When I started building my lifestyle business 9 years ago, I was heading into the unknown without much of strategy.
It ended up working out great for me, but there are more than a few things I wish I would’ve known from the start.
I could’ve saved at least 18 months worth of time and effort if I knew what I know now.
In this article, I share my story of how I went from zero to $220K+ in 12 months, but I also share insights from the days before I had my breakthrough with virtual summits.
When it comes down to it, I put a mountain of effort into things that could’ve waited until well after my summit.
Live and learn, I suppose.
In this step-by-step guide you’ll discover how to start a lifestyle business even better and faster than I did (as you can learn from my success and mistakes).
Note: This in-depth guide on how to start a lifestyle business is several thousand words long, so you can check the table of contents below to jump to the section you’d like to dive in to more.
Lifestyle Business Definition: What Is a Lifestyle Business?
A lifestyle business is a business that pays you equally in revenue, quality of life, and awesome experiences. Almost any business idea can be scaled into a lifestyle business.
When you can live and work from anywhere, make your own schedule, and surround yourself with like-minded people, it’s easy to see how you can build a business that gives you the best life possible.
What a lifestyle business is in a nutshell:
This last point is the most important. If you can make genuine connections with leaders in your industry, you can build a successful lifestyle business.
Then you can use those relationships to provide real value to your audience, and BOOM!, you’re set.
For me, the key to unlocking my lifestyle business was to focus on the ONE THING that could build authority, generate revenue, develop strong relationships, and provide significant value: and that ONE THING was virtual summits.
What a Lifestyle Business Isn’t
Digital nomads and lifestyle entrepreneurs tend to over-glamorize the concept of a lifestyle business.
When I started building a presence online, I knew it was going to be a grind, and you should start your own lifestyle business with the same mentality.
What a lifestyle business isn’t:
I’m sure you’ve seen the iconic image of someone in their mid-twenties sitting on the beach with their MacBook Pro in their lap.
For one, the glare from the sun makes this impossible, and then there’s all the sand that would get into your computer, not to mention the wifi is probably pretty weak that far out on the beach.
Hype aside, starting a lifestyle business is the best decision I ever made, and I recommend it to almost everyone I meet.
Benefits Of Starting A Lifestyle Business
The path less traveled isn’t for everyone, but there are benefits to boot.
Here are some of the biggest benefits of starting a lifestyle business:
1. Flexible Schedule
When you design your lifestyle business from the ground up, you get to decide when to work and when to play.
To be real, a lot of the time unexpected problems will force you to switch up your schedule, but having a flexible schedule helps you put out fires and optimize your life.
2. Change Paths When You Need To
Most traditional jobs are hard to quit because of all the logistics that come along with putting in your notice, phasing yourself out, and finding a new job.
When you run your own lifestyle business, you can make this transition in one fluid motion.
3. Save Money Faster
There are many reasons why having a lifestyle business helps you save money, but they all come down to having more options.
There are a lot of limitations that come with having a traditional job or starting a traditional startup business.
Being locked in to one geographical location is the main limitation, but there are plenty of hidden limiting factors that you won’t see until you make the change and start a lifestyle business.
4. Live Where You Want
Tim Ferriss talks about what he calls “geoarbitrage” in his classic book The 4-Hour Work Week.
Living in a cheaper part of the world allows you to cut costs while selling your services to people from more expensive areas.
You get to save money while maximizing profits — it’s the perfect formula.
Plus, you can live in cities that offer an incredible quality of life. It’s a recipe for happiness and success.
5. Become More Adaptable
You’re going to need to think on your toes, problem solve, and think creatively more than you ever have before. With a lifestyle business, you’ll have the option to travel while you work.
The digital nomad lifestyle is full of logistical challenges that only exist on the road. Your adaptation skills will be on point.
6. Build Lifelong Relationships
The relationships you build through your lifestyle business can be some of the closest of your life.
The opportunity to become location independent and meet other lifestyle business owners opens doors for incredible friendships.
7. Have More Awesome Experiences
A lifestyle business places fun right up there with financial success.
When a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity arises, you won’t have to get permission from your boss to take time off.
Instead, you’ll get to seize the moment when the moment comes. You only live once.
Here’s a video of me Skydiving in Cabo San Lucas a few years ago…
8. Learn New Skills
Skills pay the bills, and as a lifestyle entrepreneur, you’ll be stacking new skills as fast as you stack paper.
You need to wear so many different hats that you’ll inevitably become a more well-rounded professional.
9. More Time With Family and Friends
The flexibility that comes with running a lifestyle business allows you to spend more time with the people you love.
Time, not money, is the real currency of life, and becoming a lifestyle entrepreneur gives you more of it.
10. Greater Autonomy
I made lifestyle design my mission way back in 2013, and since then I’ve worked almost entirely solo.
I’ve utilized independent contractors several times, but for the most part I love the autonomy that being a solopreneuer brings.
11. Maximize Your Productivity
Optimize your schedule, optimize your happiness, and optimize your productivity.
When you get to wake up when you want to, work when you want, and play when you want, you get to find out what real productivity is.
12. Focus On Your Strengths
Focus on what you excel at and outsource the rest. The world is filled with people who already crush it with the things you suck at.
Why waste time trying to design websites when you can higher someone else to do it for a very reasonable price?
13. Surround Yourself with the Best
As a the owner of your own lifestyle business, you get to hand pick who you work with and you get to choose them from the best in the world.
Gone are the days when you only get to choose from the people in your area.
The world has opened up, and so have your options for team members and business partners.
14. Maximize Your Income
Income is the engine of life. The more money you make in the fewest amount of working hours, the more your life opens up to amazing experiences.
Once you hit a certain income level, you’ll get to start making the world a better place. Maximize your income and spread the love.
15. Maximize Personal Growth
What do all of the benefits of starting a lifestyle business ad up to?
Becoming the best version of yourself possible, as fast as possible. Prepare to launch your personal growth into the stratosphere.
Lifestyle Business Vs Growth Minded Startup Business: Which One Is Right For You?
Are you trying to grow your life or grow your business?
I suppose it’s a trick question, because with a lifestyle business the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
With a growth-minded startup business (think eating ramen noodles and living out of your car in Silicon Valley), entrepreneurs sacrifice everything for the sake of the business.
This period of extreme sacrifice is seen as a necessary part of the growth process.
Once you’re over the initial struggle, you continue to push forward to maximize profits in the shortest period of time.
Rewind to the idea of a lifestyle business, and you have a much different story.
Imagine living in a low-cost part of the world with a high standard of living.
You work regular hours, stay productive, a live a great life while growing your business.
Which one is right for you?
Both can be a means to the same end of financial freedom and a great life.
The question is, how much pain do you want to experience in the process?
I’m not saying that starting a lifestyle business doesn’t come with its sacrifices and struggles — it certainly does. The difference is that makes it a lot easier to enjoy process.
How to Build a Lifestyle Business Step-by-Step: From Zero to $220K+ In 12 Months
In this section of the ultimate guide to starting a lifestyle business, I will get more into my personal story, and try to break it down step-by-step, including some key takeaways for each of the 10 steps.
Although I started out online and did quite a bit of blogging and podcasting before I really focused on my ONE THING (after reading the book with the same name by Gary Papasan and Jay … ), what I share in this section is what I would have done if I started from scratch today….
I highly recommend you read The One Thing by the way… it’s one of the most impactful marketing and business books I’ve ever read.
In case you’re curious, my one thing was to focus on hosting my first virtual summit to exponentially grow my audience, influence and revenue very quickly, so I could finally quit my job and move abroad… and become a full-time lifestyle entrepreneur.
When I started to focus on this, I went from pretty much zero and really struggling at times with sporadic income here and there to $220K+ in 12 months (December 2014 – December 2015).
I’ve shared before on the blog how I’ve made well over $1 million dollars from my online business and built a pretty large email list over the years of engaged subscribers, but it all started with my very first virtual summit, and the momentum I built up afterwards.
With that being said, let’s get into the first step so I can walk you through everything I did to go from zero to build a 6-figure lifestyle business very quickly.
Step 1: Find Your Profitable Idea
The first thing you need to do is to find your profitable lifestyle business idea.
I had been talking about personal branding for quite some time on my site, and I wanted to position myself as the go-to personal branding expert, so it felt pretty natural for me to focus on this moving forward.
If I could do it all over again, I probably would narrow down my niche even more as “personal branding” is a bit broad and can cover a ton of different topics around marketing, online business etc.
Start With The Communities You Belong To
Years from now, when you’re a lifestyle business master, you’ll be able to instinctually sniff out the best lifestyle business ideas and the best niches.
As a beginner, the best strategy is to start with the communities that you already belong to.
If you’re super into the ketogenic diet, belong to a few keto Facebook groups, and frequent a few keto blogs, then you’re already in touch with that audience.
Think of what that audience finds valuable, what their biggest pain points are, and brainstorm business ideas that provide solutions to their biggest problems.
Make A List Of Your Biggest Strengths
What can you bring to the table that most people can’t?
Is there something that your friends and family always come to you for advice about?
If you’re the guru for website optimization amongst your friends and colleagues, then exploring the SEO niche might be a good place to start (it’s also one of the most competitive niches to rank for online, so you’ve been warned!).
Put a Unique Twist On It
It’s almost guaranteed that there’s already a version of your lifestyle business out there, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t do it better and put your own spin on it.
Connecting directly with an audience is 50% quality product and 50% style and delivery.
Guys in their mid-twenties who want to learn about fitness have different tastes than women in their early forties.
You can appeal directly to your target demographic by adding your own flair.
Narrow Down Your Niche Until It Hurts
One of the most common mistakes that people make when hosting their first virtual summit / online lifestyle business is that they go too broad. I definitely feel like I was guilty of this with my first summit.
For one, there’s less competition in niche markets.
Second, the more you niche down the more directly you’ll connect with a core group of people, and you’ll be able to position yourself as the go-to expert a lot faster.
This is perfect because you can target very specific pain points.
Here are some examples of perfectly-niched summits:
Step 2: Validate Your Idea
When I had decided on the the profitable idea I wanted to go after, you need to validate that idea as well to ensure it can work.
Besides talking to people in my audience and on social media in different groups and forums, I wrote an expert round-up post in early 2014 featuring 37 expert who share their best personal branding tips.
There are other ways to test the water too, like:
What Validation Is
The last thing you want to do is pour your heart and soul into a product that nobody’s interested in. Validation means minimizing the chance of this happening.
You need as much certainty as possible that your product will become a sustainable business model, and to do this there has to be substantial demand.
Ideally, you confirm interest by selling pre-orders.
There’s no greater comfort than already being in the green before your product is even finished.
What Validation Isn’t
Validation isn’t a guarantee.
In reality, it’s a fancy way of easing your anxieties about the outcome of a project, but if you validate your business idea thoroughly you can be over 90% sure that it’s going to be a smash hit.
The final 10% rests on you to deliver a phenomenal product.
In the end, the ultimate validation is a bunch of happy customers. Nothing says “validation” like a positive reviews.
- Check Circle
- Check Circle
Step 3: Host a Virtual Summit in Your Niche
I’ve been able to generate well over $1 million in profits from my lifestyle business in a very short period of time, and it’s all thanks to virtual summits.
In this lifestyle business guide I’ll focus how my first summit I hosted completely transformed my entire business and life for the better.
What Is A Virtual Summit?
A virtual summit is an online event that brings together a group of influencer experts on a specific topic. You can think of it as a webinar or podcast on steroid.
For my first virtual event, The Branding Summit, I brought together 88 industry leaders on the topic of branding your business, and hosted it over 30 days.
These days, I tend to recommend that you feature 20-30 influencers in your niche, and host the summit over 5-7 days (that’s a more ideal length, so you don’t have to work harder for similar results).
Benefits of Virtual Summits
I don’t know about you, but I love virtual summits for the perks, and there’s plenty of them.
Here’s just a few of the benefits:
Benefit #1: Grow an email list by allowing people to tune into the recordings of the event for free within the first 24-48 hours. I generated 3,000 new email subscribers this way with The Branding Summit.
Benefits #2: You generate revenue by selling all-access passes (even if you’ve never sold anything online before). I typically charge $67 per an all-access pass (discounted from $97 if they act now). People who buy an all-access pass get lifetime access to the recordings of the event.
Benefit #3: Because you’re the person who brought together a group of industry leaders, people will see you as an authority in the niche, even if you have no experience and are learning about the subject just like they are.
Benefit #4: It’s a win-win for you and the speakers. They help you promote the event, expose you to their audience, generate revenue, and grow your email list. They benefit from the exposure to new audiences.
How I Crushed It With My First Virtual Summit
My first virtual summit (The Branding Summit) well-exceeded what I could’ve ever anticipated.
I had doubts the weeks before the launch of the summit, but I pushed through, and I’m so glad I did.
The first sale came almost instantly after making the summit go live and sharing it with my at the time very small email list.
It felt amazing to make that first sale right away, as it was from someone in “rural” Russia, that I had never met before in my life.
Then it snowballed after that…
I made the second sale a few minutes later…
And all of a sudden I was making sales while I sleep, which was a surreal experience as it was the first time It happened to me.
During the summit I finally quit my part-time job on November 28th, 2014… and that same day my I earned over $5,400, mostly from selling the summit all-access pass.
My email list were also growing by 100’s subscribers a day early on during the promotion since the influencers shared it with their email lists, and I the summit went a little bit viral around social media as well…
In addition to generating a total of around 3,000 new email subscribers (I only had a few hundred before the summit), I generated well over $20K in revenue directly from the summit launch.
I couldn’t believe dozens of influencers promoted me to their email lists, but that’s what can happen if you put together en epic summit just the way I did. I was extremely grateful for their support of course.
In the month following my summit, I raked in an additional $40K as an affiliate for Ramit Sethi’s online course (more on that in step 4 where I talk about affiliate marketing).
Here’s how I hosted my first summit in a nutshell:
I designed my ideal customer avatar.
Like I said before, I wish I would’ve targeted an even more specific type of business owner, but it ended up being narrow enough.
You want to understand their problems so well that it feels like you’re reading their mind.
I positioned my summit for success.
Even in a crowded market, you can stand out if you put your own unique spin on it.
This is why “putting a unique twist on it” was one of our evaluation factors for a profitable idea.
Created a timeline.
Map out everything you have to do, from connecting with influencers, to arranging affiliate partnerships.
Once speakers start to commit you’ll be locked in, so it’s critical to make sure that you have enough time to get it all done.
Identify incredible speakers.
Make a dream list of your ideal speakers and target the highest-value ones first.
Target people that have a large audience that matches your ideal customer avatar… the more aligned they are with your brand and products / services, the better.
Once you land that first big speaker, you’ll be able to generate excitement when you reach out to the other people on your list.
Land speakers by adding value.
Don’t just ask your speakers to join. Instead, offer value by commenting on their blog posts, sharing their content on your blog or other platforms, introducing them to people they want to meet, or giving them a killer case study.
Set up a virtual summit funnel / website
Now it’s time to get technical and start getting people to sign up.
And don’t worry if you don’t have an existing audience.
That’s what’s so great about summits — your speakers will help you promote to their audiences. You just have to create a place for them to sign up.
Did I do everything perfect the first time?
Absolutely not, and it was still a smash hit. Over the last several years I’ve continued to host virtual conferences and hone my technique.
Note: I didn’t go into so many details here about how to actually host a virtual summit, as I do have a 16,000+ word free ultimate guide you can check out here. I cover the steps a lot more in-depth there, but if you’d like all our training, done for-you-resources and templates so that you can host a wildly summit a lot faster, then the premium Virtual Summit Mastery program is for you.
Step 4: Launch a Pilot of Your First Online Course
Around the time I launched my first virtual summit and built an audience of 3,000+ engaged email subscribers, I started to get so many questions from many of them about how I pulled it off (and for a good reason, the summit was pretty epic if I do say so myself)…
I got questions like:
That’s when I decided that it was time to launch a pilot of my first online course on how to create a wildly successful virtual summit (even if you’re starting from scratch) called Virtual Summit Mastery.
Here’s a screenshot of the private VSM FB group in the early days… (I’ve upped the game since then, and we have well over 500 top performers in the private VSM community today and it’s growing every day).
Although I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this approach today if I would do it all over again, I simply announced it during the live “Kick-Off” event on my summit, and invited people to buy it as part of the all-access pass for just $97.
Looking back, I would have been much better off to wait, and launch the pilot / founders circle of Virtual Summit Mastery after the summit on a webinar.
That way I could have started with a price to anywhere from $500-$1,000.
But since it was my first online course, and I didn’t really have much experience putting one together before, I’m still very happy with how it turned out. I pre-sold it, so people voted with their credit card, and then started to create the pilot for VSM.
I kept increasing the price for several months all the way up to $697 before I did my first launch for the 1.0 version of Virtual Summit Mastery (more on that in step 8 below).
I got my first few dozen VSM students that way and it brought in over $10,000 without much marketing at all (apart from mentioning it during my summit, I talked about it here and there to my email list, but didn’t do a big push for it until the first bigger launch later in 2015).
I focused on building up the VSM community and getting really awesome case studies from there as well (see step 7).
In fact I got quite a few requests for more personal consulting and helping people run their summits after they saw my success and the engagement I got from my email list. I did help a few people do that, such as Chandler Bolt (more on that in the case study section below as well).
That said, I highly recommend that you just prepare a solid outline and some kind of webinar were you introduce your online course… don’t spend weeks or months creating something if you aren’t sure people will actually buy (I’ve learned this the hard way before).
Step 5: Do Affiliate Marketing the “Right Way”
The month after I hosted my first summit (in January 2015), I decided to participate in a big affiliate launch for Ramit Sethi’s Zero to Launch program.
I recommend that you do have experience with the course, program or tool you’re promoting to your audience, preferably with real results as it’s a lot more authentic that way.
I had previously promoted Ramit successfully and made a few affiliate sales, although I had never gone “all in” for a promotion before like this.
I got the swipe copy from Ramit’s affiliate manager a few weeks before the launch, so I could start preparing for it.
It was great I got the resources in advance as I was enjoying the freedom lifestyle in Cabo San Lucas at the time, so I was quite busy exploring and doing experiences every day that month.
Whenever you get some “swipe copy”, I highly recommend you do not just copy paste, and send the emails to your list without much effort. Modify and share your own personal stories… that goes a long way and it will convert a lot better too.
I didn’t really know what to expect from this promotion, but I knew I had built a very engaged email list by hosting my first virtual summit recently (at the time I had about 3600 people on my list).
It still had a much smaller list than some of the other big affiliates who participated like John Lee Dumas, Laura Roeder and many more. So I never thought I would have a chance to win the $7,500 cash prize Ramit offered (basically the person who had the most sales got the best chance of winning).
The launch finally kicked off around mid January 2015 and I started sharing Ramit’s pre-launch content via email with my own personal stories (as I had taken the program before myself).
One big pro tip here is to send emails to your unopens as well the day after (to anyone who didn’t open the initial email, most email service providers have a feature like this). You can get 10-20% more opens by doing this, so it’s well worth it.
I shared the different lead magnets to my email list, and I got about 440 people who signed up and raised their hand to say they’re highly interested in this content (counted as “leads” / “optins” for the launch).
I still didn’t know what to expect at this point…
But then something amazing happened when the cart opened…
I remember it like it was yesterday…
It was Monday evening….
I was sitting on the beach in Cabo San Lucas enjoying the sunset…
And after Ramit hosted his “sales” webinar, I started to get sale after sale…
I was blown away…
I earned $800-$1200 per sale depending on the tier they signed up for.
The morning after open cart, I had earned around $10,000 in commissions.
And it didn’t stop there.
I promoted it a few times during the launch to my email list to remind them, and included a few extra bonuses (like my summit, and the pilot program for VSM), which helped a bit. The more specific your bonuses are, the better… they should complement the program you’re promoting.
I didn’t really structure the promo the way I’ve done for other launches where I’ve made a lot more since then, but at the time for being my first big affiliate launch I participated in, I was very happy.
I got a few sales here and there during the week, and it started to add up quite nicely.
I was top 2 or 3 on the leaderboard from start to finish.
And then we came to the last day… cart close day!
I sent one or two emails that day to remind my audience about it, and share more why I think they should sign up.
Sale after sale started to roll in…
When I woke up the next morning I had 32 or 33 sales, and I got notified I was Ramit’s #1 affiliate. I beat all the other big names that had email lists of 50,000+ people in some cases…
That just goes to show that email list size doesn’t matter… it’s all about the engagement, and a virtual summit is the best way to get paid to build a highly engaged list as you’ve seen by me sharing my personal story and results in this post.
A few days after, Ramit also notified me that I had won his grand cash prize of $7,500, which I deserved since I also had the most sales for his launch.