The promise of starting a lifestyle business includes trading a 9-to-5 for a flexible schedule, creating a calendar under your control, and centering the personal over the professional. But behind the laid-back laptop setup on the beach, what does running a lifestyle business actually entail?
The main criteria of a lifestyle business is that it allows for the flexibility and profitability to live life on your own terms—whether that’s traversing the globe, having more time to spend with loved ones, or both. Therefore, what a lifestyle business looks like in practice can vary from person to person.
However, there are a few broad categories of lifestyle business ideas worth exploring, including creating digital products, selling services as a freelancer or consultant, launching an ecommerce dropshipping business, becoming an influencer or creator, and developing apps as an indie hacker.
Table of Contents
1. Create digital products
A digital product is a non-physical item that can be sold online in infinite quantities, unlike physical products that run out and require inventory to be replenished. From online courses to ebooks, you can earn an income from digital products if you find the right niche to sell to and validate your idea. Digital products have a range of advantages, including low overhead costs, high profit margins, and hands-off fulfillment through automation.
Here are a few examples of digital products:
- Templates. Easlo, a digital creator, sells Notion templates, including an investment tracker, goal tracker, resolution boards, and bullet journal.
- Instagram photo filters and presets. Jack Morris and Lauren Bullen, the lifestyle influencers and entrees behind DYT Presets, sell aesthetic Lightroom presets that customers can download and apply to their photos.
- Website and store themes. Archetype creates and sells stunning ecommerce themes for Shopify stores online.
- Email or digital courses. XayLi Barclay runs Start Shoot Grow Video Academy and sells a five-day course on creating an online course.
- Ebooks and self-published books. Steph Smith created Standing Out in 2022: Doing Content Right, a digital resource and community about better content development.
- Photography. Christopher Michel, an accomplished photographer, uses his website to sell a selection of the photos he’s taken.
For lifestyle businesses, digital products also offer the opportunity to create passive income—creating once and selling repeatedly.
How to Create and Sell Digital Products (plus 6 winning ideas)
Watch Shopify’s how to sell digital products video for deep insights on how to validate your digital product, start selling, and bring in passive income.
2. Work as a freelancer or consultant
Another lifestyle business idea is freelancing or consulting for clients. While freelancing and consulting both entail providing a service to a client, they differ slightly.
Clients pay freelancers on a contract basis for their skills and experience—whether you’re a freelance product designer who can create mock-ups for digital apps or a freelance writer who can write articles for a publication. Get started with freelancing by building a portfolio of work and advertising or pitching your work directly to potential clients.
If you’re building a portfolio for the first time, seek out work on freelancing marketplaces like Fiveer and Upwork. While these marketplaces generally don’t offer competitive pay and also take a cut of every transaction, you can gradually increase your rates and eventually migrate off these platforms after you have work you can point to.
According to a 2021 report from Upwork, freelancing can help people find flexibility and meaningful work:
- 78% of skilled remote freelancers cite “schedule flexibility” as a key reason for freelancing.
- 73% cite location flexibility.
- 73% say freelancing allows them to pursue work they find meaningful.
Clients pay consultants on a contract basis for their expertise in a specific field or industry. That can be anything from insight into streamlining engineering workflows to expertise on increasing employee retention at a company. Clients hiring a consultant have a business or personal problem and want someone with expertise in this area to provide targeted advice to help them solve it. Consulting work is more challenging to find than freelance work. However, if you have deep expertise in a particular area, you can build an online presence—a website, social media profiles, a podcast—that demonstrates your expertise and brings in clients. Many consultants work on building a network and find clients through referrals and word of mouth.
Freelancing and consulting generally allow you to work from anywhere, while working with multiple clients. This provides a level of flexibility that is valuable when building a lifestyle business.
Case Study: Daniel Vassallo is Building a “Portfolio of Small Bets”
In 2019, Daniel Vassallo quit his six-figure job at Amazon after working there for eight years. Despite great pay, repeated promotions, and high praise, his motivation had declined over the years. Instead, he turned to what might bring intrinsic motivation: “Writing code, selling my creations, charting my own path.”
Since then, David has gone all in on independence. Rather than earning income from just one job, he’s building a “portfolio of small bets,” generating income from a variety of sources.
- Freelancing for 10 hours a week at Gumroad as Head of Product
- Running a cohort-based course on self-employment
- Selling a video course on building a Twitter audience
- Selling an ebook on AWS
- Running a service called Userbase
- Crafting and selling beautiful cutting boards
You won’t find Daniel jet setting around the world with the freedom his lifestyle affords him. Instead he’s rooted in one place—woodworking, building a cabin, and spending time with his family while getting to explore his multiple passions through work.
3. Become an influencer or creator
From posting videos on YouTube to writing for an audience on Substack, we’re in the era of the creator. A career as an online content creator is now highly desired—according to a 2019 survey, 54% of young Americans, given the opportunity, would become an influencer.
The stereotypical image of an influencer includes young creatives doing dance moves on TikTok or pulling pranks on YouTube. But there are countless creator archetypes—from performers and on-camera personalities on Spotify and Snapchat to virtuosos using their expertise to win an audience on blogs and podcasts. To embark on a quest as a creator, consider your passions and interests and the best medium for you to share them with the world. That could be hosting a podcast, starting a YouTube series, or writing a blog.
Top creators make millions through platform payouts, brand deals, affiliate marketing, and sponsorships. This is often out of reach for the average creator and there’s growing discussion about a creator middle class. However, small creators can still make an income through creator funds on platforms like TikTok, YouTube, Substack, and Snapchat. Additionally, as influencer marketing becomes more expensive, brands are turning to sponsor and build partnerships with micro-influencers rather than internet mega stars.
By consistently creating content and growing your audience, you can increase your income over time as a content creator. Becoming an online creator or internet influencer can be accomplished on the go, providing the flexibility to build income that supports a flexible lifestyle.
A Guide to the Good Life: How to Start a Lifestyle Business
Reconsidering your 9-to-5? Have a lifestyle business idea? Read our resource on how to start a lifestyle business in 10 steps––from defining your life and business goals to validating your idea.
4. Launch an ecommerce business
An ecommerce business is an opportunity to create and sell something that makes life better for buyers. However, in between packing orders and shipping packages, a standard ecommerce business often doesn’t provide the level of freedom that enables a flexible life. That’s where ecommerce dropshipping businesses can provide an advantage.
Dropshipping is an order fulfillment method where an online shop doesn’t keep the inventory it sells. Instead, the ecommerce store places orders from a third-party supplier that subsequently ships them to customers.
What Is Dropshipping? How To Start Dropshipping on Shopify
Watch our How to Start Dropshipping on Shopify video to learn how to start a dropshipping business with just an internet connection, a small upfront investment, and some marketing know-how.
Here’s how dropshipping works, in practice:
- A customer places an order on your online store.
- Your store automatically sends the order to your dropshipping supplier.
- Your dropshipping supplier fulfills your customer’s order.
- Your dropshipping supplier ships the order to your customer’s address.
If you look up dropshipping online, you’ll come across paid resources claiming that dropshipping is an overnight path to millions. This is not the case. While dropshipping has its advantages, it will take time, effort, and some investment in finding a winning product, vetting the right suppliers, and advertising your business to prospective customers.
Shopify Dropshipping Blog Series
Read the free Shopify blog series on dropshipping for information and advice on getting started with your own dropshipping ecommerce business.
However, many of the advantages touted about dropshipping are largely true. Starting a dropshipping ecommerce business eliminates having to stay in one physical location to keep inventory, fulfill orders, and receive returns. Additionally, dropshipping businesses remove the upfront cost of acquiring inventory. With these obstacles removed, your day-to-day life can involve the non-physical aspects of running an ecommerce business—marketing, sales, customer support, and creative work. These benefits make droppshipping a viable option for a lifestyle business that lets you live and work from anywhere in the world.
5. Develop apps as an indie hacker
When you think about technology apps your mind might conjure some of the favorites on your phone—Instagram, Strava, Headspace, and other apps with valuations in the billions and employees in the hundreds or thousands. Many of the companies behind household-name apps have scaled by raising venture capital funding that helped them find product-market fit and catapulted them to hockey-stick growth.
But that’s not the story of every technology app.
Across the internet there are thousands of apps bootstrapped by solopreneurs or tiny teams with a modest but meaningful number of paying customers. Creators behind these apps are independent software developers colloquially known as “indie hackers.” For instance, 2022’s most beloved online game—Wordle—was created by a single person and subsequently acquired for seven figures by The New York Times.
While a venture-capital-backed app might need millions or tens of millions of users to be considered a success, an indie app might need just dozens of monthly paying customers for an entrepreneur to fund their lifestyle. If you’re a software developer or technically skilled, you can uncover a problem, validate your idea, and build an app for people to pay for. Once you’ve built an app as an indie hacker, you can continue refining the app by fixing bugs and adding features, also working on marketing and storytelling to expand your audience. Often, a passion project like this can require less than 40 hours a week to work on, making it the perfect lifestyle business.
Case Study: How Marie Martens and Filip Minev Grew Tally to $10K in MRR
At the end of 2019, Marie Martens and her partner, Filip Minev, decided to chase their dreams. After experimenting with a few ideas and gaining some interest in their travel startup idea, Marie quit her job in January 2020. Marie and Filip left their home in Belgium and hopped on a plane to Asia that same month to become digital nomads. On the horizon of a new opportunity, the global COVID-19 pandemic hit—their travel plans were derailed and their travel startup started losing traction and clients.
Despite the setback, they were determined to stay the course as entrepreneurs. In September 2020, they decided to take the indie hacker route and launched an MVP of Tally, an online platform for creating beautiful forms and surveys. By March 2021, through marketing their product and sharing their product progress in public, they were able to win customers and even attract investor attention.
“I don’t feel like I have to ‘work’ anymore, because building our own business doesn’t feel like having a job. I co-founded Tally together with my partner, Filip, so it feels like we’re building our future instead of ‘going to work,’ says Marie. “The fulfillment of building a product that thousands of people use and building a sustainable business out of it is just magical.”
As of February 2020, Tally has taken on no outside investment and Marie and Filip have bootstrapped their company to $10,000 in monthly recurring revenue—or $120,000 in revenue per year.
“We welcomed our first daughter in the new year, which made us stay in Belgium for the time being. We still have the freedom to travel whenever we want, and running our own company also means we have the flexibility to take care of our daughter the way we want to,” says Marie. “We can structure our days in the most efficient way that works for us as a family, and we’re in full control business wise.”
One opportunity to get started as an indie hacker is through the Shopify Developer Platform. Become a Shopify expert and create public or custom private apps that solve complex merchant problems. You can launch your app to millions of merchants on the Shopify App Store.
Visit the Indie Hackers community for countless success stories on software developers who have used their technological prowess to create a lifestyle business.
While there are different categories of lifestyle businesses, in reality, you can combine income streams—earning some money freelancing, while also creating digital products. A lifestyle business affords not just flexible working hours and location, but a flexible approach to income too.
Find your lifestyle business idea
Choosing your lifestyle business idea is a matter of digging into your expertise, passions, and experience, and bundling them into a product or service you can sell to customers or clients. That could mean exploring your passion for music and building a niche playlist app or using your experience in human resources to consult on executive hiring at a tech company.
But one of the benefits of starting a lifestyle business is you don’t have to choose just one thing. Instead, you can explore the full realm of your interests, consulting in one area and creating a digital product in another. While escaping the bounds of 9-to-5, you can also find the freedom to explore the full range of your interests, embracing work you love, while living the life you want.