Leo Babauta Life on Your Terms

“Instead of focusing on how much you can accomplish, focus on how much you can absolutely love what you’re doing.”

-Leo Babauta

Average Read Time: 4.2 Minutes

Last weekend I sat down to dinner with Leo Babauta in San Francisco.

Four years ago he started ZenHabits. Within a year he had 26k subscribers and quit his job. Today his follower’s are at over 200k and Time Magazine recently named his blog #1 of 2010. He has since published four eBooks and one print book, The Power of Less (The best guide to simplicity I’ve read). He now fully supports his wife and six kids.

Leo is living life on his terms like few people are.

I first heard about him earlier this year when I started getting serious about taking Reading For Your Success to the next level. Five months ago I joined a blogging group of his, The A-List Blogging Club.

Since then, as a result of the mentorship, writing courses and business model building (and a ton of work), I’ve written for 10 large sites (including a Zen Habits article) grown from 110 subscribers to over 1,300 today, and am mountains closer to having a viable business. He and his business partner Mary Jaksch are incredible teachers. Their guidance makes things happen. Period.

Sitting down to dinner with he, Mary and a few others was a game changer for me. His thoughts on business, simplicity and living on your terms were profound. While they apply directly to the blogging business, they are just as relevant to any off-the-beaten-path Passion Pursuit, so listen up.

10 Keys to a Kick Ass Business on Your Terms:

1. Be authentic. Everything about Leo screamed authenticity. If everyone else is doing it, then he wants to find another way. If they’re marketing message is yelling then he’ll be quiet. If they promote by affiliates then perhaps he’ll stick to word of mouth. Being different is the best way to stand out, as few people have the courage. If you stick true to your authentic self, you won’t even have to worry about it.

2. Focus. When Leo first started he wrote one article for ZenHabits and one for another blog every day. That’s 14 articles a week and he still had a day job and a family of 8 to tend to. That focus is inhuman. Do one thing exceptionally well instead of everything poorly. This is especially a challenge for entrepreneurs always coming up with new ideas.

The power of laser-like focus is often underrated. Leo’s next book is on just that. Know your bandwidth, commit to it, then put your head down and accept no other outcome.

3. Have a powerful story. Everyone has a story. Something that makes them leap off the page. But few take the time to creatively shape and tell it to others. It’s your credibility piece. Your lifeline for getting followers–whether they are investors for your startup or subscribers for your blog. What makes you so special? Every step we take builds our story, and it’s never too early to start telling it. Here’s a sample of mine (halfway down the page).

4. Share how you did it. Whether you’re writing, coaching or building a business, it’s not enough to just tell people how to do something. First qualify yourself. Tell how it worked for you. How you made it real. Then you’ve got listeners. This is your story in action.

5. Be insanely helpful. If what you’ve got to offer isn’t ridiculously useful to others, it’s going to be a tough road, no matter what you’re building. For blogging this is writing something people can directly put to action in some way. If you aren’t helping, you’re not doing your part. The world will notice.

6. Helping another entrepreneur is always a good thing. Helping does not stop at your customers. It’s just as important for others in the space. Very few people are direct competitors. Everyone else stands to learn and help each other to success. Whether it’s blogging or running my investment partnership, I have a rule that if someone is more of a beginner than me and needs help, I am here to give it to them.

But don’t be afraid to help those more successful than you either. It’s an awesome way to connect. In the blog world this might mean offering to write a guest post for them or promote a product of theirs you believe in. It feels outstanding and it always comes back.

7. Know what moves the needle. Be dedicated to it. In blogging, most people come for good content, nothing else. Leo has tested every possible way of building a blogging business. He realized one thing: there is no better use of your time than writing awesomely useful content for your readers.

As fun as it is to waste time messing with widgets and surfing around, each of us knows what’s best for our business. It may be having investor meetings, talking with customers or designing new products. If you’re not sure, usually it’s the most challenging or uncomfortable item on the list. Figure it out and apply unreal focus to it. The rest can and should be outsourced (if it’s necessary at all).

8. Reserve your best time for the most important. Now that you know what moves the needle in your business, figure out your absolute most productive time of the day and do nothing but your core work then. For most it’s early in the morning. Before you do anything, crush at least an hour of your best work–with NO distractions. Then, no matter what, the rest of the day is gravy. (I started writing this at 6:30 this morning, right after I rolled out of bed.)

9. The best product is the one you create yourself. While there are all kinds of affiliate products to sell on the web, the best product is the one you can fully get behind and endorse. Nothing screams this like the one you create from scratch. Leo is a purist here.

10. Don’t be me. This was Leo’s most powerful takeaway of the bunch. While modeling the expert is one of the best ways to reach success in your space, this doesn’t mean becoming a parrot. It goes right back to being authentic.

Leo is the model for success for countless web entrepreneurs, but that isn’t a free pass to copy his blog layout, call it ZenPractices and start running with it. Nor should you want to. There is huge appeal in uniqueness. It’s crucial to get inspiration from others. But you must find your own voice to be successful. Especially if you want an authentic following. Be your category of one.

Being ‘Rich’

At one point Leo casually mentioned “I’m not rich or anything” in response to the success of his business. It made me laugh.

After a few hours with him, it was clear that he is as rich as they come. Rich in the sense that he is doing things his own way. Living life on his terms. And he’s made it work.

If you haven’t figured it out already, true wealth has very little to do with the zero’s in your bank account, and everything to do with the hours you have to spend the way you want.

As Tim Ferriss says, the currency of the New Rich is time and freedom. Most think they need to sacrifice their life to get the money to achieve either one. Only too late do they find out they’re wrong.

I don’t think I’ve spent face time around anyone more rich than Leo. It’s refreshing. An inspiration.

And with the above, it’s possible.

Thanks Leo.

“The way I define happiness is being the creator of your experience, choosing to take pleasure in what you have, right now, regardless of the circumstances, while being the best you that you can be.”

-Leo Babauta

What is the most important focus for your business? What practices have created success? Please tell us about it and join the conversation in the comments below.

Other Resources to Help You Along the Way:

Leo’s book: The Power of Less

Leo’s eBooks:

My article on Zen Habits: How to Summit Life’s Everyday Mountains

Photo Courtesy of: ThePowerOfLess.com

Leave a Reply

67 Responses to “10 Must Do’s to Create a Kick Ass Business on Your Terms: The Down and Dirty from Dinner with Leo Babauta of Zen Habits”

  1. Scott, It was so great to meet you this weekend. This post perfectly sums up the message. I really appreciate you putting all the crazy thoughts running through my mind after such a powerful meet up into something so organized.

  2. Scott,

    Thanks for sharing these vital points from your interview with Leo. What he and you are doing with living authentic lives and sharing your ideas with the world is what makes for happiness. There is no better joy in the world than living on your own terms and choosing to use your time to create what is most important to you.

    I, too, joined the A-List Blogging Club and am very encouraged by Leo and Mary’s words of wisdom and success. Congratulations on the way you’ve applied what you learned there to grow your list and your web presence.

  3. What a great distillation of zen habits for entrepreneurs and bloggers. Sorry I missed the meeting in San Francisco, but I’m having lunch with Leo on Friday at Blogworld! Can’t wait.

  4. Thank you Scott for a wonderful and comprehensive summary of your meeting with Leo.

    What an inspiration!

    For me the key is to be totally authentic and relentlessly focussing on your chosen path.

    Thanks again to both Leo and you Scott.

    • Scott says:

      My pleasure Arvind. I wish you could have been there. Really powerful stuff. I have you to think for the introduction too!

      Have you read the book True North? It’s all about authentic leadership for yourself and others. I feel likes it’s pretty relevant with all this authenticity talk.

  5. Tina Su says:

    This is awesome, Scott!
    Thanks for sharing.

  6. Brilliant summary Scott…you are truly a clear and focussed writer. I’ve downloaded your book and looking forward to making time to read it ‘uninterrupted’ as you suggest! I am also a member at A List bloggers club and although still a newbie blogger I can see what a wealth of information and assistance there is available on that site. Lucky you getting to that lunch…hopefully some day…( she says while staring dreamily into space!!) :0)

    • Scott says:

      That means a lot. I was where you were only a few months back. Sky’s the limit for sure. I keep looking the same direction you are ;). Hope you enjoy the book!

  7. Chelsea says:

    Thanks for the tips. Very helpful as I’m just about to start my own blog. Sounds like it was a very successful and inspirational meeting!

    • Scott says:

      Indeed. Exciting to hear you’re about to hang your shingle out there. It’s a blast and there are some awesome resources out there. Let me know how we can help.

  8. Marci says:

    Thank you for taking the time to share your insights from your dinner with Leo! The quote that stands out to me the most is: “Do one thing exceptionally well instead of everything poorly.” I do have a lot of ideas both for my family and my work. Focus is one thing I am working on, and is so important. Once I focus, it leads the way to finding my voice, telling my story, and finding what works for me. Otherwise, it is exactly as you said and resembles a chicken running in many directions with it’s head off!

    • Scott says:

      Focus is incredibly powerful. And without it, it’s tough to make much real progress at all. Simply, simply, simplify. That’s where you find the focus. Thanks the the thoughts.

  9. Scott,
    This was great. I’m so glad you captured the conversation for those of us who couldn’t be there!

    For me, the most important aspect of my business in sharing my knowledge about developing and using intuition to make all areas of life better. When I share this expertise and blend it with my practical finance background I attract clients for readings, and intuitive life and business coaching.

    The main points I take from your conversation with Leo are to be authentically ourselves, not a version of him or some other superstar, and to focus on the writing.

    • Scott says:

      Right on. Wish you could have made it Angela. Not being him is a big one. It’s easy to want to copy someone completely but that’s not going to get anyone too excited about you. Being yourself is. You are clearly doing that in an awesome way.

  10. Great post Scott. Great takeaways! I especially like how you stress uniqueness and being authentic. Of course we can’t copy Leo–we have other great stuff to share! Also love the focus on “rich.” I agree, it’s not about what’s in the bank account.

    Thanks for the inspiration :)

    • Scott says:

      My pleasure Leah. Being rich is such a crucial concept to get right. It can take so much pressure off if you change your measuring tools a bit.

  11. James M says:

    I’m quite jealous that you were able to sit down with Leo for a few minutes, let alone having dinner with him. He is definitely an inspiring man, and I do aim to do something unique with my site. At the same time, it wants me to do a little more with my site and put a little more effort and focus into it.

    Thank you for sharing this.

  12. Julia says:

    Really enjoyed reading this. Lots of great tips! Thank you!

  13. Some of my happiest time were when I didn’t have much money- mainly because I was living life on MY terms.

    I am definitely being myself when I blog!

    • Scott says:

      For sure. Not having much money forces you to find happiness in the pure form–through relationships, experiences and the like. I was writing about this just this morning.

  14. Nancie says:

    Hi Scott. Strange, I hadn’t heard of the A-List Blogging Club until today, and it has come across my screen twice within a couple of hours. Maybe I should be checking it out. Interesting read…………thank you :)

  15. Joe Wilner says:

    Scott,

    Thanks for the wonderful interview. I sure that was a very inspiring experience. I would have to say that the tips of being authentic and narrowing down a focus are the two most important aspects from my perpective. I am often focusing on many things at once, which results in less than excellent work. Having a laser focus in crucial, and something I’m working on. I also agree that we can learn from those we emulate, but it’s crucial to still develop our own image and story. Thanks!

    • Scott says:

      Thanks Joe. It’s getting easier and easier to lose focus these days especially for those of us who love exploring and trying out new projects. Nothing beats that focus though! We have to leave some rocks unturned for next time.

  16. Marvin says:

    Scott,

    Indeed, that meeting was a breath of fresh air for all of us…wasn’t it? I too felt the richness that Leo exuded, and am excited at the possibilities that life has to offer for those of us who choose authenticity. I also had a great time chatting with you and learning more about your Mt. Shasta summit, and after reading more of your life experiments here…there is much that resonates with me. Thank you so much for writing another great post!

    • Scott says:

      Great meeting you as well Marvin. I have a feeling you and I have some adventures coming up together. You got me very fired up about Half Dome, that’s for sure. Congrats again on that Iron Man. Let get into something exciting soon!

  17. Hi Scott,
    You did sum up the meeting perfectly. Leo’s authenticity speaks volumes. I also think Mary’s does as well. I like their combined energy, humor and wisdom. Nice meeting you. I voted and wish you the best!

  18. Voranc says:

    I’m big fan of Leo Babauta, his book The Power of Less opened my eyes. I try to obey his tips from the book and they are really helpful. Great article with concise tips…I totally agree with being yourself and strong focus.

  19. Ching says:

    This interview really resonated with me and what I am going through with trying to figure out how to start a business. I agree with above, the interview was very well done – concise and effective. Great job, Scott!

  20. Tabitha J says:

    “Without great solitude no serious work is possible.”
    – Pablo Picasso

    This is from Pablo Picasso book, titled Focus. Absolutely love it.

  21. Matin Benner says:

    Thanks for the great tips man! I’m actually an entrepreneur too and I could definitely relate to this post. What I like most is when you mentioned about point 6 : Helping another entrepreneur is always a good thing.

    I’ve always believe that goodness must be shared. Knowledge and wisdom must be spread. Only through this will you have a society that respects one another and helps one another.

  22. Sarah Pilley says:

    Be insanely helpful! I dig that. I actually feel good when I make a difference to someones life. You know even by doing small simple favors will bring a big smile to me and the other party.

  23. Robin says:

    Hey Leo and me got something in common. We are both purist! hehe! And couldn’t agree any lesser, the best product is indeed the one that you created. Pretty much common sense, you build it, you know every aspect of it. And it feels 100x good when someone else is promoting your product.

  24. Chris says:

    “The currency of the New Rich is time and freedom” could not be more true!

    Thanks for sharing this post, it is very encouraging and great to hear tips from Leo…..

  25. sean says:

    “If they’re marketing message”

    their. their.

  26. Thanks for sharing this Scott! Very inspiring.

    You know the one thing I realized about being original and authentic on your blog is that no one can copy you. Even if they tried. They could copy you all they want but if you put them in a room with no internet, or made them try to improvise with a huge change in your readership’s point of views, then they just won’t be able to do it. Adaptability and improvisation is key to blogging. Especially trusting your gut instinct. Which can be hard to do.

    I think it was Mark Nepo who said that there’s something very attractive about someone who is fully themselves. It’s an energy that pulls people in. People can see right through someone who is being fake, even through a blog.

    But when you are real, man, do you influence your readers in so many profound ways–and yes it does make you feel richer for being alive and doing the work you do.

    Thanks!

    • Scott says:

      I could not agree more Ollin! I have recently discovered this in the past months. I used to read so many blogs to get ideas and keep up with what others were doing. But then I found all it did was make me want to write on similar topics. So I started reading way fewer blogs and just writing about what I cared most about and what I thought would be the biggest help. It was a huge breakthrough for me.

      You nailed it. And in the end, it’s the easiest way to go about it since you’ll always be original.

  27. Avadhut says:

    Scott,
    Thanks a lot for sharing this. I liked all the points and yes, the new currency of rich, time and freedom, wow :)

  28. Just disovered this site and Leo Babauta’s zen habits… thank you both. This is the conversation I have weekly with my entrepreuer accountablity friend. I must pass this on. Thanks.

  29. Olivia says:

    Hi Scott-

    I just signed up to become certified as a holistic nutritionist and I wanted to thank you for your amazing blog and incredible articles like these. You have really inspired me to branch out and do what I truly love and work for myself, without being afraid of failure. I will be studying your advice and inspirational words as I go on to build my own business to guide and motivate me through the process. Thank you so much and I hope to be able to contribute my positive experiences further down the road.

    Olivia

  30. Sonia says:

    What I liked most about this post is how hard we make it to authentic. I come across blogs that really try and copy other blogs and eventually start sounding like other blogs. They have the design, niche and audience, but then I get this funny feeling of a place I have already seen it.

    I love blogs that push the envelope and strive to be different. It’s refreshing to read a different point of view that is unlike everyone else’s.

    Being authentic isn’t hard, because being yourself should come easy.

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  32. Marcus says:

    Great “interview” Scott… thinkable stuff indeed!

  33. Kyle B says:

    Thanks for sharing such great insight, Scott! As I embark on my next business venture, these are great tips to always remember. I especially enjoyed your comments on “Being Rich.” There is nothing better than being able to live life on your terms!

  34. thomas says:

    Powerful article, thanks, I needed that!

  35. Kamron says:

    Hey Scott! I was just wondering if you could further explain number 4? :) I’m quite confused.

    Thank you

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