Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Tarah Wolff and I am the founder of the blog called Grandma's House DIY. We give inspiration and motivation for Do It Yourself projects outside and inside the home. Our readership follows us as we renovate and restore the grounds inside and around our 100-year-old farmhouse and, of course, of all the shenanigans we get up to along the way!
We specialize in before and after furniture refinishing, wood projects, building, room décor, and design, recycling, upcycling, frugal, and natural green living. Buying anything new for us is absolutely the LAST resort! Everything from building full additions on to our home down to making a solar light chandelier out of thrift store finds – no project is too small or too big for us!
We prove every day that if we can do it, so can our readers! With total transparency on our failures and how we fix the places we “mess” up our readers really seem to appreciate one of our favorites slogans of, “Everything is fixable!” In a social media world of “perfect,” our candid blog is a breath of fresh air. Currently, our website is bringing in around $2,000 a month.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
My grandparents were woodworkers and made gorgeous furniture during their retirement years so I come by my love of wood and old furniture very naturally. I was homeschooled and grew up helping maintain the DIY golf course of my family’s where there was almost nothing we didn't figure out how to do ourselves. (After that I never want to mow another blade of grass for as long as I live lol!).
The driving force of creating a popular blog is time. Consistently posting no matter what, having a schedule, and never missing a deadline.
I taught myself web design as a teenager and did ok at it for a few years in my early twenties, designing and hosting websites as a side hustle, besides my main job in IT. Also as a teenager, I joined a nonprofit publishing company and went on to become their co-editor and a director on their board. I’m also their book designer and have designed over forty books for them and independent authors since 2005. I also freelanced as a photographer for a while and put on several gallery shows over the years, selling prints, etc. (You can read our whole story here).
It was 2013, I was 26 years old, back home in Minnesota for good and looking for two things: An older home to purchase and restore and an idea for a website that could start producing income for me. (I had already been a freelance web designer for several years at that point and was so totally over producing profitable websites for other people.) We sadly lost my Grandma that year and my grandparents' 100-year-old home was just sitting empty. It was the first of the stars aligning in my life as there really was nothing I wanted more than to keep and restore their beautiful old farmhouse both to remember them and for me too.
Starting in the spring of 2014 the renovation was an incredible amount of work that took me nearly 16 months. Every weekend, every day after my day job, every paid holiday, and all of my vacation time. I did the majority of the work myself and it was literally when I was under that old home running plumbing pipe when I had my real “Ah-ha!” moment. Why wasn’t I blogging about what I was doing!? Grandma’s House DIY was born!
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
I spend around eight hours per blog post. That includes photos before, during, and after as well as the full written post of usually around 1,000 words. Of course the projects on our home that we include on the blog take anywhere from a couple of hours to even days, weeks, or months! The post for each project I generally have planned at least two months out on the blog, giving me plenty of time for copy and photo editing.
We post once per week on Grandma's House DIY (every Sunday) that includes my creating the newsletter to go out every Sunday and I also schedule our Instagram posts (that also post to our Facebook page) for that Sunday and the following days as well. Once the post is live I also pin all of its images and then share the post on other DIY websites if it's a good fit for them.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Like with most blogs, the website looks a lot different now than it was the day I started it back in 2014. At first, I designed the site as more of a journal following me through the renovation and all the blood, sweat, tears, and MAJOR ups and downs I went through. But when the renovation was over it was time to either get serious about the blog and where it was going or drop the website completely.
Prior to the launch of the new site in August of 2015, I spent months designing a new layout and brand new website to support what I wanted to achieve. One piece of advice I read online at the time was to have plenty of content completed and ready before launch. So I had eight completed blog posts and one special post to launch the entirely new chapter of Grandma’s House DIY.
I funded the entire blog on my own but being a web designer I already had a server that I was hosting several dozen websites on so all of my initial costs were paid for. Already being in the industry was a tremendous leg up for me. When I launched Grandma's House DIY I could practically set up a new website in my sleep but I still learned a lot along the way.
Designing a website for me always starts in Photoshop and, one major lesson, the capability to just stop myself at some point and move to code. I think we're all perfectionists and nothing will ever be “just right” but that first design I did for Grandma's house DIY worked well for us for nearly two years. (Right from the bat I designed the website to work on a WordPress blogging backend so my designs are actually “themes” for WordPress.) And literally working with the site taught me a lot about what I wanted the next design to do for us. We are currently on the fourth design I've built for Grandma's House DIY which I launched in early 2021.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
I think anyone who has launched a website and, somehow, managed to make it successful can identify with the analogy of “throwing jel-o at the wall and hoping something will stick.” It takes A SHOCKING AMOUNT OF JEL-O. In fact, at some point, I just put my head down and kept making jel-o just hoping for the best. Like plowing a field with no idea how big the field even is!
It's daunting and frustrating and many bloggers just give up or, at least, they give up on the hope of ever having a high enough readership to make any kind of profit. This is why your blog must be something that you love to do and practically something you would be doing anyway because the likelihood of getting paid for it the first couple of years is very low.
At Grandma's House DIY our readership is incredibly niche so what actually ended up working for us was finding other websites that cater to that niche. Websites where we could share our posts and projects specifically: Hometalk, Instructables and the Diyideacenter.
We receive over 85% of our referral traffic from Pinterest and that’s totally due to beautiful photos. Yes, I have purchased ads through both Facebook and Instagram but I have yet to see a result that's worth the cost. We don't pay for any advertising besides – Grandma's House DIY owes its viewership to my literally “hitting the pavement” and sharing our posts anywhere online I could find.
I believe though the driving force of creating a popular blog is TIME. Consistently posting no matter what, having a schedule, and never missing a deadline.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Grandma's House DIY was able to entirely cover its own costs in 2017 and then in 2018, we made nearly 5k. In 2020 we made over 15k and expect to make over 20k in 2021. (Siteground is where I host and would highly recommend them.) Almost all of our revenue comes through Mediavine but I do sell article space (up to six posts per month at $150 per piece) on Grandma's House DIY. We also make around $100 a month through Amazon affiliates.
We average 40k monthly sessions and around 70k monthly page views. We have over 7k newsletter subscribers and an audience of about 5 million on Pinterest. What we're doing is working and our short-term goals are literally to keep doing what we're doing.
I absolutely want to expand Grandma’s House DIY into a real business someday and create an actual product to sell other than our personalities lol. But that is literally what a blog is and it was my letting our personalities shine that keeps bringing people back to Grandma’s House DIY.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
My biggest mistake with Grandma's House DIY in the beginning was, I can't believe I’m saying this, but I was TOO professional initially. I wrote big, block, clinical articles that would’ve put anyone to sleep! I was so nervous to do things right that I was editing myself completely out of my own blog. After years of exhaustively nitpicking, micromanaging, and panicking over every single post - I finally lightened up!
Once I started putting myself out there people responded. But they don't always respond well and, once you start being yourself, it can be hard not to take it personally. I don't write about anything without being confident in what I know and, if I'm not, I'm honest about it. Transparency is incredibly important – the haters have nothing to talk about if you already admitted your own faults and struggles.
Being candid like that is the top compliment we receive. The fact that we're “real” people, living a real-life, bettering a real home. I think everyone is sick of the perfect, totally unrealistic homes and people we see on Instagram and all social media – and I believe that's why Grandma's House DIY is gaining popularity because people can relate to us. We don’t have much money – the reason we have nice things is pure frugal DIY determination that anyone can do!
My own anxiety has helped me on Grandma's House DIY too because I can't stand deadlines! My editorial calendar (and all scheduling) I generally have completed and ready for publication up to two months out. Of course, that's not possible with absolutely everything. I still have to put together my newsletter every week and am daily commenting and posting on Twitter and Facebook as well as setting up my publishing schedule for Pinterest and Instagram. But our Sunday blog posts – the literal heart and soul of our blog – I have mostly complete and ready for publication six to eight weeks in advance. This has been essential to keeping me sane especially because I have a full time day job too!
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Siteground is where I host Grandma's House DIY and where I purchase the domain and privacy. We’re on the biggest hosting plan they offer but eventually, we will have to upgrade as we grow to one of their customized business hosting plans. WordPress is the platform we blog on and CreativeMail is our newsletter provider and then, besides that, the other services we pay for are: Yoast SEO Premium, Jetpack Premium and Tailwind. I could not get this done without any one of them!
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Other bloggers like me have given me a lot of inspiration over the years but they are so numerous and so many I'm sorry to say I can't begin to list them. When I had questions, when I fought to try to make my blog better, when I needed inspiration, I simply searched online for the top bloggers in my niche and followed them and tried to learn from them.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
As a blogger, you absolutely have to be writing about something that you love and are passionate about. There are going to be a lot of years when you're just throwing Jel-o at the wall. Be consistent, have a schedule, and stick to it! Don't make unreasonable deadlines for yourself. One post a week is what we can do so that's what we do.
Someday we may have enough content (OMG and time!) to do two posts a week – but this is what works for us. You have to figure out what works for you and have patience with yourself and your blog.
Blogging is NOT just writing blog posts! The biggest mistakes I see other bloggers making are on the technical end of things. Posting huge pictures on their blog with no titles or alt tags that search engine crawlers can't see or not posting enough pictures or very low-quality pictures. Not everyone can afford a good camera but phones nowadays take amazing photos and there are many free photo editing programs out there.
Posting links that don't open in new tabs. Choosing hosting providers that are unreliable and slow their websites down and not using a website design that provides a mobile theme for people who will be accessing their sites from their phones or tablets. And using free hosting providers or a free blogger website will never take a blogger into a profitable situation. These are all mistakes that can easily be fixed but they’re really detrimental to a blogger.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We are currently a “one-woman show” on the technical side here at Grandma's House DIY lol and it's my husband and me who tackle one project at a time at home for the blog.
Where can we go to learn more?
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