Story 22

I chose to have a tiny business

Hi, I’m Lydia, the human behind this issue of Upstairs. Work reinventions and “tiny but mighty” businesses are my jam. Since 2013, I’ve guided and mentored hundreds of professionals to build meaningful businesses designed from their strengths, values, and personalities.


My decision to have an intentionally tiny business wasn’t something that happened from the beginning. To be honest, I very much thought I needed a big empire when I started my business seven years ago.

Everywhere I looked, it seemed that bigger was better.

A bigger business. Bigger audience. A bigger team. Bigger and more offers.

The people I admired and businesses that influenced my life when I first started my company gave me the impression that “bigger was better.”

And I did build a bigger business, every year.

By year two, I increased my offerings to three services.

By year three, I had five different programs. I launched from courses and coaching programs to live retreats in Bali.

And by year four, I was exhausted as hell.

Not just because of the number of offerings I had. I even hired a team to help me do this.

But from having so many things to juggle at once. As my business grew, it needed more people to fill these programs, and I had to market even more.

I became more of a marketer rather than doing what I truly loved…coaching and teaching.

After going through my second biggest burnout in my life (I had my first one when I was still in my corporate job on a business trip in Moscow), I needed to recalibrate and figure out what was best for me and my business.

I had to challenge this notion of “bigger was better.”

What if I didn’t want to actually build my business like everyone else I was seeing out there?

I had to admit to myself that I wasn’t building my business intentionally. I was performing a checklist of what I thought was necessary to have a thriving coaching business.

As it happens with every breakdown one experiences, a breakthrough can happen.

And my breakthrough was realizing that I needed to take back control of how I defined my own version of success.

I remembered the reasons why I started a business in the first place. It was to create lifestyle freedom and to do work I loved and was proud of.

And when I was simply building a bigger business, I wasn’t getting the lifestyle freedom I wanted. I was doing things like managing employees when I actually didn’t like managing people at all!

I was also spending 80% of my time marketing and figuring out new tech to advertise, rather than doing the deep work I was paid to do (and want to do!).

Now, I want to put a caveat here that there’s nothing wrong with wanting a bigger business.

But, I’m speaking to you if you may be someone who may never want a big business and want to believe that you can still be successful anyway.

When I looked at my personal life as a minimalist and someone who values time to travel and space in my calendar for hobbies beyond my business, I certainly wasn’t building a business to give me that kind of life.

In the last few years of pivoting the way I do business, I’ve learned that the values I took on for my personal life can be applied to my business.

Being a minimalist for me was also about being an essentialist. Someone who’s intentional in her decisions and that chooses the path of least resistance.

Choosing to have a tiny business (also known as a microbusiness or a “company of one”) has completely changed how I feel about my business…for the better.

It means that I now:

  • Choose to focus on one core product to offer rather than launching new shiny things every year.
  • Hire high-end specialists and contractors for projects instead of having a full-time team.
  • Market in ways that light me up rather than drain me (tech and complicated marketing strategies take the wind outta me).
  • Instead of building the numbers on my list and focusing on that metric, I am committed to engaging the community I already have.
  • Work closely with my existing students and clients rather than spend time building new things all the time.

By doing these things to maintain my business, I’ve found more time in my schedule and created spaciousness in my life. My perfectionist and overthinking brain has calmed down because it doesn’t have 100 things to do for my business.

All I’m doing is committing to a few essential things that truly move the needle for my business, and the activities I choose to do are creative and fun for me.

Is the tiny business model for you?

When you get intentional about how you want to create your ideal business model, you can align your choices with how you do business to fit the life you want to have.

From what you offer to how you want to work with clients and how you market with your strengths in mind, building a better business is more valuable than building a bigger business.


To following your unconventional path,
—Lydia

Contributors of this story: Lydia Lee wrote this story, Oana Filip edited it, Andrei Ungurianu put it all together, George Olaru designed it, Răzvan Onofrei was in charge with the development.

Lydia Lee
A question by Lydia, the author if this story:
How would you define a meaningful business that’s right for you?

Conversations 6 comments

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Example: Practical philosopher, therapist and writer.

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David Parrishsays:
Relevant commenter background or experience:Business adviser, speaker, trainer and author, specialising in the creative industries and working internationally through my 'company of one' lifestyle business.

Thanks for sharing Lydia. It’s an excellent articleI have come to the same conclusion have written about ‘Lifestyle Businesses’, ‘Work Life Integration’ and ‘Business Design for Lifestyle Success’ on my website:https://www.davidparrish.com/lifestyle-businesses/

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Glad we’re on the same wavelength, David!  I’m definitely a big fan of lifestyle businesses, but more importantly, an intentional business that lets us do more of what we love!

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Christian and Juliesays:
Relevant commenter background or experience:Graphics design partners in business

A business that gives one joy and makes you happy to be working on it every day, that has been our goal for over 30 years of working as graphic designers and makers. 

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Hallelujah!  How wonderful to hear that you’ve made this your goal in the last 30 years as creative entrepreneurs.  Thanks for sharing, Christian & Julie!

Oana
Oanasays:
Relevant commenter background or experience:A gal with seven jobs under one description
Hi Lydia! Thanks a bunch for contributing to our community. People like you keep my wheels spinning since it’s a tribe of interest, which means that we gather for the sake of a higher purpose. 

While reading your story (a couple of times), I must confess that I’m a bit of envy (in a good way). Even though Pixelgrade is still a tiny business (if I look at the team’s size, for instance), I realized that tiny does not mean easy. Quite the contrary. It often implies many compromises, seven jobs under one description, Jack of all Trades and all the rest. 

It’s rewarding on various levels, but it can also be emotionally draining. Congrats on people like you who succeed in maintaining a better balance. I’m still trying to figure this out.

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Martasays:
Relevant commenter background or experience:Freelance translator trying to become a digital nomad

Hi Lydia. I really would like to thank you for this article because you explained what I am actually trying to to with my job/work life. I found your words of great inspiration and I printed out your article (this is something I do very rarely!). You just confirmed me, one more time, I’m on the right path. Thank you again.

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