Growth versus a lifestyle business

Growth versus a lifestyle business

Posted: Thu 25th May 2023

My friend Serge owns a local bistro. He’s a talented chef, creating delicious plates of food and has a regular and loyal clientele, which has taken three years to build.

His business provides him, his wife and two girls with a comfortable lifestyle, although he has to work long hours. He’s closed on Mondays and Tuesdays so he can take the girls to school and collect them later, and so he can spend time with his wife and prepare the menu for the week ahead.

What is a lifestyle business?

Serge owns a ‘lifestyle business’, and its value to his family is in the bricks and mortar, the goodwill from his loyal customers and the freedom of being self-employed.

His income comes from the profits he makes. If he sold the business, he’d basically get the value of the building on which he has a mortgage. The goodwill would evaporate because the business has little intrinsic value. It’s him and his food that his customers are coming to experience.

The new owner who runs it – say as a kebab shop, for instance – would generate their own goodwill from a different clientele.

A business set to grow

Serge could grow his business by opening another bistro in the next town, and then another and then another – with each bistro offering the same delicious menu. He’d need to find some capital to convert premises in each location, and he’d need a chef and waiting staff in each bistro to service customers. He’d pay them each a salary.

He’d certainly spend more time recruiting and monitoring performance than cooking. But now he’s got a business that is growing. This growing business does have intrinsic value because he has a formula that transitions well from one bistro to the next, and he has the staff to do the work.

He could sell the whole business to someone as a going concern, and they could retain the loyal customers. They could even keep his name on the door as if he was still there.

To scale or not to scale

I’ve seen many entrepreneurs who start out thinking they want to grow a big business. They start as a one-man band with a particular skill, and they grow as fast as money and time will allow.

Some of these same entrepreneurs reach a point where the very skills they used to get the business started have been lost as they've spent more time on people, money, strategy, marketing – you name it – rather than on their core competence and love.

What seemed an attractive proposition to become the next big growth story is, in fact, not what they really wanted. They prefer cooking and chatting with their diners.

The big questions

When you’re starting your business, it’s helpful to ask two questions:

  • Do I want to grow this so big that I spend less time doing my thing and more time managing others doing my thing?

  • Am I happy that one day I will sell my business and it will operate without me?

If the answer is no, you might consider a lifestyle business. It will still deliver the thrills of being your own boss but will have very different investment, growth and management requirements.

Relevant resources

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