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Lifestyle entrepreneurs - drawing a fine line between work and private life

09 September 2011

The experience industry is on the rise and with it come new questions. How do we put a price on an experience? Can one charge extra for breakfast with the host couple, half an hour of wood chopping or playing with the children on the farm? The entrepreneurs themselves claim that they are developing special expertise to maintain the fine line between work and private life.

Erika Anderrsson Cederholm They are called ‘lifestyle entrepreneurs’ and they play an increasingly important role in rural economic development. It could be horse farms with trekking, art galleries which offer bed and breakfast or farmers renting out beds to city dwellers who want to experience life in the country. But what is the product being sold and how does one put a price on an experience? These are questions which Erika Andersson Cederholm at the Department of Service Management is studying.

“Common to many lifestyle entrepreneurs is that they have an ambiguous position with regard to their business” says Erika Andersson Cederholm.

”On the one hand they want to earn money from their hobby, but on the other hand it is somewhat taboo to do it. ‘I’m really not a typical businesswoman’ is a comment I have heard many times.”

It is primarily women who start lifestyle companies, and they often do it for the sake of their families. They want to be able to stay at home with their children and running such a company makes this possible. The women do feel that it doesn’t pay well, but definitely would not say that they are trapped by gender roles. They are happy and proud that they have managed to combine family and hobby with a career.

For the visitors, warmth, spontaneity, familiarity and a certain portion of chaos are all part of the experience. The intimacy often comes as a surprise to the visitors and adds to the experience. The entrepreneurs are well aware that the intimacy is part of the product, and this means they must maintain a fine balance between closeness and distance; the guests should feel at home, but not too much at home. One woman told Erika Andersson Cederholm about an occasion when her bed and breakfast guests tucked into a cake that the children’s grandmother had baked for the family. They were gently but firmly reprimanded, recounts Andersson Cederholm.

She calls the relationship that develops between the visitors and entrepreneurs ‘commercial friendship’. Sometimes the commercial friendship develops into a closer relationship and this often has an effect on the price:

“One woman told me about a time when her children became very good friends with the visitors’ children. Then she suddenly couldn’t charge for experiences on the farm which she would usually put a price on.”

For an outsider, it could seem like hard work to open up one’s home to paying strangers. Doesn’t ‘commercial friendship’ place a strain on those involved?

“We haven’t found anything in our studies to suggest that”, says Erika Andersson Cederholm.

Unlike ‘emotional labour’ in jobs such as air steward, waitress, call centre employee, etc., where employees have to be friendly and professional and never show if they are having a bad day, there is nothing to suggest that lifestyle entrepreneurs suffer as a result of the fact that part of the experience they sell is intimately linked with human relationships.

“The major difference is probably that the lifestyle entrepreneurs feel that they have made a choice and have control over their lives.”

Erika Andersson Cederholm

Erika Andersson Cederholm runs two different projects which look at the experience industry from slightly different angles:

  • “The Horse Farm: from family project to lifestyle entrepreneurship” with sociologist Malin Åkerström.
  • “The Price of Commercial Friendship: the social negotiation of value in the experience economy” with Johan Hultman at Service Management.