Lifestyle or Legacy – Part 4

Last week a client told me “You are wrong. I have a lifestyle business that is ALSO a legacy business.” Sorry, but that doesn’t fly.

He has built a good company, and continues to improve it. Be he is not driving to make it into something that carries on beyond him. His objective is to (eventually) make it large enough to be acquired, and for enough money to live in luxury for the rest of his life.

That is a lifestyle business. It’s only purpose is to fund the financial aspirations of the owner. There is no larger purpose, no overarching vision of something beyond his quality of life. I’ll grant that his personal ambition extends beyond his current, very comfortable existence. But it only extends to a more comfortable existence. That is a matter of degree, not direction.

When I started to think about this series, the term “lifestyle” was easy. The second term was originally “entrepreneurship.” That didn’t communicate the concept well enough. Thinking through the topic, it reduced the definition of “lifestyle” to more of just making a good living, and of “entrepreneurship” to building something larger than merely a decent living.

What I am talking about encompasses ANY lifestyle you choose. Whether it is a nice house in the ‘burbs, or sailing around the world in a yacht, that is still lifestyle. We all have different targets.

Legacy is when it moves beyond you, when the company becomes a vehicle for accomplishing something larger than your personal quality of life. By that definition there are probably legacy businesses that don’t provide a luxurious lifestyle, but they satisfy the owner’s desired level of creature comforts and support that bigger vision. Perhaps something that allows an owner to go on missions to Africa for half of each year might qualify. For the most part, however, owners have to reach a pretty comfortable lifestyle before legacy comes into the picture.

Most legacy businesses were lifestyle businesses first. The owners scratched and pushed (or were incredibly lucky) to build a level of security and sustainability. Once they got here, however, they looked around and said “This isn’t enough. Mere wealth doesn’t fill the need I have inside of me.”

Another owner said to me ” I want a legacy business. I want to go visit my outlying offices and not fix problems. I’d fly in, give awards to the top performers, and take a major client out for golf.”

That is also a lifestyle business. The legacy owner wouldn’t be coming in to fix problems either. He or she might be looking for an acquisition in that market, or communicating new goals. He might be upgrading personnel; not because they were failing, but because he was constantly looking to do better. The numbers are still important, but they aren’t going towards improving his lifestyle, they are being used to build the legacy.

Before you start worrying about the lifestyle vs. legacy decision, let me make something plain. Some 80% of small businesses fail in their first few years. Of those that survive, probably 90% never achieve the lifestyle level of success. There are very, very few owners who reach a point where they can work as little as they want and make as much as they want.

Some do, and a few of those think “OK. Is that it?” Some of those can’t envision anything else. Some start building a legacy.

To quote Nancy Barcus: “The closer one gets to the top, the more one finds that there is no “top.”

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