Your Sandbox, YOUR Rules: How to Create a Lifestyle Business


What prompts many entrepreneurs to start their own business is the opportunity for freedom and flexibility – in essence, the ability to set their own rules. They imagine taking afternoons off to run errands, playing in the park with kids on a sunny day or having the flexibility to handle the many other duties that go along with life, parenting and everything else.

The trouble is that ideal tends to go out the window when reality sets in and clients start demanding what they want and need. Before you know it, you have less freedom and flexibility than you did in the corporate world. Instead of mid-week freedom, you have work bleeding into weekends and evenings.

This is why you need to define WHAT you want from your business in terms of lifestyle. Without a clear picture in your mind of the type of lifestyle you want for yourself (and your family), you can’t create the rules and boundaries to protect that lifestyle.

Tips on Creating a Lifestyle Business

Start with the Lifestyle and Work Backward – Decide what you want in terms of a lifestyle and work backwards. Do you want to work a 4-day week? Do you want to take summers off? Do you want to be able to take the day off with no notice?

Then ask yourself what you are willing to trade to get that lifestyle. For example, are you okay with inconsistent income or do you need a steady flow? The answer to that will dictate how you work toward your other lifestyle goals.

Realize You Are Worth It – The reason entrepreneurs give up their lifestyle ideal is because they don’t feel they are worth it. They worry that if they say no to a client request or enforce a particular boundary they will lose the business.

That’s where it’s important to understand your true value – the unique skill set you bring to your clients or customers. From that knowledge, it’s easy to share that you are worth working within your rules because they get so much value.

Set Clear Rules of Engagement – Start your business relationship with a clear set of rules – whatever those rules are! Where entrepreneurs run into trouble is when clients and customers don’t know your rules and assume you follow the typical 9 to 5 corporate regime.

If you don’t work on Fridays, let them know that you will be available for them from Monday to Friday. If you choose to work from the cottage during the summer months or not at all, give them plenty of notice and make sure you are able to meet their needs working within those rules.

Be Consistent with Your Boundaries – This is a tricky subject because on the one hand, you want to be there for your clients and customers and sometimes that means making exceptions to the rules. BUT if you are constantly making exceptions, it negates the rules and teaches them to expect you to bend.

The best approach is to give everyone one chance to bend the rules and ask for an exception, but make it clear that it is an exception and one that they shouldn’t come to expect. That way you can remain responsive to your loyal clients and customers without voiding your sandbox rules.

Only Work Those Who Fit – Don’t try to bend or force clients and customers to fit into your system because those will be the ones who try to bend or break the system at every turn. Instead work with likeminded people who respect and ‘get’ your lifestyle values.

This is where prescreening prospects is important. Consider it an interview for potential clients and customers as much as it is a chance for them to interview you. Let them know your goal is to establish a good fit on both sides and they will be more eager to embrace your rules.

What rules do you wish you established for your business? Share your thoughts in the comments below!


About Author

Carla Young, Publisher If there’s living proof that women can have it all – and then some – it’s Carla Young. Building her multiple businesses on a virtual work-at-home model, Carla is an inspiration to other mothers who want to start a lifestyle business. During her early days as a mom entrepreneur, Carla made every single mistake in the book (and a few new ones for good measure). Realizing that “doing it all” was unhealthy and unsustainable, Carla started by getting organized to the extreme, developing support systems for both her work and family. After other mothers started asking how they too could enjoy her lifestyle, Carla launched to support moms at work, at home and at play (because every mommy deserves a little me-time)!


  1. lisagerber on

    I had my own business for almost 8 years. I blocked out times on my calendar as appointments. I live at a ski resort, so for example, if I knew I wanted to take a morning to ski, I’d book that morning out. It’s OK to tell a client you can’t do 1, but is 3 OK? Outside of that, making deadlines is of course, critical. As long they are happy, they understand if you aren’t at their beck and call. 

    I once left a photo shoot for a personal trainer appointment! I told them in advance I could be there for the whole thing EXCEPT my appt at….. and I wasn’t missed for that 90 minutes. 🙂 

  2. Lihy Epstein on

    I am considering starting my own business on the side (as freelance at first…more if there’s traction). I’m just as lost as I was a few months back when I graduated and started job hunting. This was a great and relevant article because there is so much to take in consideration. Each major point you made could be a full blog post in and of itself. Thank you for the great post!

  3. So important to put solid foundations, like the ones your suggest here in place. Otherwise the business can end up totally taking over when it should be the key to freedom. I am a big believer in designing the life you really want and using your business to support that ideal. To do that I think it is important for each of us to create our own definition of success based on our core values and measure our success against that, and that alone. It is so easy to get caught in the trap of chasing someone elses defintion of success. I think we have to be very intentional about the way we operate in order to harness the true power and potential of being self employed.

  4. When designing a lifestyle business I usually recommend that people see it as “secodary” to their life. Most people really value their job more than their life and family (I know they will always tell you otherwise, but just see how much time they spend with their kids vs. the time spend on their job).

    By remembering that the lifestyle business should really support your desired lifestyle, I think it becomes obvious that the business should always come after your life 🙂

  5. Hi Rasmus, that is an interesting perspective. In my experience (I have been working with people on this issue for 10 years) the fact that people spend more time in work doesn’t mean they value it more. My clients always value their life, family and relationships over work but have just ended up in a situation (for all sorts of reasons) that has meant work has taken over. It doesn’t mean work is valued more because they currently have an imbalance with how much time they spend on what. That is why so many people are feeling overwhelmed, frustrated and stressed – because what they value most is being negatively impacted by something they value less.

    I think the key is to start by helping people to get really clear on what their core values are. Often people don’t know how to do this as they have never been taught. Once they are clear on their core values they can build their own definition of success for their life – of which their business is one facet – and then design the life they want leveraging their business to support and serve that vision.

  6. Great list here Carla! When I started my consulting firm nearly 7 years ago I made two rules that really helped me keep my boundaries. First, I treat my family like clients. If I’m taking my kids to the park on Wednesday afternoon I tell clients I’m not available at that time, but could do the morning or the next afternoon. Second, my voice mail states I return all phone calls within 2 hours. This way I don’t feel pressured to answer every call when it comes in and my clients are thrilled that I respond so quickly to them. What I have found is because of my limited availability, I am in more demand.

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