Lately I have fielded several comments and questions from fellow model builders with a comment or question related to starting a business in the model hobby arena. It normally starts out with a sentence like this “I want to build XXXX” or “Do you think I can sell XXXX?
My answer is YES and YES. Right now it has never easier and cost so little to chase your dream. I’m doing it, so can you. But there are a couple things to get started off on the right foot. These are listed in random order.
#1. Decide if you want to be Walmart or Nordstroms. Both companies sell cloths, but quality and price sets each apart. Walmart makes money on volume…. selling to everyone with a dollar. Nordstroms makes money on price. In the beginning I thought like Walmart, worked and worked and worked selling anything to anyone with a dollar. It did not take long to become cranky, moody, stressed out, over worked and underpaid. I hated what I was doing and to some extent the people I worked with.
The cure…I decided I would only do work that made me happy or interested me. After all, this was a hobby, why be miserable doing things I didn’t like doing. So I focused on custom harvesting models and equipment only which includes a ton of trucks which are great fun. I still take on models that do not fall into this category but those are projects that just interest me or pose a challenge. For long time and really good customers, I’ll take on unusual projects as long as I am confident it will be done right and am happy with what I am charging.
#2. Raise your prices. In the beginning your work will likely suck. Mine did. I can hardly stand to look at photos of my early work. It is painful. That is the price of learning and improving over time. In the beginning I sold my work cheap because it wasn’t that good and I was learning how to do things. Even as I improved my prices were way too low leading to the frustration I mentioned in step 1. The absolute hardest thing I ever did was begin raising prices. At the insistence of a mentor and friend I pulled the band aid off in one swift move and double and tripled my prices. I worried. What will the backlash be, will I run myself out of business. “Holy cow I am ripping people off, I wouldn’t even spend this money” was a common thought.
But I am not my customers, they do not think the same way I do and love fine personalized replicas. Sooner than later evaluate your prices. Side note, I raised my prices and had the best year EVER! My income tripled and I felt good about the work I was doing for the money I received.
A side bonus to raising prices, the type of customer I serve has changed. When prices were lower my clients were high maintenance and very demanding regarding time, delivery date, details. They took a ton of time away from building by answering emails and Facebook private messages. My clients still expect a high quality model when completed, but I am free to work and be left alone. I post regular status updates to show progress which is well received. Occasionally a client will ask for an adjustment here and there which is good. Overall my clients are a joy to work for.
#3. Change the way you talk. You will not hear me talk about toys unless I answer the phone or mention my brand name, Rockin H Farm Toys. Walmart sells toys, I sell world class models, awesome replicas, art, memories. I don’t sell toys…ever. Toys do not demand a premium. When my customers look at their replica on the mantel I do not want their imagination going to a store. I want the smell of dust and diesel fuel to enter their mind. Riding with their dad, going back to a lonely stretch of highway hauling a load of wheat to town, the laughs had with new friends they met on harvest. Toys don’t have that affect, but my models do. Make sure your vocabulary reflects your story. It matters.
#4. Be generous. The economy we live in has changed, especially online. If I visit your website I had better find something of value and free…and a shopping cart but that is another blog post. If you choose to hold your trade secrets close I am sure you will get along fine. But the people I see winning in online businesses selling physical or digital products are giving away a ton of great content for free. And it is the good stuff. Annoyed by the secret societies that exist in hobbies I chose to follow the lead of others and give away what I know. Plus I enjoy teaching so it was a natural fit to create tutorials and teach. That being said, find some sort of freebies that fits your style and what you do. It could be a tutorial showing how to make a most popular item. Or 10 tools I cannot live without. Five tips to get started. Whatever the free content it make sure it is your best stuff and of high value. Being generous makes you real, credible, and transparent. It will only help your business.
Follow these four tips and your business will be transformed. It will not happen overnight but it will happen. Whether a full time gig is what you want to achieve or enough money to buy models without tapping the family budget, start today deciding on purpose what kind of business you want to have and go get it.
I’d love to know what the best business advice you have received is. Leave a comment and share your experience.
Talk to you soon. Eric