I had just begun blogging (or maybe it was actually just after people had begun reading my blogging) when a friend said to me – You know . . . what you are doing . . . (writing about your house) kinda reminds me of this other blog I have been reading recently. You should check it out. And . . . the funniest thing is – they are based right here in Baltimore County.
She had been referring to the site and the crew at One Project Closer – OPC in certain circles. And from that day (roughly), I began following the site. Since — I have come to know it as a source for clear, concise and well-researched home improvement information.
It however was more recently and only shortly after they joined us in the Twittosphere a month or so ago when I made contact. I asked, Hey, can I come out to meet the team? And @OneProjCloser said, “Sure.”
Just short of the Howard County line, MD, and located in the community of Ellicott Mills, the folks from OPC were there to greet me. I knew beforehand with whom I was meeting (or at least who I hoped to meet). I had studied their About page. An earlier iteration of it (from memory) read something like this, ‘ . . . We get the question all the time — Are you professionals? And the answer always — No. We are homeowners just like you . . . .’
And now, to borrow from the current page,”. . . Four friends living in the same community in the suburbs of Baltimore, Maryland. We’re married (Fred to Kim; Ethan to Jocie), and have three homes between us . . . . ”
I met Fred, Kim, Ethan and Jocie at Ethan and Jocie’s end-of-group townhome. And no . . . there was no tell tale sign of construction in progress — no stacks of lumber, no dumpster filling the front yard. There was nothing that noticeably said, “This is the home of a top tier home improvement blogger (actually two).” What I found instead was simply a well-maintained house, and a warm and inviting welcome.
And as we sat in their living room chatting, the laughter and jokes flew (old friends?). When I shared tidbits about my house (and how far off it is), I was informed quickly of Fred and Kim’s situation. Their home also . . . far from complete.
Jocie points to the engineered wood flooring that the guys installed (and yes, Fred & Ethan = the guys), but Fred follows quickly by telling me of plans (just that coming weekend) to level their home’s first floor; yes, the entire first floor — around 1000 sf. Fred and Kim’s colonial is only a short walk from this tree-lined court.
I learn quickly that the bond extends pretty far back. Both couples, and friends before couples, grew up in connected circles. Lively stories swirled briefly, but I believe I picked up that Fred and Ethan attended the same high school, Kim’s brother was friends with Jocie’s cousin (I hope I totally didn’t misrepresent that), and Kim and Jocie even went to college together — at least for awhile. All tell me that it was only a few years ago, on becoming neighbors, when the friendship and finally this collaboration blossomed.
While the friendship, and especially in our discussion, seems easy-going and relaxed, this blogging business is treated as such. Each family is responsible for 10 posts a month, twenty in total, and the guys do frequently handle a bulk of the posts. Fred three one week, Ethan two. The following week this is then flip flopped, or at least that is how it all started out.
The group talks too of roles within the team but are quick to point out that there is much overlap. I have come to think of Fred as the lead developer and spark plug, Ethan as the PR/Marketing guy with a knack for audio-visual, Jocie as the online networker – out there reading and commenting on other blogs, and Kim as the project manager – the information gatherer, great at communicating with contractors and others that the team must work with.
Started on Blogspot and with some posts going up at the end of 2007 — One Project Closer didn’t officially launch until January of 2008. From there, growth has happened rather quickly — the number of subscribers on the site today at 1410. Always consisting of how-to info, the site also now features product reviews and giveaways. Its roots though may still lie in more simple underpinnings.
Again borrowing from the About page, “. . . Our site is unique because we relate to real people. We’re two families who work on our homes and communities primarily at night and on weekends. . . . We’re early adopters of tools and materials. We like doing home improvement projects ourselves. And we love telling readers about both. We use professional contracting services when they make sense, and we do our research so we and our readers get a lot out of every experience. . . .”
OPC was the brain child of Fred, a computer programmer by day, who initially thought of jumping on the property ladder. The idea itself came to him when he and Kim were planning for the adoption of two young boys (as they ultimately did). As he puts it, I knew I’d be tied to the house for a bit. The entire team heralds Fred’s amazing drive, and his dedication to OPC ends up being no exception to this. On topic, Fred admits, I’m the kinda guy that always needs something to do.
To help with planning, Fred turned to his friend Jim Wang at http://bargaineering.com, a popular personal finance blog. Jim had been doing his thing for a few years and Fred had asked his advice on building a successful blog. (Throughout our conversation, in fact, the entire team frequently credits Jim with valuable input.)
Fred’s first big challenge was recruiting Ethan, who at first was apprehensive. The fear: (my words) Would it be sustainable? The question: (Ethan’s words) Would we have enough to write about? He learned quickly though, and now in Fred’s words — As you work your way through a house over say five or six years – the projects just seem to come.
Around this point, Ethan provides insight into some of their underlying attitudes. He tells of an experience recently with sweating on a copper plumbing valve. On first attempt, it leaked, he says. Jocie then chimes in to say — on the second attempt, it popped fully off. And Ethan laughs.
He says, I feel that most people are probably the most intimidated with plumbing. But with everything, it’s really just getting over that initial hump – you know, the fear of failure. If you don’t get it right the first time, just rip it out and redo it. Plus . . . as Jocie finishes, “We enjoy the work and, well, we enjoy saving the money.”
At this point, I ask, “Where do top tier home improvement bloggers go for information about home improvement?” Both Fred and Ethan credit their dads with being great sources of information. Of Fred’s dad, Kim says – A lot of times he gives us (strange) advice – but he is usually always right! And Kim was actually the first to pipe up, . . . As an (one-time) operational manager for a retirement community, well, the contractors we worked with – I would just ask a lot of questions.
I continue, Are there websites that you go to when you need information? I turn immediately to Fred, he offers this up in one word – “Google.” But then Ethan stops him. He says, Well, there is Todd Fratzel at homeconstructionimprovement.com. We will often bounce our projects off of him. Fred finishes by saying, I just emailed Todd today asking his opinion on the procedure we have selected for the leveling out our floor (mentioned above).
While the blog does have regular followers, most of their content is meant to target search engines. The goal as Fred says is to simply leave behind better information. All say – it (blogging) is an endurance sport that must be figured out as you go.
The entire team is pretty open about offering tips for successful blogging, but all maintain that successful blogging does not happen over night. I would hope they would agree when I say — you need time to grow systems, to figure out what works and what doesn’t work. You need time to test things, get found, and grow an audience. As Fred finishes, It is often a matter of trial and error and seeing what sticks.
Strong networks both online and in the community, church groups and friends lending hands, they make this blogging thing look natural. The analogy was kicked around, “one weekend at your house, one weekend at someone else’s house.” And OPC appears to use these same principles in building relationships online.
I asked each member of the team to give me one piece of which they are most proud. (I collected and provided a list of “Greatest Hits” below.) But Jocie, the communicator, interjects before we close up, she says, I am proud of Fred and Ethan’s vision. We are about to do our third annual Summer Before and After Contest. For this, we name a winner weekly, and they receive a prize, but we send a matching contribution to Habitat to Humanity. It is a great way to educate on all of what Habitat does . . . .” And you can check it out by clicking the link above.
I’d like to thank Fred, Ethan, Jocie and Kim for taking the time to meet with me. I wish them continued success.
More Moxie (Related Links):
Greatest Hits (as picked by the staff):
Fred: Everything you could possibly need to know about Spray Foam Insulation — http://www.oneprojectcloser.com/installing-spray-foam-insulation-video/
Kim: Rental Redo – A Super informative before and after of the redo of Fred and Kim’s rental property — http://www.oneprojectcloser.com/how-to-remodel-townhome-rental-renovation/
Ethan: Dig a Drainage Trench to Avoid Basement Flooding — http://www.oneprojectcloser.com/dig-a-drainage-trench-to-avoid-basement-flooding/
Jocie: Paint Worth the Price — http://www.oneprojectcloser.com/price-review-duron-ralph-lauren-behr-valspar-paint-vs/. Note: Jocie admits to being the most girly of the bunch (you know, writing on crafty topics), but check out this one that often gets referenced in passing conversation — http://www.oneprojectcloser.com/how-to-make-homemade-barrettes/.
[Sidebar] I am not sure if this information was garnered from Jim, but Fred himself now offers advice on developing a blog. He says a successful blog needs: 1. Good unique content, 2. A good relationship with other blogs (for inbound linking and other support) 3. A quality site design – in other words, it must make a positive first impression (it needs a good look, and feel, and so on) & 4. Monetization — The biggest trick here is knowing how and when to do it. [End Sidebar]