Empowering the Freelance Economy

Can creating a lifestyle business beat being a unicorn?

For financial coach Graham Wells (pictured) it took a lot of soul searching to find his happy place and true calling to build a lifestyle business.
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Small business PR and news platform, Newspage, identified 52 businesses that aren’t out to make millions, or have a “VC steal their soul” but are in it simply to generate enough money to give them a decent and independent lifestyle so they can enjoy life. Is your freelance business giving you the lifestyle you want or are you still working on reaching unicorn status?

If you are a freelancer that wants to reach unicorn status by building your existing business or launching a new one, you’re probably thinking: hell, that’s going to be a life-changing decision. But as a freelancer or a small business owner with a growing team, you may already have an inkling of what to expect if you want to go for gold.

Going for unicorn status: what’s it worth?

Going for unicorn status can mean sacrificing your personal life (freelancers can relate), sometimes your health (well, freelancers don’t get sick pay, so they understand that, too) and sometimes losing your faith in people (we’ve all had that one bad client).

If investors are brought on board, you could witness signs of hubris and cold number-crunching emailed reports that might substitute meaningful one-on-one conversations. You could also be mentored by amazing people who know your sector like the back of their hands. You have to be prepared for a rough ride regardless of who your investors are. But if you really want that financial success and the gravitas that goes with building a unicorn, then by all means go for it.

Why more people are building lifestyle businesses with clout

If after reaching sizeable earning power and you still can’t find your happy place, then you might want to take a cue from financial coach and founder of Growiser Graham Wells and build a lifestyle business instead.

“Having spent many years in the corporate world, in various financial advisory roles, there always seemed to be something missing for me,” says Wells. “Don’t get me wrong, I mostly enjoyed the work, but I could never quite get a true feeling of personal fulfilment. Even when I spent a few years earning good money as a self-employed contractor, something wasn’t quite right.”

Wells says that work felt like a means to an end, rather than a reason for living. He soon looked into the Japanese concept of Ikigai which refers to enjoying a life of deep fulfilment and purpose.

“Crucially, there are four ingredients. You need to find work that you love, that you’re good at, for which you get paid and, importantly, something that the world needs. I could not always convince myself that ‘the world’ needed what I was doing, even if the other three ingredients were present.

“I was satisfied but felt a bit empty. A little bit useless. The magic of a lifestyle business is that you have the mandate to spend your time and work efforts in line with your values. Your business and your life become one. And without the pressure of external investors, it’s possible to live your life in your own way,” he says.

For Wells, there’s nothing like driving to his favourite beach and working from the back of his VW campervan.

“I help individuals and couples in their 40s and 50s to build financial confidence and create bold, exciting plans for the future. In doing so, I get to see more people nudge closer to that concept of Ikigai. It’s the most rewarding work of my life. But a lifestyle business this must remain. Such empowering work cannot be commoditised for the sake of investor returns,” he says.

Scale v. sacrifices: which would you choose?

Riz Malik, Director of R3 Mortgages, relayed that when he finished his MBA, he was determined to build a financial services business and scale rapidly. But reality sank in.

“Over the years, I have come to the realisation that the sacrifices that are needed to do that are not for me,” says Malik. “You can still be successful without being a unicorn but it depends on your definition of success.

“Success to me is dealing with a smaller number of clients to whom I can give outstanding service, and I can be ‘present’ for my family. I deal with some exceptional entrepreneurs who have amazing businesses but I can also see the toll it takes on their health and family life,” he says.

Holly Hinton, founder of Webgoddess, says if you mean running a business that allows me to live the lifestyle I want, then I’m definitely running a ‘lifestyle business’.

She says as an Aussie, she admittedly has “never lived to work but rather worked to live.”

She loves that building her business is allowing her that freedom. “My main motivation isn’t cash but to restore faith in the web design and SEO industry and help more women to get into the tech industry,” she says.

“The fact that I get to do that and be part of the small business economy is plenty for me. There is such a thing as wanting a balance between building a successful business and having a life outside of it. It just takes dedication on both fronts,” she says.

Rachel Hayward (centre) doing what she does best which is helping businesses raise funds to grow their businesses.

Microbusinesses that have multi-million-pound reputations

Some solo self-employed are not so keen on the label “lifestyle business” and what it conjures up.

Rachel Hayward, founder of fundraising and grant consultancy, Ask the Chameleon and co-founder of the Swap Shop, says she hates the label lifestyle business.

“It’s seen as negative,” she says, “typically attributed to women, and seems to suggest a lack of commercial acumen.

“I am a business owner. I contribute to the economy, through my taxes, my income and also in the £38m in contracts and funding I have helped my clients (small, medium and large) to secure in the past seven years.

She says every small business owner’s “why” is unique to them.

“The sacrifices that they make to set out on their own need no label but should be encouraged and celebrated. They are fearless and agile and 4.2m [of these] small businesses have no employees at all. We may be micro but we are mighty in number,” says Hayward.

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