Eventually, every homeowner finds a sizable home improvement project that they’d like to tackle. Perhaps the project is rebuilding a deck. Maybe it involves putting new concrete in the driveway.
Whatever it is, it’s big. You could tackle it yourself, but you’d be working on it after work for weeks, losing many, many hours that could be spent on other activities. So you either dig into the drudgery yourself, put it off, or, worst of all, hire someone to do it.
I suggest a different route.
A few years ago, a close friend of mine decided that something needed to be done about his cracked driveway. One Saturday, instead of putting it off yet again, he pulled a big grill around to his front yard, iced up some coolers with a bunch of tasty beverages, and invited a bunch of friends over to help. They all worked together getting the old, busted cement out of the driveway and adding a fresh new batch. One friend was a carpenter who took charge of the operation, but more than a dozen guys offered up their labor, knocking out chunks of concrete, carrying things out of the way, putting forms in place, and smoothing freshly-laid pavement. Along the way, they enjoyed freshly grilled brats for lunch and some excellent thick steakburgers for dinner.
In one day, my friend got his driveway refinished with no labor costs - his only expense was a lot of beverages and a fair amount of food. Everyone else there got two free meals, a lot of free beverages, and an afternoon spent outside with a bunch of fun people.
How can such projects work? In order to make it happen, you need to plan ahead in several different ways - but the extra planning and effort will really pay off later. Here’s what you need to do.
Always volunteer to help with projects that others are doing. If a friend of yours needs a hand with a project, don’t hesitate to burn an afternoon helping to put up a deck, assemble a shed, re-shingle a roof, or install a driveway. Even if you don’t believe you have any skills to offer, there are always things you can be doing, even if you’re merely a gofer or you wind up being the food preparer. Every task that you can help with helps the entire project move forward.
Give some advance notice. Don’t just call people on the morning you plan to get started on the project. Instead, give them a couple weeks’ notice at least, and keep track of the ones who seem at least interested. Let them know that there will be plenty of people, food, and beverages - don’t just focus on the work.
Plan out your work. Know exactly what your project is going to entail. Have all the supplies you’re going to need on hand well in advance of the working party. Have a plan in place that details what needs to be done and in what order the tasks need to be accomplished.
Be organized. On the day of the working party, get all of the supplies you’ll need out and organized before anyone else arrives, so that they can easily be found when work begins. Do some of the early steps yourself - measuring, marking, and so forth. This way, when people begin to arrive, the real work can begin.
Don’t be afraid to ask for extra help from experts. If you have a friend who is skilled at carpentry, don’t be afraid to ask for a bit of extra assistance and advice from this person. Invite them to come over earlier - and don’t hesitate to give them some gift of appreciation if they go beyond what you might reasonably expect from them.
Have a wide array of beverages available - and plenty of them. Water and sodas are good choices for earlier in the day - beers are usually good choices for the end of the day. If you’re unsure what you should get, ask people when you call them. Make sure you have more than enough.
Keep the beverages cold. Take empty milk jugs, fill them 2/3rds full with water, and fill your freezer with these jugs in the week before the party. The day before, ask around for coolers to borrow - try to get two or three of them. That morning, take out the jugs, smash them, and fill the coolers with beverages and ice. Make sure you don’t run low on cold beverages - on a warm day where people are outside working, it’s vital that you keep plenty of cold beverages available for them.
Thank everyone that shows up, both when they arrive and when they leave. This is simply good manners and goes a long way towards ensuring that people don’t leave with a bad taste in their mouth. Thank people for coming as soon as they arrive, let them know where the beverages are and when/where the food will be, and brief them on what’s going on.
Work hard. Never stand around while others are working on your project. Be involved at all times - and if you’re not directly involved, be doing something else clearly productive or purposeful. There’s no better way to sour the mood of a working party than to have the host standing around while other people are building his or her deck.
Have someone focus on food preparation. Although you’re the host, your role should be out there working as hard as anyone else on the work project. This means that, for food preparation, someone needs to give a hand. One great tactic is to simply ask someone appropriate - your spouse is a good choice, as is someone who might have a physical handicap that makes it possible for them to prepare the food, but difficult to engage in the work. Arrange this ahead of time so that it’s not a concern.
Make it fun. Have a radio available, and tune it to something that many of the people will find interesting. Growing up, when my father would have events like this, he would make sure that the radio was tuned to a baseball game of one of the local teams - this is actually a pretty good suggestion. At the same time, keep conversation going - and keep people talking. Introduce people to each other if they don’t know each other well.
If you’re called later by someone who helped you, help them. These types of exchanges are often the beginning of a long-term relationship that will be beneficial for both of you.
A working party can be a great way to build friendships, have fun, and get a major task accomplished at a very inexpensive rate - but it does require a lot of work and preparation. Good luck!
The Simple Dollar chronicles a man's road to recovery from "total financial meltdown." As author Trent Hamm puts it, "The Simple Dollar is a blog for those of us who need both cents and sense: people fighting debt and bad spending habits while building a financially secure future and still affording a latte or two." We'll post a couple of entries a week, but you can check out his writing daily at www.thesimpledollar.com