(For those of you keeping track, this is a continuation of my thoughts on the Problem with Positive Thinking. If you haven’t read that post yet, please read it first and then come back to this one.)
I know I might catch some flack for this, but there are some things that really, truly frustrate me about Tim Ferriss’s best-selling book, the Four Hour Work Week.
As I talked about in my first post on this subject, the internet marketing world (which is, for the most part, what Tim is selling in FHWW) runs on a flawed sense of optimism that promotes positive thinking over action and execution. The end result of simply “believing your way” to a successful business is that nothing gets done if these positive thoughts aren’t turned into actions.
The case with the Four Hour Work Week is more subtle, though. In the Problem with Positive Thinking, I talked about “The Secret” and how the law of attraction is a bunch of BS if you aren’t willing to actually sit down and get the work done.
The Four Hour Work Week doesn’t fall into this same trap, as each chapter does list actions that must be taken to obtain the kind of lifestyle Tim is promoting. However, the issue here is the gross simplification of internet business, which I believe can be just as problematic. Let’s talk about why…
But first, a confession. I guess I can’t say that I totally hate the Four Hour Work Week (there’s a dog-earred version of the book sitting on my nightstand that begs to differ…). Despite the things that I’m going to cover in this post, I do give Tim a lot of credit for introducing tons of new people to the concept of lifestyle design, side businesses and living more meaningful lives than the usual 9-5 mentality of Corporate America allows for.
That said, there are some things that drive me f’ing crazy about the book…
The first is what I see as the oversimplification of internet businesses. Anyone who’s ever run an online business knows that significantly more goes into planning, launching and maintaining that business than can be covered in a few quick chapters of a made-for-the-bestseller-list book.
Take, for example, the process of identifying an overseas prototype manufacturer that Tim covers in the Four Hour Work Week. What’s described in a few quick pages of text is a process that could realistically take days, weeks or even months to complete. Things like language barriers, fraudulent dealings and a host of other issues – none of which are covered in the book – all make this process substantially more complicated than it sounds in the FHWW.
So why should you care? I mean, does it really matter if Tim glosses over some details if his book turns people on to a new, more fulfilling lifestyle they hadn’t previously considered?
Well, yes and no. The biggest problem I take with the book is this shiny, rose-colored glasses view of internet business it portrays. If your first exposure to internet business was the Four Hour Work Week, you might come away thinking that you’re only a few carefully-outlined steps away from instant internet business success.
This leads to two things – what I like to call the “Dreamer Syndrome” and an increased susceptibility to unnecessary product purchases.
When you’re presented with an idealistic view of what internet business can look like, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you won’t have to bust your butt to succeed online. Instead of getting out there and putting in the hours necessary to launch and grow your business, you spend your days dreaming about how your life will be more like Tim’s once you succeed.
I call this the “Dreamer Syndrome” and if it sounds unnecessarily harsh, it’s only because I’ve been there myself and fallen into the trap over and over again.
I bought my copy of the Four Hour Work Week back in 2007 when it first came out, and I read it several times over, cover-to-cover. What a revelation! For someone who was already struggling with the concept of a singular 40+ year career, the ideas put forth in the book were immediately appealing.
And Tim makes it sound so easy. With just a couple of action items in each chapter and a “dreamlining” process that shows you just how little you need to make your dreams happen, it’s easy to envision yourself living a life of travel, exotic cultures and unlimited income on autopilot.
In fact, it isn’t just easy to imagine this scenario – it’s possible to become completely absorbed in these fantasies to the exclusion of actually doing the work necessary to bring them to life.
And while you’re busy living the fantasy life of a successful online business owner, it’s easy to get conned into unnecessary purchases that can bankrupt your fledgling internet career. Do you really need that exclusive drop-shipper contact guide that Tim recommends if you’re selling info products online? Well, no – but the sales page says that all successful online business owners must have that guide, and that’s you, right?!
I’ve covered both of these points – that actions count more than beliefs and that unnecessary purchases can bankrupt your business – several times over the last few weeks, so I won’t hammer them down your throats anymore here.
Instead, what I want to share with you is what life as an affiliate marketer really looks like…
The Four Hour Work Week would have you believe that all you need to do is some quick testing with Adwords before you outsource the development of your website and then set up a system of outsourcers to handle everything from customer service to fulfillment while you travel around the globe.
Is that a good structure for a business? Absolutely. But don’t think you’re necessarily going to get there on your first try.
Most internet business (and yes, there are exceptions to any rule) look more like this:
Do extensive keyword research and come up with several different website ideas. Build website (on your own, since you don’t have hundreds of dollars to invest at this stage), spend hours and hours writing content and backlinking to get your site ranked well naturally (since you don’t have hundreds of dollars to spend on Adwords), and then wait for visitors/checks to start rolling in.
Nothing happens. Piss and moan about time lost before making the tough decision of whether to scrap the site and go back to the drawing board or test and tweak different features to see if you can get it to convert.
Experiment with different monetization models until you hit your stride (maybe you’re better suited to becoming a writer or freelance web designer than to being an affiliate marketer). Eventually find success with one project and then begin the process of scaling and building on that success. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Sound frustrating? It can be. Not every idea is a winner, and more times than not, you’re going to strike out – losing time and money in the process.
But is it worth it? Absolutely, 100% yes. For me (and I hope, for you at some point as well), there’s nothing more satisfying than working your butt off, improving your skill set and eventually seeing all of that hard work pay off. I love building websites, I love helping people, and I love that I’m able to earn money doing it.
At the end of the day, I think it’s important to remember that Tim is a marketer. He’s selling a product, which in this case, is the idea of being successful earning passive online income. And he’s done incredibly well with that. But to look at the Four Hour Work Week as a complete guide to business creation is naïve at best and dangerous at worst.
So go ahead and read the book, but when you find yourself spending hours on various travel websites planning out the adventures you’ll take once you’re successful, stop back over here and re-read this post for a reality check 🙂
Image: Peter Hellberg