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Lessons Learned

Blogging 3 Years Later

Posted by 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.

blogging tips

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 ,,

My Expensive DIY Plumbing Lesson

Posted by on May 21st, 2014

In today’s post I want to share a story with you from back in the days when I wasn’t very skilled in the ways of home improvement. I believe that you learn much more from failures than you do from successes, so I’m not in the least bit embarrassed to discuss this episode.  I hope this story helps put your home improvement challenges in perspective.  The only real failure is if you don’t learn anything from your mistakes.

plumbing-lesson

In 2004, I was about six months into owning my first home.  I had just learned how to wire a house and I was getting the hang of interior trim work.  I was scrambling to get the place drywalled before a big work trip overseas.  The day before my flight, my dad had come down to give me a hand with some other house work.  Back then I hired out all my drywall work and I had a few guys hanging the sheetrock in another part of the house.  It was a cold and rainy day, typical for that time of year in Philly.

Shortly before the sheetrock guys were to quit for the day, my dad and I noticed water had started to drip heavily from an archway just near one of the windows.  My first reaction was to assume it was from the rain.  The home was 100 years old and a bit of a money pit at the time, so of course that’s where my mind went.  I opened up a window to see if I could identify where the rain was entering the house and instead noticed the rain had pretty much stopped, but the drip inside the house was getting worse.

At that moment, the drip started to appear more in the center of the archway and my father and I realized that one of the drywall screws probably punctured a copper pipe.  Crap.

After turning off the water, we had the drywall folks rip down a small section of their work and we were able to quickly identify where the leak was located.  Rather than call a plumber, we decided that we could easily handle this repair.  All we had to do was cut through the puncture and solder on a coupling sleeve over the cut.  We thought this would be simple.

Let me tell you something, 2014 John would have that leak fixed in about 15 minutes. 2004 John and his dad were in over their heads.

We headed over to the hardware store and picked up some propane, a pipe cutter, solder, flux, sandpaper, some flux brushes and a few couplings.  We cut the pipe right on the puncture, sanded it, pulled one of the pipes out of the way to slide the sleeve on and then set out to heat the pipes.  We had heard that you could use bread to keep the interior of the pipe dry while soldering and that seemed to work okay.  Confident that we had totally nailed it, we turned the water pressure back on and promptly had multiple jets of water spraying into the room.  Crap.

For the next two hours we essentially repeated that process four or five times.  Once it got to about ten o’clock my dad had to leave and I called an emergency plumber.  I couldn’t just leave the water off while I was away.  I had two roommates at the time that in all likelihood would require use of the shower and toilet.

The emergency plumber showed up and fixed the leak in about the time it will take you to read this post.  He was FAST.  He also charged me $250.  Oof.  Here’s where I got my money’s worth though: I asked him what I was doing wrong and he taught me some tips that I’ve used countless times since.  Instead of a $250 repair, it was a $250 one-on-one pipe repair training session.  Money well spent.

Here’s what he did differently:

– He didn’t try to use one coupling over the punctured area, he cut out the entire section and soldered in a short section of pipe with two couplings.  The punctured pipe had been too deformed to get a solid seal around it.

– He used MAPP gas instead of propane since it burns hotter and heats the pipe and coupling up faster.

– Immediately after the solder was sucked into the joint, he used his flux brush and brushed a light amount of flux on the outside of the joint, which appeared to further smooth and even out the solder.  It looked much cleaner and more professional as a result.

These types of lessons aren’t limited to plumbing obviously and while I hope you find his tips helpful, that’s not the point of this post.  Sometimes, we just need to step back when we get stuck and ask for help.  It’s not a surrender or a defeat, although it sure can feel that way sometimes.  It’s an opportunity to learn.

If you’ve had an expensive home improvement lesson, I’d love to hear about it.  Please share your story by leaving a comment.

Posted in DIY Projects,Lessons Learned,Plumbing. Tagged in ,,

Painting in Progress

Posted by on January 13th, 2012

Last week, we posted on some of the lessons we learned when we hired a professional painter.  This week we’ve had the opportunity to put some of those lessons to the test to see how well they’ve worked.  The photo below shows the current state of our family room (well, we’ve actually moved our furniture back in place too).  I ran out of painting time and still need to finish this up.

First thoughts… we still love the color. It’s amazing how much darker the room looks now. Maybe it’s not amazing.  Maybe it’s because I took this photo at night and the floors are dark and the paint is darker.  Yeah, that’s probably why.

Anyway, this is the first room I’ve cut-in without using tape.  I’ve got to admit, it’s a lot easier and faster than I thought it would be.  You end up painting slower than if there’s tape, but it’s much cleaner.  I’m using a 2.5″ wide, angle cut Purdy brush.

The other recommendation we got from our painter was the paint roller.  He uses a Collosus roller also by Purdy.  I remember seeing this thing in action and it looked like a giant mop head.  So, I picked one up at our local Sherwin Williams.  Apparently, it comes in a couple different nap lengths.  Naturally, I went for the longest nap, the 3/4″.  Check this thing out…

Ridiculous right?  It puts a LOT of paint on the wall.  A LOT.  If you’re going to use it, be prepared for major drippage.

Another tip we noticed from the painter was how he prepped the receptacles and the light switches.  I’ve used ziploc bags to keep the switch plates in with the screws.  Although, sometimes I’ll just leave the screws on the counter.

Here’s what the painter did…

He put the switch plate screws back in the switches.  Not monumental, obviously, but smart and convenient none the less.

Do you have any paint tips?  Next week, we’ll be showing you what we learned from our hardwood floor install.

Posted in Lessons Learned,Staining and Painting. Tagged in ,,

Lessons Learned #1: Pro Painter Skills

Posted by on January 6th, 2012

I want to try something a little different here so bare with me.  I’ve said before that I’m not a fan of hiring a contractor to do something that I can do on my own.  It’s just not in my nature.  I’ll make exceptions to that rule, like when I’m too afraid of heights to paint our 2 story vestibule or like when the scope of the work is above my time and capacity (like building a home myself).  Other than that, if I can do it, I want to do it.  That’s why they call us DIYers right?  So when I DO hire someone, in addition to getting the work done, I’d like to learn something from the experience.  That’s why I’m starting this post category, to share what I’ve learned from an experience after the fact, whether it be from a contractor or from a job that I’ve completed myself.

The first time I had the idea to learn something from a contractor I was in a bind.  Way back in 2004, I had just bought my first home and some guys were hanging drywall (I didn’t really know how to do much DIY back then).  My father was over and we were doing some other small project.  All of a sudden, we had water pouring into our living room.  We had no idea where is was coming from.   It was raining at the time, but not heavy enough to account for the amount of water building up in the house.  I immediately turned off the water supply and we discovered that one of the drywall hangers had punctured a copper pipe with a drywall screw.  To make matters worse, it’s 6pm and the next day I was going to Japan for two weeks and I had a roommate that needed that water while I was gone for obvious reasons.  No problem.  My father and I would repair it.  We went to the local hardware store and got some couplings, some flux, sandpaper.  We got this.  After four hours of trying, we failed.  This little pipe kept leaking.  At 10pm we made the decision to call an emergency plumber.  At around 1am this guy stopped by and knocked this repair out in 5 minutes flat.  For $250!  Knowing this would not be a cheap fix (relative to the size of the work), I asked the plumber to show me exactly how to do this and he explained to me what I was doing wrong.  I felt much better about the expense of the repair knowing that I basically got a plumbing lesson out of it.

When I hired the painter for my vestibule, I genuinely didn’t think I would get much of a lesson out of it.  But I did learn a couple things.

1.  Taping.  This guy didn’t tape a thing.  He free-handed everything.  I did a comparison to his work in the vestibule to mine in the living room.  Despite the fact that I tape my trim, his cutting-in was cleaner.  Let me show you what I’m talking about.

I taped and painted the molding around this banister. You can clearly see that I had bleed thru from the paint. That occurs where the tape doesn’t create a solid seal. I have this problem in several areas throughout the room. It’s not a big deal, but it does require some touching-up.

Now take a look at his trim painting.  It’s perfect.

What was his secret?  He used a quality brush and he has a LOT of practice. According to him, he uses a Wooster brush.  For the rest of our painting, I picked up a Purdy brush, so we’ll see if I can improve on my earlier work.  I’ll try working without a net tape.

2.  The roller.  He used a serious roller.  They looked like mops.  I’ve always used disposable rollers and haven’t had any issues.  I like the idea that you can take them off and throw them out when you’re done with them.  But my rolling occasionally makes areas with varying shine to them, almost like I missed a spot.  And that’s with two coats.  His work was even with a consistent appearance.  He told me he uses Colossus rollers by Purdy.

 

 

 

 

So that’s my lesson’s learned from hiring a pro painter. I hope you get something out of this, I sure did.

Have you ever learned some tips from hiring a pro?  Did it make it easier to justify paying for it?

Posted in Lessons Learned,Staining and Painting. Tagged in ,,