What Exactly is a “Minimalist Business” Anyway?

What Exactly is a “Minimalist Business” Anyway?

Before we get to the main article, a wee bit of housekeeping:

Welcome to JanetWhalen.com! Home of Janet Whalen coaching – minimalist business training, mindset & life coaching for self-employed women, and home of The Minimalist Business Academy Podcast

If you’ve arrived here from my old site, thanks for making the trip over! One of these days, I’ll shut down that site entirely but for now, you can access old She Breaks The Mold podcast episode show notes over there.

So…why the new website? Why the new branding and focus? Why did I change my podcast name?

Maybe you have other questions too:

What’s a minimalist business?

Is this a design thing? I thought minimalism was about decorating…

Are you going to make me KonMari my office desk?

In reverse order, the answers are:

No (well, maybe)


Hang on, I’m getting to that.

I’ve learned a lot in the past two years from my continuing coaching education with The Life Coach School and my teacher Brooke Castillo, and also from working with my clients across industries and specialties. If there’s one thing I know it’s this:

Entrepreneurship is hard. Full stop. Nothing we do is likely to change this. It’s not for the faint of heart, and requires an all-in kind of effort, ability to work alone, trust in your own judgment, courage (and more…) that many aren’t willing to try.


The great news is, entrepreneurship can also be much simpler than we think.

Enter: The Minimalist Business

I define a minimalist business as one that is:

  • tied very closely to the business owner’s values,
  • profitable, and
  • no bigger than it needs to be (see values again) but also
  • not necessarily small, and
  • provides valuable service to its clients in a clean, unburdened way

It allows the business owner to stick as closely as possible to her WHY – her purpose.

Simply, minimalist businesses offer freedom to live, work, and be in a relationship with your customers according to your own values and rules. It’s about the freedom that comes from releasing what isn’t working, isn’t profitable, takes too much time, or too much effort or money to fit into your definition of success.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. Paul Jarvis, author of Company of One, brilliantly calls it, “The pursuit of enjoyment with revenue attached” which I think is the simplest, most brilliant statement I’ve heard on the subject.

He also says…

It’s a blueprint for growing a lean and agile business that can survive every type of economic climate, and ultimately it leads to a richer and more meaningful life…the model can be described as “start small, define growth, and keep learning.”

And Greg McKeown, in Essentialism, describes this mindset as

The relentless pursuit of less but better. It doesn’t mean occasionally giving a nod to the principle. It means pursuing it in a disciplined way…not about how to get more things done, it’s about how to get the right things done…it’s about living by design, not default

Joshua Fields Millburn of “The Minimalists” says a minimalist business…

1. Solves a problem but doesn’t complicate

2. Actions align with values

3. Grows only when it makes sense, and

4. Is debt-free, or close to it

Google “minimalist business women” and you get a ton of results, but they’re mostly related to capsule wardrobes (a discussion I’ll have later, absolutely), interior design asthetics, and gorgeous simplistic instagram accounts.

All lovely. But not what I’m talking about.

I’m hyper-focused on the mindset required to run a business that fits you, your priorities and your values like a glove. One that can actually get you to that ubiquitous goal of financial freedom without having to look like everyone else’s experience.

The concept of minimalist business is a return to what we’ve always known, but forgot along the way when we started listening to memes and marketing gurus telling us our favourite billionaires wake up at 4 a.m. so we should too. Or that because huge, publicly-traded, multi-national corporations have to pursue perpetual, quarterly revenue growth, OF COURSE we do too.

Except nothing could be further from the truth.

We start businesses because we’re looking for freedom, not more rules that don’t work for us from invisible bosses whose goals are completely different from ours.

We want autonomy. We don’t want to live the hustle and struggle story sold as part of the entrepreneurship mythology. If you don’t want to sell your business in a short time frame, you likely don’t need investors or VC capital. Hockey stick growth curves (while fun to look at and dream about) aren’t necessary for all entrepreneurs – only those with investors waiting for a big return on their investment. For many businesses, rapid growth is followed by just as sharp a crash because the entrepreneur didn’t plan for exponential growth, how to keep up with it, or how to serve the number of customers that showed up early.

Instead of growth for growth’s sake, you can focus on your customers, their problems, and how your solution makes their lives better. You can use constraint to decide how, when and if you’ll continue to grow. And focus on sustainability, profitability and the productivity and welfare of your employees in the meantime.

It helps my shoulders drop and relax just to type that last line. How was it for you to read it?

You can stop chasing permission to call yourself a “real entrepreneur”. If you’ve created a solution to a real problem your customers have and they’re paying you for it, you already are.

You can decide on purpose what your business will look like, and then make it happen.

You decide what enough is, and what success means for you and follow the path in the simplistic pursuit of only that.

You learn to minimize your product offering so you’re providing what works, what’s profitable and not confusing yourself and your customers with too many options (too much choice actually causes people NOT to act).

You learn to manage your mind around commitments you want to make, letting go of those that don’t serve you or your business, and dramatically decrease the number of decisions you have to make every day.

You simplify and prioritize your goals based on your values and the lifestyle you want your business to offer you, instead of fitting your life into the work required to achieve too many goals at once.

This minimalist business mindset is perfect for service-based, online entrepreneurs who already have the freedom to work from wherever they want and typically have low overhead. And it’s especially great for women building a business around responsibilities and priorities they already have at home and with their families. Women are still taking on the majority of household labour and until that changes, we need to find ways to simplify it all.

So is a minimalist business small? Not necessarily.
It’s only as big as it needs to be. It could have 70 or no employees. It could operate internationally or only in your city. The point is, it’s up to you. But even the 70-employee biz operates with constraints driven by its values so that the focus is on customers, profit and growth only when it makes sense.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this in the comments. And I hope you’ll stick around for more content via my new podcast, The Minimalist Business Academy Podcast, and of course, here on the blog.

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