Business Advice

Best-Selling Author Tim Ferriss Doles Out Business Advice

Best-Selling Author Tim Ferriss Doles Out Business Advice
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This story appears in the May 2016 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »
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If you've ever wished that you could get business advice from a bona fide expert, here's your chance. Entrepreneur asked Tim Ferriss, best-selling author of The 4-Hour Workweek, questions from our Twitter feed, direct from our readers. Here's what Ferriss had to say.

I’m in the service industry. It’s crowded and I do the same thing as my competitors. How can I stand out?

T.F. The short answer is: Be different, not just better.  Read The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, or study what’s referred to as the “blue ocean” strategy.  Create (or reinvent) a category you can dominate, rather than trying to be incrementally better in a crowded, preexisting category.  If you do the same exact thing as your competitors, it’s a race to the bottom on price. No one but the largest, best-funded company will win a price war.

How aggressive should I be with my competition? I don’t want to start a fight, but I want them off my back.

T.F. Get good at pausing and thinking of the long game. Becoming reactive seldom serves your long-term best interest. In general, your time is best spent focusing on growing your business instead of handicapping someone else’s. The former has uncapped potential. To help shift your mindset, I recommend reading Stoic philosophy. Seneca’s writing, as one example, had so large an impact on me that I turned his letters into an audiobook series (The Tao of Seneca) so I could listen to them while walking to get my morning coffee.

I’m running one small business, but I’m trying to launch another. How do I balance the two?

T.F. I don’t think about balance. I think about getting one of the businesses to “escape velocity” -- setting up systems and recurring revenue and removing yourself as a bottleneck -- after which I can focus on the second. Based on my ADHD hardwiring, I must have the flywheel spinning on one before I focus on the next. Otherwise, I’ll oscillate between the two and complete very little.

I’m torn between growing my business and spending time promoting it. What do I do?

T.F. My default is to focus on creation, whenever possible. The best SEO is a good product, so don’t think of marketing as separate from product. This is why I focus on evergreen, micro-detailed, actionable content -- it ensures my “product” is as (or more) valuable to me six months after publication as it is the day it goes live. If you focus on designing the perfect product for your ideal 1,000 die-hard fans, the “marketing” takes care of itself.

I’m a new entrepreneur, and I’m trying to write company policies. How can I be helpful but not bog down my employees with a million rules?

T.F. Policies should outline best practices and help with damage control. For example, what’s the quality-assurance checklist before a blog post is published? What are the next steps (and by whom) if we get a threatening legal letter? Ultimately, you want to provide enough guidance to ensure good results 90 percent of the time (you can’t cover all cases), while offering enough freedom to employees to improvise if better options present themselves. Explain the reasoning and “why” behind policies to avoid seeming petty. I learned this from Derek Sivers, who shared his approach on my podcast.

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Edition: October 2016

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