An Interview with Contest Judge Brittany of Pretty Handy Girl

Usefulness is one major element the judges in our upcoming So You Think You Can Write Online contest will be looking for in contest entries.  For this reason, we wanted to have some real experts from the realm of useful online writing, and so we turned to Brittany of Pretty Handy Girl – an expert on DIY articles.

To give you some insider tips on writing winning Hubs this April, we’ve done a short interview with Brittany to talk more about her work, her writing, and what she will be looking for in contest entries.  Read carefully – her advice just might win you $50, $100, and even $250 in prizes!

HubPages: Thanks so much for being a part of the So You Think You Can Write Online contest! Could you tell us more about yourself?

Brittany: Well, my name is Brittany, but most of my readers know me as Pretty Handy Girl. I write a blog called Pretty Handy Girl. It is filled with tutorials for DIY projects, crafts, sewing, home improvement, home repairs and more. My goal is to empower my readers to take on their own DIY project.

I am one of three daughters, my father didn’t have any sons so he taught us how to use his power tools, change the oil on our cars and wire an outlet (among other things).

My childhood memories are of my Mom and Dad adding a second floor onto our house. They did most of the work themselves, so I grew up knowing that home improvement is something an average human being can take on. My mantra is that if someone can do it, then there is a 95% chance that I can do it too!

I have always enjoyed beautifying things, especially my home. My idea of a relaxing day is working in my garage (aka workshop) and building something. The smell of freshly cut wood tends to ease away the tension of the week. Also being able to have the gratification of completing something tangible really makes my day! (Maybe this is because it is so hard to complete a task when you have children un-doing your work behind you.)

The other days of my week are spent entertaining my two little charges (two little energizer boys); housekeeping; and trying to read all my favorite blogs (and there are a lot of them.)

When did you begin creating your own DIY projects?

My parents added on to our house when I was young. There were always scrap pieces of lumber lying around. I dreamed of building my own playhouse in the back yard with that wood. I used to paint and color on those scraps (and still have two of them today!)

When my husband and I moved to Philadephia, we bought some unfinished furniture from IKEA, I successfully stained them (although we kept smelling gas and finally ended up calling the gas company only to find out that using an oil based stain in an unventilated area is not a good idea! After that I recovered a hand-me-down couch by taking it apart and seeing how it was pieced together.

Did you have any formal training?

Definitely not, but I wish!

If no, how did you learn how to create your own projects?

My father had 3 daughters and no sons, so he taught us how to use his power tools, change the oil on our cars and wire an outlet (among other things.) My mom was always finding yard sale and curbside treasures. I remember her painting a bed, nightstand and dresser so they would coordinate for my bedroom. And she also re-upholstered a curbside chair for my college apartment. I always pay attention when someone is fixing, building or creating something.

What was the most elaborate or difficult DIY project you’ve ever taken on?

At this point the most elaborate project I have completed was laying antique heart pine flooring in our living room. We bought the wood off of Craigslist. It was salvaged from a 100 year old farmhouse in North Carolina and it looked pretty bad. We started the day after Christmas (emptied the room, including the Christmas tree) and completed the floor 10 days later. The resulting wood floor is stunning and my favorite room in the house. If you are interested you can read more about the project on my blog.

What inspired you to start a DIY blog?

I have several friends that wanted me to teach them how to use power tools, build things and basic home repairs. I toyed with the idea of holding classes in our garage until my husband suggested that I start a blog to reach more people. He was definitely the spark that started Pretty Handy Girl.

Do you ever turn to any other DIY people or bloggers for inspiration? Where does the Pretty Handy Girl go when she learns something new?

Definitely! I love Magazines, Flea Markets, Boutiques for inspirations. And definitely all the other wonderful blogs out there that share their ideas.

If I need to learn a new skill, I will either ask a professional or look up information online via Google or YouTube. I actually learned how to finish our wood floors myself by watching YouTube.

What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of a good DIY article- or any other super useful guide?

Honestly the best DIY articles (or useful guide) have good pictures. Photos that help the reader see each step that needs to be taken. Today’s tech-saavy audience has a short attention span and wants instant information. Twitter and texting have created readers that want the written word to be short and sweet. Sadly we are moving away from an audience that sits down to savor each word.

Do you have any tips for those planning to enter the So You Think You Can Write Online contest?

Hmmm, that is a good question. I think my biggest pet peeve is when I read a blog post that is filled with typos and grammatical errors. I guess I’m old fashioned in that respect. Seeing as the contest title is “So You Think You Can Write Online” I expect to read posts that are polished and clean. Other than that, I would say that hopefully the writing style is engaging and keeps me reading (Short attention span. I know).  One final note, I am a graphic designer too, so I can’t help noticing if a post is hard to read because of the font color or background color.

Finally, have you any advice you have for new DIYers?

Look at how things are made. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. I find Lowe’s Home Improvement and Ace employees to be super helpful! The next time you have a handyman come fix something, watch how he or she fixes it and ask questions. Google how to instructions or videos. Most of all, just try it!

 

[Thanks, Brittany!]

We hope this interview inspires you to write some super useful contest entries.  Heck, writing some great DIY-style Hubs for this contest might even kick-start a fun home project you’ve been wanting to do!

Personal Finance Writing Tips from Money Grows on Hubs Contest Judge Jeff Rose of Good Financial Cents

Jeff Rose of Good Financial Cents

Jeff Rose of Good Financial Cents

Another fabulous judge in our upcoming contest is Jeff Rose- a certified Financial Advisor and Investment Planner in Carbondale, Illinois who manages Good Financial Cents in his free time.  The Personal Finance blog allows Jeff to pass on tips, lessons, and knowledge that he gains through his work and share it with the masses.  We sat down with this Money Grows on Hubs contest judge to learn more about his work and get some tips for writing Personal Finance Hubs for the contest.  Check out our exchange below:

As a professional in the finance field, you must see some of the same issues, concerns or goals come up over and over. What would you say are the three most common reasons people seek your help?

You’re absolutely right, I do see a lot of the same issues reoccurring. I think the three most common reasons people come to me are the following:

a. They just don’t get it. Investing in general can be very complex and for the average person who doesn’t spend a lot of time educating themselves, it can be very perplexing. A lot of my clients don’t feel they have the aptitude to understand the complexity of the investment world and how to apply it to their own situation. They feel much more confident in relying on a professional to help them through the process.

b. In conjunction with not getting it, they just don’t have the time. Most people are busy working jobs- sometimes two jobs- or caring for family, or all the other affairs they have going on in their life.  They just don’t have time to devote to understanding what’s going on with their investments or the economy and everything along with that. By outsourcing that research to a professional as myself, it frees them up to do the things that they want to do.

c. They don’t want to get it, so a lot of people who do have the time and the capability to do the research just don’t want to.  I can relate that in my own personal life. I could take the time to know how to change the oil in my car, but what’s the point? I feel much more comfortable outsourcing that to the professional who knows what the heck they’re doing. A lot of people take that approach with investing by relying on a financial planner to help them through the process.

Do you think that responsible financial behavior has changed over time, or are good financial practices today the same as they were 50 years ago?

Wow, that’s a really good question. I know when I look at the spending habits of my grandmother compared to what I’m seeing with the gen X and gen Y generation, my hunch is that financial behaviors have gotten worse. Coming from the gen X generation, I know that a lot of my friends aren’t saving, or if they are saving, they’re not saving nearly as much. To make matters worse, they outspend what they earn financing things on credit cards, second mortgages, etc.

You have a solid formal financial education under your belt, which gives you a big leg up when it comes to personal finance blogging. Are there any good educational resources you recommend for beginners?

It’s funny you say that about my formal financial education because although I was a finance major in school, I didn’t learn a lot about personal finance investing until I actually graduated. I was actually luckier to have landed a job as a financial advisor because that’s where I was able to learn, not just on my own but by my client’s personal experiences and their shortfalls. I think in this day and age, there are several good blogs on personal finance that people can go to for great information. A few that come to mind are http://www.getrichslowly.org, http://www.thesimpledollar.com and http://www.cashmoneylife.com. There are so many personal finance blogs out there that provide good, useful information, at least for people to come up with their own decisions based on their own individual situation.

How much continued education do you feel you have to engage in to stay on top of things? Do you do a lot of research for every post you write or are new articles more inspired by lessons you teach or learn on the job?

When it comes to writing my blog posts, I seem to intertwine the two. Having the certified financial planner designation and all the continuing education that comes with it helps me stay on top of what’s going on in the investment and financial planning world, which gives me a leg up. I also like to do more story-like posts based on either lessons I’ve learned in my life or lessons that I learned from my client’s lives on mistakes that they’ve made.

What would you say is the most rewarding part of writing about personal finance?

For me, the most rewarding part is whenever I know that I can make a difference in someone’s life. I’ve had numerous people send me emails and messages saying how much they’ve enjoyed my blog and how much it has helped them to make important financial decisions in their life. Each of those people who have contacted me gives me the validity that I need to keep doing what I’m doing with my blog.

What tips do you have for personal finance writers on HubPages?

Be relevant. Find ways to incorporate personal stories as you’ve learned valuable life lessons through your personal finance journeys. It’s much easier for people to relate when they are in the situation and trying to improve upon that.

[Thanks, Jeff!]

To have a look at our favorite recent Good Financial Cents articles (and get some ideas on ways to format and write your own Personal Finance Hubs!) below:

Note that the titles are specific, and that Jeff writes about niche topics where his posts have a chance of ranking higher in search results.  Jeff also is quite good about titling his posts like search queries, which helps with making things appear in search results. When writing Personal Finance articles on HubPages, you should adopt the same approach.

Personal Finance Writing Tips from Money Grows on Hubs Contest Judge Adam Baker of Man vs. Debt

As you know, January’s Money Grows on Hubs contest is quickly approaching, and to get a leg up on the competition, you can start writing entries now!  To give you more entry inspiration and tips, we had a chat with Adam Baker, one of the Personal Finance contest judges.

Adam Baker (Baker for short!) along with his wife Courtney and two-and-a-half year old daughter Milligan decided that they wanted to live the life of their dreams – and really did it! Adopting the motto “Sell your crap, pay off your debt, do what you love,” Baker and his family sold everything they owned, paid off their commercial debt, and spent a year traveling abroad – sharing their story as they went along on Man Vs. Debt. Below Baker shares more about the process, plus his tips on writing personal finance articles!

What made you decide to make such a bold move in your life?

Well, the straw the broke the camel’s back was the birth of our daughter Milligan. After bringing her home from the hospital, we were finally given the clarity to see that the life we were living and the life we wanted to live – were not aligned.

We were deep in consumer debt, with way too much stuff clogging our lives, striving along a path that didn’t reflect our real values. We realized that a bold shift in our daily actions and lifestyle was the best way to realign our values.

So we decided to pay off our debt, sell all our crap, and spend a year traveling abroad to get even more perspective on what we really wanted out of life. 🙂

What was the hardest part of selling nearly everything you own?

The hardest part in getting started for us was realizing the difference between what items added true joy, value, and purpose to our lives – and which were just holding us back (without delivering any real value).

Most people I know (ourselves included) tend to buy many thing that we think add value to our lives – but whose value is really either inflated or fleeting at best. It’s hard to come to terms that we’ve wasting so much money, time, and energy on these possessions, but it’s essentially that we cut our losses and move forward.

Why did you decide to blog about the financial aspect of your adventure?

I think that one of the problems with personal finance these days is that the issue, problems, and solutions are so taboo to talk about in our culture. No ones wants to admit a financial problem and most people strive to show off their inflated lifestyles as much as possible.

I think that providing financial transparency – even on a small scale – can help shed some positive light and show people that there’s nothing to be scared about this journey. We share how we handle problems (both the ups and downs) in hopes that’ll it inspire others to do the same. 🙂

What have you learned about writing personal finance articles over the past months?

I’ve learned that you don’t have to be a guru – or an expert – to positively affect people. Courtney and I are far from gurus, we have a lot to learn about the process. But we’ve been able to have a tangible difference simply writing about who we are and what we are going through honestly.

Sure, I’ve done a lot of research in the past few years on this journey – and I know what works and what doesn’t for most people. But I try my best to approach it in a genuine and transparent way. I think people really relate to that part of it.

How much research do you do before writing one of your blog posts / guides?

Depends. Some posts have no research done for them – as I’m just sharing my personal opinions, trial and error, or reflections.

Others have months of research. Meaning several hours a day, non-stop – for months at a time. These are my more premium guides – the ones I sell as part of my business. Each of these I’ve obsessed on for months, but the result is something that is both comprehensive and powerful for people.

It’s a lot of work, but I’m extremely proud of the end products in this cases. 🙂

Do you have any tips for the Money Grows on Hubs contest entrants that they might consider when writing their own personal finance articles?

Don’t try to appear like a guru. Don’t try to be the “best” resource on any given topic. Simply try to relay what you believe to be positive, sustainable change for people in you *own* voice.

Don’t be afraid to be yourself and don’t be afraid to show your weaknesses. Be proud of what you do well and humble of anything that you don’t. That’s the formula I try to stick to! 🙂

[Thanks Baker!!]

One of the most inspiring things about Baker is that he turned his personal experiences with finances and turned them into learning resources for others.  As a Hubber, you, too, can work on improving your own finances and share your findings online – much in the same way Baker has – as Personal Finance Hubs on HubPages.

If you’re curious to see some of Adam’s great Personal Finance articles – and to get some inspiration for the upcoming contest, here are some great posts from Man vs. Debt: