I Blew $10,000 on VAs, Trying to Live The 4-Hour Workweek

It was 2008.

I’d just read The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss.

I was SOLD!

Foaming at the mouth, I lusted to get started with “Lifestyle Design,” set up my “Muse,” and travel the world.  Race motorcycles.  Set world records in tango.

I hired a full-time VA and braced myself for the inevitable avalanche of cash coming my way.

I was set!


I LOST $10,000

Wha.. Wha… Whaaattt?!?!

I was bleeding cash faster than ever.

My full-time VA was $3,200/mo, plus all the extra services we needed to work together and…


$10,000 down the drain.

Dream shattered in 90 short days.

Since then I’ve learned the problem wasn’t my VA – every business on the planet has people to pay.

A little voice inside of me revealed the true reason:


I mean, I was making a few bucks here and there.

On the weekends I was a touring drummer making a little cash from playing shows in drowsy, small-town bars across Alberta, Canada.

On weekdays I had a few other deals bringing in a few more dollars.

All in all, just enough to avoid getting a job.

But barely enough to get by.

And certainly not enough to justify a $3,200/mo VA.

In fact, I’m pretty sure…


Obviously you can only shed so much financial blood before something’s gotta give.

I swallowed my pride, fired my VA, and torpedoed my 4HWW dreams.

I was back to being a one-man-band, no closer to riches or traveling the world.

Perhaps I could have avoided this failure had I remembered the fine print…

Even Tim Ferriss Busted His Ass

While contemplating my (newer, now-profitable) business a few years ago, a curious section from The 4-Hour Workweek popped to mind.

Towards the start it emphasized Tim’s painful beginnings.

Where was it – Chapter 3? Chapter 1?

Nope.  Even earlier.

There it was in the Preface (Page 15, “Chronology of a Pathology”), literally before Chapter 1 even hits.

Here Tim describes how he struggled MIGHTILY from 1997 to 2004 to figure out his Money-Making Formula. As in, how he’d make money as an entrepreneur.

Once he had cash rolling in – and only then – it took another two full years (2004-2006) to discover and refine his Work-Less Formula.

All told, Tim Ferriss took 8 or 9 years to solve the Rubik’s Cube of his own 4HWW life.

Are you kidding me?

Turns out he didn’t just hire a VA to make all his troubles go away.

Wow do I feel like an idiot.

“Live and Learn” as they say?

So Good They Can’t Ignore You

Looking back, I was chugging the fantastical “get rich” Kool-Aid like so many other under-experienced “wantrepreneurs.”

I sincerely wish I would have read the stabilizing, empowering message of So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport.

Where The 4-Hour Workweek gives you a thrilling, intoxicating vision of what’s possible, and guys like me and Sam Carpenter (author of Work the System) give you nuts-and-bolts mechanics of how to Systemize your business, Cal Newport reattaches your feet to the ground and gives you SOUL.

The harsh fact is no one will give you money for nothing. You aren’t a charity. You’re an entrepreneur who exchanges solutions for money.

As such, you need to get good at something.

It’s gotta be an in-demand service or product which people are ready to spend money on.

And the more in-demand your solution is, the more you get PAID.

This is the crux of Cal’s book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You.

In entrepreneur terms, we might say, “So Good They Want to Pay You”

Once you’ve done that – the basics of your Make-Money Formula are established – and you’re making a decent, full-time income, THEN it’s time to start Systemizing, hiring a VA, and (possibly) considering how you can cut your workload and travel the world like a rockstar.

But not before then.

My Warning to You: skip this step and you’ll blow fat stacks of cash like I did.

The RIGHT Time to Systemize & Hire a VA

Elsewhere on this blog I go into greater detail about “Level 2” businesses.

In short, don’t bother hiring VAs until you’ve got a good, full-time income coming in from your business.

Once you hit this milestone:

  • You’ll have enough cashflow to handle the expense of a part-time VA.
  • Enough of your business will be figured out and you’ll put your VA to work in useful ways.
  • You’ll have enough work week-to-week to keep a VA employed and focused.

And – for goodness sake – you DON’T need to dive into a full-time, $20/hour VA in the beginning.

My income is now multiples of what I used to make, yet I still don’t have a $3,200/mo, full-time VA like I used to when I lost $10K in the blink of an eye.

Boy did I learn A LOT.

Which lead me to creating a Guidebook where I outline the 6 big questions most Entrepreneurs ask when they need help getting a Great Assistant such as:

  1. How much should I pay an Assistant to start?
  2. How do I let go of control/can I trust them?
  3. I don’t know what to delegate
  4. Where do I find good candidates to become my Assistant?
  5. How do I train my Assistant?
  6. How do I manage my Assistant once I get them going?

If you’re interested in this Guidebook, put your name and email below and I’ll send it to you right away.

If you’re willing to share, what hard-hitting lesson have you learned the hard way on your journey of becoming an entrepreneur?  Reply in the comments, I’d love to hear what lesson(s) you’ve learned.

Tim :)

P.S. Just so there’s no confusion here – I thank sincerely Tim Ferriss for significantly expanding my worldview. And for writing one helluva a sales lett…um, book. What a world-class bit of copy! Wouldn’t be here without all the explicit and implicit lessons that came as a result of his book :).

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13 thoughts on “I Blew $10,000 on VAs, Trying to Live The 4-Hour Workweek

  1. Although I haven't yet read 4HWW (it's on my list, though), entrepreneurs don't go in to business knowing how to run a business. They have their skillset and often mistakenly think that's enough. I see it with PR clients all the time who just ignore that it doesn't matter how great or needed their service is. If no one knows it exists, it will not survive. I appreciated your transparency and willingness to share what you learned the hard way. Hopefully, it will help keep others from making the same mistake. Thanks, Tim!

  2. Great post! Most entrepreneurs struggle first with mastery, then with marketing, then with scale and hiring people, delegation, management, assets, etc. There is one sort of side point though when it comes from hiring/delegating, which is often you get much more leverage hiring someone who is so good you can't ignore them than hiring a VA. In other words you don't need to be so good they can't ignore you at doing the work of the business. You might be so good they can't ignore you and building the business around the expertise of others, which is mainly about marketing, team building, and assets.

  3. Absolutely love your emphasis on skills, "So Good They Can't Ignore You." As you know it's one of my all-time favorites :).

    About hiring VAs… I've come to discover VAs are definitely **NOT** all created equal. For 6 or 7 years I've hired from many countries (India, Pakistan, Jamaica, Phillipines, Canada, USA, maybe others too), with wildly divergent experiences.

    On one hand I've had VAs from the Phillipines who completely disappeared without explanation or notice, and VAs from India (supposedly the holy grail) get caught up in crime and corruption.

    On the other hand, I've now got a rockstar, A-Player (Sarah Campbell!) as my Executive Assistant who gracefully, effectively manages countless parts of my business, including 95% of my email inbox…. and lives in an entire country away. (We've met in person only once ever, in Chicago for a Blackhawks game).

    Because she's virtual there's a few drawbacks – can't do in-office paperwork or run errands. But I think I also gain a bunch because she's virtual – we've had to get incredibly clear with online communication, which would be important anyways, given how much I travel.

    Ultimately, I think the gap between local vs. virtual is smaller than the difference of good assistant / bad assistant (whether local *or* virtual). To this day my favorite place to find Exec Assistants is explained here: http://profitfactory.com/the-best-place-to-hire-vas-and-it-aint-elance/.

  4. Hugh Culver – you bet, boss!

    I just got back from Keith Cunningham's "4-Day MBA", where Keith's motto is "Commit to Mastery".

    He totally ripped into all forms of Kool-Aid (awesome!), including people who pursue 4-Hour Workweek fantasies. Personally, I think the biggest issue isn't the book itself, but the culture around it of people who've gone batty with the idea of Do Nothing, Get Rich (including my former self).

    I once heard Greg Habstritt say, "There's no such thing as 'Passive' income, only 'Leveraged' income," as in, more or less leverage for each unit of resource you invest (time / energy / money). The better you get at hiring, systems, culture, etc, the more money you get to make on the same effort.

    I absolutely love how both Keith and Greg just *spoke the truth*.

    On one hand, I'd say more people need to hear the anti-Kool-Aid message. On the other, Kool-Aid drinkers won't hear it unless they want to, often after they've been seriously burned. (Again, my former self.)

    Perry Marshall once described Kool-Aid drinkers to me as "Messiah Makers", desperately hoping for some "expert" to come along and be their Messiah, cure all their ills. Such an accurate assessment.

    No more Messiahs. *I* am the life raft :)

  5. Robin Rushnell Taney – holy smokes, SO TRUE!

    I've often joked: "If a business falls in the forest, but there's no one to hear it, does anyone care?"

    Seriously, though…. I totally agree the skills to build your trade, and the skills to build a business as different as far-spread as the Grand Canyon is wide. Entrepreneurs who think they are *kind of* doing business simply don't know what they don't know (unconscious incompetence).

    To be blunt, I think I'm *still* somewhat guilty of being under-gunned in some key areas. Finance is my biggest weakness right now, but I'm rapidly strengthening it *right now*. I need the skills to look at a balance sheet, income statement, and statement of cashflows and quickly deduce the business' problems, from the financials *alone.*

    No hairdresser, personal trainer, or yoga studio owner *ever* gets taught that. Like I said, the gulf is as big as the Grand Canyon!

    Thanks for writing :)

  6. Great post Tim. I've often found that when we start a business we don't have a clear understanding of what it takes to become successful. Michael Gerber talks about that in the E-Myth. I learned the hard way the need to systematize work flow and outline responsibilities when I started my insurance agency eons ago.

    Systematizing workflow became clearer with each mistake. When I read Carpenter's book and met him it became clearer. I learned that my personality type wanted it done NOW. I had to bring in those who had the patience and ability to put into motion the vision I was looking at. Trying to be a one man show cost me way more than I realized.

    Today, I spend a lot of time w/ my clients helping them to get clear on where they are going and what it will take to get there. Your training on VAs has been eye opening. As I reinvent myself, this is an area w/ great possibilities.

    Thanks for your frankness in bearing your soul about what didn't work. We rarely learn from our successes, we do learn from our failures.

  7. This rings true for me Tim, thanks for writing it up, especially the bit about how it took Mr. Ferriss 8 years to work out his "this is easy" system of freedom lifestyle. I had completely glossed over that in search of the good life when I read the book.

  8. Tim Nihoul, thanks for such a thoughtful comment. You'll probably resonate with how Keith Cunningham describes the Entrepreneurial journey:

    1) the new Entrepreneur looks at the travel brochures and gets excited about a thrilling, exotic destination;

    2) they arrive at the airport , eagerly march down the jetway excited for their new adventure;

    3) they reach the end of jetway only to discover their plane *is* there, however it's in 500,000 pieces, scattered across the tarmac, waiting to be assembled before the plane can take-off


    Interestingly, in my deep-dive on systems, one of the most valuable lessons was when to *not* create systems.

    Then, as I dove head-first into the Kolbe Index, I learned priceless, life-changing lessons on WHO should (and shouldn't) write and/or follow said procedures.

    For years, I'd beat myself up for not being good (or fast) at certain parts of business. Assumed it was just a motivation or discipline issue.

    Then, after taking the Kolbe Index, I suddenly had massive new awareness around myself, and deep acceptance (and peace) around simply avoiding certain kinds of work and situations. My life (literally) has been better ever since then.

    Business – like life – really is a team sport :)

    Have you taken Kolbe A Index yet?

  9. Jon Symons… Wow – what a perfect way to capture how most of us read The 4-Hour Workweek, "I had completely glossed over that in search of the good life when I read the book."

    Thinking back to the 4 times I read (or listened) to the book, I remember reading about the long, hard, lonely years he spent toiling in obscurity and my thoughts were, "yeah, yeah, yeah… okay let's skip to the good stuff!"


    Oh, life is a growth experience, aint' it :)

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