I was asked to describe success early in my career as Savvy Media’s CEO. I gave the standard money, cash, homes, “living the dream” bit. But then I was asked: “Best case scenario, what would your ideal life look like? Thousands of employees? Hundreds of offices? Fortune 500 clients?”
I hated every option I was given. With every fiber of my being, I was opposed to all of the above. Clearly Webster hasn’t added “living the dream” to the dictionary yet! I thought. I’m horrible at managing employees and I loathe fluorescent office lighting. I don’t do corporate structure well due to my Oppositional Defiance Disorder (Google it!), and suits anywhere but at a wedding—no thank you.
My real best case scenario? To be free. I want to do what I want, go where I want, when I want. I want to feel passionate about my work and share in the success of my clients. I want to not need an office or deal with being in charge of employees. I want to collaborate with brilliant people as partners. I want to travel. I want to expense festivals and have it not be a lie. I want to create. And no mandatory meetings, especially before noon.
These obnoxious desires have since become my company culture. But how did I actually get there?
How to build a business for your life (not the other way around)
In 2008, I read a book called The 4-Hour Workweek. In it, Tim Ferriss advocates building a business that supports your life instead of using your life to support a business. I was sold. My mission was to create a business that served as a foundation for achieving my goals, not the other way around.
Focusing on long-term relationships, I built a business that could generate enough income to sustain my quality of living. Since I have no intention of selling or exiting, I have no other shareholders, leaving me with full control and freedom. My focus is usually on high-value projects. And I’ve been successful: My business doesn’t require my constant attention, and I’ve built a brand around my independence. That’s become my personal definition of success.
It hasn’t exactly been as simple as it sounds. I’ve gotten screwed. I’ve taken on more than I could handle, resulting in 100-plus hour work weeks. My fears and anxiety have been debilitating at times. I’ve sacrificed spending time with family and friends. And I’ve had to learn how to hire talent, manage production and utilize contracts—all while fostering client relationships.
In short, I’ve spent years making mistakes and learning from them.
Here’s what’s worked for me:
- Be ruthless. I focus only on high-value tasks and get rid of the rest. Whenever I’ve found myself doing the same task repetitively, I’ve found ways to automate it. I try to remove myself from the process as much as possible. And I outsource whenever possible, if it makes sense. This allows me to spend my time working on projects that produce an immense amount of value for my business.
- Do business in the cloud. I’ve learned to utilize a system of cloud-based technologies that allow me to operate as a complete virtual office. Me and my MacBook—along with Freshbooks, Evernote, Dropbox and Boardroom.
- Hold yourself accountable. Automating and outsourcing aren’t always the best solutions. Whenever this is the case, I attempt to schedule my time on focused subjects: research, correspondence, proposals, pitches—they all fall on specific days. This helps me stay accountable to myself.
Where I am today
Five years after starting my business, I live between Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., New York City and, soon, Miami. I could probably have a fancy address in Manhattan by now. I’m sure my revenue would triple if that were the case.
Instead, I’m focused on my quality of life. In June 2012, I moved my apartment into Public Storage, shipped my car to L.A., and have spent every month in a different city since.
My most recent creation is in the form of an app. It’s a marketing program, activating the cool kids across the globe. Why? For my current lifestyle and desires, it’s a no-brainer. And it’s the future. I took what I do know and created a connection to something I love, and Savvy City was born.
That’s what building a lifestyle business is really all about: You create your own reality.
Alexis Levine is the founder of Savvy Media. Known online as “@c0mplexis,” she specializes in next-generation and experiential marketing.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.