The last time I was selling custom model horses I was a relatively familiar name in the hobby. I wasn’t the best artist by a long shot, but I was out there having a blast and making new friends.
I was active on Model Horse Blab and the various Yahoo Newsgroups. I tried to keep at least one horse up in action every day. I even ran the Hampton Roads Classic –a small live show in Virginia (small, but hopefully enjoyable!).
If people wanted silly colored Stablemates, they knew where to turn…. But that was five years ago and now I’m pretty much starting over from scratch.
So how do you gain name recognition in a loose-knit organization like a hobby?
Finding Your Tribe
When you are joining in on a well-established playground, you don’t start building new swing-sets– you learn how to play on the ones that are already there.
So it’s time to track down the places where people in the hobby are gathering. This could be on message boards, mailing lists, Facebook, or even YouTube.
The hobby has grown in leaps and bounds from what I was in it last. It’s sort of like setting sail to the tiny island you remember and instead finding an whole archipelago has risen from the sea.
So I’m wandering the web, searching out what has changed, what’s new, and where have all the flowers– err, customizers gone?
When in Rome
Assuming you can find your Tribe, hop into the jungle gym and lurk. Lurking (reading without posting) lets you get a feel for the community and will hopefully keep you from making too many newbie mistakes.
Search the history of the sites and get a feel for what people are talking about and how they talk about it. Make sure to keep an eye out for posts that revive a negative response and learn why they got it.
Things to avoid: Posting on an over-discussed topic, requests for easily found information, opinions counter to the social norms of the group, etc.
Speak Rover, Speak!
Now that you’ve gotten a feel for the setting (take notes!) start joining in on the conversations. Be helpful, share your knowledge, actively participate and encourage the same from others– but DO NOT SPAM.
Anytime you post anything that talks about yourself or your work/business, take a step back. Is that information really relevant to the conversation? If it’s not, it’ll stick out like a sore thumb and it will tick people off.
Spam comments/posts are sort of like the non sequitur car ads stuffed into in the Bones TV show dialog, or the truly awkward product placement blurbs in The Biggest Loser. It doesn’t matter how well they try and work it into a scene, it’s still an ad and it’s still annoying.
That’s not to say you never want to mention what you’re selling, just make sure it’s on topic. For instance if someone is looking for a solution to Hobby Problem A and you happen to have just the thing- say so! Just don’t offer solutions to problems no one is talking about.
To Sum Up
So go, find your tribe, learn how to act politely, be helpful and make friends. When all is said and done you’ll be Bob, the Guy Who Makes Widgets and not That Annoying Widget Guy.
Because who would you be buying widgets from? Yeah, me too. 🙂