The importance of lifestyle businesses

March 22, 2013 

"He who is different from me does not impoverish me - he enriches me. Our unity is constituted in something higher than ourselves - in Man... For no man seeks to hear his own echo, or to find his reflection in the glass." ~Antoine De Saint-Exupery

Too often we make the mistake of seeing entrepreneurs like Donald Trump and Steve Jobs as the examples that all businesses should follow. However, the great majority of firms in this country are not truly entrepreneurial but more what I call "lifestyle businesses." These lifestyle businesses add so much to our economy and the welfare of so many employees.

To me, an entrepreneurial business is innovative and fast-growing, with revenues increasing by 20 percent or more a year. Lifestyle businesses, however, either do not choose to grow or cannot for whatever reason and are comfortable simply providing a secure job for themselves and their staff.

I have been head of the entrepreneurship program at FSU for more than 20 years, and throughout my tenure, we have always emphasized entrepreneurship because it is what we felt would be most beneficial to our students. However, while this business model is great for college students to study, it does not fit the majority of businesses in this country. It is not a true comparison in terms of what they do, how they operate or even how they measure their success.

For example, I am working with a family bakery.

I consider this a lifestyle business because, at the end of the day, they just want to keep the business afloat so that the family members who work there will get paid. They do not want to grow very much but want to keep things going simply to ensure they have a job and a viable source of income.

The knowledge and skills necessary to be successful in a lifestyle business are so different from those required of an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs need to understand concepts like venture capital and equity funding, but lifestyle businesses do not, and that is okay.

This disparity became clear to me while teaching entrepreneurship courses at an all-female prison. It was obvious that these inmates were not identifying with these entrepreneurial concepts at all. Their goals for their lives after release involve being able to provide a living for themselves and their families, and pushing entrepreneurial values was like trying to put a square peg in a round hole.

After having this epiphany, I have changed my approach and I am now teaching these ladies how to start and successfully run their own lifestyle businesses.

They can now clearly visualize starting home or pool cleaning businesses, for example.

Now I am not saying either type of business is better than the other. What I am trying to get across is that lifestyle businesses are not businesses that failed to reach entrepreneurial success, but rather businesses that are comfortable in their own shoes.

Not everyone has the desire to be an entrepreneur.

We need to recognize the difference between these types of businesses and appreciate the contributions each makes to our country and our economy.

Jerome S. Osteryoung, director of outreach services at the Jim Moran Institute in the College of Business at Florida State University, can be reached at 850-294-7477.

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