Posted by John on September 11th, 2014
Last year around this time we ran our first ever reader blog survey. The feedback we got from that effort was hugely helpful and we made a number of changes as a result. Today and for the next couple weeks, we’ve opened up another survey. Please take a minute and tell us what you like, what you don’t like or whatever is on your mind. The results are anonymous, so you don’t have to worry about us finding out who you are. Feel free to leave constructive criticism. You should be able to see the survey below, but if you can’t you can take it by clicking on this link.
Thanks and have a great weekend!
Posted by John on August 17th, 2014
Just last month, this blog of ours turned 3 years old. If you’ve been reading our stuff this entire time, thanks a bunch. Chances are however, you’re probably a new reader or you’re landing on this site for the first time and if so, welcome. I decided to write a post about my experience with blogging for a couple of reasons. The first reason: my approach to blogging has changed over the past few years and I firmly believe that it’s worth sharing the rationale behind those changes. I know a number of my readers are bloggers and I hope they’ll benefit from this post. The second reason is for all the readers that aren’t bloggers. I want to tell you where this blog is headed.
Background: I started blogging in 2011 for two main reasons. I had developed enough home improvement and woodworking skills over nearly a decade that I could help people who were trying to add value and improve their homes. I also heard that people were making money blogging and I thought I should give that a shot. Seemed like the perfect combination of opportunities. I loved talking about home projects and I could potentially make some money on the side. Win-win. The only problem was, when I first started out, I didn’t know how to do that.
The first two years. When you’re first starting out, the easiest thing to do is follow the leader. The best and most influential home improvement bloggers were all pretty much doing the same thing. They were publishing great content. In fact, they were publishing great content several times a week. To be clear, I’m not just talking about Young House Love. Everyone who was leading the pack seemed to be posting at least five times a week. I think they all were doing that for a few reasons. The more content, the more search hits, the more readers. I don’t think that’s a bad strategy, at least at first. When you are trying to get rolling, publishing a lot of content really can’t hurt. Plus, if you really enjoy writing, then go ahead write the posts.
The underlying problem with my approach the first couple of years was my monetization strategy. Most of the big time home improvement bloggers were making money from ad revenue and sponsored posts. Those methods CAN be pretty lucrative IF you have a lot of traffic. If you don’t have a lot of traffic, then no dice. Ah, but more time and more posts will deliver more traffic. More pins. More time on pinterest. More social engagement. More tweets. More comments on popular blogs. More guest posts. More. More. More. If I just posted more often. If I just get that one post that goes viral. After two years and 300+ posts, I was starting to become skeptical of this whole traffic and ad based concept. It works for some folks. Wasn’t working for me.
Moreover, most of MY content is not terribly pinterest friendly. The whole home blog scene tends to be dominated by women. My content is more aimed at both men and women. As a guy, I tend not to read blogs on a regular basis. I’m assuming most guys don’t. Even today, if I want to learn something new, I’ll google it. If I land on a cool blog, I’ll try to remember it, but chances are I’m not going to pour a cup of coffee and read 15 posts in one sitting. My wife will do that.
The past year. Around July of last year, I bumped into a blogging niche that was taking a completely different approach to online publishing. Lifestyle and income bloggers. They were publishing LESS often, sometimes 4-5 times a month. They had great traffic, but they weren’t using pinterest (if so, barely) to drive it and they were making more income in one month than some bloggers were making with their full-time jobs and their blogging gigs put together. Sound cool?
What are they doing differently? They’re publishing the same great content other bloggers are providing, but they’re also selling digital products on the side. E-books, courses, consultations, you name it. They have newsletter subscribers, not just RSS feed subscribers. They have e-commerce sites, static sites, affiliate programs, podcasts. It’s a whole other world of blog monetization.
Who are these bloggers? Pat Flynn. Derek Halpern. Chris Ducker. Ramit Sethi. Melanie Duncan. Many more. Normal folks, that simply package their content in more ways than you may be accustomed to in the DIY and home improvement community.
Whats next. Over the next several months and years, I’m going to continue to keep up the same posting schedule, the same content strategy and the same type of home improvement projects that you’ve come to expect. I’m also going to be rolling out some new features that I think will help me deliver value to you, my reader. I’m shooting to launch a new podcast before November and I’m thinking about adding a forum for more on-site conversation. The goal with these two projects would simply be to grow the Our Home from Scratch community.
If you’re new to blogging or are considering starting your own, here are a few things I would consider adding to your to-do list. Keep in mind, these are my own lessons learned. At some point I was guilty of all of these infractions at one time or another.
1. Start a Newsletter. I started my first e-newsletter in December and I’m on pace to reach 1000 subscribers by the time next December rolls around. How is this different than subscribing to posts in Bloglovin, Feedly or just an RSS subscription? Newsletters are emails that you write to your subscribers telling them in your own words what’s going on. You CAN use them to keep people in the loop on your latest posts, but you can also use them to remind them of giveaways, contests and downloads. You can write unique content. Have an idea for a post that you’d rather not publish? It would probably make a great newsletter piece, plus it’s exclusive. If you DO end up developing some sort of digital or physical product, it’s a great way of introducing it and offering sales information. So start a newsletter. I use Aweber for my newsletter service and so far so good. Not sure who would ever subscribe to your newsletter? Try offering something free in exchange for someone’s email address.
Just to put this in perspective. My absolute biggest blogging regret was not starting an email newsletter on DAY 1. Hands down. When I started the newsletter, I wasn’t sure if I’d get a dozen subscribers in a year. I’m getting 2 or 3 a day. Some days I get a dozen. I’ve had a Facebook page for my blog for nearly 3 years now. I have under 400 likes. Newsletters. Do it.
2. Only Post Valuable Content. Don’t waste people’s time. If you have nothing going on then don’t post. You don’t NEED to post something just because you always post on a Tuesday or whatever. If you take the time to write content that will provide value to people in one way or another, then you’ll readers will come back time and again. But if you mail in a post and just talk about what you had for lunch (unless your blog is literally about your daily lunches) and waste people’s time, then they’re much less likely to pay you repeat visits. I’m not talking about your blogging friends and real world friends that actually know you in real life. I’m talking about people that read those 2 or 3 killer posts you wrote over the past year and you’re starting to grow on them. Don’t blow it. Oh and for the love of God, if you take a week or two off from blogging, you don’t need to apologize to your readers. They’re not offended. I promise.
3. Don’t Make it a Chore. Growing your blog takes time. Don’t put pressure on yourself to churn out new, amazing posts every week. If you feel like you HAVE to hit publish or your blog is going to sink, you’re going to get burned out. Most people start blogs because they have something to say about a topic and they approach this new hobby with a fresh sense of optimism. So very many of them will quit or get bored or become cynical over a lack of success. If you’re blogging because you enjoy writing, then only write when you are going to enjoy it. If you’re pissed off or in a hurry, then you’re going to make the process miserable. Slow and steady wins the race. Take your time.
4. Be Known For One Thing. When people land on your site, they decide within the first few seconds whether or not to look around or to move onto the next website. People are a fickle bunch, no? You need to grab their attention and immediately make it clear who you are and why they should read your content. Chances are your content is diverse and you’re a complex person with skills, passions, hobbies and pictures of your pets. That’s all great. Let new readers figure that out after they’ve read a couple of posts. Initially though, you need to hit them right in the eyes with who you are and what you’re awesome at. Like a deer in headlights, if that’s what they’re looking for, you’re in luck. So how do you do that? Well, take my site for example. I want people to know right away that this site is about home improvement and power tools. Before they leave, I want them to think “Oh, this guy builds furniture. This guys is good at home improvement.” What do you want the people who land on your site to think? Gear your site towards that goal.
Posted in Blogging,Lessons Learned. Tagged in ,blogging, lessons learned
Posted by John on June 1st, 2014
When I first started blogging back in 2011, Lisa and I would cover more topics in our blog posts than we do today. A lot has changed since then. For starters, Lisa doesn’t write anymore. I’m also much more focused on home improvement and DIY projects specifically. Gone are the recipe posts and the occasional humor post. Probably for the best. At some point over the last few years I decided that sticking with this one niche topic would be better for our readers and frankly more satisfying than trying to cast a wider net. For the most part, it has been more enjoyable. In December we introduced our free email newsletter and started publishing wood working plans to try to build our following. Things got serious.
While this approach is all well and good, it can leave our blog a bit impersonal. Our posts are much more technical. I would prefer to make our blog more like a mullet. Not just business in front, but also a party in the back. My goal for this website is to build a community of people that not only enjoy reading my posts, but also contribute their own opinions and experiences.
In today’s post, I want to share some details of my life that I don’t often discuss on the blog and in the comments section I’d love to hear about you and your life.
What I do when I’m not blogging or working on the house.
For the most part, I’m usually trying to help Lisa around the house with the cleaning, laundry and taking care of our two girls. I used to cook more frequently after I graduated college, mostly because I had to. When I was 23 and 24 I was glued to the Food Network. I loved Oliver’s Twist and Good Eats. Nowadays, Lisa does 99% of the cooking, but I’ll try to do something one night a week or so. In case you missed that math, 1 night out of 7 equals 1%. Unfortunately, I find it much harder to cook if I’m actively working a home project like our office remodel.
What I do for fun.
When I have some genuine down time, I enjoy playing a first person shooter on our PS3. It’s setup in our sitting room. Lately I’ve been playing Battlefield 4. I didn’t pick-up the latest Call of Duty game. My video game time is usually 30 minutes or less so I prefer the run and gun type games that I can jump into and then quit. I never play the campaigns, just the multiplayer. I like to think I’m pretty good at it, too. Leave me your PS3 handle in the comments section and I’ll add you to my friends list, especially if you have BF4.
What TV I enjoy.
I HATE getting sucked into TV shows. It’s the worst. What I mean is… the shows that I get addicted to are usually so good that I end up binge watching them and they kill my evenings. I’m a big fan of Doctor Who. That’s pretty much the only regularly scheduled show that I watch. Otherwise I’m watching hockey or DVDs with our kids. I’ve managed to avoid watching Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones and House of Cards. Lisa just started watching Mad Men.
Where I travel
I have a great full-time job (that I won’t get into) that enables me to travel very rarely. I’ve been to San Diego, Seattle, Japan, Ireland, Denmark, Canada and Germany (soon). In my personal travel I’ve been to Portugal, France, The Netherlands and Mexico. Would love to get to the UK, back to Ireland, Italy, Greece and Scotland. It’s hard to pick a favorite place. In the US, I love San Diego. Even wrote a travel post about it way, way back when. It’s hard to beat the East Coast though. Philly and NY food is pretty hard to beat in the sandwich, pizza and European ethnic food department.
I don’t do sports. I used to run and workout when I was younger, but I haven’t been to the gym in a long, long time. I would love to start running again on a regular basis. Not for competition, just for good health and for enjoyment. Just this week, I ran for the first time in maybe ten years. My legs are destroyed. It’s going to be at least 4 or 5 days before I can walk normally again. This summer, I’ve been thinking about learning how to hockey skate so I can play in a rec league next year. I can ice skate, but I can’t skate backwards, speed stop nor have I ever tried to skate with a stick and puck. Going to be interesting.
Is watching and talking about Doctor Who a hobby? No? Well, then blogging is my hobby. Lisa and I are also dabbling with some online business ventures. One of my goals is to add a membership section to this site beyond the email newsletter. I also started writing a book on kitchen remodeling. Hope to have it finished by the end of the summer.
Now it’s your turn. Tell me a little but about yourself.
Posted by John on February 25th, 2014
In this post you’ll learn:
-About my Amazing Experience with Angie’s List
Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time getting to work on our home office remodel. I’ve got about 90% of the coffered ceiling framed out and I’ve applied for an electrical permit for the additional ceiling lights we’ll be adding. I’m looking forward to shifting gears and actually doing some drywall work, which isn’t something I’ve had to do much of in our new house. Am I any good at spackling or mudding walls? I’m actually pretty good at it, so I hope I can share some tips on that subject if you’re interested learning. Later this week, I’ll share some pictures of the ceiling work on our Instagram and Facebook accounts.
Today, I want to do something a little different and share with you one of my all-time favorite remodeling stories. Now just so we’re clear, I’m not being paid to write this post. I’m sort of on the fence as to whether or not I should start doing sponsored posts or not. I have yet to write one. Anyway, that’s a discussion for another day. Even though this isn’t a sponsored post and I’m not being compensated for it, I just added Angie’s List to my affiliate portfolio. That means if you visit the Angie’s List website using my link AND THEN purchase a subscription to their service, I get a kickback at no additional charge to you. Affiliate advertising is a good deal for bloggers and there’s way more money in affiliate advertising than banner or Google ads. Anyway, just want to be above board with our readers on this stuff.
So back to my favorite remodeling story….
It’s 2008 and I’m getting married in under three months. I’m living in a row house that has been about 50% gutted. The kitchen is gone. The upstairs bathroom is non-existent. All of my personal belongings are covered in a thin haze of horse-hair plaster dust. I was just informed by Philly’s License and Inspections Department that I need to have most of my remaining remodeling work completed by licensed and insured contractors. Philly has a policy where contractors are the only ones permitted to perform electrical and plumbing work. Homeowners are allowed to do some basic remodeling like window replacements, framing, drywall, etc. Not a popular policy among DIYers as you can probably imagine. So, being the rule follower, I acquiesced and attempted to hire a plumber and an electrician. Lucky for me, I had just signed up for Angie’s List. A few years prior, I had renovated the first half of the house and hired out some roof work. I quickly realized that using the yellow pages to find a roofer was a misadventure I didn’t care to repeat. Let’s just say I burned through some serious vacation time waiting for contractors to eventually not show up to give me quotes. It was infuriating. So by the time 2008 had rolled around, I had already become an Angie’s List subscriber.
Now here was the challenge before me. I needed to identify affordable, competent and reliable contractors to finish the electrical and plumbing work so I could finish the house in time to have my beautiful bride move in after we got married. These contractors would have to both show up AND give me a quote, which in the days before Angie’s List was… well… a crapshoot. Oh, and after all of that, I still wanted to build my own kitchen cabinets. Needless to say, time was a critical factor.
Here’s how I pulled it off… On a Monday, I called three electricians and four plumbers I found in Angie’s List. I told them all I wanted them to come by my house on Wednesday and give me a quote for some work I wasn’t permitted to do myself. I intentionally gave them all different times so as to stagger their visits throughout the day. Right away, in Philly, this is like asking for the Pope to swing by with a fresh cheesesteak. A couple responded with something like… “Meh, maybe Wednesday will work. We’ll see what we can do.” Then, as if reading from a script, towards the end of the phone call, they would each ask me where I got their number. Was this from a previous job? Did you find my number on a bathroom wall? Where did you hear about our business?
This is my favorite part. I would tell them “Angie’s List” and then listen for that audible silence on the other end of the line. That “Oh crap, I better show up and better give this dude a quote” kind of silence. They would all commit to being at the house that Wednesday. They know that if they didn’t show up or blew me off, I could go onto Angie’s List and leave them a bad review or indicate a no-show. That’s not good for business.
Wednesday rolled around and I literally had a dozen contractors in the house tripping all over each other to scope out the job. It was an Angie’s List miracle. Oh and that whole staggering thing went out the window once the morning rush hour hit. I had three electrical contractors in the house at the same time eyeing each other up. I think it ended up working out in my favor. They knew there was competition.
Each and every one of those contractors showed up and all but one gave me a written or verbal quote. One contractor did decline to provide a quote, but showed up anyway and after viewing the work, told me he wasn’t interested in the job. Hey, at least he told me.
I was thrilled. I ended up hiring two awesome contractors that’d I’d recommend in a second. Actually, I’m working on a Resources Page and I will provide their info to anyone in the Philly area who’s looking for some quality guys.
All the work ended up getting done fairly quickly, which left me in a great position to build my kitchen cabinets.
So that’s my Angie’s List story. If I ever need anything done by a contractor, which is rare these days, the first place Lisa and I look is “the List.” The membership fee is outrageously affordable. It’s under $4 a month and the cost drops even further if you buy a whole year or two subscription. Lisa and I have even used it to look up our prospective doctors and dentists. Forget “in-network”… are they on the List?
For $4 a month, if you hire a contractor once a year, it pays for itself immediately.
Just so you know, I’m never going to recommend a product or a service that I haven’t used or don’t hold in high regard.
I hope you’re having a great week and I’ll be back later this week with a home office update.
Posted in Blogging. Tagged in ,angie's list, contractors
Posted by John on January 15th, 2014
Since we started releasing our free woodworking plans to our newsletter subscribers, I realized that not everyone may be interested in building projects that are exactly the same size as the units in our house. Fair enough. So, I decided to open up an Etsy shop and sell custom dimensioned versions of the projects we make available to our newsletter subscribers. If someone wants to build one of our built-ins for example, but would prefer it taller or wider, no problem. You can buy the plans online and specify what final dimensions you would like and in a few days we can email you a customized set of plans specifically for you.
We’re also selling the same plans that are available for free to our newsletter subscribers. Why would I do that? Well, for one thing, it’s an opportunity to try and leverage some of the work we’ve done so far. It’s also a great way of establishing value to our readers and subscribers.
Here’s a link to our Etsy store: http://www.etsy.com/shop/OurHomefromScratch
This weekend, we’ll be back in our office finishing up our hardwood floors. In our next post, we’ll be sharing some of the design process and layout options sized for our office. We’ll get a chance to see what those ideas we considered actually look like in the space.
Posted in Blogging. Tagged in ,plans, woodworking
Posted by John on December 17th, 2013
Maybe this post is a week or so early, but with the holiday week fast approaching, I think it’s now or never. I’m not sure how much time I’ll have next week for a wrap-up, plus I want to make some changes to our theme during my Christmas vacation. I actually LOVE tweaking the html and css for our site. Probably because it’s such a new thing for me and I get a kick out of it. I’m sure it’ll get old eventually. Over the holiday, I hope to add another set of plans for our subscribers and I’m shooting to add them by the end of next week.
Anyway, it’s always fun to look back on the year that was and take another look at the projects we attempted. Key word here is “attempted.”
2013 Blog Year in Review
Let’s start with January…
The first month of 2013, introduced our readers to our Master Bedroom and Sitting room. You can actually get a tour of our whole house on the Home Tour page. We bought an Ektorp couch from Ikea and upon opening the box, discovered it was broken. Instead of returning it, I just fixed it. Couches are heavy and I’m not a fan of returning heavy stuff.
In February, we started off with a Wiggles Themed Birthday Party for our two year old. Lisa made some graphics on Photoshop and we had a fun family party.
We finished up February by starting on our large built-in cabinet and also knocked out a custom wooden frame made from reclaimed lumber from a 200 year old barn.
March was all about built-ins. We did the bulk of the carpentry work for our large cabinet over the course of this month, including our tutorial video on building shaker cabinet doors.
I think April was our favorite month of 2013. We added a daughter to our growing family and wrapped up our large built-in cabinet. I guess the baby was slightly better than the cabinet.
We put a wrap up post together for the built-in to make it easier to follow the flow of the build.
I’m happy to say that those windows are still bug proof!! Big win.
July may not have been everyone’s favorite month since we did more than a few posts on website coding and WordPress theme design. While I’m not going to bore you with details of coding again, I am thrilled that we were able to get away from our standard theme and design something custom tailored to our needs. It’s always a work in-progress though and I’m continuing to make some tweaks here and there.
We also finally found some time to add UV window film to our front entrance. Tricky to put up, but it’ll prevent our floors from getting sun damage.
In August, we spent some more time in the garage adding an electrical outlet and plumbing in some compressed air so I could move my compressor out of the garage and into the basement. Love the extra space that move has given me.
In September, we finally re-epoxied our garage floor. You could literally eat off it now (I still wouldn’t). We also wrapped up our summer long garage improvement series by revealing the after photos.
In October, we took it back inside and started design work on our custom media cabinet. October was pretty much TV stand month as we only posted about the build of this piece.
November saw the completion of the TV stand project. This cabinet has only been around for a few weeks and we’re big fans of it so far.
So that was our 2013. Pretty exhausting if you ask me.
We’re super excited about 2014. We’re really going to try to go crazy with this home office. We’re going to be adding a lot more woodworking plans and possibly open an Etsy store for custom furniture designs similar to what we did in SketchUp for the TV stand.
Thanks for following along and we genuinely hope you learned something from our experiences this past year. I mainly write these blog posts with the intention of passing along some of the experiences I’ve gained over the years so you can approach your own home improvement projects with more clarity and confidence.
All the best,
John and Lisa
Posted in Blogging. Tagged in ,2013 rewind
Posted by John on December 2nd, 2013
It’s that time of the year again around here. Lisa is digging through our Christmas decor bins and dressing up the house. While holiday decor isn’t really my thing, I do enjoy laughing at some of our older ornaments as we pull them out of the bins. It’s a fun tradition.
Since we could use a break from the whole cabinet construction thing, we’re going to do something fun this holiday season. We’re kicking off an Instagram Christmas Ornament Hashtag Party. Here’s the theme: Weird or Funny Christmas Ornaments.
If you’re not sure what that is, there’s nothing wrong with you. I promise. It’s Captain Kathryn Janeway from the TV series Star Trek Voyager. My folks bought it for me back in Christmas of 1998. Why I’ve kept it this long is the real question here.
So here’s how this Instagram party will work. Take an instagram photo (or Twitter) of the weirdest, oddest or funniest Christmas ornament you own. Use the hashtag #WeirdestOrnament2013 or #FunniestOrnament2013 when you post it. You can also post it on our Facebook wall.
In a week or so, I’ll share the photos in a post. Let’s keep it lighthearted and safe for work, if you know what I mean. Okay? Cool, have fun.
Posted by John on November 27th, 2013
Wanted to check in with everyone before Thursday! I forgot to mention in our media cabinet wrap up post that our total cost was approximately $155. Originally, I had hoped to build it from leftover material from the bigger built-in, but I ended up needing more wood than I thought. We’re happy with $155 considering it’s pretty much exactly what we were looking for and we probably would’ve had to have spent more than $200 to get something similar.
The other update I wanted to mention is our new weekly newsletter. You may have noticed the opt-in form to the left of this post. We’re primarily starting the newsletter as a way of keeping our readers more in the loop with our projects and posts. As an incentive, to subscribe, we’re going to be including content that you may not see on the blog. That content will include tips and tricks for DIY and carpentry projects. We’re going to try and keep up with the newsletter broadcasts on a weekly or as-needed basis. We promise not to spam.
The most compelling incentive we’re giving our readers to subscribe is coming soon. In a few weeks, we’re going to start releasing our project plans for all of the woodworking projects we’ve done since the blog started in 2011. The plans will include a full tutorial as well as a materials list. Of course, the plans will be absolutely free to our subscribers. If you’re 100% not interested in subscribing, but still want access to the plans, I’m going to sell them on Etsy as well.
I encourage all of our regular readers and new visitors to subscribe to our new, free newsletter. There’s an opt-in form at the end of this post that you can use to subscribe as well as the form on the sidebar.
We’ll make it worth your while. I promise.
Lisa and I hope all of our American friends have a wonderful and safe Thanksgiving!! See you next week!
Posted in Blogging. Tagged in ,blogging, newsletter
Posted by John on September 26th, 2013
Thank you to everyone who took part in our reader survey last week! The results were enormously helpful and will enable us deliver better content more tailored to what you want to read. Overall, the responses had a very positive tone and reinforced what we suspected, which is that a.) you generally like the DIY and woodworking posts and b.) aren’t all that interested in anything that strays too far from that subject. What? … NO ONE likes posts on HTML and CSS coding? Really? <h1> Bummer </h1>
Even the comments that offered some light criticisms were constructive and respectful and I’m grateful for that. None of you are jerks! Bottom line: This blog is always going to be a work in progress, but we’re narrowing down the focus to specifically Home Improvement, DIY Projects and Furniture Builds. Hope that works for you!!
Let’s quickly recap the results from the survey.. not going to turn this post into a board meeting, but you know. Oh, and don’t blame me for the Young House Love color palette here. Blame Survey Monkey.
Here’s what we learned about you, our precious, precious readers.
1. You are mostly female, but we have a surprisingly high number of male readers.
2. You’re mostly around my age, 34, or younger and we don’t have any readers younger than 24.
3. Exactly half of you have your own blogs. Cool.
4. Despite my poorly worded question, the vast majority of you told us that you stop by fairly regularly. Like once a week or more.
5. Almost all of you rent or own and over 80% of our readers own their homes.
6. You all either like our posting frequency or think we could post more often. That’s good. I would be concerned if you thought once or twice a week was too much.
7. You want to see more DIY projects and woodworking. You’re going to get your wish.
8. Over 60% of you like our current variety of post topics. A good chunk of you though, would like to see less personal, cooking and coding related posts. I hear ya. It’s not our strong suit anyway, so you can definitely expect less of that stuff. We’ll probably still throw in an occasional life update here and there, but it’s going to be rare.
9. The last multiple choice question asked you what new additions you’d like to see us incorporate. The data isn’t exactly clear on this. I think you want me to add Project Plans, but that 80% spike could just be some noise in the data.
Totally kidding. I promise to learn SketchUp and I promise to add a plans section to our site. It. Will. Happen.
Thanks again for the feedback. Also, if you haven’t yet entered our Koostik Giveaway, please do. The contest will remain open until Monday evening. Spread the word.
What’s Next for OHFS
Like we mentioned above, we’re narrowing down our content to focus on our strengths. We’re going to try to incorporate more video tutorials with narration like our video on building cabinet doors. I’m going to try to whip up a plans section so you’ll have an easier time recreating a woodworking project that you’ve seen on here. In the survey comments, someone mentioned that they’d like to learn more about woodworking tools, so expect some videos on those. I’d LOVE to write an e-book (free, of course) on how to build a kitchen cabinet or a built-in or something. This WordPress theme could use some personality too.
In the short term, next week we’re going to be bringing you a DIY project redo and then it’s on to our next furniture build. We’re going to start working on a new media console for our sitting room. You won’t want to miss that, so stay tuned.
John and Lisa
Posted by John on September 22nd, 2013
This week we have some exciting news. On Tuesday, we’re hosting a Giveaway sponsored by Koostik. If you’re not familiar with Koostik, they make beautiful all-wood docking stations for iPhones, iPads and iPad Mini’s. They’ll be giving away one of their Walnut Original models valued at $95 to one of our readers!
Here’s what it looks like:
Aside from their obvious beauty, what makes these products even more interesting is they don’t contain any electronics or moving parts. They amplify the sound coming from your iPhone or iPad simply through the design of the sound chambers. Smart stuff. Even if you don’t own an Apple product, these would make supremely cool gifts for the iPhone owner in your life.
So stop by on Tuesday to enter the giveaway!!
Koostik is also partnering with Rockler to offer a DIY kit version of their original design that will retail for nearly half the cost of the pre-finished model. Look for those in your local Rockler store or online in October.
Since most of our readers are DIYers and interested in woodworking, I thought it would be beneficial to have a conversation with Koostik’s founder, Jim Simon, and find out a little more about what they do. He shares with us some info on his workshop and offers advice to other would-be entrepreneurs.
1. Where is your company located and how many employees do you have?
Koostik is located in Englewood, Colorado. We have 5 total employees:
Jim Simon- Product design and production, CEO (owner)
Jancy Simon (Spouse to Jim)- Office Mgmt. and Bookkeeping (owner)
Mike Simon (Son of Jim and Jancy)- Sales & Mktg. / Web site (owner)
Marshall Usinger- Woodworker, Social media
Caleb Zwanzig- Woodworker, Pinterest
2. How did you get the idea to build your first Koostik?
After I bought my first iPhone (model 3GS), I was listening to music through the external speaker while enjoying our backyard patio with family. I was wanting more volume and the idea came to me to fashion a small megaphone out of a styrofoam coffee cup. It worked pretty well- but wasn’t much to look at. Being a woodworker and having made a few acoustic guitars with our son Mike, I wanted to see what I could come up with to boost the volume on my phone. My wife and I owned and operated a Kitchen and Bath business at the time, so while working full time in that business, I started making some prototypes in my spare time in my home garage workshop. Over the course of about 9 months, I made some 50 different prototypes testing various designs and concepts until I came up with the design we now call the “Original Koostik.”
Along the way, I was seeking feedback from friends and relatives to gauge their reactions to the various designs. Without question, the Original Koostik struck a common chord of appreciation. We decided to build a web site and start marketing the product.
3. Were you already a skilled carpenter before building your first model?
I started woodworking as a kid in my dad’s garage shop. I’ve made my living as an adult ever since as a custom furniture designer and maker as well as cabinetmaker and general carpenter. I’m currently 59 years young.
4. Tell us about your shop. What kind of power tools are you running?
I produced the first 2,000 or so products that we shipped after starting Koostik in my 300 square foot garage workshop. At the time, because of space constraints, I was using a DeWalt portable 10” table saw, a Delta portable 6” jointer, a Milwaukee 12” miter saw, a Jet 6 X 48 stationary belt sander, a benchtop Jet oscillating spindle sander, a Jet floor model drill press, and a Steel City 16” bandsaw. In addition, I used a variety of dedicated routers and special routing fixtures I had designed and made just for production.
When we outgrew the garage shop in August of 2012, we moved into our currently leased 2,400 sq. ft. space. Of that space, 1,700 sq. ft. is dedicated to the shop, and 700 sq. ft. to the office and shipping areas. I left all the tools set up in my home shop and acquired additional machines for the new shop.
Saw Stop 3hp table saw
Jet 10: table saw dedicated to dado operations
Jet 6” jointer with helical head
DeWalt 12” planer
Makita 10” miter saw
Laguna 14” bandsaw
Jet 6 X 48 stationary belt sanders (3)
Jet 10-20 thickness sander
Jet floor model oscillating spindle sander
Ingersol Rand air compressor
Delta floor model drill press
Laguna dust collection cyclone
Laguna air cleaners (2)
Rockler wall mount dust collectors (2)
Fein II shop vacs (3)
Numerous routers, random orbit sanders, drills, etc.
5. Tell us about your Koostiks. How many different models do you have? How long do they take to build?
We currently (as of 9-16-13) have 9 unique products on our site available in a wide variety of woods. Six of those products are designed and made exclusively for iPhone, and three are designed and made for iPads. All of these 9 products employee passive acoustic amplification principles to boost the volume of the external speaker on these Apple devices. The volume boost is typically in the range of 10 to 20 decibels, which is quite significant. We are about to launch a new line of products which are not amplification devices, but are very nice tech stands which are designed to work with all smart phones and all tablet devices. They will be marketed under the name, “[k]easel” and we are excited at the prospect of opening some new markets as a result.
All of our products are currently made 100% in our own shop. We use some pretty sophisticated routing fixtures and often use router bit tooling in unconventional ways because of how we are able to fixture things in production. Our products appear to be fairly simple in form; but they are not so simple to make. Depending on the product we are running, per piece production times can range between 10 minutes and 30 minutes each. That is based on 3 guys working in concert in the shop. When I was working alone in my first garage workshop, the Original Koostik typically took me an hour to make each one. I can tell you, I was working a lot of hours to keep up with demand in the early going.
6. You use some pretty beautiful species of wood like Walnut and Beetle Kill Pine, etc. Where do you source your material?
We source all of our woods through our local Austin Hardwoods supplier which happens to be pretty close to us. I have been a customer of theirs for about 30 years and they have always done a great job for me.
7. A lot of our readers are DIYers and some are even entrepreneurial bloggers that are hoping to find success. What advice would you give them?
First of all- success has to be earned every day. You never arrive. As soon as you think you’ve arrived, it can all start to vanish. Keep your eye on the ball. Stay focused like a laser every day. Do not neglect the things you may find less interesting to do- such as sales or bookkeeping, or paying your payroll taxes on time. If you can’t or won’t do these things, you better find someone who will- and hold them accountable for the results you expect. Being in business for yourself is MUCH more difficult than working for someone else. Be realistic about that. If you want to end each day with a sense of success, you WILL be working very hard and long hours. If something you’re doing doesn’t work out, move on. Don’t keep beating a dead horse. This all sounds pretty harsh, but good things in life require sacrifice and great effort. The rewards are worth it.
8. Tell us about your Rockler product launch.
One of the buyers at Rockler Woodworking approached Mike by email some months back and expressed how much they liked our products. I’ve been a faithful customer of Rockler for over 30 years and I thought, “Hey, maybe we can earn back some of that fortune I’ve paid out to Rockler over the years!” They did not have any specific product or concept in mind as to how we might work together; so I started giving it some thought. The idea of a kit for our Original Koostik came to me and we started making up some samples for them to give us feedback. Over the course of a few months, we were able to come up with a packaged solution they liked and wanted to put in their stores. It will contain a pre-machined solid Cherry body block and a pre-machined solid Cherry faceplate. Following the included instructions, the DIYer will pre-sand components, glue the faceplate to the body, and do all the final shaping, sanding, and finishing. As a kit, the retail price will be approximately 40% less than our finished Original Koostik as sold on our site. I believe they intend to roll it out in October of this year in time for Christmas sales.
9. Is this your dream job?
Honestly, my dream job is more about who I get to work with every day than specifically what I get to do. I love what I’m doing right now- no question about that. I really love the people I get to work with! I love solving design challenges and finding creative ways to make our business grow and be more successful. At Koostik, our stated reason for existence is to create wealth for everyone in the company. We define wealth not simply as money, but as satisfaction, joy, happiness, and a sense of personal accomplishment. If we happen to gain some financial wealth in the process- so much the better!
Big thanks to Jim and the folks at Koostik for sharing their wealth of experience with us and our readers. We wish them continued success.
How about that workshop? That’s a lot of power tools. I’ll take one of everything, please.