Tim Ferriss on how to build your business’ brand

Kyra Harrington

A few weeks ago we asked you to share all the branding questions you’ve ever wanted to ask author, investor, public speaker, and entrepreneur Tim Ferriss. Tim Ferriss’ book, The 4-Hour Workweek, was translated into 35 languages and has sold more than 1,350,000 copies worldwide. Since then, Tim has been able to build this out into a lifestyle design brand and has become a household name.

We sat down with Tim to find out everything you wanted to know about how to build a brand and create a business that looks great and attracts customers.

“I try hard – and sometimes it is hard – to be myself, despite the public flak, and to be the best version of myself possible.”

  • Did you plan to actively invest in building your personal brand from the very beginning or was building a brand a byproduct of other efforts? [from @kinglis01]

“Building a ‘personal brand’ was never a plan or a priority. That’s true even today. I want people to know what I stand for (e.g. lifestyle design, accelerated learning, world travel, education reform, etc.), but there’s never been a cohesive strategy.

I try hard – and sometimes it is hard – to be myself, despite the public flak, and to be the best version of myself possible. That might sound simplistic or silly, but it’s worked for me.

I think the concept of ‘personal brand’ is a new one. Did Thomas Edison or Henry Ford have good personal brands? One could argue they did, but it wasn’t a goal. In my opinion, a good personal brand shouldn’t be the goal; it should be a side-effect of having good goals and acting consistently.”

“In my opinion, a good personal brand shouldn’t be the goal; it should be a side-effect of having good goals and acting consistently.”

  • You outsource a lot of work by using virtual assistants; how do you make sure your brand voice stays consistent when working with all these moving parts? [from Blueberry Dynamic]

“This one is easy. I never outsource my writing. Naturally, I might have someone help draft repetitive template content (e.g. a recurring set of links in multiple blog posts), but in more than 99% of the cases, I write all of my own content.

This extends to copy on my homepage, email form or headers on the blog, and all of my social. At this point, I still write all of my own social media posts and have no plans to change that. My drunk tweets attest to this, ha.”

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  • At the very beginning of a project, do you plan all the way to the end, or just to the first reasonable point? And how do you know that point? [from @gmxre]

“It depends entirely on the scope of the project. Some projects are one to two weeks long. I’ll plan those through to the end. Others could be indefinite, like the podcast, so it’s important to have a ‘stop-loss’ order in such cases. In other words, give yourself an exit option if it’s not working.

For me, I mentally committed to doing 6-12 episodes, at which point I would reassess and potentially stop. Needless to say, I ended up having a blast, so now there are more than 40 episodes. Now I’m planning to reassess at 100 episodes.”

“I think it’s helpful to forget the term ‘personal brand.’ It’s very distracting, just like other popular and vague terms. So let’s use a better, more time-tested term: reputation.”

  • You work with startups and you’ve started a personal brand. Where do you see overlap between the two? [from @rockybuckley]

“I think it’s helpful to forget the term ‘personal brand.’ It’s very distracting, just like other popular and vague terms (e.g. ‘engagement’). So let’s use a better, more time-tested term: reputation.

Yes, there is huge overlap between my work with startups and my other work, and the shared reputation between them. In large part, that’s because I choose startups that build products I want to use, products that I want to see in the world. This is why – if I do another update to The 4-Hour Workweek – you will see many new products and services added that I’m involved with, such as Duolingo (language learning), Uber (on-demand cars), Evernote (the best note-taking, decluttering tool on the planet), etc.

These are all tools that I use and that my readers can similarly use.”

  • The whole “4-Hour” brand feels like it’s been a blessing and a curse for you.On the one hand, it appeals to our desire to get more with less and is super-appealing in that late-night infomercial kind of way that drives sales (and I’m a big fan of late night infomercials so I say this with all due respect).
    On the other hand, the ideas and strategies you present can be incredibly powerful if people take them seriously and do the work, which is a bit antithetical to the initial reactions conjured by anything with a title starting with “4 Hour.”
    [from Derek Browers]

“Agreed. The critics usually judge the book by its cover (or at least title), not realizing that I explicitly encourage hard work… but only when applied to the right things (hence the importance of 80/20 analysis).

The overall goal of The 4-Hour Workweek and the other books is to maximize your per-hour output for various aspects of business or life. Once you do that, how you use the surplus of time is up to you. You can add more leisure or fun, or your can double down on your startup and crush your competition. Or both at different times. It’s intended to give you true power: options.”

“I have no regrets and got very lucky. I wouldn’t want to mess with the recipe. Half of me is still unsure of how this accidental ‘career’ happened.”

 

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Image courtesy of Inc.com

  • Were you aware of this quasi-Faustian bargain when you originally wrote the 4-Hour Workweek? [from Derek Browers]

“Yes, but I didn’t think much of it. You have to remember that this book was turned down by nearly 30 publishers and only had an initial print run of 12,000 copies! No one expected the book to become what it has, to stay on the NYT list for nearly 5 years straight, etc. It’s crazy.

So, yes, I was aware of the potential for misunderstanding, I just didn’t expect that to be multiplied into 20-plus languages and millions of copies. Oye!”

  • If you could do it all over again, would you have changed anything? [from Derek Browers]

“Nope. I have no regrets and got very lucky. I wouldn’t want to mess with the recipe. Half of me is still unsure of how this accidental ‘career’ happened.”

  • Any plans to move away from this branding? If so, how would you approach that challenge? [from Derek Browers]

“I will definitely move away from the ‘4-Hour’ branding, but I’m not too worried about it. I have nothing left to prove, and– no matter what I call my next projects or books – I’ll always be the ‘4-Hour’ guy – so it will follow/haunt me forever.”

  • Do the best partnerships with other brands start organically or over a glass of wine? [from @_Terasu_]

“Both. The best partnerships are no brainers. They don’t require a lot of brainstorming. Most of my company partnerships start with a random contact on Twitter or via email, followed by wine, followed by fun collaboration that any one of my fans could guess correctly in advance. It has to be a brain-dead obvious match to be super successful, in my experience.”

“Make a lot of fast, recoverable mistakes and you’ll prevent most of the fatal ones.”

  • Does it make sense to brand for local, if you’re an online business? Or should you be thinking global from the get-go? [from @Bayareamade]

“Dominate a small niche first. Don’t try to boil the ocean from Day 1. I highly suggest reading Zero to One by Peter Thiel for more on this topic. The geographical question is highly dependent on what you’re selling, the costs, fulfillment, etc. Read Peter’s book, read about how Noah Kagan and Hiten Shah test online, and test, test, test!

You can’t think yourself out of most indecisions. You have to TEST in the real world. Make a lot of fast, recoverable mistakes and you’ll prevent most of the fatal ones.”

Tim Ferriss Show podcast listeners: get your free Power Pack upgrade on Tim’s 99designs landing page

The author

Kyra Harrington
Kyra Harrington

Hailing from Amsterdam, she brings along a healthy obsession with stroopwafels and Dutch grandma-bikes. In her spare time, you'll find her riding around the city (enjoying the views more than the hills) and reading tacky crime novels.

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