A few years ago, Alex Baisley and I got on the phone and recorded a conversation where we went back and forth sharing stories of people who’d built businesses around their lifestyle.
Alex worked a 9-5 job as a commercial diver for years and hated it. But then he became a reiki practitioner (his dream!) and then realized he hated it too because, by default, he’d created a 9-5 office job. In truth, he could have worked any days of the week or hours that he’d wanted. Once he realized that, he was able to make the shifts he needed to feel better about it. Better than anyone I know, Alex understands the lifestyle piece of the niche conversation.
Alex: It seemed so obvious looking back on it now, but I realized that in that moment, for a lot of people, especially creative, smart, buzzing, change the world type people, lifestyle is not a luxury. Now that I’m working at this full time, I’m seeing it over and over and over again.
It doesn’t matter if you want to be a carpenter, hair dresser, reiki master, a speaker, or whatever. For a lot of us, we have to figure out what kind of a lifestyle we will thrive in and then build the business to suit that. It may not be a magic bullet, to use that crazy term – or silver bullet is it? Doesn’t matter. But it’s a solid foundation, a foundation that works with the person and who they are. Long story short, that’s how I ended up here. I was doing the reiki.
Tad: A lot of what Alex is talking about in terms of really figuring out what the lifestyle is that you want, the lifestyle you thrive in, and what are your own quirks and uniqueness-es that you can be bringing more to what you do, that also then makes what you do really unique.
It’s easy to start with who do I want to work with but you can also start with what is the kind of lifestyle I want, what is unique about me, and how do I bring that into my work, and then reverse engineer around, “who would be into that? Who would be drawn to that, what kinds of people?”
Alex: One example that comes up for me now is of a woman I met years ago. She’s been an artist all her life, not just an artist. She’s really, really good. She’s one of these people that everything she touches turns into artwork. She can’t make a cookie without it being beautiful and you want to frame it. It’s amazing.
I always loved this woman. We knew her when we lived in Ireland but she always wanted to be able to use this talent to make a living and make some kind of contribution to the world. She did it in small little ways here and there.
She made sushi for a local place and whatnot but it was never much of an income. It was just a little bit of money here and there. She always dreamed of being able to do more with it, that feeling we have inside of that there’s something great in me trying to get out.
We got talking about income projects. What brought it up was I talked to her after not seeing her for a few years when we moved back to Canada. I said, “What are you doing now?” She’s considering taking a course in art therapy.
We talked about it. I asked her how long it was. She has children at home. She was going to do it in the evenings. It was going to take five years to complete this course, an open university course.
I said, “Wow. Are you excited about it?” She said, “I don’t know if I’m excited or not but I really want to do something with my art.” “Do you have any thoughts of what you would work at when you’re done?” “Most of them get employed in the hospital system, which is great, in Britain.”
That’s what she figured she would do. I asked, “What are the hours?” I know one of her most important lifestyle things was her kids and being home, when her kids get home from school at least. Really, when we were talking, I wasn’t trying to dissuade her from it. I was just wondering, it was a big decision and it wasn’t sitting well with me.
We talked for a little while. We ended up coming up with an idea. It only took us half and hour to come up with it. The idea was like the idea she had been waiting for, for years. I don’t mean to have such a buildup to it because it really was a very small, simple, elegant idea.
It really came completely out of her mouth with the right questions. Here’s the thing. We got talking about who, back to your niching. Who do you really feel for these days? The story came out that she fairly recently became a single mom, got divorced, and went through that whole grieving process of divorce.
She ended up finding that she had developed a lot of friendships at the school with other single moms. It started off a practical thing that they could babysit for each other and that kind of thing but then of course, there was the emotional bond there of common experience.
She found that that was great. It was very supportive. She found it helpful for the first few months. Then what happened was she started to find that there was a lot of, at least in this particular group, bitterness, complaining, and staying stuck.
She got to the point where she really just wanted to start a new chapter. She found that it was becoming a negative place to be even though she loved them. That was bothering her.
The second thing, I don’t know what question brought it up, was she said, “It’s amazing how many of them talk about my art and how much they would love to explore their creative sides.” She was finding it was almost a common wish with the women she was with.
Long and short of it is we ended up coming up with this idea of an income project that would cost nothing to try. It was this. I wondered if some of those women would be interested in coming to her house on say Monday mornings, after they had dropped of their children at school and had some free time anyway.
If they came for the morning to her house, she would teach an art project. She started really thinking about that. Then she decided she was going to add something to it. Once you start thinking about niche, then you’re thinking about people so you can add stuff to it instead of just thinking about the theme which was art.
She decided she wanted to see if they’d be interested in this whole idea of a new chapter, a new beginning as well. Were they feeling the same as her about the whole bitterness thing? She made this poster for the wall, a tongue in cheek thing, “No bitching aloud,” with an arrow through it.
She was going to bring in something inspiring at the first of every session like some quote, some use of video, or something that would be opening feeling to a new chapter, then do the art project, have tea, biscuits, and all that kind of thing.
When we really stopped to work it out, we reckoned that even people, some of them with not very much income, could definitely afford the ten or 12 pounds, whatever it was, Euros now, to come for an art project.
She reckoned, she was living on government assistance at that point which was a tremendous embarrassment for her. She never thought she would be in that position. She worked out that with just Monday mornings with just a handful of people, she could earn the same as she would on the government assistance.
When I said, “What do you think of that idea? How does it compare to the art therapy idea?” She said, “It’s way better. This is exactly what I want to do.” I thought that is so cool, I’m so glad. We always get this feeling like these things are right in front of us. Often, we’re just looking a little bit too grand.
Then there’s the literary pub crawl was a guy. He wasn’t trying to build a career for himself or anything like that, nothing big and heavy. He was just a student and needed to earn some extra dough.
Pretty much the only choice that he felt he had was working at Tim Hortons or something like that. He would have done it. We ended up chatting. Is there something else? I asked him about his interests.
He was very honest with me. He said, “I really only have two interests, pubs.” He liked his beer, “and manly authors, like Ernest Hemingway, Hunter S Thompson, the man’s man authors like that.” Oh right, I get it. “But I can’t make money off those interests.”
I remembered thinking, “Don’t be so sure. This is fun.” We come up with this idea together, a literary pub crawl. It was really elegant. I smile from ear to ear when I think about it.
The idea was that he was going to organize a pub crawl. I don’t know where to start the story. He was going to charge x amount per head to go on this thing. There were a few aspects to it. Most importantly was when you went into a pub or each pub, he was going to read a passage from one of these amazing authors, just a drop jaw passage that would make you go, “That’s amazing!”
You’d listen to that, get this tiny tidbit of appreciation for the author. Then you would be served the author’s favorite drink, a mojito in Ernest Hemingway’s case, some kind of run daiquiri for Hunter S Thompson, etc., you get the idea.
There was this really fun aspect to it of getting to drink the drink that Hemingway drank. There was all sorts of elegance in terms of the finances around it. He wasn’t looking to earn a lot of money, just a little bit more than minimum wage maybe.
It’s been a couple years since I’ve told the story. I can’t remember the exact figures but the basic idea is that he called all the pubs ahead of time to set it up, make sure there’s room, make sure the bartenders were alert to the drink. He was able to get a discount from the pubs for bringing a group of people in.
He got the discount. Instead of keeping the discount for himself, he passed the discount right on to the people. They were paying, I’m going to say $20. I can’t remember exactly, to come on this literary pub crawl. But why would they? It was just drinks, unless they were super interested in it.
The way the math worked out was that they ended up getting discounts on their drinks all along the way, and they stopped at quite a few places. They pretty much paid for their literary pub crawl fee. He more or less got his fee from the discount from the bars.
I thought that was a really fun idea. We were talking about wounds and stuff like that. A lot of businesses are based on that sorts of things, mine too but every once in awhile, you encounter one of these fun, light ideas. That was definitely his.
It’s been a couple of years since I’ve told that story too. The idea, I’m trying to get my facts straight, he had a corporate job I think. He got laid off. He was trying to figure out what he wanted to do, what he could do.
Often, we’re not honest with ourselves I think about what we really want to do. We just think, “Okay, if I have to work, this is the kind of area I would like to do in.” Sometimes, it’s really helpful to go to a coffee shop, pub, or sit by the beach and say, “Let’s be honest. If I didn’t have to work, what would I be doing?”
Often, there are gems in that. Don’t be so sure, maybe there is a way you can make income from that.
That reminds me of another story of a guy going through the Adirondacks for a couple of months.
Anyway, this guy got laid off. All he really wanted to do was train to be a triathlete. He loved it. He loved triathlons. I have some family members into that sort of things, and friends. Those people are passionate when they get into that. It’s a lot of work.
Sometimes, it becomes a problem in the sense that if they have families. It becomes a third job to do it well. He thought, “I’d love to be just doing that.” I can’t remember the middle bit but basically what happened in the end is that he set up a business for himself online, virtually, basically being a resource for triathletes.
He loved to read triathlon magazines. He devoured material online. He realized he put a lot of time and effort into that. He wondered if he brought a lot of that material, even filtered a lot of that material and brought it to one place online, would it be something that people wanted.
He ended up creating a membership site. I think it was $17 a month he was charging for that. He just kept adding stuff to it, which when you have your niche, then you realize what they need and want. You can add different things that you wouldn’t think of to that because of the niche.
He added logs where you could actively log all your details for your exercises. It would spit you back graphs of your progress. I thought this was the best bit, that he did podcasts. That was one of the ways he promoted himself. He did them from the bike of all things. I thought that was brilliant.
He’s probably breathing a bit hard, sweating over his microphone but triathletes are used to that. They don’t mind that. It would be different if I was doing it. It would just be creepy. I thought that was awesome.
I think there’s such a lesson in that for all of us, including me. This is a real evolution, even though this is my focus. It focuses me to be more and more honest every few months about what do I really want to do, what do I really, really want to do.
It’s such a great place to start even the niching question because picking niches is one thing. If I just said I didn’t have to work, I’d probably want to socialize at some point, or want to interact with people, even secondhand, I’d want to read their books or hear their music or something.
We interact with each other even if we’re not together socially. The ways that we like to interact with other people seems to me a really good guise as to maybe how we could set up our business.
What I was leading to there was the coffee shop thing, which you’ve talked about. If I didn’t have to work, if I went to a coffee shop, what kind of a coffee shop would I like? What kind of people are in there? If I ended up locked in there for hours, what would I love to be talking about?
I can answer that easily. I think most people can. How about is it possible then to build a business based on interacting with the people in the way that you want to interact with them, together in a group or whatever that looks like, out camping, hiking?
What are the topics? Who are they? What kind of personalities? What do they do? That’s a really good start to the niching discussion. I think it’s very guiding.
Another fellow I can think of is a life coach in Colorado, a wonderful guy. He hosted a workshop that I was traveling around teaching workshops. He hosted me there in Colorado, a lovely man, a life coach.
He was feeling a bit bored I guess with the work. Bored isn’t quite the right word but stuck, like something needs to shift. Really, he was in a similar boat as myself in the reiki clinic. I think when it really came down to it lifestyle wise, where would you rather be instead of in your office talking on the phone, even though you love your work and your clients.
He said, “I’d be out in those mountains.” He looked wistful when he talked about it. I remember saying, “I wonder if it’s a dumb idea or not. I wonder if anybody would like to have their life coaching session with you out on the mountain or hiking on the mountain.
He said, “I never thought of it.” Bless his heart, probably the next call he got from the client he works with, he said, “Here’s this funny idea for you, what would you think of the idea of going up the mountain and having our session that way?” The guy was thrilled.
They hiked this mountain. When they were done, the client said, “That was the best session I have ever had in my life and by far the best session with you as well. Can we do this more often?” Of course they did. He started mentioning it more and more.
You know what else he did? This is a fun story. John Foster is his name. He does also, started from a similar kind of idea, moto-clarity he calls it. He does these motorcycle trips in the summertime. I can’t remember how long they are.
They go from place to place in a convoy of motorcycles, all people that enjoy that, and combined with life evolution type things. He would obviously explain it much better than me but he gives people questions and things to think about, exercises perhaps to be doing, thinking about, meditating on while they’re driving from one place to the next.
Then when they stop for lunch or something, they have a little chat, “What did you think of that?” It’s this inner evolving type of conversation. It’s not just about the bikes anymore. I thought it was such a brilliant idea, so smart, blending a lifestyle interest with something we’re quite used to, which is life coaching or something like that, for at least those of us in the business.
People can blend that. People can blend something like life coaching with camping, parenting with kayaking trips. You’re naturally onto something interesting. It’s taking the lifestyle interest that you have already and blending it with the who’s that you like and float it out, and see what happens.
Tad: That makes me think of the story of a condo realtor in Seattle who loved the cocktail lounges.
Alex: I love that story. Tell that.
Tad: So, there was this condo realtor in Seattle. And he loved hanging out at cocktail lounges. Just loved the scene. Especially this particular one. So when he meet people and they wanted to talk about their condo quandries and he didn’t have time he’d say, “Tell you what, why don’t you visit me this Tuesday night at this cocktail lounge from 5-9pm. You’ll love it and it’s nice and quiet on a Tuesday night. We’ll have drinks and talk shop.’ So there he was, hanging out at his favorite cocktail lounge where he knows everybody, and potential clients would come and ask him questions.
He would be so generous with his information, go over papers with them, and help them understand it. He had apparently a 70% conversion ratio of people who became clients because he’d give them so much they felt like they wanted to give back.
Also, they’d build this relationship and trust with him. When it gets to the point where there are all these logistics and details to handle that we don’t know how to handle, who are we going to go to? Of course our friend who bought us a cocktail and hung out with us.
It didn’t make him any money immediately but totally fit his lifestyle, was really fun, and got his tons of business.