Tim Ferriss: how to build your audience from scratch

Tim Ferriss was 29 years old when he began writing his first book. The book that would become a bible for digital nomads – and teach people how to automate and delegate tasks to work less. “The 4-hour workweek.”

The book emerged out of his personal journey. Ferriss was tired and burnt out working 14 hours running a nutritional supplements business. So he took a 3 week sabbatical. And devised a system of checking emails just once a day and delegating all the tasks out to virtual assistants. 

As someone not even famous, how was he to promote the book? The book might espouse the whole trend of working limited hours for maximum gain, but Ferriss himself spent a lot of time promoting his book.

However he went about it strategically.

Strategic questions

The first thing Ferriss did is research. He tried to deconstruct how other books become bestsellers. He created a list of a dozen authors who had done well. And managed to connect with them and ask them 4 questions:

  • What were the biggest wastes of time and money for your last book launch? 
  • What would you never do again? 
  • What would you do more of? 
  • If you had to choose one place to focus $10,000, where would you focus?

The idea being simple: do less of what doesn’t work. And more of what works well.

The two most effective channels that Ferriss consistently heard about was: blogs and radio. It was 2006 and Ferriss had no idea what blogs were.

The next decision that Ferriss made changed his trajectory. He decided to go all in on blog promotion. Why? Because radio seemed like a medium losing its influence.

However Ferriss didn’t do what other authors had done to get blogs to write about their books. He didn’t use either email or phone to connect with the bloggers and pitch his book to them.

“What’s the least crowded channel?”

4 months before his book was to be published, Tim Ferriss started attending events where he would find bloggers. Ferriss knew that most people try to reach bloggers through email and phone. He wanted to reach them through the least crowded channel. He wanted to stand out amongst the crowd. And decided on live face to face meetings at conferences.

Ferriss would attend the conferences that other bloggers went to. But he would not pitch his book there. Ferriss knew that building connections meant getting the bloggers to care about the messenger, and not his message.

So he would talk to them and ask them questions. And listen attentively. Only when they would ask what he is doing at the event would he tell them he is figuring out how to use blogs to promote his upcoming book.

At the Consumer Electronics Show at Vegas, people were swarming around Robert Scobble – who wrote a very popular tech blog at that time. Ferriss took a U-turn from the crowd and instead started a conversation with Scobble’s wife Maryam. The least crowded channel strategy in connecting with Robert Scobble worked. And Scobble wrote about Ferriss and interviewed him when his book was released.

By not being pushy, he built genuine connections. And he got bloggers who worked at Gizmodo and Techcrunch to write about his book.

How would Ferriss build an audience today?

Tim Ferriss was asked how would he go about building an audience today – if he had to start from scratch. And he laid down a modified version of his original strategy:

  1. Start with going through your credit card bills. Figure out what you spend the most amount of money on. What subcultures are you most passionate and knowledgable about? It could be Japanese anime or photography or videogames.

    It doesn’t even matter if your product is not related to that subculture, but focus on the subculture with whom you identify with because it will make things easy. If your product has legs, it will spread beyond the subculture.
  2. Figure out the top 5 websites people who belong to that subculture visit.
  3. Find the least crowded channel to connect with the content creators of those 5 websites. Spend more effort and do something that others won’t.

Be surgical in your approach. And things will happen.

Many people thought that Ferriss spent millions in promoting his book during launch. But it was his surgical approach in connecting with the same top bloggers in just 3 to 4 events that made people think he was everywhere.

The 4-hour workweek got on the New York Times bestselling list and stayed there for over 4 years – selling more than 2 million copies of it! It’s a book for entrepreneurs. But its promotion started on tech blogs.

Action Summary:

  • Do less of what doesn’t work and more of what works.
  • To stand out amongst the crowd, put your effort behind the least crowded channel.