When we had our night on the town at the Remodeling Show in Chicago, we were fortunate enough to have Tim Carter from AsktheBuilder.com join us. And as one thing seems to lead to another, and when he says — “Ask the Builder,” well, we did. Here is Building Moxie‘s interview with Tim.
BMoxie: Ask the Builder was launched in 1993, was this your start on the internet? Is there anything more about the launch (that we wouldn’t find on your site) that you could tell us? How did you decide on the name?
Tim Carter: Ask the Builder began in October of 1993. It started as a syndicated newspaper column that still runs today in about 60 papers nationwide. I quickly discovered that most writers make little money, the publishers instead were raking in all the profits — I needed to be a “publisher”.
I didn’t see the Internet for the first time until September of 1995, but I had an instant and powerful epiphany. Knowing that the “Web” was going to be huge, I had a website up just six weeks later. For $1 a day, I was a PUBLISHER. (That was the hosting fee back in 1995 – $30 a month.)
The Ask the Builder name was actually suggested by one of my first editors.
BMoxie: 1995 was the Wild West. Can you tell us what it was like in those early days (of the internet)? Was there a strategy that you used to get you started?
I sold my first ad to Pella Windows BEFORE I launched. As insane as this sounds, I sold a six-month run-of-site ad for $15,000. They paid in advance because the woman at Pella had this amount of money left in her ad budget to burn. I was in the black from the get-go. NO ONE, at that time, had any idea what ads were worth.
I knew it would all come crashing down back then, and the dot com crash happened in late 1999 – because the advertisers could not even fathom selling their products online. They were so wrong. I started selling products online back in 1996. I KNEW that people who were “online” didn’t want to pick up the phone and call or jump in their car. Looks like I was right. It just took ten years for most to catch up!
The early strategy was simple: Be a publisher. Sell ads.
BMoxie: Do you have help getting it off the ground? Do you work with anyone now? How has your editorial strategy changed through the years?
Tim: I had programmers build my site and I’ve had a few close friends over the years help with some of the needed coding. But all of the daily maintenance of the site, column loading, etc. was done by me with a very basic FTP program.
I have two full-time employees now and one part time programmer / videographer. I have two other expert coding and server engineers that help me behind the scenes. They’re part of a very secret Internet Entrepreneur Group that I belong to. I was one of the first six charter members.
My editorial strategy has not changed too much. I still write columns each week, wishing I could write ten times what I’m doing. That was an early mistake. I could have written much more back when I started, but didn’t because I only had to do one column for the papers.
The only two big changes is that my content is now also available through video (and soon to be LIVE streaming). In addition, I use a secret keyword tool that tells me the most popular topics to write about. If I would have had access to that fifteen years ago, I’d be making twenty times what I am today. Lesson Learned: Don’t sell lemonade in the middle of the forest. Sell it at the beach. (Translation: Write about topics people WANT to know about.)
BMoxie: From your bio … you have a background in building/remodeling. Can you tell us a little more about that experience? Are you still a working builder/remodeler?
Tim: I worked hands on in the field for PAYING customers for over 20 years. I’m a master carpenter, master plumber, and a master roof cutter. I’m also an expert in ceramic tile work.
The big difference between me and many of my online peers is that a vast majority of them do not have five percent of the hands-on experience I have, and most have NEVER worked for a paying customer. That’s what counts. Saying you’re a pro because you did some remodeling work on a house YOU bought doesn’t count. When your quality meets the market expectations, then you can say you’re a pro. Anything less puts you in the Weekend Warrior category.
BMoxie: The tag line on your website says “Nationally-Syndicated Newspaper Columnist.” Can you tell us a little more about this? Would I find you in print in one of my local papers?
Tim: See above about newspaper deal. Yes, I’m in quite a few papers all over the USA. Tribune Media Services out of Chicago syndicates the column.
BMoxie: As an expert, do have a list of go to resources? Who do you turn to for (home improvement) information? What publications online (or not) do you respect, and perhaps read regularly?
Tim: If I need highly technical information about a column, I’ll reach out to one of the many Associations or talk with the scientists at the manufacturers. I don’t turn to anyone for home improvement information. Not to sound stuck up, but by gosh, I’m one of the experts out there.
I used to have great respect for Fine Homebuilding magazine, but that’s slipped a lot in the past decade. I think the editors don’t have the real depth of knowledge they NEED to edit the submissions and call out errors in their online forums.
BMoxie: It’s called ASK the Builder… What is the craziest question you have ever received from a reader?
Tim: Craziest question….. Oh my…… I’ve had so many. Perhaps I should sell those!! Great idea.
Here’s one from today:
I have recently finished renovating my house and added a new section in the basement that I want to reserve for an indoor sports court for my 3 boys. Two of them play ice hockey and want to practice shooting pucks and the other wants to shoot basket and hit tennis balls against the wall. I’ve been doing some research on finding affordable materials for the ceiling, wall and floor to best outfit the space.
I have only come across some exclusive contractors that have materials for my purpose but I have to hire them for installation. But I am a diy type. I want to be able to buy the material and install it myself. Can you give me some pointers?
BMoxie: I read about your move from radio to YouTube. In fact, when we met recently I heard you discussing it. Can you tell us a little about your presence there? Do you have a strategy? What are your goals? How do you produce your videos?
Tim: I did a two-hour call-in radio show for twelve years. It was fun. I only quit because I got bored and the time slot sucked. Plus, the ad people didn’t try to sell the show because I had editorial control over the ad copy.
But video. Oh video! I started my video career in 1999 on the Fox affiliate in Cincinnati, OH. I did random live TV on the morning show. It was so cool.
The ABC affiliate saw me (you do realize that all TV stations monitor in real time what the others are doing, don’t you?) and hired me away to do weekly spots. I got paid $200 to do each one. It was gravy money.
I KNEW that online video was going to be huge back in 1999, so I negotiated in my contract with ABC the copyright to the videos! Plus, they had to tape and post-produce the spots with me closing as “ … I’m Tim Carter, Ask the Builder.” What everyone saw on TV was me saying, “ … I’m Tim Carter for Eyewitness 9 News.” I used MY custom videos for my website.
The video strategy was brilliant looking back. Google saw that I had video and in 2005 they approached me and begged me to load my 200 videos to Google Video. What’s that you ask? Well, ten months later they bought this geeky website YouTube.com. Google Video folded into YouTube. In 2006, I was one of THE FIRST YouTube Partners.
The future is video. I’m trying to do many more in 2012. I was just tapped to be one of the FIRST Live Streaming video people on YouTube. I’ll be having my own weekly show(s) on YouTube by the end of Q1 2012. I’m building the studio for it now.
We produce video using great HD cameras, pro lighting, and I edit in iMovie. We’ve refined the shooting so that post production is at a minimum. Post production is the time suck.
BMoxie: What is the highlight of what you do? What keeps you going?
Tim: The highlight of what I do? Good question. I’d have to say the feeling I get hours after I send out my newsletter. I get MANY reply emails from subscribers telling me how much they appreciate the information and how I help them. It’s priceless.
When I travel, I try to have meet ups (just like where I met you in Chicago) with my newsletter subscribers. It’s HUGE fun and pleasure to meet these folks.
Tim: Highlight of my career? I don’t think it’s happened yet. Something tells me that this LIVE Streaming Video is going to take me to the next level.
BMoxie: If you had a million dollar piece of advice for a homeowner, what would that be?
Tim: STOP and do research BEFORE you start a project. Don’t go online AFTER the ship is sinking looking for a life preserver.
BEWARE of water. Water is a house’s BIGGEST enemy.
BMoxie: If you had a million dollar piece of advice for a budding home improvement superstar, what would that be?
Tim: My advice to a budding home improvement superstar:
Subscribe to the three Ds:
and be selfless. Do NOT focus on money. Money will come by default if you become selfless.
BMoxie: Is there anything noteworthy you may want to mention about Ask the Builder? Can we expect anything new and surprising in the coming year?
Tim: The biggest stuff in 2012 for AsktheBuilder.com: LIVE Streaming TV & a The Best of Ask the Builder Autoresponder Series.
Where to find Tim:
On Twitter, here
To promote his newsletter he says, “SUBSCRIBE now to my Free Newsletter and your wildest dreams will come true. http://www.AskTheBuilder.com/Newsletter_Offer.shtml. When you confirm your subscription, I’ll summon the local wizards here in New Hampshire. We’ll cast a protective spell that will ensure success on all your projects!”
His emails signed, “Do it Right, Not Over”
Thanks for taking the time Tim. Thanks out to everyone for reading, hope you enjoyed. Back tomorrow for a short string of project progress posts and stuff from around my (and maybe Barry‘s) house(s). For more interviews of with industry stars, please see our Interview category. Cheers. ~jb