Today’s ProTalk tip is brought to you by Brian Campbell of Basswood Artisan Carpentry, a regular contributor to Fine Homebuilding, the Journal of Light Construction, Old House Journal and other trade magazines.

Basswood Artisan Carpentry

Outliers is the Malcolm Gladwell best selling book about success. The most popular finding expounded on by Gladwell in Outliers is the “10,000 hour rule.” To become the class of the field it takes about a decade dedicated to your craft, which is generally the number of years it takes to amass 10,000 hours of devoted practice. Now not everyone who spends ten years doing something becomes a master at it. I think you have to have both an aptitude for greatness and a passion for it.

Gladwell explains some of the odd twists of fate that can determine success as much as aptitude and hard work, but that is beyond the scope of this exploration. In any case, most of us on ProTalk have probably been dedicated to our business for a decade or two and are experts at what we do. In a jaded moment, I recall the professionals I know that are among the best in their business and their discovery that photos of their hard work was showing up on other contractors websites.

Perhaps that is one metric of how good you are in the internet age, are you being copied or are others wishing to pass off your work as their own. Some of you are now thinking, as your minds wander, about watermarks, but I have decided that this is not worth worrying about. When asked what the most important lesson in Outliers is, Gladwell replied, “What we do as a community, as a society, for each other, matters as much as what we do for ourselves.”

I have come to be recognized as an expert in my field by participating in contractor forums online and as a result of posts about my work I was invited to write for some trade publications. I am at the stage in my career where I want others to know how I do what I do. In essence, I have no trade secrets. I still work for customers (architects, builders, and homeowners), but my passion now is sharing my accumulated knowledge and experience with other professionals. Don’t worry though, I won’t tell you how to run your business, I don’t actually know that much about business, what I know is carpentry. You may not be a carpenter or builder, so today, I won’t tell you too much about my trade either. What I will do is explain how I share my expertise.

Most commonly, if we take photos of our work, it is the obligatory “before” and “after” shots. And while this is good for your portfolio, it leaves the intervening time between “before” and “after” a mystery. I have found this period during the actual work to be the most important to document. Why? Experts are sought after by the kind of customers you probably want to work for, those who want to hire the best. There are other reasons though:

  • This is where mastery of your craft is expressed.
  • You will learn more about how to improve your own work in the process (from thinking it trough and from feedback) and you will become even more accomplished.
  • This is how you can become regarded as an expert, of course, by educating others in your field.
  • There are few apprenticeship programs or trade schools remaining, so help fill that void.
  • You will become the “go to” person that others ask for advice, giving you high standing in your trade.
  • Your reach goes beyond the job you are on and extends to hundreds of other projects (and you can’t be 100 places at once).
  • The professionalism of your field is elevated (I like to think that carpentry and carpenters are given more respect because of the work I have done and shared about).
  • It feels good to give back. You owe much of  what you know to others who took the time to teach you (we stand on the shoulders of giants).

So what ways can you share your expertise?

  • Obviously in local trade group chapters
  • Online forums for your trade
  • DIY forums
  • Start a Blog and see if anyone follows you
  • Post on Hometalk, answer questions
  • Post about your Process on FB and answer questions there
  • Write for trade publications and see if you can get published
  • Teach clinics at trade shows
  • Offer to teach classes for DIY folks locally, if they get in over their heads, they will call you
  • Offer consulting (Robert Cameron does this as well). I have worked with DIY homeowners finishing a basement or remodeling a kitchen by the hour. Once they have the hang of it I disappear and return to teach the next task. (You can charge more for consulting than your standard rate and work less hours—they still get a deal).

Tips for telling your story:

  • Take lots of pictures, most of them will be worthless
  • Photos should show action, when possible, include hands doing the work in close ups
  • Include people (other workers or yourself) doing something in the photos. No “still lifes.”
  • Get and use a tripod. There are tripod adapters for mounting your smart phone on tripods.
  • Use the timer and get in your own shots some of the time, whether you are working alone or with someone.
  • Take some shots from ladders or roof tops, etc. that look like aerial photography.
  • Get other interesting perspective shots from unique vantage points.
  • Shoot some video for YouTube.
  • Take some time lapse photography that can show the project go together over the span of a week or month, etc., from a single vantage point (Paul Hamtil did a post on this)
  • Get and use a photo editor so you can add arrows and annotation to some of your pictures.
  • See if you can get shots of things that will surprise people and get them wondering how you did that (like the arched pocket door or the curved crown molding or curved back vanity drawer I posted, of the cove molding milled with only a table saw in Old House Journal).
  • The writing can start with explaining your process and posting photos on a professional forum. Many of my articles started as “how-to” project threads on
  • You may be able to get several “tips” published (as I did) before you write any feature length articles. Do you have a unique solution to a common problem? How do you work smarter, not harder? (see the Racatac scooter I use for “low work.”
  • What are the “best practices” in your field? What short cuts do you see others take and why is that bad?
  • You can also see if you can get a writer/editor to do a story about your work, rather than you writing it. You still get published, just not as the author. My first Journal of Light Construction piece was about me rather than by me. This can give you even more credibility since you are obviously not self-promoting it also gives the editor another by line and they like that. They may still pay you for the story and photos.
  • If you can get published, the editors can help you immensely with writing, just don’t let them distort your work beyond recognition (assert yourself there).
  • Post some funny things that happen at work.
  • Don’t be afraid to explain what went wrong and how you fixed it. These are among the most helpful details.
  • Keep a list of your ideas that others might be interested in.

If you liked this post, stop by Brian Campbell’s page and give it a like on Facebook.

by admin on Nov 8, 2012

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