The outdoor industry is full of folks waiting to be the next big thing, but do you really know how to set yourself apart and be successful?
Before we dive into strategies, allow me to define success as being compensated for doing the work you love with a clean conscience and solid reputation. Seem like a tall order in a fast paced, highly saturated market? Maybe. But for those willing to do the work, these five principles will have you on your way.
1. Be honest and genuine.
I intentionally chose to put this point first for two reasons:
- I can’t do or say anything to help you become an honest and genuine person.
- Most everyone probably believes they are…even if they aren’t.
That said, be yourself. People (especially those who’ve been around a few years) have a well-developed B.S. meter, and fakeness is a real turn off. It wears people out, but more importantly, it makes them question whether or not they can trust you. Trustworthiness is one of the first things we size up in another person as we get to know them. If they seem shady, we don’t let them in.
The most successful folks with some of the biggest names I’ve gotten to know have also tended to be the nicest and most helpful. Early on I assumed the worst and expected them to be terrible when the cameras weren’t around. That may be the case with some, but not those I’ve worked with.
Want to know who the real turds are in our industry? Mostly guys at my level…maybe a few thousand followers online doing a little media hoping to grow it into something bigger. I guess they feel they have something to prove and need to claw their way to the top and put on airs in the process. Little dog syndrome.
So, be yourself and be honest. A word of warning though: being genuine isn’t a recipe for success in itself. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but you can be yourself yet still not resonate with any audience. Case in point – me?
2. Collaborate, don’t compete.
This component is also related to the small-timers out there scrapping their way up a contrived ladder (that doesn’t actually exist). Our industry is saturated with small media companies and individuals trying to get “on top.” Instead of worrying about how many Facebook followers Fart Creek Outdoors (copyright pending) has, focus on ways you can work with them. How can you help them? How can they help you? What can you learn from each other?
One of my favorite collaborations right now is with Jeremy from Fit to Hunt. He was on my show back in July, and we discovered how much we had in common, both professionally and personally. Since that show, I’ve done some guest blogging for his company, and he’s working on a speaking gig for me. We don’t have a detailed long-term plan, we just know we’re committed to each other’s success.
3. Follow through on commitments.
Lots of people have lots of ideas, but few are the ones who actually put a plan together and execute it to completion. I’ve learned this time and time again as the folks I work with act surprised when I deliver on a promise. While it’s not an exclusive trait to the outdoor industry, there is a fair amount of talk with little action in our midst. Action requires planning and work…two things that seem rare in our society today. Do what you say you’ll do (or more) in the time you said you’d do it and people will be impressed. Simple.
The caution here is to be careful about what you promise. Be sure it’s reasonable and that you can deliver as expected. If you do that, you’ll be leaps and bounds beyond the folks who are all show and no go.
4. Say “thank you.”
I’m fortunate to have a number of friends who own or work for companies in the industry. Every one of them has multiple stories of times when they’ve given product to someone, or sponsored an event and never got even a single “Thank you” from those on the receiving end. Chances are, if you’re in this field, someone will give you something with the expectation you’ll use it, talk about it, and share your feedback with them. Do all of that, but also take a second to thank them.
When my buddy B.C. gives me packages of zMAX Boltlube and Bore Cleaner, he has personally paid for those. The money for those units came out of his pocket. When Darrell at Select Archery sets me up with a new bow, or Bobbi from Osage Trophy Blend sends me a jug of seed mix, I let them know I appreciate them. Same with Tom over at DirtNap Gear. Some folks are under the false assumption that since a sponsor is a company, they have extra money floating around to give away free stuff. The reality is that most operations run on tight margins, and someone is always paying for that generosity. No doubt there’s an expectation that the effort will result in sales…but still. Be thankful. Say “thank you” and mean it.
5. Do quality work.
Do you know why quality is so important in the outdoor field? It’s not just because we’re communicating about our God-given passions and instincts to pursue game in wild places, but because crappy work creates more work for someone else. If you want opportunity and reputation, make it a pleasure for people to work with you.
For example, when I write an article for MidWest Outdoors Magazine, I proof it multiple times. I follow their submission guidelines to the letter. If I have a question, instead of wasting someone’s time with a call, I’ll check the writer’s style guide to see if the question has already been answered (usually it has.) People are busy. Don’t make them busier with flaws that you could have filtered out. Commit yourself to high quality work, and it’s likely you’ll find more opportunity.
So, deep thoughts from a shallow mind, right? There’s no way around it, you’re going to have to work hard and hold yourself to high standards, but that’s the fun of it. Start with these five principles and I guarantee you’ll be setting yourself apart from the pack doing the work you love with a clean conscience and a solid reputation.