When I tell people I run a boutique business, I’m pretty sure they’re thinking, “Really? She doesn’t even dress very well.” (For the record, they’re right. Most days I’m not even wearing shoes.)
The boutique business model starts with providing a specialized product or service for a small niche clientele. Boutique businesses don’t compete on price—they charge premium prices for those who want personalized and yes, over-the-top service. (I’m working on it.) It’s the difference between going into a high-end salon and drinking champagne while your hair is styled and Great Cuts.
My business did not start out as a boutique business. It was more like a pinball arcade. I bounced around from bumper to bumper, doing what people needed, occasionally getting a boost from a flipper that made all the bells and lights go off. When you’re starting out in business, you do what people ask you to do, whether you want to do it is not up for debate. On the plus side, you learn a lot and eventually you learn what you like to do and what you absolutely will never do again. More important, you learn the market. You learn that what people say they want may not actually be what they want. (And that might differ from what they actually need.) You get better at what you do. With time and good practice, you gain expertise that carries a premium fee.
Why am I telling you all this?
Gradually, my business evolved into offering very niche services (leveraging your business book as your primary marketing tool) for a very niche clientele (business authors). Do I still do things outside of that niche? Yes. But my main business has transitioned from ghost writing through coaching and editing to marketing plans for business owner-authors.
That’s a subset of a subset. I work with fewer than two dozen people a year. I have intentionally set my business model up that way. It took work and clarity to do that. People keep asking me how I was able to “just pick up and move to Portugal.” The answer is I made conscious decisions based on what I wanted my life to look like. But I had to let go of some things.
Probably the hardest thing to do was to let go of the idea of being a millionaire. Growing up in the United States, the goal was always to become a millionaire, preferably before you were 30. (That ship sailed. Quelle surprise.) It’s not enough to make a good living. You should want to be rich, my boy, richer than your wildest dreams!
Every entrepreneur I know wants to break six figures a year. Probably every working stiff, too. It’s a magic number. But is it attainable?
But it’s not easy. A 2019 study by polling firm YouGov found that just 9% of Americans earn more than $100,000 a year. So you have a slightly less than 10% chance of making that number. Which is a nicer way of saying you have a 91% chance of not breaking six figures. The more important question is “Is it worth attaining?”
The good news is that you don’t need $100,000 a year or a million dollars in the bank to be happy. A 2018 study from Purdue University found that making $60,000 to $75,000 a year provides emotional well-being. I’m assuming that means you’re not sweating in a panic if your car needs new brakes or the light bill is due. An older study by Princeton researchers Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton (2010) showed that happiness “leveled off” at about $75,000 per year. Making more money didn’t make you that much more happy. The new study from Purdue shows that happiness levels actually decrease when people earn more than $105,000 annually.
Weird? Not really. You finally get to millionaire status and realize that you need to be a multi-millionaire if you want to hang with the cool kids. You get your net worth up and now you’re trying to keep up with eight and nine figure net worth individuals. It’s all relative.
Take a Step Back
Not everyone wants to build an empire. Not everyone wants to make a million dollars a year or even in a decade. Not everyone can. Not every business can. People have lives and life events and restrictions that all the positive attitude in the world will not overcome. That’s reality. Some people choose to follow certain paths for the fulfillment, not the money, and frankly, a lot of these people make the world a better place so others can go chase money.
This past year has, for better or worse, given us a chance to evaluate our lives and ask ourselves what we truly want. Small businesses have been pummeled. Our clients have been through the wringer just as much as we have.
Think about your business model and the goals you have set for yourself. Think about your values and what you think is important in this world and important to you. Then sit down with a cup of coffee or glass of wine and some quiet time and ask yourself these two simple questions:
- Is this what I still want?
- Are these goals attainable with my current business structure?
If the answer is yes to both, go enjoy yourself. If not, you’ve got a third question to answer: What needs to change? Actually, you have a bunch of questions. I’ll give you some starter questions here and I have faith that other questions will occur to you that pertain to your particular situation.
- What do I want?
- What are my current obligations? (Sometimes it’s not all about us.)
- Is what I’m doing (my job or business) capable of getting me what I want? Does it have the potential to make it happen for me?
- What needs to change in order to attain what I want?
- Am I willing to make those changes?
- Is there a better way to get what I want? (A different business model or business?)
- Am I chasing the wrong thing? (If yes, the next question could be “Why?” but that might take a therapist.)
We live in a capitalist culture. We are focused on money first because that’s literally how we survive. The American rags-to-riches story gives us hope and then somehow makes us feel like failures when we aren’t on the Forbes Richest and Most Beautiful People list. We are surrounded by opportunity, yet somehow only a few manage to leverage it to the max. We are pressured into chasing these numbers, without being told just how much of a fantasy they are.
Rags to Riches was early pulp fiction
The Horatio Alger rags-to-riches books have been held up as the embodiment of the American dream. If you work hard, you will be rich. But that’s not what Alger wrote. The lessons of his stories were twisted over the years. Alger wrote serials to a formula. In every story, the poor boy makes good because he is virtuous and lucky, not hard working. The American Dream, as we have come to know it, is a misinterpretation of bad pulp fiction writing.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to go big. But there’s also nothing wrong with wanting to go comfortable. I’m tired of receiving emails and marketing messages touting the next big thing to jack my business to seven figures. I’m tired of wannabe gurus telling me how they’re all crushing it. I’ve been on the inside and I know who pays late because they’ve spent all their cash pretending they’re big shots. I know there are “she-bosses” crying in their $100,000 mastermind cohorts because their business is sucking wind and their personal lives are falling apart. I’m not saying this to be mean. I am saying this to point out that many of us are chasing the wrong dream and often we’re being told to chase the wrong dream by people who are chasing the wrong dream.
Everyone has different needs and goals. I just want you to know that you don’t have to want to conquer the world. That it’s okay to make your business the way you want it to fit your lifestyle. More than anything, I want you to be happy.