Seth Godin on How to Say “No,” Market Like a Professional, and Win at Life (#343)

Photo by Brian Bloom

“Price is a story.” — Seth Godin

Seth Godin (@thisissethsblog, is the author of 18 bestselling books that have been translated into more than 35 languages. He was inducted into the Direct Marketing Hall of Fame in 2013 and has founded several companies, including Yoyodyne and Squidoo. His blog (which you can find by typing “Seth” into Google) is one of the most popular in the world.

Seth writes about marketing, strategic quitting, leadership, the way ideas spread, and challenging the status quo in all areas.

His books include Linchpin, Tribes, The Dip, and Purple Cow, among others, and Seth’s newest book is This Is Marketing: You Can’t Be Seen Until You Learn to See. You can find out more at (tim = This Is Marketing, not my name), where you will also find a free PDF excerpt from the book and related videos.

Last but not least, Seth is the founder of the altMBA, an intense four-week online leadership and management workshop. Find out more at

In this episode, we explore many topics, including:

  • How Seth deals with overwhelm
  • How Seth chooses projects
  • How to say “no” to the unimportant and set boundaries
  • Long work vs. hard work
  • The world’s worst boss
  • How to find your “smallest viable audience”
  • Non-marketing books that are master classes in great marketing
  • Crafting April Fool’s jokes
  • And much, much more…


You can find the transcript of this episode here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.

#343: Seth Godin on How to Say “No,” Market Like a Professional, and Win at Life

Want to hear another amazing conversation with someone who leads from a place of service? Listen to my interview with Catherine Hoke, a friend Seth and I share who is helping the incarcerated turn their lives around through entrepreneurship. (Stream below or right-click here to download):

#293: Catherine Hoke — The Master of Second Chances

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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…


  • Connect with Seth Godin:

Website | Seth’s Blog | Twitter | Instagram | Facebook | altMBA | The Marketing Seminar


  • How does Seth deal with the sense of being overwhelmed? [05:35]
  • Get rid of these four things in your life and see how many hours per day you free up. [09:02]
  • What usually triggers Seth’s overwhelm and how he combats it. [10:18]
  • The almost mic-drop blog post Seth wrote about the world’s worst boss that led to his altMBA. [11:22]
  • As “the CEO of you,” does the way Seth accepts or declines his own involvement in projects apply to your own situation? [14:18]
  • How Seth sometimes still falls prey to making bad decisions about his time — and why he doesn’t stress too much about it. [15:27]
  • What’s the difference between long work and hard work? [17:59]
  • Examples of times Seth has chosen what seems like risky hard work over long work. [19:48]
  • What gave Seth the conviction to build the altMBA way back in the beginning? [21:34]
  • What did Seth take away from a three-day sabbatical in the desert? [26:22]
  • How does Seth train himself to take self-imposed deadlines and other feats of immense willpower seriously? [27:13]
  • Why does Seth believe that authenticity is overrated — and what’s better? [29:28]
  • On the lizard brain and overcoming the fear of saying “no.” [30:54]
  • A hack for quickly and politely explaining why you’re saying “no” to someone without wasting time and effort in each instance. [34:50]
  • Some of Seth’s (and Josh Waitzkin’s) consistent rules regarding what others can expect from him and how much they should pay — or not pay — for his services. [36:29]
  • Price is a story: Seth’s suggestion for any freelancer who wants to avoid frustration over long (not hard) work. [42:32]
  • What’s Seth’s policy for writing book blurbs? [45:40]
  • Seth explains why he wrote his latest book, what he hopes it will accomplish, and why you’re never really selling a quarter-inch drill bit. [49:24]
  • What does Seth mean when he mentions “the smallest viable audience,” and why is it important? [53:57]
  • How do you resist the temptation to make everyone your customer and focus on defining who your smallest viable audience might be? [55:38]
  • Highly niche businesses of which Seth is particularly fond, and how they set themselves apart. [58:52]
  • The importance of smallest viable audience as it relates to charging appropriately. [1:02:42]
  • What is the three-sentence marketing promise template, and why is it important in better securing the smallest viable audience? [1:08:08]
  • How Apple, Uber, Amazon, Airbnb, and other companies hook people into using their products and services in spite of not being completely unique in what they’re actually offering. [1:10:10]
  • The yo-yo union: how Supreme can make people line up to buy $3 shirts for $45, and why people stand outside Franklin Barbeque for hours before opening time every day. [1:12:45]
  • Two things to understand about ethically giving people what they want — even if it feels like you’re cheating. [1:17:48]
  • Why the world remembers Jackson Pollock more than his brother Charles. [1:19:10]
  • What does it mean to market to the most important person? [1:24:01]
  • How does one develop self-compassion and a feeling of sufficiency that allows them to empathize with — and market to — that “most important” person? [1:25:42]
  • According to Seth, I was responsible for the single best-written April Fool’s joke on the Internet. Here it is. [1:28:08]
  • We reflect on one of Seth’s April Fool’s jokes and the notion that someone can ever run out of ideas. [1:31:16]
  • The “but” versus “and.” [1:35:34]
  • Current events, book recommendations, and parting thoughts. [1:36:57]


The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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27 Replies to “Seth Godin on How to Say “No,” Market Like a Professional, and Win at Life (#343)”

  1. What can I say, another reminder of how professional Seth is.

    Great examples and I must suppose that the questions were just as thoughtful if the answers were to some extent new for me. Even though I’ve heard the “meaningful specificity over wandering generality” part in another place, it seems as if Seth knew this wasn’t new material necessarily and didn’t sell the idea as much.

    Looking forward to more guests coming back for round 2.

    ~ Felix Dragoi

  2. Hey! This question is unrelated to the podcast, but I wasn’t really sure where else to ask.

    In the 4 hour body you mention discovering the PAGG stack through a previous experiment involving taking policosanol, niacin & chromium polynicotinate to lower LDL & raise HDL.

    I was wondering if you remember the dosages involved?

    I’m an otherwise completely healthy 39 year old male (exercise several times a week, follow the slow carb diet, average BMI) who has elevated cholesterol LDL (170). Obviously, you are not a doctor, but I would like to try the supplement route before exploring medications.

  3. Time to hit pause? Excluding this podcast with Seth, which I loved, I think it’s time you Tim either stop podcasting or only podcast with that truly world class person. I’ve slowly stop downloading and thus listening, as the quality of people being interviewed has drop. That’s my opinion anyways, I just want you to finish on a high, like Seinfeld.

    1. No way Parris! I’ve been loving all of these other guests I hadn’t heard of before. And this chat with Seth could have gone on much longer for me

      1. Agreed, someones level of fame isn’t the best indicator of what they have to offer or how powerful their ideas are. It’s a sign at best of them being easily digestible, charismatic or otherwise widely appealing to the masses. A lot of ‘world class’ people were most interesting before they got there. I love left field types and Tim is to finding them what pigs are to truffle hunting 😆

      2. Agree with bikesy! I take enormous value from your podcast Tim. Please don’t stop, for our sake (your smallest viable audience).

  4. Thanks for giving me a book tip for my next audiobook! I started to listen to this episode during a short weekend walk, and then finished it after a nap. I will get the ten sticks together and have them in mind, as I am finding my first ten people (individuals). Your conversation gave me fuel for the “pilot” episode of my new podcast on tea, self-publishing, and “indie biz” philosophy.

    I have now watched the live presentation at adWeek on the This Is Marketing page.

  5. Hey, the morning tips are great and partially answer my question, but how do you make a plan about what to do on a given day? I have always a trillion projects on my mind which usually ends with me starting a few and discontinuing more. Which makes my inner critic jump at me and the circle ⭕️ ends. Any tips are

    Highly appreciated. Greetings from Bali at this stage

  6. There was a couple minutes or two on this talk that got me to reflect very truly on my service to others. I loved it. Often, I think, making videos isn’t a service to others because it feels like vanity. Especially when I make them for myself. Today, the video I made felt like a service to others, i had a new approach and new outlook. Truly grateful for this episode, and love the acknowledgment Tim gives to Seth on how clearly he articulates a thought. So true.

  7. This is such an important reminder: “…and what does this person dream of which requires empathy? Empathy is the other part that makes this difficult. Because here is the thing. People don’t know what you know. They don’t want what you want. They don’t believe what you believe. And yet you want to serve them.

    So what you have to do is acknowledge that they are right. *They are right in wanting what they want. They are right in needing what they need*. Maybe you could earn their enrollment and teach them a new way to be, but you can’t succeed by insisting that people are you, because they’re not.”

  8. Love the space in this episode. You both are such amazing and gracious communicators that your interaction left a lot of breathing room for the dialogue and it’s points to have more impact and depth. If dialogue is an art this one is mastery of the art.

  9. I went to a conference this week in NYC, SmartHustle, where Seth Godin was one of the speakers. Again the challenge Freelancer vs Entrepreneur, Be Authentic vs Be consistent, really stands out during all conference. It was really what everybody was talking about. As I had listened to the podcast I was in advantage to comment more!! Really fun! Thank you!

    Ah! Jut to add…during this conference Seth also mentioned that having a pitch is not important, and he said cut the BS and earn the trust of your customers. 🤔🤔

  10. So many great takeaways. Thank you. 1. Know what you do for work and what you do for free (know your value; ask for it/full price). 2. Be clear on what you do and why. 3. Hard work vs. long work. 4. Writer’s block is a myth. Creativity is work. (No plumber’s block. I want the committed > authentic surgeon too). 5.”And” not “but.” + *Jeff Koons’ “The journey of art starts with self-acceptance.”

    I’m a singer-songwriter and writer-editor (Tim, I am your next editor – for you, full price). There’s near-constant negotiation of worth. There’s often more business than creation. I’ve recently backed away from solo gigs to focus on writing/recording and work toward my big goals. (oh, they’re big!) As a writer (for an all-female leadership company), I get to work remotely and get paid to write inspiring stuff – and I can’t afford rent yet. I get to sing, write, edit, live freely and I am not creating an international, collaborative cultural-recognition compilation series, writing a NY Times best-selling book or getting $1M song placements yet. So goes the war of art..(Pressfield nod) Thanks for another refreshing podcast boost:-)

  11. Hi Tim – I recently discovered your podcast from a Term Sheet list of best podcasts and listened to this one with Seth Godin and walked away with so many new learnings! The smallest viable audience and the three sentence marketing promise we’re not things I’d heard of before. You have a lot of readers, but I just wanted to say thank you. Thank you for curating these thought provoking guests and always focusing on practical tips that we can actually use! I look forward to listening and learning more from your shows!

  12. With only the (possible) exception of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Seth Godin is my favorite guest of yours. He’s smart, funny and very, very clear in what he has to say. Always listen to your interviews with him 2-3 times, and always feel that the time is well spent.

    I have a suggestion for a future interviewee: Dr. Valter Longo. I’ve heard his podcasts with Rhonda Patrick and Kevin Rose, but neither of them really dove into the thick weeds like you tend to. I also have one suggestion for a question: Rhonda says that she does 10/14 fasting in order to get the benefit of autophagy, but Dr. Longo’s company (Prolon) says that autophagy doesn’t start until you’re about 4-5 days into a fast. Clearly, there is some disagreement here, so I’d like to hear what Dr. Longo says about the current state of research in this area.

  13. This episode and the previous one with Seth Godin are my top favorites.

    Would be fun to listen to an episode with you and NN Taleb

  14. I.loved.this. Went back to give the 2010(?) Seth podcast a listen. Seminal. Love you Tim, you lose me on the psychedelics, I’m just not into that, but this was fantastic. Total value added. Fantastic interview. Bought your ‘Tribes’ and Seth’s new book as my thank you to you both for opportunity to spend time in your respective thought worlds

  15. Sage. Seth killed it and Tim drew it out. I’ll be listening to this one a few times and sharing it with those next level individuals in business and marketing that I believe, “get it”. Excellent work.

  16. Thanks Tim for inviting Seth and his awesome thoughts in your podcast. Lovely.

    I really enjoyed this episode and waiting for more awesome guests ahead.

  17. Hi Tim, this is my final prompt in altMBA29 and I did a thank you video (in the website) for your most important podcast. Louie

  18. A welcome repeat. I have gone back to the Seth interviews a few times now, each drawing new angles and provocations to do something. I loved the vignette on authenticity, and bought a copy of Novogratz book, finally.