Moving Beyond a Lifestyle Business

File Under: Should your life define your business… or your business define your life?

For most of my adult life I’ve had two defining thoughts: “Life is short, so I want to enjoy it as much as I can”, and “I want to spend as much of that time as I can with my children”.

From these thoughts came two goals;

Goal One:  I wanted a job I loved so I didn’t waste my time doing something I hated.

Goal Two: Having flexibility to be there for my kids.  To never miss an event or opportunity even if it was just additional windshield time to parent. 

Definition of a Lifestyle Business

I started Adatasol, a service business designed around creating custom software for businesses and for over ten years both goals were being met.   I got great satisfaction from creating solutions to my client’s problems thru software AND I had the perceived freedom of being able to consult when I wanted. This left me with the flexibility to be available to my kids while also earning a pretty good living.   

This is THE definition of a Lifestyle business.  Adatasol allowed me to have the lifestyle I wanted at that time.

Over time, though, I realized there were multiple challenges with my perfect world:

Challenge One: The “we” lie many consultants tell:   “Sure we can help you with that problem, ” when the “we” was actually “Me, Myself and I”. Adatasol was a single employer – me.

Challenge Two: If I stopped working, the money stopped coming in. 

Challenge Three: I wasn’t saving anything significant for my retirement.

I had realized the other definition of a lifestyle business; it can grow enough for your lifestyle, but it can not survive without you and you can not survive without it.

Getting Beyond Just Me

Upon realizing this four or so years ago, I knew I had to grow the business beyond “me”. In one of those moments of synchronicity a good friend had just graduated from the Goldman-Sachs 10,000 Small Business (10KSB) program and told me that it would be a great move for my business to attend.   As I mentioned in the previous blog article, I took his advice and joined it soon after.  I also read a great book – The E-Myth – which described exactly how I had perceived  the dream of growing my business vs. the difficult reality I was experiencing.

Both of these – 10KSB and the E-Myth are about building your business (notice I didn’t say ‘growing’) to a point beyond yourself.  My use of the term building here means building the business’ infrastructure.  Because this takes time and effort it can actually result in a lack of growth during this time.  But it is time well spent.   In the simplest form developing this infrastructure involves two steps:

Step One: Get to the Point Where You Can Work On The Business and Not In The Business.  I built enough capacity in other team members that I was able to shift myself out of the primary work of the business.  In our case this meant slowly migrating clients from me working on their development to one of my other qualified developers.  This took over a year to accomplish.

Step Two: Document & Delegate.  I wrote down all of the processes I was involved in other than my primary software development work.  For myself this included quite a few; marketing, sales, and administration.  One by one, I documented these.  This was an INCREDIBLY powerful process because along the way it let me decide what I really liked doing in the business separate from our primary business.  It also allowed us to see what would be the hardest function to replace. 

Step 2 can take years to complete.  Some items are relatively easy to document and delegate, like running payroll.  Others we found to be almost impossible.  In our case replacing the sales role was incredibly difficult and painful.  Selling custom software applications is HARD and this lead us to further conclusions, and in the end to an entire pivot for our business.

….But that’s another blog post….