I Built a Six-Figure Business Around My Lifestyle to Beat Burnout

Build a Six-Figure Lifestyle Business to Beat Burnout

Burnout is all too common among entrepreneurs, founders, and business owners. Long hours and high stress can take a significant toll physically, emotionally, and mentally.

Nicholas Robb built a six-figure online business but he was working 80 hours per week and miserable. In this interview, Nicholas shares how he tore it down and rebuilt the business around his ideal lifestyle. Today, he owns a thriving business and has time for everything that’s important to him.

Overview

Business Name: Design Hero & Life By Design
Website URL: https://www.design-hero.com/ and https://lifebydesign.online/
Founder: Nicholas Robb
Business Location: Online (Scotland)
Year Started: 2014 and 2023
Number of Employees/Contractors/Freelancers: 5

How much revenue and profit does the business generate?

£20-30k/m

Tell us about yourself and your business.

I’m Nicholas Robb. I run Design Hero, a six-figure award-winning micro agency, and I write Life By Design, my education business. The rest of the week, I’m usually hiking with the dog, or in the garden building things.

That’s what I do, but it’s not what I am.

I’m at heart a creative. I require lots of creative outlets.

I was bullied hard in school because I was introverted, I was a short-arse, and I liked Star Wars 😅

I have always done design as long as I can remember, first as a hobby then as a side hustle.

I studied product design and worked as an architect. I made a difficult decision to leave the family business to do web design full-time.

I took, and walked out of, a series of seriously underpaid jobs. I got fed up of working for other people.

I read a lot and applied everything I learned and I grew. At this point, I had some small measure of “success” by traditional standards. I had reached six figures, I had more prestigious clients, I had authority in my niche. The BBC even asked me to speak at schools about careers in design.

But I was totally burnt out.

I had everything I’d worked so hard to achieve. So why was I so miserable? At this point, I realised that after a certain point, more money doesn’t make you happier.

What “enough” money means is different for everyone, but I had enough money, and now I’d had enough of working 80-hour weeks too.

So I redesigned my business from the ground up as a super lean, leveraged business which lets me put my life first.

I systemized, optimized, and automated the fundamentals that keep most people tied up in busy work all day and allowed me to run Design Hero on autopilot.

I moved out to the country. I spent five months building myself a home office in nature, where I now work remotely with entrepreneurs all over the world, and I completely changed my lifestyle.

Nicholas Robb's home office

It isn’t always easy. I still push myself hard and at times I still sometimes feel that burnout at my heels. But the difference is I’m working on the things I want to, at the times I want to, on my own terms.

The freedom to choose is everything.

By actively deciding and planning my lifestyle, and by putting in the work, I now have more time to think, make better decisions, take care of myself, and invest in leisure, reading, or exploring with the dog.

Most people start a business or a side hustle for freedom, get overwhelmed & fit life around whatever time remains.

So now my purpose is teaching freelancers how to escape the 9-5, engineer your ideal lifestyle, & grow a six-figure lifestyle business around it.

How does your business make money?

Design Hero helps entrepreneurs launch successful startups. My core offers are: 

  • Brand design to attract the right audience
  • Web development to sell the product
  • Digital marketing to drive traffic to the website
  • Business coaching and mentoring to help entrepreneurs plug their knowledge gaps or hone their strategy
Nicholas Robb of Design Hero

What was your inspiration for starting the business?

Design Hero…

I was originally a product designer, then an architect, so I came late to brand and web design. It started as a hobby when I was younger, but eventually, it snowballed into a full-time business.

I started Design Hero because there’s a lot of cowboys out there and I was frequently getting asked to fix or improve things people were paying good money for. I got fed up of seeing people ripped off by shoddy service and thought I could do better.

For Life by design…

It’s not easy growing a six-figure business. I followed all the advice by the gurus. I did more more more. It worked. I hit £20k/m as a freelancer. But I was totally burned out.

So, I threw it all out and rebuilt Design Hero from the ground up, as a lean, leveraged lifestyle business. I learned about lifestyle design, and reengineered my business to put life first. I systemized and automated most of the fundamentals to get back my free time. Now I use that free time to teach others how to do the same.

How and when did you launch the business?

Design Hero started as a side hustle ten years ago (2014) and has pretty much doubled income every year for the last five years.

Life by Design is newer, only about a year.

How much money did you invest to start the business?

£0

If you want to start a lifestyle business, you don’t need much capital.

Capital?

You don’t need an office you don’t need staff. All you need is a laptop.

It depends on what country you are in, in a first-world country, most people have a laptop, but if a laptop is beyond your means, you can use a local internet cafe to get started.

There’s literally nothing to lose. With a solo business, the overheads are minimal. You can literally get going with a laptop and a £500 of savings.

What’s the biggest risk?

Well you might fail and feel embarassed. That is if anyone even notices you failed.

I’m going to tell you one thing which will alleviate your fear:

YOU WILL FAIL.

You will fail regularly.

You’ll spend weeks on an idea which bombs.

You’ll invest in a pitch which doesn’t pan out, and you’ll learn.

You’ll move on, and you won’t make that mistake again.

Successful solopreneurs are just the ones who are willing to fail often and keep going.

Nicholas Robb and his dog on the beach

How did you find your first few clients or customers?

Mostly referrals to start. Now 60% of my clients come through SEO.

For LBD they come through content marketing.

What was your first year in business like?

I didn’t really have a “first year.” I avoid the startup model with crazy growth and sprints. My business grew organically from a side hustle over a long time. This is a much safer, less stressful way to do it. And it’s the way I teach people how to escape the 9-5 without burnout.

What strategies did you use to grow the business?

Most businesses coast by. You don’t need a unique idea or product. Just be 5% better than everyone else across the board.

If you’re going to do something more than once, template it, systemize it, automate it.

Don’t spend money on people unless you can’t eliminate or automate it first.

Buy back your time so you can work ON the business instead of IN the business.

There’s no such thing as “done.” Every system must be reviewed and optimized at least once a quarter.

Everyone is obsessed by social media and shiny objects. Go old school: Word of mouth is everything. It’s x10 easier to get work from old clients than it is to chase new ones. Provide insane value for your customers. They will market for you while you sleep.

Grow an agency brand, agencies can charge much more for their services. But people buy from people. Be the face of the business. Build your personal brand too.

Sell a limited number of products, or take on a fixed number of clients. This flips the dynamic. Now people are chasing you. Introduce scarcity and urgency. Raise your prices every quarter. High ticket clients are better to work with.

Tell us about your team.

Design Hero

I’m the only person in the business. I have 5 freelancers that are a mix of retainers and regular one-off projects. We are a fully remote team all around the world: Bulgaria, Ukraine, Philippines England, and Portugal.

Life by Design is just me.

What are your future plans for the business?

Design Hero is ticking along nicely. My focus for 2024 is on my education business, Life By Design. Taking on a new cohort of students in Q2 2024. I’ll continue to iterate and improve my programme each cohort for the next few years.

Nicholas Robb standing on a rock

How did you make the transition from side hustle to full-time?

I waited too long to quit my job. I was bullied in school. I came to web design later in life. I was a product designer then an architect. I left the family business. It was a very hard decision. Those family rifts still sting today.

I had series of sucky jobs. Desig Hero was a sidehustle, which grew to match my wage, but still was afraid to leave. Eventually something came along that forced me.

So Design Hero was ticking along. My boss found out about Design Hero and he basically wasn’t happy. I never hid it, but I never shouted about it either.  I’ve found bosses don’t like when employees have their own thing. He fired me on the spot, saying that I was “living a double life.” He wasn’t wrong. I was designing logos on my lunch break and taking client meetings in weekends and evenings. It was unsustainable.

Getting fired was the best thing that ever happened. My focus was on Design Hero. I double my income every year. I thought I would be working less, but ended up working more.

I hit 20 and 30k months, but got totally burnt out. enough is enough…

I started prioritizing life over money, which is a nice place to be. I systemized the business to remove the cap on my time. Now Design Hero earns more than ever, but requires LESS of my time than before. Which bought me back enough time that I can start to teach others.

I’d recommend others to quit as soon as freelance starts to get close to their fulltime wage.

Focus brings great things.

What was the turning point when you knew your business was successful?

It never really seems like I’m successful. Validation always comes from outward sources or from looking back. When my monthly income from my “side hustle” was more than my full time job I suppose. But I try not to measure myself by monetary goals.

Everyone promotes the startup model. Huge growth, big risk, large teams. If you want lifestyle business, don’t use the wrong measuring stick.

A lot of people try to measure success by money. In a lifestyle business, revenue means nothing

Tell me about the profit. That also means nothing Tell me about profit ÷ time. Now we’re getting somewhere…

Now tell me what you do with your spare time. Now you have a more accurate picture of your success in life and work.

I run design hero in 22 hours a week. I can take a walk in the middle of the day, or decide not to work for a few months if I wanted to. That’s success to me.

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned growing the business?

Growing a business by yourself is difficult. One thing I wish someone had told me before starting my own business is that the learning never ends! I can’t understate the importance of learning in entrepreneurship, especially for a lifestyle business. 

YOU ARE THE BUSINESS.

Your business is built around you: your knowledge, your growth, your skills.

If you want to grow an exceptional business, you won’t get there by doing it like everyone else.

If you do things like everyone else, the only way to get ahead is to work harder.

The more knowledge you have, the better equipped you are to make decisions that can impact your startup’s growth and success. Successful entrepreneurs prioritize learning, and use that knowledge to stay ahead of the curve, by working smarter, and by applying new skills to deliver more value for their customers.

My experience is that your average solopreneur usually has accumulated enough skills and knowledge that they could successfully apply for, and excel at 10-15 highly specialised jobs across different fields.

Marketing, sales, finance, coding, copywriting, advertising, social media, etc.

What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome?

I think the hardest thing I’ve done was telling my dad I was leaving the family business.

It’s a strained relationship to this day.

But your success in life is measured by how many awkward conversations you’re willing to have.

If you had to start from scratch, where would you begin?

With a lifestyle business, your ARE the business. Personal growth = business growth.

The most common mistake? People do the right things in the wrong order.

So how do you know what the “right” things are? Read like a mofo. Read like your life depends on it. Then read some more.

Offers, Sales, Automation, Marketing, Phycology, Lead generation, Productivity, philosophy

Work on these for an hour every day for six months, and you won’t even recognise yourself. 💪🏻

What are your favorite books?

Founder Reports is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.