7 Questions I Ask as a Minimalist Business Owner

September 13, 2016

Perhaps it’s due to moving so much in my childhood, but I don’t like feeling tied down. To me, freedom means being able to pick up and move on to the next thing at a moment’s notice.

This is why our life’s motto is “live nimbly”, why we have worked so hard to get out of debt and why I get rid of stuff constantly. For me, the fewer things to keep track of, the better.

questions from a minimalist business owner

This mentality permeates my real life, but it also governs the way I run my online business.

Is there such a thing as a minimalist business approach? I have no idea, but it’s the way I’d describe mine. It’s not superior to the way others run their businesses, it’s what works for me. There are pros and cons to every method.

The following questions are the filters through which I make choices in my everyday life and business.

How do I want to spend my days?

1. How do I want to spend my days?

The question “What’s your goal?” is popular and I’ve been known to ask it, but lately I prefer to ask, “How do you want to spend your days?” because it makes getting there more concrete.

Related: The Problem With Goals

Real life example: College

My daughter is approaching the end of high school. There are many options afterward, but one of the obvious is college, which she’s decided she wants to do.

She encounters all the usual questions: Where will you go? What will you study? What will you major in? Will you go to a 2-year college or a 4-year university? Do you want to go to graduate school eventually?

Understandably, the question bombardment was starting to stress her out. In my opinion, these questions are unhelpful, so I said to her, “Peanut, forget all those questions. The majority of your life will be lived after college. How do you want to spend your days? Answer that and then work backward from there.”

If someone says, “I want to be an English major,” what does that look like? It could mean a whole bunch of things. Do you want to be an English major so you can spend your days writing? Do you want to spend your days in a classroom teaching high schoolers? Or maybe in a university teaching college students? Do you want to spend your days in the field, crafting documentaries? Working in a library? At home grading SAT essays? At a community center tutoring English learners?

Choosing a college major based on what high school looked like is the wrong approach. Your previous experience will inform your decision of course, but choose a college major based on what your want your future to look like instead. If you know what you want your days to look like, you can tailor your path to get there.

How do I want to spend my days?

Online business example: Type of business

Just as the typical questions about college aren’t always helpful, the question, “What’s your business goal?” is not always helpful either. Most people will say, “My goal is to make money.” That’s find, but vague.

So I’ll ask: How do you want to spend your days?

Do you want to spend your days building a corporation? Or running a startup? Will you work full-time hours? Part-time hours? Are you interested in a side hustle because you like what you’re currently doing? There are so many options.

In this season of life (it could change later), I don’t want to run a corporation or work full time. I don’t want to manage a large team or a large customer base. I don’t want a lot of overhead, inventory, office space or infrastructure. For me, right now, I want to spend my days preparing my kids to launch into adulthood (I don’t have much time left, my first leaves in 2018!), traveling and serving with my family and working online as a side hustle.

Ruth Soukup of Elite Blog Academy is a good example of a blogger who spends her days differently than I do. She is building a corporation. She has a dedicated office with full-time employees, she’s published multiple books, she’s created several products, both digital and physical, and she always seems to be launching something new. No doubt her yearly revenue numbers far exceed mine. I have a lot of respect for what she’s built. In fact, sometimes I’m so inspired I entertain thoughts of doing something similar, but I have to remind myself where I’m going. That path isn’t for me right now, like the path I’m on isn’t for her. Neither is wrong, they’re just different.

Is there a faster way to do this?

2. Is there an easier or faster way to do this?

This is pretty straightforward, but I’m constantly trying to figure out an easier or faster way to do things.

Also, I ask myself this question about things that work smoothly probably as much as I ask it about things that don’t work smoothly. I like simple processes, tools and routines. The less thinking the better.

Real life example: Personal uniforms & photos

I do not have a personal uniform, mostly because I haven’t found one that fits yet (I’m 6′ 2″ and finding clothes is not super easy). I think the idea is brilliant though. It’s my dream to find something that fits well, looks decent and is comfortable.

Another real life example are photos. I mentioned in my Useletter recently how I organized all my photos in one spot. This is precisely because my previous system of collecting, keeping and finding photos was hodgepodge and not fast.

Online example: Workflowy

I’m a list girl. I like to make lists and cross things off my lists. I take notes in lists and my brain thinks in lists.

Sidenote: Have you read The Checklist Manifesto (referral link) by Atul Gawande? I really liked that book.

One of my favorite apps is Workflowy. It’s all lists and it works for me. It’s not fancy or pretty, it’s fast (so fast) and clean.

Are there too many moving parts?

3. Is there a way to do this with fewer moving parts?

The more moving parts there are, the more potential problem points down the road. That’s why I’m drawn to things with few moving parts.

Real life example: Sunroofs

When I was old enough to buy my own car, my dad advised me to avoid cars with sunroofs. He said they look cool, but they have more seams which increase the risk of leaks, more mechanics which increase the risk of broken parts, more electrical wiring which increase the chance of things going haywire and more glass which increases the chance of cracks.

Let’s be real, they do look cool, and for some people the cool factor outweighs the potential problems, but for me, I stick with sunroofless cars. (Ironically, we’ve owned two cars with sunroofs, not because we chose them, but because they happened to come with a car that was given to us and a car we could pay cash for.)

Online example: Plugins & list building

Fewer moving parts is exactly the reason I recommend using as few plugins as possible. Every time you install a plugin, you install more moving parts and therefore increase the number of potential problem points on your site.

Another example in online business is list building. The more opt-in forms, content upgrades, sales funnels and autoresponders you have, the more potential points of failure in your system.

is this sustainable

4. Is this sustainable?

Sometimes you’re faced with an opportunity or choice that may have an excellent return, but may not be realistically sustainable.

Real life example: Weight loss

P90X was quite popular a few years back, but for the average person (me for sure), it’s likely to be unsustainable. Working out 90 minutes a day is grueling, not to mention time-consuming, and for most of us, it’s not something we can do on an ongoing basis.

(“But wait,” you say, “it’s only for 90 days.” Good point. Read the next section.)

Online example: Posting

Neil Patel is a very successful online entrepreneur. He credits a lot of his success to his frequently published posts. I’m a big fan of his posts and I’m convinced he has elves writing for him 24/7. For many of us, keeping up an intense posting schedule may work for a while, but isn’t sustainable for the long haul.

What's the real cost?

5. What’s the real cost?

Sometimes the upfront cost in time or money looks doable. But how will you pay in the long run. Really?

Real life example: Weight loss (again)

When I gave the example of P90X above, did you think to yourself, Well, but P90X is only intense for 90 days. By that time you should be at a good weight so going forward you only have to maintain.

It’s a valid point. However, consider what some contestants on the popular TV show The Biggest Loser have really paid for their radical weight loss. They lost tons of weight and some even got the glory of winning the contest, complete with confetti and TV interviews. However, most found the intensity of their diet & exercise regimen (hello 800 calories and 8 hours of working out a day!) was unsustainable once they got home. To me, the biggest and totally unexpected cost they’ve paid is that their metabolisms have not recovered which has led to more weight gain, plus a serious inability to maintain a healthy weight going forward.

Online example: Hiring employees

There’s no doubt getting help is a great idea in many circumstances, but the true cost of hiring employees is a lot more than some expect. There’s the salary of course, but then you have to think about time and money related to recruiting, taxes, benefits, onboarding, vacations, illnesses, replacing employees if they leave, equipment, ongoing training, morale, legal fees, hiring people to manage the people (if you don’t want to do it yourself), etc.

It’s not that doing P90X or hiring employees are bad ideas, the costs just need to be counted and  understood before you dive in.

Is this right for me?

6. Is this a good idea for me?

Everyone has things they love. This is what makes the world go round. It also makes life interesting.

It’s not uncommon to hear a friend, guru or expert suggest X, Y or Z. If you’re like me, it’s tempting to jump right in, because if it worked for them, maybe it’ll work for me too.

It’s valuable to learn from people who are a few steps ahead of us, but before I jump into something, I ask myself, Is this a good idea for me? Do I really want to do this? Is this in line with how I want to spend my days?

Doing something “because it will make money” or “because so-and-so is doing it” is not a good answer to the question.

Real life example: Essential oils

I have nothing against essential oils. In fact, I have a half dozen bottles in my nightstand drawer at this very moment. I’m personally inclined to believe they do have some health benefits, but this blurb is not about their effectiveness, it’s about whether they are right for me.

My family has tried them in a variety of ways—in recipes, as a sleep aid, for back pain, etc.—but the bottom line is, the improvement in our lives as a result of using them is not much. I’m not making a judgement, I’m saying what is. So, while we cheer for those who love them, we’ve decided it’s not a good idea for us.

Online example: ConvertKit

I like ConvertKit. In fact, I like it so much, I paid for it. I’m a geek, so I had all kinds of fun getting in there, uploading my email list and building my first autoresponders. I could see all kinds of potential.

But then I started asking myself questions about my situation. Do I really want all these autoresponders? (Not really, too much to write & keep updated.) Do I really want a content upgrade on every post? (No, too much to keep track of.) Will I really use all the tagging and segmenting options? (No, I don’t have a huge suite of products to justify it.) Do I really want to send out so many emails? (No, I don’t like tons of emails as a subscriber myself.)

So, I stopped using it and got a refund. Have some people seen huge growth with ConvertKit and tools like it? Yes! And maybe at some point it will work for me, but in this season, my life is simpler without it.

What's my exit strategy?

7. What’s my exit strategy?

Again, maybe I have issue because of my always-moving childhood, but with few exceptions (marriage comes to mind), I don’t expect much to last. That’s an Eeyore-ish way of saying it, I suppose. Said differently, as a rule, I genuinely like change and I’m constantly bopping on to the next thing.

Things change around us of course, but I change my mind on a regular basis too. It’s always possible I’ll get bored, I’ll move on or I’ll find something new.

We all know how quickly things change online. Strategies come and go—blogs & comments, ebooks, email marketing, social media, ecourses, webinars, podcasts, the list goes on. Chances are, next year there will be something new we’ll all be doing.

That’s why, when faced with a decision, I always ask myself, How easily can I undo this?

Real life example: Buying a house

We’ve never bought a house without giving serious thought to how easy it would be to sell, even when we assumed we’d live there for a decade or more.

We thought we’d be in our first house at least 5 years. An unexpected job change caused us to sell it a little over one year later. We thought we’d be in our second house at least 15-20 years. My unexpected bout with depression caused us to sell it less than five years later. We thought we’d be in our current house 2-3 years, but we’ve been there eight. That doesn’t prove anything except to say life is funny. (Although, I am actively looking for a farm with no animals except chickens and a run-down shack we can bulldoze, but that’s another story.)

We are very grateful to have made a profit on both the houses we’ve sold (even the one we sold right when the market was tanking). I’m convinced it was largely because we had thought about selling even before buying.

Online example: Infusionsoft

I have nothing against Infusionsoft. I’ve never bought it as I did ConvertKit, but I certainly looked into it when a number of people I follow online were making the switch. It didn’t take me long to realize one can do a whole lot of cool stuff with it. Likewise, it didn’t take me long to realize it’s pretty complicated, especially to set up. When I was considering Infusionsoft for me, the answer to How easily can I undo this? became clear: Not easy at all. So, I passed.

Recap

There is not one right way to do things. My goal here has not been to criticize strategies used by others, but simply to explain the strategy that works for me, at this time in my life.

So, once again, the questions:

  1. How do I want to spend my days?
  2. Is there an easier or faster way to do this?
  3. Is there a way to do this with fewer moving parts?
  4. Is this sustainable?
  5. What’s the real cost?
  6. Is this a good idea for me?
  7. What’s my exit strategy?

I’d love to hear what works for you!

51 thoughts on “7 Questions I Ask as a Minimalist Business Owner”

  1. Thank you, the questions you suggested are really useful, and I love that you put some real life examples both for personal and professional lives. I need to print them out and keep them on my desk! I particularly like the first one : How do you want to spend your days? I think it makes a lot more sense than “which are your goals”, and I would have made so many different choices in life if I’d had answered to your question instead.

  2. Just what I needed to read!

    I’m at a pivotal point in my life (55 & single) and I need to decide if I’m going to go flat out until retirement to build a decent retirement fund or focus on how I want to ‘spend my days’.

    Quite frankly, life is short and I’d rather spend my days doing something that brings me joy (and *enough* money) that I can do indefinitely, than make my life a drudgery just to make a lot of money.

    I’ve been feeling a bit of guilt about going the ‘spend my days’ route… But no longer!

    Thanks for a brilliant article.

    P.S. I’ve also been going a bit ‘minimalist’ on my email subscriptions. Too many emails. Too many ‘buy this’ prompts. And, basically, too much noise.

  3. Amy, I totally agree with you on these points…you are right on. We have to really think about how we spend our time (or wish to) and not compare to what someone else might be doing. Thinking through our goals and what we want the end result to be gives us a clearer picture of what we should be striving toward. I don’t want to waste my time with an activity that doesn’t help to get me toward my goals even if other successful marketers are doing it. The way my days look depends on how well I streamline my life. And I love the list app you mentioned..I’m a list junkie so I’ll definitely be checking that out!

  4. So fascinating to see this whole post. I’ve spent a lot of the last year or so as my kids are launching and I’m looking at the next stage of life. I spent awhile thinking about things in terms of career or money or whatever…and in the last few months have come down to almost exactly the same question: “What do I want my days to look like? What do I want to spend my time doing? What do I enjoy?” It’s a much different perspective than, “what do I want to do with my life?”

  5. Thank you Amy, this was fun and fast to read. It is also very helpful, I am a “goals girl” but agree that the questions isn’t as helpful as what you have suggested.

  6. Hey Amy!

    I too moved around a lot as a kid, and think it may have something to do with my restless and adventurous spirit.

    These are all super insightful questions to ask.

    I just did some goal setting the other day and found myself asking all of these questions.

    So good!

  7. Hi Amy! I think anyone living a minimalist or “simple living” life would include their business in that practice as well. Congruency is critical. And I agree with all your suggestions EXCEPT for the one about doing things faster. I believe we all rush around far too much looking for the fast or easy solution and that often does violence to ourselves, others and the world. Otherwise, your suggestions were great and helpful. ~Kathy

  8. I love this post. Thank you for your perspective and honesty about various products. As a fairly new blogger the advice and products are overwhelming. (Trying to finish Elite Blog Academy now from LWSL.) Also right there with you with my kids (one a junior in college, one HS senior & one HS sophomore.) Excellent question. Our kids are pretty directed and determined with their goals, but I love the question, “How do you want to spend your days?” Gives a great perspective on how to make decisions that affect your future. The graphic is going out to my Facebook group & Pinterest as soon as I finish writing this. Thank you again for the post!

  9. I love simple. Life can become complicated too quickly. I am at a stage in life where I can do what I love. This article was excellent. How do I want to spend my days is advice I am going to pass on to my grandchildren. Thanks!

  10. Amy,
    I want to be just like you when I grow up (funny thing, tho, I’m 55 and 5’1″)!
    But you get my drift, right?
    Love this post – heck, I love most of what you write, and if it was up to me, you’d be rolling in the dough, joyfully moving through life in your minimalist life style, and sharing your wisdom with us when the mood strikes.
    I am by no means a hoarder, but there is always room for improvement, I suppose. This post not only spoke to me, but I shared it with my 2 teens who are also in high school and struggling to figure out their futures. The question “How do you want to spend your days?” can be transformative at so many different life stages…
    I also appreciated the examples you shared for every. single. point. you make.
    Thank you!

  11. You got me at “living nimbly.” That is so much more positive than “downsizing,” and reflects exactly what my husband and I want for our lives now that the kids are grown. We’ve been working towards this in our personal lives, but your post makes me want to take a new look at hoy I run my business.

  12. I love this! I’m still in the research phase of business, and I haven’t heard anyone talk about business from this perspective. This definitely got me thinking and I’m saving it so I don’t forget it!

  13. Amy, there are never enough hours in the work day (or work year . . . who am I kidding?), so I’m always looking for where I can streamline, what I should cut, and what my focus should be.

    I’ve been thinking lately about the return on investment (ROI) for each of my day’s activities. In particular, am I looking for clients in places that actually land me clients on a regular basis? What components of my marketing strategy is working . . . and what is not? That approach is helping me maximize the effectiveness of my chosen activities.

    This post gave me some serious food for thought. I’m saving this to re-read periodically for sure! 😉 Thanks for another post with excellent advice I can absolutely put into practice!

  14. Amy, there are never enough hours in the work day (or work year . . . who am I kidding?), so I’m always looking for where I can streamline, what I should cut, and what my focus should be. This post gave me some serious food for thought. I’m saving this to re-read periodically for sure! 😉

    Thanks for another post with excellent advice I can absolutely put into practice!

  15. This was exactly what I needed to read today, Amy. I love the idea of asking myself how I want to spend my days, and then working backward. Thanks so much for this great post. You always have the best ideas!

  16. Love this post, Amy! I needed to read this – “Is it right for me?” I’m starting to follow that way of business for the last few months and it has really helped.

    Thanks,
    Sue

  17. Amy, thanks sharing for the counter-cultural viewpoint. It’s helpful for me to think about these things–one, because I’m new to online business, and two, because I’m always on the hunt for the next shiny object. I’m a trained researcher…how could I not like learning about new ideas, tools, and systems!

    But I’m also a mom and don’t have 40+ hours to give to my new business. I’ve been contemplating some version of your question, “How do I want to spend my days,” for about a year now. Long term, I’m dreaming of having at least 1-2 employees to help me do the stuff I enjoy (content development) and not do the stuff I don’t (everything else ;). It does require a certain amount of revenue, obviously, to sustain it. Yet you remind me that I need to go into the managerial aspect of this dream of a couple of employees with my eyes wide open.

    My own experience with ConvertKit has been different, though. I naturally have lots of opt-ins to provide for each blog post and their tracking system is so easy for me. I have actually found it simple. But I do see how it aligns really well with the type of information and materials that I already provide. (Haven’t utilized out the tags and segmentation much yet, but my list isn’t large enough to worry about that…)

    The one question that always befuddles me is, “Is there an easier/faster way to do this?” I’m poor with organization so it feels as if answering that question will take me more research and time away from the moment’s productivity. Thus, I know I have weak systems in many domains. That’s what’s so helpful about your Knowtbook–at least I know that’s one place I can go with answers to so many diverse topics. I just haven’t gotten my own Workflowy flowing yet…

  18. I love this post, it’s so affirming. As a blogger I always feel inundated with what I ‘should’ be doing, or new things I should be trying in order to be successful. But I like your version of success better: are you doing what you want to do everyday? Over the last few months I’ve been intentionally backing off and I’m feeling SO much better for it. Posting once a week is fine. Doing a FB post once a day is fine. Making simpler online products to sell is fine. I’m enjoying my day-to-day life much more and I’m physically and emotionally healthier. Thanks for the affirmation. It’s really nice to hear this!

  19. This was very, very timely. I’ve been thinking about your initial question for the last three weeks. We were minimizing toys and stuff in my children’s rooms, and I just felt this urge to clear out the clutter in blogging/online business. I don’t have the answers for me yet. I’m still trying to figure some things out. But the way you broke down these different areas is really going to help me sort through my options. Thank you for sharing your insights!

  20. Found your blog a couple weeks ago and am a big fan. I love so many things about this post and I love your guiding question: How do I want to spend my days?

    I like to keep things simple, but only recently have I truly realized that there is more than one way to live simply. In the past I have tried to copy what worked for others that I admire. I think what it really came down to is I didn’t know how I wanted to spend my days. Now, I think I am finally starting to know myself well enough to know how I want to spend my days. And I think I am getting to better know how God wants me to spend my days too, which is a huge factor.

    I hate the error part of trial and error, but it really is necessary. Thanks for sharing all your trial and error!

  21. I’m a big fan of streamlining and do so effectively (for the most part) in my personal life, but like the reminder this blog provided to look for ways to incorporate it into the business side of things. Sustainability is a big one for me. Finding the right workflows that I can maintain for the long term. Enjoyed the post!

  22. I love your thought process here even though I do the opposite of what you do in many of your examples though I too am minimalist in many ways.

    I have multiple funnels, email series, opt ins, products, affiliate promotions, and do regular posting because my ONE FOCUS is my email list and giving value there. Because of that focus I let other things take a big backseat (social media for one) to focus well.

    Though I have a lot of irons in the fire, they are focused. Sort of like a one pot meal. There are a lot of ingredients, but still one pot.

    Loved this!

    1. Rachel, that one-pot meal analogy is great. I completely agree it’s about knowing how much bandwidth we each have and where we focus it. I really appreciate your insight from another angle. Thank you.

  23. Amy, this is just about the best thing in a long time I’ve read on business strategy. Perhaps because most of those articles cause my blood pressure to rise (and my FOMO levels to skyrocket), while this helps me breathe and focus. Thank you for sharing your straightforward wisdom so succinctly. This is really great stuff.

    Keep up the stellar work! Love everything you do.

    1. Thanks, Tsh. I’ve admired you and what you’ve done for many years so that truly means a lot. I’m glad to know I’m not alone and we’re tracking together.

  24. I love this post so much, especially since time for working on my website is so limited that I really have to think about keeping it simple. The problem I’m having is that it can’t be so simple that I’m not making any money…lol. I’m still figuring out the best way to spend limited time and still make a part time income. Thanks for sharing!

      1. Amen, Amy! It is so hard to keep things simple, but these words align with your purpose of saving us from information overload. Thank you! I’ll be referring back to this the next time FOMO strikes. : )

  25. Brilliant, Amy! Those are such great questions, and you’ve put into words what I have been starting to notice about myself. May God bless you and your family as you put these things into practice and continue to live wisely.

  26. If only I’d asked myself “How do I want to spend my days?” sooner, it would have saved a lot of “I really don’t want to be spending my days doing this.” Great life tip. Thanks.

  27. You cover a lot of great topics, each of which could be
    an entire post in and of itself.

    One struggle that I used to have was that when I attempted
    the “Fewer moving parts”, I would end up with a few more than
    I had originally. Effective planning helps a bunch!

    These are all great points. Just one more that I would like
    to add that might also help keep things timely, and that is
    to know when to stop.

    Too often we get bogged down in the details that we lose
    sight of what was originally important, and intended.
    When you build a house you need to put up the walls and roof
    before you start decorating.

    Great ideas and information – as usual

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