One-Person Businesses That Make $1M+ Per Year (#318)

97 Comments

This podcast episode of The Tim Ferriss Show is coming up on the 11th anniversary of my first book, The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich. While there are parts written by my 29-year-old self that make me cringe, I’m both honored and amazed that it continues to strike a chord with so many.

Rather than re-editing the book and risking the loss of whatever made it work in the first place, I’d like to share case studies of people who have used it as a blueprint to build successful businesses as detailed in The Million-Dollar, One-Person Business by freelance journalist Elaine Pofeldt (@ElainePofeldt).

Much like 11 years ago, I hope this episode inspires more people to make a change for the better and accomplish more than they thought possible.

Please enjoy this episode!


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Want to hear a podcast with someone who inspires others to build businesses and live lives on their own terms? — Listen to my conversation with Seth Godin in which he details the rules, principles, and obsessions that help him manage his life. (Stream below or right-click here to download):

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QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.

Scroll below for links and show notes…

SELECTED LINKS FROM THE EPISODE

SHOW NOTES

  • Laszlo Nadler brings in more than $2 million a year with online store Tools4Wisdom. [11:16]
  • Starting your own business doesn’t mean you have to abandon your full-time job before making sure it’s sustainable. [11:56]
  • According to the US Census Bureau, what is (and what isn’t) a nonemployer firm? [12:30]
  • Three things these businesses offer that elude most workers today. [13:22]
  • The two paths entrepreneurs have traditionally taken, and the third path opened up by one-person businesses. [13:32]
  • What’s driving the growth of the million-dollar, one-person business? [14:26]
  • A shift in attitudes. [15:15]
  • How do you get from where you are currently to enjoying the freedom of an entrepreneur? [15:50]
  • Key questions to ask yourself first. [17:44]
  • Solo businesses and partnerships that hit the million-dollar range typically fall into these six categories. [19:01]
  • In spite of their differences, entrepreneurs generally have these practices in common. [19:35]
  • Split-testing for profit. [21:24]
  • Mastering the art of delegation. [24:22]
  • The point of comfort challenges. [27:00]
  • Your first entrepreneurial efforts don’t have to succeed — as long as you learn from them. [28:51]
  • How outsourcing smaller tasks and decisions helps you focus on the bigger tasks and decisions of your business. [31:53]
  • Making and managing require different schedules. [36:20]
  • How observing these schedules has helped Ben and Camille Arneberg pursue further business opportunities. [40:05]
  • Fewer distractions = more growth. [41:24]
  • Two key ideas that helped Dan Faggella grow his revenue far beyond the average “nonemployer” business. [42:30]
  • How I test potential candidates for a job. [43:28]
  • How Dan Faggella ensured a smooth transition when selling his company (and why he would want to sell such a successful business in the first place). [46:03]
  • Success through liberation — having the money to do things you want to do doesn’t matter if you don’t also have mobility. [48:14]
  • How Sol Orwell chose a second-in-command to handle things when he goes off the grid. [53:21]
  • What Sol does with his “free” time. [56:02]
  • Rethinking scale and profit. [56:51]
  • Why the story of the businessman and the fisherman resonated with “successful” entrepreneur Jayson Gaignard. [58:18]
  • How a Seth Godin talk inspired Jayson’s next business venture. [1:02:02]

PEOPLE MENTIONED

Posted on: June 7, 2018.

Please check out Tribe of Mentors, my newest book, which shares short, tactical life advice from 100+ world-class performers. Many of the world's most famous entrepreneurs, athletes, investors, poker players, and artists are part of the book. The tips and strategies in Tribe of Mentors have already changed my life, and I hope the same for you. Click here for a sample chapter and full details. Roughly 90% of the guests have never appeared on my podcast.

Who was interviewed? Here's a very partial list: tech icons (founders of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Craigslist, Pinterest, Spotify, Salesforce, Dropbox, and more), Jimmy Fallon, Arianna Huffington, Brandon Stanton (Humans of New York), Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Ben Stiller, Maurice Ashley (first African-American Grandmaster of chess), Brené Brown (researcher and bestselling author), Rick Rubin (legendary music producer), Temple Grandin (animal behavior expert and autism activist), Franklin Leonard (The Black List), Dara Torres (12-time Olympic medalist in swimming), David Lynch (director), Kelly Slater (surfing legend), Bozoma Saint John (Beats/Apple/Uber), Lewis Cantley (famed cancer researcher), Maria Sharapova, Chris Anderson (curator of TED), Terry Crews, Greg Norman (golf icon), Vitalik Buterin (creator of Ethereum), and nearly 100 more. Check it all out by clicking here.

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97 comments on “One-Person Businesses That Make $1M+ Per Year (#318)

  1. Yes!!! I have not even listened to the episode yet but I have come here to ask for more case studies! I want to hear about the small 1-5 person business that are making a big impact and producing impressive value! I want to hear about bootstrapped businesses that grew up fast! ‘0 to 1’ stories can be inspiring like nothing else to someone who has not done it yet for themself. Wouldn’t you like to see more of that in the world? Don’t cut out the struggle, feed me the story of grit along with the story of success. I hope that you do not shift your focus to this entirely but yes, I want more. Thanks Tim!

    Like

  2. Tim – more case studies, please and thank you!! I think you’ll create another best-seller if you also wrote a book on 4-Hour case studies, but in the same format as Tools of Titans! I’ll preorder the book today lol!

    Like

  3. I know it’s not specifically your purview but I would love love love to have you interview some creatives. I’m a visual artist and think your perspective would be so interesting. You could access people like Koons and Hirst and I want to hear those interviews and talk about money and art and the art market.

    Like

  4. Hi Tim,
    First of all I am a huge fan and have been following you since your first visit to the JRE. Thank you for all the information and tools over the years. I really enjoyed this podcast and would LOVE to hear more case studies as my wife and I have just recently started our own eCommerce business and will take a lot from these. She is also now a Ferriss faithful as well btw which I think us what pushed to finally start. Thanks again for everything!

    -Josh

    Like

  5. I’m sure you are thinking hard about how to maximize how actionable these cases are for your readers. Here’s my two cents on that:

    Keep the emphasis on strategic decisions the founders had to make (versus simply describing what they ended up doing). There’s going to be an element of survivor bias in the type of case study, so focusing on the key forks in the road and how they weighed different options will keep these cases useful to readers 5,10+ years later.

    Would love to read them and looking forward to hearing the rest of the podcast this weekend!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I have worked with Elaine on several projects and she is a rockstar. I too have built a >1M biz after a big exit and use the $ to fund charitable giving and crazy adventures with the family.

    [Moderator: additional text removed.]

    Like

  7. I actually just finished her book. Its great. Super inspiring. Transparent and detailed tips. Im reading it again along with yours as audiobooks while I mastermind my future!

    Like

  8. Hi Tim,
    I have listened to Elaine’s book several times and enjoyed your commentary.

    I would love to see more case studies.

    I especially like the background story leading up to it. I have come to believe you cannot force a muse idea but they come more as a “scratch your own itch.” I enjoy seeing how entreprenuers stumbled into their niche.

    Levy

    Like

  9. Another yes for more case studies. This episode was interesting too because it also included interjected commentary and advice related to the particular case study. Also I like the in between-isodes as you have called them.

    Like

  10. Tim,

    Definitely love case studies, but also love hearing you talk about all things 4HWW. Find this type of thing incredibly valuable and entertaining.

    I’d also love to hear more examples of 4HWW execution in your life (batching, Pareto Law, Parkinson’s Law, Muse, etc).

    Lastly, I think you’re incredibly funny, so please keep being you on the show!

    Thanks,
    Lawrence

    Like

  11. Thank you much for this Tim!! I’m sure the comments before me have already beaten this idea to death, but if possible; I too, would love to hear more case studies.

    Like

  12. Hey Tim

    In one of your podcasts you talked about the book ‘The Tail/Tale end’. Who was this book by as I cannot find it on amazon?

    Cheers

    Like

  13. Paraphrase: You don’t always turn the thing you love doing most into a business. Find something you find easy, or are in which you are skilled, that someone else may find difficult or undesirable.

    Love this type of revisit to FHWW. 1st book I listened to on Audible in ‘09/‘10. I’ve read them all and never miss a podcast or 5BF. Need at least 1 hr, preference to your 2-3 hr conversations.

    Like

  14. Hey Tim,
    Please check out ‘PeaceWorks’ [Moderator: book link removed.] – Amazing story by a guy with an entrepreneur’s approach to diplomacy and international relations. A great hook for you to start talking about that subject (if you wish). If you did check it out, i bet it would make 5BF.

    Like

  15. Yes please Tim, more case studies. I would really like to hear from some “older” people that have turned their life around. As a 59 year old that feels like I’ve “wasted” most of my life to chase the weekends I want to show my 15-year old this is not what she needs to do with her life. I lost my job 2 years ago, trying to get my own company going as getting employed again at my age is tough, and I frankly don’t want that for myself anymore. I need to get back out in the world again. Thanks for your book, just started reading it, and your podcasts.

    Like

  16. Hey Tim, this is a good format for those of us working on 4HWW projects. The refresh and revisit of fundamentals from the book are helpful. Combined with the case studies, it has sparked ideas and also supports my core activities. Nicely done! Thanks again.

    Like

  17. Absolutely! More case studies please. Not that I don’t enjoy the rest of your marvelous content, Tim, but these case studies seem to light my mind up like a Christmas tree. Love the show.

    Like

  18. Hi Tim! Love the case studies and also agree with Kelsey’s comment below. I’d buy a book on nothing but 4HWW case studies. Thank you!

    Like

  19. YES! More case studies. They’re always informative but also so inspiring. I always think, if that guy / girl can do it so can I. Case studies get me more pumped than anything else.

    Like

  20. andrea moore [Moderator: Andrea Moore with The Wayfaring Band] is up to some big things socially and it just seems like she is someone to spotlight, to interview…here are more about her…

    [Moderator: links removed.]

    Like

  21. Please do more case studies! I would like to see some that are maybe not the most “super successful ” (i.e seven figure or $250k+). A whole episode of muses people have recently made that are maybe just enough to liberate them and allow them to pursue what they really want (The $15k-50k range?) would be really cool. Hearing the crazy sucess stories is nice but it would be great to hear the other side, like more from people who are doing just enough to fund their vagabonding!
    Thanks Tim. Keep it up.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Agree! I dont think everyone in life can be uber successful like those on Tim’s podcast, but even a small jolt of side muse would be benefit

      Like

  22. Does anyone here know where to find the distribution contract that Tim mentions in the 4HWW book? At one point in the book he mentions accessing the additional content on the website and the password(s) are somewhere hidden within the book itself (??). I’ve been offered an exclusive distribution deal for all of North America and am looking for a good distribution contract to use as a template. Thanks in advance for everyone’s help!

    Like

  23. I love to bake and I have completely deleted flour of any sort in all of my baking. I just pour in a variety of nuts and seeds, chop and blend and us that combination and all of my stuff comes out delicious! I can’t find one recipe that suggests this method. So, hope this is something new for you!
    I use: pecans, walnuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, chia and flax seeds. Happy baking. Bonnie

    Like

  24. Would love more case studies, if people enjoy this episode they might als enjoy the side hustle show (Short episodes) and how I built this with Guy Raz from NPR (Larger comanies). Tim could offer the perfect medium. Thanks again for a great podcast!

    Like

  25. I like the Mexican fisherman story. I hadn’t really considered that aspect of success. Degree of contentment is certainly something to think about

    Like

  26. Dear Tim, yes to case studies.

    Loved the idea of the format, implementation could use some smoothing out. I was clearly on far less caffeine than you so the pace felt off the rails (but I’ve heard some of your audience members listen to you at 1.5x/2x so I’m sure they were thrilled!).

    Without the visual que of when you were looking up from the book and talking as yourself – the flow was challenging to follow. I’m wondering if there’s a simple audio solution – maybe some kind of 2 bell system – one indicating you’re reading and the other indicating you’ve stopped reading?

    It felt like a constant putting on the brakes going in reverse going forward brain ride.

    Other thoughts might be less exact quoting, or ahead of time replacing the author’s I/me/our’s with their name.

    I’m sure you’ll come up with something that works brilliantly for your style.

    I look forward to my second listen, I’m sure I’ll get more out of it now that I’m ready to set aside the “lost on format” thoughts and hit the redbull first.

    Thanks For All Your Brave Experiments!

    – Michelle

    Like

  27. Hey Tim, listened to the podcast, great work thank you. I’m curious on the $1M revenue. I hear many who turn over $1M and back in the dot com space (remember that? 🙂 ) almost every start up had in excess of $1M turnover/revenue. With these case studies does the profitability match? For those that were purchased you could assume so but I’m curious as tooth profitability vs revenue. Can you elaborate on that in a future episode? Cheers

    Like

  28. Hey Guys, my question is offtopic. Does anybody know a chessbook, a chessteacher, a chessschool etc. that teaches chess like Josh Waitzkin would? I mean start with a few pieces and focus on first principles not
    specific openings and openings?

    Like

  29. I would love to hear more case studies of people who have made it happen in 2017/2018. Would also like if those people were interviewed so they could tell their own stories from conception to creation, lessons learned, etc.

    Liked by 1 person

  30. I’ll add my voice to call for more case studies.
    Lovely to hear about the Million turnover one person shows, but I’d love to hear about smaller outfits, that make a tidy living, with minimal input.
    I guess, maybe those kind of folk tend to keep their cards pretty close to their chest, though. Understandably, or course.
    I like hearing about the odder end of the market, stuff so niche interest that no one would imagine it could be turned into a living. Gives me hope for my own ventures.

    Liked by 1 person

  31. Tim, I think it would be very valuable if you could advise on a framework to figure out a way to decide between building a lifestyle business versus a VC-fundable type of business

    Like

  32. Tim – feel like a moonshot here, but would love if you could share any case studies of people in their 40s remaking/reinventing their lives. I wish i had your knowledge when i was in my 20s, but I am in that mid-life crisis stage and would love some inspiration of people who have turned their lives around later in life. I feel like most of you guests have been achieving and learning lessons for greatness from the beginning. For me, I want to achieve success and happiness, but with the baggage and old habits of 40+ years of life. Would greatly appreciate any nod to this… for your older listeners like me! Thanks Tim!

    Like

  33. Hi Tim,

    Would love to hear more case studies as they are so practical. The 4HWW was the inspiration to our [luggage] business, [Moderator: link removed]. High Five Mr. Ferriss…we are now doing $1m+ and its thanks to you.

    Mark ‘Duck’ Duckenfield

    Like

  34. My favorite quote from this episode was, “Gaignard decided to keep it small, paying himself $250,000 per year. ‘How much more money do I need?'”

    Even college students, who happily live with no money, need to eventually define appropriate salaries and defend them with honor. You described social pressures to grow a business, but I’ve felt more social pressures to settle for low pay, wages and value.

    I wish you had discussed more about crafting successful products. An artist once told me that in order to stay healthy, I should lower the quantity of art I make, while raising prices, steadily over time. That idea helped our revenue grow about 340% last year from almost entirely organic traffic. The higher value (raising prices from $195 to $495 for the same coffee mug) created natural rarity, attracted better customers and made life easier. Many comments requested case studies, and I would be happy to toss my name in the hat for discussing price elasticity 🙂

    Ryan Holiday’s “Perennial Seller” also gives valuable ideas about crafting products with enduring success, with lots of case studies.

    Chapter 9 of, “Good to Great” by Jim Collins quotes painter Pablo Picasso: “It is your work in life that is the ultimate seduction.”

    What can the work of individual artists teach us about business? I would love to hear an expert interview on parallels between art and business. The Apple II Computer was a mass produced product, but it’s also on display at the Museum of Modern Art, where Vincent van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” lives too.

    Austin Kleon, Jeff Koons, Tom Sachs and Theaster Gates (who has a great TED Talk) might all offer valuable insights into the art of business. Or maybe it’s time for round 2 with Amanda Palmer or Rick Rubin!

    Like

  35. Found this episode somewhat odd, Tim. In fact, I wasn’t crazy about it. Why? Because it like I was back in high school social studies class listening to the teacher reading verbatim out of the book, which I’m perfectly capable of reading myself. I think it’s a great subject, but why not have the author on the podcast to discuss instead of just reading aloud? I did take minor umbrage…

    That said, I think case studies from the 4HWW folks is a great idea. Hope you follow up on it.

    Like

  36. hi, I am contemplating selling online video courses in a craft I’ve been training in for a few years. My worry is, DVD’s are passe and online downlaodable courses will end up on youtube etc. for everyone to access fro free. How do I cover this base?

    Like

  37. Yes more case studies! Loved this episode it’s inspiring! 4HWW hit me like a freight train in the face last year (in the best way) while traveling in Ireland and blew my mind. Thank you Tim! The case studies help solidify my understanding of the concepts and action items. Learning about different real world permutations helps me create my own original ideas kind of like learning drumming. Also maybe more importantly they help reassure me I’ve made the right choice by working on DEAL and pursuing my muse. Thank you for everything you do!

    Like

  38. Love the case studies! We have just started a business inspired in the 4hourweek and hope to keep you updated on our success soon!

    Like

  39. This is one of my all-time favorite podcasts. After I listened to this episode, I was pondering the saying “know your limitations” – and I realized I’ve always misunderstood this. It actually means the exact opposite of what I’ve always thought. I perceived it to mean “don’t extend yourself beyond what your capable of doing well.” But it actually means we are capable of so much more. We impose false limitations on ourselves. Know your limitations.

    Like

  40. I would really like to hear more case studies about real people that put into practice the strategies from 4hr work week or any case studies around taking the leap into entrepreneurship with no prior experience. Maybe this is something you could add to your emailed news letters.

    Thanks!

    Like

  41. Tim and crew – I wanted to make you aware of yet another entrepreneur putting down roots in Austin. You might already know this, but Carey Smith, founder of the Big Ass Fan Company, is headed your way. In less than two decades, Smith took BAF from 0 to $250 million in revenue, without the help of investors. As a former employee, I’ve seen the master in action, and I think that you all would get along swimmingly, from what I’ve listened to your podcast. And Smith has a new incubator project in Austin called the Kitchen. Just a thought. Thanks for reading!

    Liked by 1 person

  42. Yes, Tim I would love to hear more case studies!

    Thanks and keep up your gift of sharing insights and tools for personal growth.

    DJ from the Netherlands

    Liked by 1 person

  43. Hey Tim. More case studies are very valuable. Not necessarily in the $1M+. Smaller business that range around $500K would also be very useful. Thanks

    Like

  44. Hey Tim,
    I also love the muse case studies. They’re a great companion to your books and podcast by showing real life examples of everday people. I find them highly motivating. Please continue to provide these case studies in podcast or blog form. Thanks for the great content!
    James

    Like

  45. Great episode! I would definitely be interested in more case studies. As some other people mentioned, would be interesting to hear about cases in the lower range (maybe 80-120k in revenue).
    I’m looking to build a muse myself, that allows me to do some long-term traveling.

    Like

  46. I thought those case studies were quite helpful. Especially as I started a European based muse business myself a year ago combining my writing passion with technology creating personalized and inspiring childrens book (e.g. around ocean pollution or self help). Tim, we briefly met in San Francisco in 2012 at a Girls in Tech event and I read all your books and posts ever since! Huge inspiration to start my own business combining muse and business!! Happy to contribute to further case studies for European market!

    Like

  47. Loved this podcast and even went so far as to “study” it. Please do more case studies.
    This referenced the Tim MBA blog post, which was a concept I had forgotten since reading 4HWW, but upon reviewing it a passage from the section Creating Your Own MBA mentions “Commit to spending $2,500 per month on testing different “muses” intended to be sources of automated income.” It would be great if you could expand on this or point me in the direction of more details on trying this.

    Thanks for the great work.

    Like

  48. Tim,
    Would love to hear more case studies, specifically on opposite ends of the spectrum. Businesses that are scaling to be huge and just simple 1-2 person businesses that are absolutely killing it.

    Like

  49. Tim, I’d very much like to hear more case studies like this but with one (very strong!) caveat: this information is good, but it’s utility is almost zero unless we know how much profit these people are making. $1+ million in revenue means nothing if their costs are approaching that number too. Please, please, please make it relevant – include the bottom number as well as the top so we can understand how profitable these ventures are. Thanks!

    Like

  50. Long time fan, first time commentator- I enjoy the format of the 4HWW updates.

    Case study + comments
    = a great substitute for updating the book.

    Like