your comfort zone!

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31 thoughts on “12 Things I Learned From Starting 3 Successful Lifestyle Businesses”

  1. justpayitoff says:

    Very nice article! Thank you

  2. Konrad says:

    Hey Steve, very inspiring post. I found your last point about being inspired to be the most important. I’m a 48 year professional bass player. When I was a teenager starting out I used to think that a true sign of something being your passion is that you always wanted to do it. There were many times I did not want to put in the practice time to become a better bass player because I wasn’t feeling inspired. However anytime I would go to a local jazz club and hear a killer bass player it would inspire me to no end an I would go running back to the practice room. It taught me two important lessons. Passion is a live thing and all living things need to be fed and secondly in order to be successful simply keep your passion fed and the rest will take care of itself. It seems like every time I read your blog I move closer to my goals. I purposely have not read them all as I use them as a source of nutrition and I don’t wanna run out. I honestly believe that common sense is the highest level of intelligence and you seem to excel at that so thanks so much for keeping it simple.

    1. Hey Konrad,
      I think it’s pretty cool that you are a musician. Coming from an Asian family, becoming a professional bass player was not one of my options:) Kudos to you for following your passions!

  3. Melisa says:

    Been reading your advice and my husband and I are inspired and thinking about starting an online store. Your advice seems pretty frank and I appreciate that. I’m looking forward to reading more from you.

    BTW love the picture of your kids, adorable! We want to do this for the same reasons as you, being around more for our boys. Thanks!

    1. Thanks Melisa!
      That picture was taken last week actually:)

  4. Hi Steve,

    Really great and encouraging post. I’ve been following your blog for a couple of years or so and can say that you’ve really inspired me and taught me a lot.

    I’ve been a bit of a solo effort with my venture to date but I’m realizing just how important it is to connect with other like-minded entrepreneurs. Even if for no other reason than to cut the loneliness factor!

    Thanks again and please keep up the great work.

    Chris.

    1. Hey Chris,
      Thanks for leaving a comment. I love when people who have read the blog for a long time come out and introduce themselves. Going to check out your site now.

  5. Hi Steve,

    Great!

    Spoken like a true online businessman. If people follow your advice they will do well.

    I fired my boss and have been working in a lifestyle business for over 10 years now. The big tip that I get is – “Build And Own As Much As You Can”. Absolutely! I think this could easily be extended to “Diversify As Much As You Can”.

    For me everthing was growing BIG time too until I got Panda and Penguined to near death (I will spare the details) without doing anything spammy or underhanded. Just as EBay and Etsy can change the rules so did Google.

    In the future I will be diversifying and if possible owning the traffic sources.

    Great tip!

    Quinn

    1. Ack! I hate penguin and panda. Thankfully, my sites haven’t been hit that badly but it just goes to show that you can’t put all of your eggs in Google’s basket.

  6. Great to see that you have been able to create 3 different sources of income and be able to spend more time with your family. I think too many people give up and don’t have enough focus. Others think it is a lot easier then it is and go in expecting the world too soon. Remember its a business an you have to treat it as such. Customers and what the people want are key as they are who are going to keep you in business and making money.

    1. Hey Thomas. I think persistence is the key, especially with the online properties. Websites only get stronger as more content gets indexed in the search engines. It’s a marathon and not a sprint.

  7. Dee says:

    Steve,

    I have been reading your blog at least 3 years now. As i have built my online business, everything you have stated is true.

    I was just thinking last week, I wonder how your kids look now. Thanks for posting a new pic. The are precious.

    Dee

    1. Hey Dee,
      THanks for the comment. 3 years is a long time and I really appreciate it!

  8. I love this post! Thanks for writing it. And thank you (as always) for your honesty and “keeping it real!” You gave me the kick start to launch my own online store. I’ve followed your blog for two years now, and ALWAYS refer back to it for your advice! Please keep it up!!

  9. Tehseen Malick says:

    Dear Steve!

    Ur last point…!!! Aaaahhhhh…. I m simply discouraged uptill the very last second i m writing this comment, from every1 near me, my family, friends, this n that…. in some way they all r right, coz they say dt u dun hv the capital, nt even for website building n maintenance, n i say dt I HV THE PASSION n it wud start working for me… i really cant change my family n frnds [being n asian u knw our attachment very well]. i hv nearly finalized my plan to enter in the designer dresess and leather market as it is a strong exporting here from Pakistan, and have started to implement it. This is my very first post at any platform on the internet world [except FB of course] and m always inspired from the business world coz m really nt the 9-5 person. My people n even my studies r pulling me towards this job thing [m from the background of chartered accountancy, n even my colleagues from KPMG audit firm r just job people] but m really working hard to pull all this out and start the way towards growing in my passion while staying free from the unwanted prison of job… like ur blogs and really appreciate for ur work n success. Hope to write something more in any other blog of urs.

  10. Great post. I agree with everything you’ve said here. I’ve designed one business and am starting another now. Thanks for bringing back to the essential basics.

  11. Steve:

    Another great blog, man. I sent you a couple of emails a while back. (No. I’m not a nut job, but I realized that I have been taking things way too seriously.) I’m signing up for your online class soon, though and look forward to learning. Your blogs and videos have been been engaging and thought provoking. I’m excited to see more and continue to grow.

    Btw: our website takes you to our etsy store (yuck), but that’s what we’ve been working with. The site isn’t the greatest in the world (which is why I’m excited to start classes soon!)

    Again, great post! Great blog! Keep it up!

  12. Hi Steve,

    Wow, just stumbled upon your blog today and gotta say I’m really impressed. I love that you disclose everything, you keep it real and also provide the necessary motivation for those of us that like to hear about real-life success stories. Who knew that a very specific niche like handkerchiefs would be so successful? That is incredible and I never would have believed it had I not stumbled across you.

    In order to be the very best in this niche though, how many different suppliers do you have to manage? Does this take up much of your (or your wife’s) time? Would be interested to know more. (love the part about you not taking yourself too seriously too, that made me laugh)

    Keep up the great work and will definitely be coming back for more insights.

    Best,

    Liz

  13. Great post Steve! I absolutely agree with you that one of the keys to having a successful business is to be able to establish a routine and stick with it. Online businesses don’t grow overnight, so it is very important to set a goal and make consistent progress to reach your target.

  14. Having a daily routine is crucial, I like to do the important things that are going to move my online business forward in the morning time, being able to block out a few hours a day for your business and being able to do it over an extended period of time will get you to where you want to go, awesome post by the way.

  15. I too work multiple jobs and I don’t feel like I am burnt out. I think it is because I manage my time efficiently and know how to do the most during my days.

    Pam

  16. “I’m probably one of the cheapest, most conservative entrepreneurs that you’ll ever meet.” – haha, love that Steve!

    I really like your writing because it is so down-to-earth. I think though that being a software guy your techy posts don’t have enough explanations for most readers.

    I’m glad your lifestyle businesses are rocking it. I agree that slow and steady wins the race. Just remember the myth about the tortoise and the hare!

    1. Hey Maria

      Always happy to connect with a fellow Stanford grad. What years were you there and what was your major?

  17. It’s refreshing to hear someone else think they shouldn’t outsource everything all the time. It has it’s time and place, but investing in yourself makes you flexible, and the landscape of online business is guaranteed to change.

    I’d rather learn a system, then figure out how to automate as much of it as I can, then outsource it, so if anything breaks or needs to be optimized, I’m not clueless.

    Solid thoughts Steve!

  18. Great article. Motivation enough for me to keep pushing even after all the hurdles I have encountered with my business. Exercise part, although I realize is essential, I find really really hard to do. Tweak website or exercise? Tweak website tends to win out. I guess that is where establishing a routine becomes important.

    Great blog, definitely coming back often.

  19. Hi, Steve–

    New to your course and SO excited I found you!

    I don’t understand this quote from the post, though: “I decided to focus on teaching ecommerce instead of going broad and showing people how to start a generic online business”.

    What’s the difference?

    Can’t wait to soak up more of your material!

    Laurie

    p.s. I used to have my own online business, called Bark & Sparkle. You can google it. :-) Working on a new venture now–at LEAST one!

    1. Hi Laurie,

      Ecommerce is when you sell products online. Outside of ecommerce, there are many other business models to consider. For example, you could blog, do affiliate marketing, make money with ads etc…

      I chose to teach a course specifically on selling goods online. Good luck with your shop!

  20. Amazing “Finding outs”. Great lessons learned, I must say. I think, finding out what you are good at and focusing more on your passion is obviously essential to become successful in any job. Thanks for sharing these great insights, Steve.

    Regards

    PrIyAnGsHu

  21. Thanks for sharing the definition of lifestyle business. I’ve had a LOT of trouble labeling the type of business I’m building and that’s the perfect term. I’m definitely going to take your advice for not trying to do everything at once. Sometimes it gets so overwhelming trying to tackle projects. It’s a journey not a race and I have to remember that.

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