April 3, 2022 AsktheBuilder Newsletter
Issue #1176 (I think...)
Are you a new subscriber? If so, what a treat for your first issue.
There's a good chance this is the most unique newsletter I've ever penned in the 25+ years of producing them. It's one that I'll print out and frame for my office/man cave.
The Future of AsktheBuilder.com
"If you want to see where you're going, it's easy. Turn around and see where you've been.
HISTORY IS A MIRROR-IMAGE ROAD MAP."
Have you ever had an epiphany or a real vision?
I've had several in the past twenty-nine years.
Several months after opens in a new windowmy dad was sent back to Heaven, I stopped by my childhood home and had lunch with my mom. She had smoked cigarettes for my entire life.
I wasn't looking forward to sitting in the small kitchen trying to avoid the clouds of second-hand smoke that hung in the air like laundry on a line.
The lunch I had brought was a favorite treat of hers - carryout Skyline Chili. I liked it too as I had worked there ever since freshman year of high school and had recently quit because of the fabled Mint Incident. That's a story for another day.
I had become so programmed to her smoking I didn't think about it. Halfway through lunch all of a sudden I realized there was no smoke haze hovering over my head.
"Mom, what's going on? You're not smoking."
"Oh, when I got home from church one morning last week, I threw all of my packs of cigarettes in the trash. At mass that morning, I saw a vision in church that told me to STOP SMOKING."
Without hesitation, she then proceeded to take another bite of her cheese coney. She loved the mustard on them, I detested it and always made my cheese coneys with no mustard and heavy onion.
A Vision? Are You Serious?
I was in my mid-twenties when this happened. I thought I had life figured out and had more testosterone in me than a supertanker filled with Brent Crude.
I was much more brash than I am now. You may find that hard to believe.
One thing's for sure, I sure thought that all those past stories in grade-school religion class about people having visions was pure poppycock.
But since it was my mom and she was still suffering from the loss of her soulmate, I didn't mock her reason for giving up smoking. Let me tell you, it was wonderful to eat and not gag.
There they are. Mom was just two months shy of her 23rd birthday in that photo. That's got to be bright-red lipstick, right? What a goddess! But I digress...
I was still in a daze from her blase' matter-of-fact statement and was beginning to smell the smoke of the grinding gears in my head. It's important to realize she had been smoking each day for well over 30 years.
"Have you had a craving for a cigarette since you threw them away?"
"No, not at all." Without hesitation she took another bite of the cheese coney and popped a few crisp oyster crackers in her mouth.
I don't know about you, but I found it impossible to doubt my mom. She had always been my touchstone of truth.
I finished the rest of my lunch and we switched subjects talking about how things were going in my first house I had just rehabbed in east Hyde Park. Here it is:
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Fast Forward 17 Years
May of 1993 found me in Washington DC for the first time of my life. I was attending a conference where I and forty-nine other contractors were to be honored. We had been selected as the 1993 class of the Big 50. Remodeling magazine was behind the Big 50 award and conference.
Being selected as one of the top remodeling contractors in the USA was a very prestigious award. It was the launching pad for Ask the Builder.
That said, my new upcoming media career wasn't even a glint in my eye when I sprung out of bed in the hotel room before dawn like it was Christmas morning.
I hate being alone in hotel rooms, so I decided to go across the street to the National Mall. It was a balmy morning just moments after sunrise. I was all alone 200 feet away from the base of the Washington Monument.
While admiring the massive obelisk, I noticed the oddest thing. A tight group of joggers was heading straight for me on the wide sidewalk.
President Bill Clinton and his cadre of Secret Service agents jogged within 6 feet of me. As they approached and once I noticed who was in the center of the blob of pumping arms and legs, I kept my hands in plain sight!
What a way to start the day that was to change my life forever.
My First Vision
A few months after receiving the award, I had my first epiphany. I had a vision - a real vision.
My wife Kathy and I were on the phone with her best friend on a Saturday morning. I was in the kitchen and Kathy was upstairs. We were talking about an article that appeared in the Cincinnati Enquirer that morning. It was highlighting me and my Big 50 award.
"Why don't you take your book idea and turn it into a syndicated newspaper column?" Kathy always had great ideas. Her best friend had gone on a few dates with a Cincinnati-based syndicated columnist and she had mentioned that a few minutes earlier on the call.
I had always wanted to write a book about how people like you get taken to the cleaners by contractors who do sub-standard work. I wanted to share with you how to do it right, not over.
As soon as Kathy said those words, I saw two or three of my future columns floating in the air right in front of my face. It resembled the hologram of Princess Leia in the original Star Wars movie.
Time was suspended. I couldn't take my eyes off the fuzzy vision. A pregnant pause was hanging in the air as I saw the columns shimmering in front of me.
"Hello? Hello? Are you there?" Kathy was wondering if I had heard her.
"You're right. That's exactly what I should do."
I hung up the phone, walked to my office, sat down at my aging Texas Instruments PC, and began to write. Two hours later, I had three columns finished.
The following Monday morning, I sauntered into the Cincinnati Enquirer to show them to the Home Editor, Ann Haas. She had interviewed me weeks before about the Big 50 award.
She bought my columns on the spot saying, "In all my thirty years of seeing all of the syndicated and independent home improvement writers out there, I've never seen such great work. You need to start selling these to other papers right away."
I was all in at that point.
Ask the Builder was born that day and within nine months, I had self-syndicated my column to thirty papers among them the Chicago Tribune, The Detroit News, and quite a few other tier-one newspapers.
My Latest Vision
It happened just a few days ago, as I lay in bed at 5 AM. opens in a new windowLast Sunday, I announced I was going to produce a new Deck Stain Test video.
As the past week unfolded, I was thinking about the two surveys I had conducted. You may have participated in them.
More than one respondent replied with, "You should be like Consumer Reports."
Many said, "I don't need to pay for anything. I'll go find it for free somewhere on the InterWeb."
As I pondered that conflicting data, I leaned back in my comfy office chair and looked up on my wall. Right there is the framed first dollar of Ask the Builder.
Surely you've seen those in restaurants and bars up on the wall near the cash register. Here's mine:
David Lawrence XVII
While the responses from my two surveys were continuing to come in, I reached out to a very good Hollywood actor friend of mine, David Lawrence XVII. We've known each other for nearly twenty years.
I shared with him what's going on because he's a beacon of some of the best advice when it comes to delivering premium content. He's my North Star when I get lost.
Believe me, days ago my Boy Scout Pathfinder compass needle was spinning around like a merry-go-round!
Over the years, David has reminded me on a regular basis that he feels I produce the best home improvement content on the Internet.
He's said on numerous occasions that there are tons of FREE garbage out there some of it produced by stay-at-home moms that get paid $10 per article to scrape and plagiarize great content like mine.
These folks, who've never worked an hour in a paying customer's home, visit different websites, steal content, and cobble it together in columns often with conflicting information!
If you make the mistake and follow advice found in some of these articles, it could cost you thousands of dollars once the work fails.
This suspect content created by people who have never done the work or have been doing it wrong their entire career is published on websites where you can't see the face or CV of the author(s) on the opens in a new windowAbout Us page of the website.
I sure hope you don't follow the advice from websites that publish plagiarized content. Do you always click the About Us page of every home improvement or tool-review website you visit to see the credentials of the person creating the content? Tell me you do this each time. If not, God help you!
My conversation with David got me thinking about my roots and that first-dollar check.
David sent me a follow-up email with a simple pithy piece of advice, "...tell people for free on your website or in your videos what they need to do, and charge them for showing them how to do it."
That's exactly what I did twenty-eight years ago when I started Ask the Builder. That check above for $1.25 was payment for a premium piece of content that I sold to readers of my first column.
A' La Carte Premium Content
One of the things that brought a grin to my face as I was reading the opens in a new windowresponses to the one survey was the undeniable insatiable appetite for free content some have. You may be one!
I wondered how many times you might have received and followed bogus advice. I pondered how many thousands of dollars you've squandered following bad advice.
I thought about how many hours you might have spent trying to find the correct answer never realizing you were being led astray.
I then did some math. Over 99.98% of the content I've produced is currently free:
- thousands of pages of content on the website
- nearly 800 videos on YouTube
- almost 90 podcasts
Realize that well over 1000 pages of content on my website used to be paid premium content. I called them Builder Bulletins.
If you've been with me for decades, you may remember the Builder Bulletins. That's how I met my friend Chuck. Our friendship started twenty-six years ago when he sent me $2 for a Builder Bulletin he read about one Saturday morning in The Detroit News. I used to sell the collection of them on 3.5-inch floppy diskettes!
What did I see in my vision two days ago?
I saw the past and my takeaway was to do what Consumer Reports, Fine Homebuilding, the Washington Post, Epoch Times, and a plethora of other publishers do.
These websites deliver a fantastic user experience. They allow YOU to choose how to get the content you want and need in the format you desire.
It was crystal clear in my vision laying in bed that I need to change things so you want to come to Ask the Builder anytime you need help or want to save money.
Changes are coming to AsktheBuilder.com. I'm not entirely certain at this moment what's about to happen, but in the end I can guarantee you a far better user experience than what you have now.
You're going to be in control of how you use AsktheBuilder.com.
For example, you'll be able to purchase premium extra how-to-do-something content one tiny morsel at a time if that's all you need. opens in a new windowHere's an example of this new format.
You'll see in that column I'm sharing for free what you need to do. If you then want me to show you how to do it, you'll need to drink one less latte per week. opens in a new windowClick the link at the bottom of this column to view the premium how-to content.
Other Possible Options
How would you like to pay a very small modest monthly fee and have an ad-free version of the website?
How would you like an ad-free version of my website and free access to some or all my existing digital products and ALL NEW ones I create for each new column I write?
I'm in the process of exploring the mechanics of how this would work, and once I have my head around that, I intend to ask for your assistance. I want YOU to help create the best user experience for you via a survey or two.
I know you have other choices. You can spend hours and wander aimlessly around the InterWeb hoping you find the right way to do a job on websites where you have no idea who created the content.
If that's your plan, keep in mind you should only hope for things you can't control like the weather or what team is going to win a baseball game.
Never forget you can control the outcome of the work done on your home by following my time-tested advice.
As I've told my children for years, life is full of decisions, make great ones.
Bottom Line: I'm back in the business of being a purveyor of paid premium content just like the good old days.
Thanks for waking me up this past week!
I hope you feel as energized about the future of Ask the Builder as I do.
Founder - www.AsktheBuilder.com
Do It Right, Not Over!
P.S. Accipe morsum tuum malum antequam profecta est.