The journey from brand new digital course creator to what we like to call the “Lifestyle Business Sweet Spot” — earning $250k+ in profits, working 5-hour days with a clear calendar and a lean, remote team — involves a number of distinct “seasons” and phases.
As much as the online course industry would love to have you believe that you can launch an online course or program, put it on evergreen and sip margaritas on the beach, it doesn’t quite work that way.
The good news? It’s SO possible for you.
The real talk, though?
It involves grit, resilience and perseverance. You’ve gotta be good (and dedicated.) And it requires a few years of work SO THAT you can live the way that most others want to.
If it was easy, everyone would do it.
In today’s podcast episode, we are defining exactly what we mean by a “Lifestyle Business”, and the several phases you need to move through as a current or aspiring digital course creator before you hit what we like to call the “Lifestyle Business Sweet Spot”.
This week is officially my fifth year in business, and it’s only NOW that I am beginning to live in the Lifestyle Business Sweet Spot. And so, I will colour the episode with my own unique experiences so you can learn from someone a few steps ahead.
Let me tell you — it’s all so worth it.
And at the same time, one thing I know for sure is that not everyone is cut out for it. This podcast episode might help you to decide whether YOU are.
Lifestyle Business v Scale Business
Before walking through the STAGES of building a business to the Lifestyle Business Sweet Spot, it might be useful to first define what it is in the first place.
A lifestyle business is created by the owner for the specific purpose of providing cashflow to pursue interests and wealth outside of the business.
In our books?
It’s a business where the owner’s intent is to build a chill, happy online business that creates deep impact for fewer people, gives you the time to do what you want, creates the space and freedom to pursue a balanced life, and generates the profit + cash flow to invest into vehicles OUTSIDE of your business to generate real financial freedom.
The antithesis of a lifestyle business?
A “scale” business.
When you’re ‘scaling’ a business, you’re ultimately angling for an exit to give you a nice fat paycheck to bankroll the rest of your days. You sacrifice profit margins to fuel your growth, you need to entirely remove your personal brand from the picture, and you need a big team, considerable scale and a view to jump well past $1-2 million in revenue to get there.
Different strokes for different folks, but ultimately?
Our “Lifestyle Business Sweet Spot” looks like this: High profit margins (at least 60% margins with a view to at least $250k+/yr in profit and an “endgame” of up to $2 million in annual revenue). One to two core offers. A lean team (1 – 5 remote contractors or employees). Working 5-hour days. With under 5 client contact hours a week.
The reason it’s SO important to clarify this?
Because being clear on your business owners intent when DECIDING on your journey in business is critical to avoid wrong turns, wrong moves and spending months and years sprinting in the wrong direction.
1️⃣ Phase One: The Starting Line
This is the phase PRIOR to starting, and if you’re an aspiring course creator who hasn’t yet committed to starting; honestly?
It’s the hardest part.
You KNOW that you deserve a business where success DOESN’T mean more work, more hours and less time spent with the ones you love forever. Where your income isn’t capped by the number of hours in your day or the size of your team.
And where you can scale the expertise and skills you already have into the type of successful, consistently profitable digital course that creates ripple effects of impact for not only you, but also your students and their lives too (all from the comfort of your lounge room).
The truth is: You will NEVER have the opportunity to live in the Lifestyle Business Sweet Spot if you never commit to starting in the first place.
Here’s what’s usually at play:
- Maybe Later Syndrome
- Who Am I to do this? I’m not quite ready.
- It Needs to Be Perfect/What If I Fail/I’m Scared!
- I don’t have time!
The decision to START is the only ESSENTIAL precursor to your inevitable success.
Most Important Skills in This Phase: Commitment. Self Belief. Courage.
Biggest Mistake in This Phase:
- NOT STARTING!
2️⃣ Phase Two: “Build” Season
There are four things you need to sell a digital product successfully:
- An Offer that Converts ➝ Without a GREAT offer that speaks intimately to the hearts and minds of one perfect fit person, and that is priced, packaging and positioned well, you don’t have a business. This is THE biggest and most important thing to focus on when you are first starting out in business.
- A Selling System ➝ A way to sell your course that generates a consistent “conversion rate”.
- Leads ➝ A steady stream of “perfect fit” leads for your offers.
- A Transformational Product ➝ A course or program that delivers a valuable transformation that doesn’t rely on YOU.
The build phase involves creating ALL FOUR of these things at once. Ultimately, a scalable digital education business provides leverage, which means that you are doing HARD WORK up front so that you can reap the dividends later. You reap what you sow – and especially when you are starting out, you need to invest time, capital and/or energy in this phase.
You are starting from scratch. Learning what does and doesn’t work. Finding your perfect offer, finding your perfect person.
Most Important Skills in This Phase: Resilience. Grit. Work ethic.
Biggest Mistakes in This Phase:
- Looking at people further along than you, and wondering why you don’t have it sorted yet. This is the hard bit. You need to focus, commit to failing and learning, and stay the course. This ISN’T the time for 5-hour work days and chill. You’re building a leveraged asset, and that takes up front work.
- Giving up.
3️⃣ Phase Three: “Refine” Season
Once you have the four fundamentals of a course business in place, you’ve hit the starting line. Congratulations! Whether your offer has been a smashing “success” with hundreds of sales or you’ve simply made a few sales and your audience is consistently growing, you’re in a great place.
Because you’ve validated your offer, and you now have DATA to iterate and improve. That first launch, your first cohort and the feedback that you’re getting from the action you’re taking is incredibly valuable. Your focus in this phase needs to be on OPTIMISATION and iteration. Most importantly, you need to double down and focus. Look at the data and take next steps to improve each of the four key elements based on DATA.
You will likely be in this phase for good amount of time.
You are essentially optimising, refining and growing. Steady, consistent growth is the name of the game, ensuring at all time that your delivery is able keep up.
Most Important Skills in This Phase: Taking the RIGHT action. Making decisions based on data and not emotion.
Biggest Mistakes in This Phase:
- Lack of focus and creation of new offers.
- Solving the “wrong problem” (by not taking action based on data).
4️⃣ Phase Four: “Operational Elegance” Season
At some point, you won’t be able to do everything yourself.
It’s critical to focus on marketing and sales first — they are the cornerstone of your business. Once you have that sorted, you will likely feel the need to turn your attention to the BACK END of your business. Team. Project management. Operations.
It will feel heavy. It’s a new skill completely different from the one that you have just mastered. You will likely feel like a beginner again. It will feel hard. You will wonder where you are going wrong and why you don’t have it all figured out. You will curse the gurus who told you that a course business was the secret to freedom and happiness; you feel the very opposite of that.
At this phase, it’s important to give yourself grace. I like to call it the ‘messy middle’ — your personal growth will skyrocket, but at many times it will feel uncomfortable. Hard. Here, it is so important to be surrounded by others who get it, who can help you and guide you with the champagne problems that aren’t google-able.
Most Important Skills in This Phase: A commitment to personal growth. Self-awareness. Clarity on your business owners intent and desired endgame.
Biggest Mistakes in This Phase:
- Following a guru and chasing the wrong dream.
- Building a Frankenstein business.
- Giving up or “scaling down” (hiring team and letting them go.)
5️⃣ Phase Five: “Sophistication” Season
Once you’ve gotten through the messy middle, you’re likely on your way to, if not at, the profit level you so desired when you were very first starting out. What you’re likely NOT on track for yet is the 5-hour work days and feeling of freedom, flexibility and ease. Growing your business has required hustle and determination. You’ve made it BECAUSE you’re a hard worker and willing to do more than the others.
At some point, though, that same hustle mentality no longer serves you. There will NEVER become a day where the work magically stops or you magically have “less to do.” Instead, you need to consciously prioritise your endgame; you need to COMMIT to working and living the way you want. You started your business for freedom and flexibility, so this stage of business requires a huge shift. Realising it’s safe to be successful AND to slow down. Be clear on your endgame, and have the ability to STOP when you get there.
You will also need to start thinking differently and prioritising different things. Once you have profit in your business, you’re in a great spot to begin thinking about using it to build REAL wealth outside of your business, and to start planning for the true financial freedom that comes from that.
Maintaining a simple business through phases 1-4 is what gives you the space and ability to do these things in Phase Five. Is it ALWAYS easy and free? No. But can it be, most of the time? Yes. IF YOU LET IT.
Most Important Skills in This Phase: A commitment to simplicity. A shift in focus.
Biggest Mistake in This Phase:
- Maintaining the same hustle you needed when you were starting and growing.
6️⃣ Phase Six: The Sweet Spot
Being clear on your ENDGAME even in the very early stages of your business is the best way to align your actions as you grow and scale to end up where you want to be.
For many of us, we start our business to give us more time, freedom and happiness, but end up on a different path due to a lack of clarity on that endgame.
If you desire the Lifestyle Business Sweet Spot, know that it’s a three-to-five year journey from start to finish. It will involve different things from you at different stages of your growth.
This breakdown of these five phases are intended to give you an honest birds-eye view of the journey involved. It’s hard, sometimes messy but ultimately? Oh, so very worth it.
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