Building an empire or a lifestyle?

Building an empire or a lifestyle?

My first thought — Juicy!

No, I’m not talking about that horrid clothing label circa early 2000s when for some ungodly reason the people of LA couldn’t get enough diamontes, candy pink and fake gold bling to satiate their cravings.

I’m talking about a juicy question, filled with juicy pondering and some juicy confrontation to my mind:

“Why did you start your business — to take over the world or for a lifestyle choice?”

The question launched itself at me from my laptop screen as I was filling out press questions for a well-known magazine. The interviewer popped in a big fat Q that stopped me in my manic tap-tapping keyboard tracks.

Now I’m not one for sitting on fences, but this question spoke to both young, impressionable Tess 1.0 and older, wiser, smarter, stronger Tess 2.0, immediately lighting both personas up like an out-of-control firecracker.

One part of me, (the part that says she loves yoga, meditation, and long walks on deserted beaches) voted “Lifestyle, dah!” without a second thought. The other part of me, (the part that feels the need to build four businesses simultaneously, run at 100m/hr and smash glass ceilings with a rocket launcher) screamed “Take over the world!!!” louder than even she would like to admit.

And so, with this one juicy AF question, my everyday inner argument was brought to light in a beautiful, confronting way. It served as a great reminder of what I’m actually doing here.

So hear me out on this: just because you ‘own a business’, does that make you a ‘business owner’? And with owning a business, do you immediately access rights to the lifestyle you’d always wanted and dreamt of? I often meet people who are self-employed but have simply created work for the sake of working, rather than an autonomous business that provides the life of freedom and frivolity for themselves, purchasing island after island, sinking Mojitos with Richard Branson. You know what I mean.

My mechanic is a great example of this. He loves cars, he loves fixing cars, and there’s probably few places he’d rather be than underneath the belly of my Tiguan covered in grease and rolling on his back on one of those fun skateboarding-type contraptions. He works Monday to Friday, from 7am to 4pm on the dot, and has done for the past 30 odd years. After work, he heads home, probably has a beer and a nice chat with his wife. He has created a job for himself and he is (as far as I’m aware) blissfully happy.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. But I think it’s important to realise there’s a big difference between being self-employed and being a business owner. Being self-employed feels like freedom until you realise that if you take time off, your business stops making money. To be a fully fledged business owner, make it so that you could leave for a year, and when you came back, your business would be doing better than when you left.

So, where do I sit amongst these two definitions? It depends what day of the week it is! Most days I feel like a business owner. The days when I get to decide what my agenda looks like, the days when I get to clock off early, or heaven forbid go on a holiday without my laptop. I’ve built my business with blood, sweat and tears and have invested so much energy, time and hard-bloody-work into building a team that can not only keep the ship afloat whilst I’m gone but can actually continue propelling it forward with new ideas and new implementations.

That’s not to say that being a business owner doesn’t come with the heavy-ass responsibilities and stresses. Even when I’m on holidays, I know that everything still falls on my shoulders. As with most things, there are ebbs and flows, and periods of slaving and periods of slaying. While I feel like I’m in fairly good stead right now for living like a business owner, I’m sure there’ll be times again in my life where I pass the baton back to my self-employed self and go back to feeling like I’m clocking the hours for the sake of work.

Back in the day of setting up my business, I was most certainly self-employed with not a lot of freedom or room for movement. I was chained to my to-do list and for the most part, the tasks I worked on weren’t necessarily voluntarily chosen by me (hello BAS lodgements). Most often, these tasks were determined by someone other than myself (clients and the necessary evils of building a business). For a few years, being self-employed actually felt harder than being employed by someone else; I can distinctly remember one day telling my boyfriend that I felt like I had been put in a potato sack and swung against a tree a few times each day. It was hard yakka.

Let’s agree on one thing straight off the bat – ‘nailing your biz-niz’ is not a final destination.

It’s not a one-off act, or the final stop on the train trip to enlightenment where we retire to a perfect state of inner peace, sipping on margies in the Maldives 24/7. It took me a while, but fast forward six years down the track, I’ve managed to sit up, smooth my ruffled brows, brush off the sweaty mess of late nights at the studio and begin to sing Celine at Christmas.

Going from ‘self-employed’ to a ‘business owner’ is akin to wading through treacle, and don’t get me wrong, I am still well and truly a student learning the ropes, and have in no way “made it” to a state of ease and freedom. Let me tell you, I sure as hell don’t have it nailed just yet. But one thing I’ve learned in this crazy whirlwind trip is that we all need to find our groove and figure out what works best for us, and why we are driven to do something as crazy as starting a business. For me, I’ll forever fight my internal battle of world domination vs. the eternal search for blissed out zen-Tess. And that’s okay, I guess.

You can either focus on building your empire, taking over the world and conquering world record entrepreneurialism or, you can focus on building a business that gives you the flexibility and freedom to live a rich life full of health, happiness and balance. Either way, if you’re doing it your way, you’re a success.

One thing that I’m focussing on right now is making peace with my present regardless of what it looks like, because the next thing you know, I’ll be 80 years old, and still trying to get it just right.

So how did I proceed with the interview question? Naturally, I answered ‘Both. Lifestyle AND world domination!’. I want my cake and to eat it too. Afterall, that’s why I started a business, because I’m hellbent on having my life, my way.


  1. Hani says:

    This article really hit home for me, Tess. I’m feeling a little like your mechanic at the moment, but I’d much prefer to be sipping those mojitos! Thanks for your honesty and for raising some interesting questions I personally need to answer before moving onto the next phase of my business. Cheers, Hani

    • Tess says:

      Thanks for your lovely comments, Hani! Glad you enjoyed it. It’s nice to be ‘real’ about business and what actually goes on, particularly when the glossy world of Instagram makes everything look so glamourous and stress-free 😉


  2. aaron says:

    Thank you for the insightful look into your Biz world. Sometimes as a business owner you forget that there are others wading through the treacle as well

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