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Breaking down the 7 Step Formula for how Tim Ferriss built his audience from zero to Best-Seller. And why they are so engaged in everything he does.
The path to success for any writer is simple. Build an audience. Finding and maintaining a base of readers is a mountainous climb for most writers. Having that audience be as engaged as Tim Ferriss’ readers – That doesn’t happen often, or by accident.
Tim Ferriss is the type of creator that gives me imposter syndrome. It’s easy to forget that he is in fact human like the rest of us, and his methods of success weren’t superpowers. In real life, superpowers are tested strategies, and healthy habits.
In real life, superpowers are tested strategies and healthy habits.
His systematic approach and persistent curiosity made his 2007 book, The 4 Hour Work Week, a New York Times Best Seller. Even after being rejected from 26 publishers.
He would go on to publish more books, begin a beloved podcast, and construct one of the most popular email newsletters on the internet.
To really get a look at how Tim Ferriss Built His Audience, it may be best to start with some background. To get a sense for the type of person he is.
Who Is Tim Ferriss?
The Worst Employees Are the Best Founders
In his book, The 4 Hour Workweek, Tim Ferriss shares a story from his Kindergarten class. In which he refused to learn the alphabet, claiming that the teacher didn’t give a good enough reason why he should.
“Because I said so” was not acceptable to young Tim Ferriss.
That’s the kind of person he seems to be. Not primed to take empty orders. He also doesn’t typically accept a “no” for an answer without good reason. Which came in handy to land one of his first major jobs.
Tim landed that job by being a squeaky wheel. He called numerous times, and kept positioning himself where the hiring manager would have to interact with him. Until the manager called him on it:
“So, you’re just going to keep bugging me until I give you a job?”
“Fine. You’re in sales.”
And just like that, Tim Ferriss became a salesman at a data storage company. The job wasn’t glamorous, but it helped him leap to the next step in his journey.
Becoming a Founder: BrainQuicken
While in his sales position, Tim operated outside of the box – of course. He made sales calls at different times, in order to reach direct owners instead of their secretaries.
With this tactic on his side, Tim was able to outsell his counterparts in less time. However, time is a candle that burns from both sides, and the company he was at was nearing bankruptcy.
In the final days of his employer being afloat, Tim leveraged lunch breaks and sales tactics to launch his very own startup, BrainQuicken, a supplement company.
BrainQuicken was a success thanks to the sales tactics and philosophies that Tim Ferriss implemented.
Unfortunately, that massive success started weighing down the man that didn’t like to be weighed down…
Outsourcing > Outworking
A few too many 90 hour weeks became a breaking point for Tim. He knew he had to change course with BrainQuicken. Before it collapsed beneath him.
His next idea was to make it possible for BrainQuicken to run without him being involved day-to-day.
By outsourcing customer support – and vetting those representatives aggressively – he ensured that no time from his schedule would be spent on customer emails. Fulfillment centers, and automatic processes took care of the shipping process.
Tim was able to whittle his workload down to about 4 hours per week, until BrainQuicken was sold. This allowed him to travel the world and follow his curiosity wherever it was leading him.
He mostly stayed hands off with BrainQuicken until it was sold. Then came his book breaking down exactly how he did it.
“The 4 Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich” became a New York Times Best Seller. But it wasn’t easy. He didn’t have an audience ready to read – and most publishers were turning down the idea altogether.
Finding an Audience
Tim Ferriss in front of a captivated Ted Talk Audience
Tim devised a brilliant plan for his book, and essentially guaranteed himself a spot on the New York Times Bestseller list.
He traveled to South by Southwest (SXSW), a film and media conference. It is a hot-bed for networking opportunities. Tim visited SXSW as a guest, and tried to soak in as much conversation as he could.
Listening became the first step in how Tim Ferriss built his audience.
He would introduce himself to people without promoting his book. After being around for enough conversations, someone was bound to look at him and ask what he does. He had planned some very simple pitches.
“I’m releasing a book, and I am just trying to learn as much as I can about blogging.”
If anyone asked what the book was about, that was his opportunity to elevator pitch it. If they seemed interested, he made them a personalized offer.
“I could send you a copy with Sticky Notes at the parts I think you’d find valuable, if you’re interested.”
This is key, as he knew almost nobody would want to sign themselves up to read the entire book. By personalizing it to a portion they can relate to, or learn from, he raises the probability of them following up as well.
Leave the Pitch Behind
His pitch was useful, but was a very small piece of the puzzle. The biggest lesson to take away from the Tim Ferriss approach on networking is to be curious about other people, and not harp about yourself the whole time.
By showing up to these events and asking specific questions, Tim was learning from people ahead of him. He was engaging them with direct questions and genuine intrigue. And by being that squeaky wheel again – he was bound to be asked about his work at some point.
If he had gone in with a hard sell to every person he met, he wouldn’t have gained any interest. It would have been a repeat of the 26 publishers who shot it down.
Reaching Escape Velocity
Once there was one potential reader, Tim would ask them one more pertinent question.
“Who else here would you recommend I meet?“
Suddenly, one interested reader connects you with another. The social-proof of a mutual connection is usually enough to secure their interest. The network was able to grow itself one-by-one with this tactic.
As the launch of the book came, Tim had to put in the work. Each new connection received their bookmarked copy personally sent from Tim. With these connections starting at SXSW, many of them had some influence or an audience of their own.
A blurb in a blog here, a review there, and a few influential recommendations later – the 4 Hour Workweek had reached escape velocity.
The book was beyond being passed around from Tim’s hands, and was instead being recommended by trusted personalities.
The massive success of the 4 Hour Work Week brought a massive audience of readers to Tim Ferriss. Triggering a new career transition… From entrepreneur to author and blogger.
The Blazing Path of Curiosity
Direct communication is stronger than any platform.
Now that Tim had an audience, he was smart enough to know he had to try and keep them. When he said he was at SXSW to learn more about blogging, he was serious.
He turned his blog, tim.blog, into one of the most successful blogs on the internet.
The 4 Hour Work Week left a lot of people looking at Tim Ferriss as an expert in productivity. He posted a lot about that – but his real expertise is what kept the audience coming back.
Tim’s expertise is curiosity.
With an appetite for understanding, and enough connections to find the best explanations – Tim Ferriss’ curiosity was infectious. And impossible not to follow.
Tim used his blog and his email list to build a direct communication line to his loyal audience. He didn’t rely on becoming YouTube famous, a Twitter guru, or an Instagram influencer.
Because he owned his audience instead of renting it from a platform, he avoided the downturn that many influential creators of that time faced. Platforms like YouTube and Facebook were nothing like they are now – and if you didn’t change while they evolved it was hard to keep up.
Owning your own audience is the only way to forge your own path.
Tim built an audience of dedicated readers. Many of which, he changed their life and provided immense value. Each blog post did well and each book ended up doing well.
He even launched one of the most successful podcasts, The Tim Ferriss Show, which follows his curiosity down 2 hour rabbit holes disguised as interviews.
How Tim Ferriss Built an Audience: The Formula
Thankfully, Tim Ferriss is leaving a very clear path behind him in building an audience.
If you study how Tim Ferriss built his audience, you can take away some actionable insights for building your own.
- Hone Your Creative Expertise – No Matter What Stage You’re At, Keep Getting Better.
- Distill It Into a Sharable Format. (Book, E-Book, YouTube Videos, Podcasts, Newsletters etc.)
- Find Who It Is Valuable To, and Learn Even More About Them.
- Share Specific Insights as Lead In.
- Find 1 Connection of Each Connection.
- Remain Curious.
- Maintain Direct Communication. Ignore Algorithms.
Take this 7 Step Formula, and Apply it to Your Creative Pillars
For Tim, his pillars were:
- Direct Communication
- Social Proof
Share this article on Twitter, and tell me (@InTake_Anthony) what your creative pillars are.