The Secret Ingredient to an Irresistible Blog

image of hamburger

Things were going pretty well until I bit into my hamburger.

Ow.

Something was really wrong.

“Are you okay?” asked my date.

My eyes started watering. I was so confused, but I nodded.

I bit down harder and suddenly the hamburger flew out of my hands. I’ve never been so bewildered in my life. Only when I held my hand up did the sorry truth stare us in the face.

Somehow, my left ring finger had slipped inside the bun of that burger. I bit down on it. And when it hurt, the cause wasn’t immediately obvious, so I bit down harder . . . so hard I forced myself to drop the hamburger.

When I realized what had happened, I laughed really hard. She didn’t.

“Aren’t you embarrassed?” she asked.

“Yeah,” I said, nodding, “but this is kind of how it is. And this stuff can’t be taught.” Then I finished the hamburger in dainty bites, making sure that no other errant appendages strayed between the bread.

“It must be kind of liberating to know that,” she said.

In a non-glorious footnote, the rest of that date went exactly nowhere.

But authentically idiotic is still authentic, which brings us to the point today:

There are things that bloggers can and can’t be taught

As my traffic climbed from modest to less-modest, other bloggers began asking me if I could help them build their own blog traffic. At first, I wasn’t sure I could, even if I wanted to. But I decided I’d try.

Before I was willing to work with someone, I asked one question:

Why do you think I can help you?

Their answers told me a lot. Not just about their expectations and thought processes, but about a lot of what’s wrong with the blogging mindset in general.

A few answers I’ve gotten

  • You love what you do and can help me love what I do
  • You know where you’re going and I want to go to the same place
  • You’re passionate and I think that might rub off on me

What I didn’t hear from them was:

  • I love what I do and think you could help me do it better
  • Here’s where I want to go and I’m not sure how to get there
  • I’m passionate about this idea and I want to bounce some ideas off another passionate person

Maybe that’s silly of me, but those are questions I could have approached more easily.

By the way, I’ve decided I’m not a very good coach and I doubt I’ll do this again. In fact, I think I suck. Don’t hire me.

(OK — I’m actually really good at some things. But I’m writing this post as a snapshot of this experience, not a sales pitch.)

Let’s take a look at those answers I received.

“You love what you do”

I do, but you cannot pay someone else to help you love something in the way they love it.

I love blogging, but I write my blog, not anyone else’s. And I don’t play for stakes, I play for fun. I would not love another project as much.

How do I know? Because I didn’t pick another project.

If you are seeking help with your blog, there is nothing wrong with trying to take the steps of someone who has achieved what you want. Why else would you be reading Copyblogger today?

But do not assume that their goals resemble your goals, even if they have numbers you would like to have.

“You know where you’re going”

No I don’t, other than up.

I know that I will publish a post every day and I will try to do lots of guest posts. I will be nice and helpful to everyone I can, lift a bunch of heavy stuff, and try to laugh a lot.

That’s what I know, that’s what I’ve done, that’s what I’ll do until it’s not fun anymore.

Whenever someone has had some success, many of us — me included — assume that the success is the result of a plan. That’s not always true. Dumb luck can play its role in anyone’s good fortune. Just keep an open mind. There are a lot of variables that go into whatever we decide “success” is.

“You’re passionate”

Once I took a mambo class taught by a guy whose passion nearly melted us all. He was like a combination of Beto from the Zumba commercials and Pepe Le Pew. He was amorous, passionate, and all swiveling hips. I love dancing, but I didn’t leave the class with that guy’s passion for mambo. But he tried!

The secret ingredient to a great blog

We like to give authority and credibility to other people. We want other people to have the answers.

Sometimes this creates brilliant coaches who are worth every penny. I have no doubt that if I hired Naomi Dunford and I had a plan, she could help me execute it.

But sometimes our need for answers spawns “gurus” who are freaking travesties of ethics and exploitation.

So what should you do to make your blog better?

Now that I’m done writing this post, here’s how I’m feeling:

First: If a consultant out there says “I can help you love writing,” or “I can help you write like me,” or “I can teach you passion,” the quickest way to escape their clutches is with a perfectly timed throat-strike.

(Don’t bother aiming for the groin — cowards and exploiters have no feelings down there).

It’s great to get help and advice if you need it. But don’t expect anyone to do all the thinking for you. And don’t trust anyone who tells you he can or will.

Second: However much advice you may get along the way, there is one secret ingredient to the great blog recipe. And that secret ingredient is you.

Finally: There’s only one test that really matters, and that can be solved over lunch:

Can your consultant eat a hamburger without harming himself?

About the Author: Josh Hanagarne is the twitchy giant behind World’s Strongest Librarian, a blog about living with Tourette’s Syndrome, kettlebells, book recommendations, buying pants when you’re 6’8”, old-time strongman training, and much more. Please subscribe to Josh’s RSS Updates to stay in touch.

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Comments

  1. JOSH! What’s up! So I started reading this post and didn’t pay attention to the author. I’m pretty new to this world, so the author’s name on a guest post is usually meaningless to me. About halfway through, I thought, “I know this voice. This is Josh Hanagarne. Has to be.” I scrolled down and sure enough! The proof is in the pudding, huh? Authenticiy = strong, clearly identifiable voive. Bravo.

  2. Hi Josh,

    When it comes to blogging the question is: Do you *really* like blogging?

    In the beginning you won’t be able to judge this from the quality of a person’s blog. Over time their passion will reveal itself as their blog improves.

    As for the gurus you mention, I think the saying goes…”Nobody can make you do anything.”

    If you don’t have a desire to write a blog and the persistence to keep at it everyday, forget about running a great blog. Your deep emotions are what attracts readers. Your words jump off of the pages. The work should be quality but I’ve seen subpar blogs with huge readerships. Passion and Persistence.

  3. Excellent post Josh! I love when two of my favorite blogs come together and are coupled as one.

    Perhaps some things can’t be taught… perhaps as you said most of it is to just be you, do what you love and keep doing it.

    So Josh, that is what I WILL DO, thanks.

  4. I do love writing… but sometimes I seem to be short of ideas. It does help to get out there and see what others are writing about and put in your own two cents onto your blog. Sometimes I revisit subjects and go into much more detail over several days. Mostly I write ahead so if I do have a good idea or info I want to include at the spur of the moment, I can rearrange my posting schedule. But all in all it’s pretty cool and I do love to do it…

  5. Moral of this story is that you shouldn’t do anything you don’t absolutely love. Who can argue that?

  6. @Ryan: Well said.

    @Joy and Shannon: Nice to see you over here, both of you. You’ll learn way more on Copyblogger than you will over on my blog!

  7. It reminds me of the saying in football, “You can’t coach speed.”

    There’s something powerful about “I” statements. I find it connects, and it’s a key to leading yourself, before you lead others.

  8. Josh! I really need your help!

    I know you can help me, I do. Because you told me. At the end of your brilliant post.

    You see, I’m 6’7″ and I have trouble buying pants…

  9. We have a lot of clients who want to start a blog. Not because they love to write or have lots to say or think they can do it better than everyone else.

    They want to start a blog because they think that’s what they’re supposed to do.

    And when I hear that (yes, some clients tell me these secrets), I start to ask them questions that get them thinking:

    Can you keep up a blog? Not for a month, or six months, but for YEARS?

    Do you like to write enough that you think you can sit down three times a week and create a post?

    Do you feel excited about writing that post? Even if you stumble on the words, even if you’re not a great writer… are your fingers itching to get your voice out there?

    And most clients say, “Oh. I… didn’t think of that. Oh. Uh…”

    So what you say here, Josh, I back up 200%.

  10. Very insightful. Thanks for sharing.

  11. ‘Whenever someone has had some success, many of us — me included — assume that the success is the result of a plan . . . There are a lot of variables that go into whatever we decide “success” is.’

    I’ve been having a lot of conversations in regards to what success looks like in various situations. And really it comes down to knowing and understanding your motivation for starting. For instance, if you want to blog, then you are your own gauge for success.

    I love that the secret ingredient is you/me. Though now I keep thinking of myself as a condiment…

  12. I couldn’t agree more. Although I didn’t realize other people didn’t share my enthusiasm for writing. It’s still baffles me a bit, but you’re right, there’s no way that I could ever make someone love it as much as I do. There’s no amount of advice that can remedy that. All I can say is for those people who hate writing – they really should avoid blogging :)

  13. Josh,
    I guess what you’re saying is that it’s our own uniqueness that makes our blog run.

    I know I am more attracted to people with a sense of humor, I actually smile and think to myself, “I like them”.

    I am so new at this but love learning! Thanks so much!

    DR

  14. Well Josh… you are unique that’s for sure. And you know that? THAT IS GREAT!!!

    Not only can you make a fool of yourself and not mind (hehe I am good at that too!), you are able to write in a voice that everybody can read and think “I know this author..”.

    WELL DONE!

  15. Julie Ann Storr :

    Great blog – funny, well written and spot on. Your authenticity (is sharing an experience not selling) shines through in spades and is a welcome relief from the other service floggers.

    There may be millions of blogs out there but only a small % of them really stand out and are great (no matter what your area of interest) because the key is ingredient IS you/us/the blogger – our unique personality, quirks and foibles that make us funny, honest, informative, whatever it is that floats the boat of the reader.

    Knowing yourself well and having the guts to express it (preferably articulately) without worrying about people-pleasing, just telling it like it is – is what makes a good blogger stand out to me…. all just part of the personal journey (for me, it’s about how well you know and like yourself).

    Oh and I also liked how you were honest enough to say you just do what’s fun and will do for as long as it remains fun and that you don’t know where you are going, just up. Awesome. Truth. This is what life’s about, just most people don’t get it yet as they are too busy trying to copy/emulate someone else who they think has ‘made it’.

    Good one, thanks for sharing!

  16. You seriously put your finger in your burger and bit it? haha!

  17. I like this – not least because the finger in the burger is the kind of thing I would do…(it’s never pretty watching me eat).

    I think having a blog is a great way to find out your own voice and your passion as well. If you can’t keep it up and get excited about the subject, then at least you can cross it off your list.

    More and more I’m assessing each thing I do on a “How passionate am I about this?” spectrum. To others it might seem crazy what I’m turning my back on, and what I am getting involved in, but I know each step is only going to reinforce my authenticity.

    Thank you!

  18. As they say, “love what you do” or is that “do what you love” and the money will follow – think that works for people will follow, too. But it has to be more than loving to blog, you have to give people what they want. You did that – thanks.

  19. Well said. I totally agree.

    I keep seeing pitches where you can pay someone to tweet and post on Facebook for you. For hundreds of dollars. I would spend more time wondering what “faux me” might be tweeting about, and wasting more time, than just just posting the updates myself.

  20. Hi Josh,
    Great post! Just as an aside, in my date last night, the guy said, “I have a 360 degree view of the ocean,” to which I replied, “isn’t that geographically impossible?” Suzanne strikes again. Hey, the guy was a little smug, so no loss I guess. Suz

  21. @Andrew: Help is on the way. I’m sewing some dashing trousers for you as we speak!

    @James: Do you always advise the three posts/week when you’re working with people?

    @Suzanne: Good for you. guys like that don’t deserve to get no play, nohow!

  22. @Josh – No, actually. It varies depending on what the goals of the person or business might be. Some should post several times a day, some should post maybe once a month. Depends very, very much on their true goals, and where they should be focusing their attention to make those goals happen.

    The human answer (because there is one) is that I think once a week is nicely maintanable by most people and doesn’t drive anyone bzonkers. But, as we both know, nothing about the web is human.

  23. Maybe that’s why it often takes a blogger a long time to produce a quality blog. They need to figure out, that their writing should be about something they love, and not about blogging for money.

  24. Josh what amazes me is how the so called turnkey system is suppoed to work for everyone and make everyone money. Show me a turnkey that will work with no work and I will show you a turkey that wont work at all.

  25. It’s hard to imagine that you didn’t know that your finger was inside the hamburger. You must have been so enthralled with your date to notice. Sorry it didn’t go any place.

    But the message I get is to believe in yourself and write what you believe in. If your heart and love is in it, it’ll shine through. And you’ll be successful.

    Don McCobb

  26. Josh… Dude… You bit your finger… That’s hysterical and a great intro into this post.

    I think you hit the nail on the head, there are some things that just can’t be taught… And I want to echo what Darren Monroe said…

    I think some IMers are taking advantage of a situation… The situation being people wanting everything for nothing…

    So at the end of the day, who is to blame… the IMer or the person wanting?

  27. As usual, I love reading your content. I don’t always comment but I print out posts that lead to other posts that lead to other posts and so on and so on!

    I have a 2 hour commute to and from my day job so I spent it reading Copyblogger and I must say I am never disappointed!

    Why are you doing this for free again?

  28. This is a cool article. It just really takes what you think will work for your blog. Everyone needs some help along the way but if you’re trying to make things fun or make things work because someone else is then it’s probably not doing so good.

  29. @Stress Reducers: Oh, I’m not doing it for free (even though I would), I’m just not money-motivated for blogging. I like my other career and my other projects too much. I make most of my money through sponsors and people wanting to take my strongman classes who find me through the blog. And as my pagerank and authority have gone up, I actually sell a lot of stuff when I review a book, because I’m often one of the first results on Google.

    Like I said, I’m not playing for stakes but for fun. However, when the two started overlapping, I wasn’t about to turn down a check:) As traffic grows, so will prices, but my methods and intentions won’t change.

  30. Why are you doing this for free again?

    Michelle, we’re happy to do this for free, because lots of people have purchased Thesis, Scribe, Teaching Sells or one of our other offerings along the way because of the the free content. And our guest writers get similar benefits.

    But if you’re feeling guilty because you haven’t purchased anything yet, by all means, make yourself feel better as soon as possible. ;)

  31. @Brian: Crap! I though that question was for me. Hubris….

  32. Josh, it’s okay if we tag team these things. :)

  33. Oh Josh, I love it. I’d still hire you after the hamburger failure, it’d be so comforting to not be the only idiot in the room. :)

  34. Catherine, not so fast. A 9-fingered giant who keep barking in public doesn’t put anyone at ease, whatever you might have heard.

  35. LOL@ Brian. Actually I did purchase Ghostdad’s service. He redid my home page copy this past weekend.

    I am also going to change my blog which is currently hosted by my website provider oh and blogger to the Thesis theme in the near future. I’m just a little concerned it may be a little over my head with all the technical stuff.

    You all teach me so much on here. I think I’m locked for life!

  36. I know I have stuck my finger in a few proverbial burgers before eating…

    Josh, you really hit the nail on the head when it comes to the nasty little line between successful blogging and people that do it because they think they have to… PASSION.

    Anyone with a keyboard can pretend to be a copywriter and a blogger, but once you get through a couple of weeks of posting; that is where Darwin gets his way.

    As with any small business venture, if you don’t completly live what you are doing (and Sunday night is just as exciting as Friday night), then it’s probably not the business that the person should be in.

    By the way, you have the best first name in the world!

    -Joshua Black
    The Underdog Millionaire

  37. @Josh and @Joshua Glad to know I am not the only one writing on Friday and Sunday nights! :-).
    People ask me “where do you find the time to blog?”
    I don’t know what else I would be doing!

    And thanks for the burger story! :-)

  38. Dear Josh,

    I just fell in love with you. Sadly, I’m not completely single and I am most likely old enough to be your mother.

    Though I haven’t tried to find your stats.

    xxxooo

  39. “There are things that bloggers can and can’t be taught.”

    Josh, as a former computer instructor, I couldn’t agree more. I’d tell students the most important skill they could learn is to have stubborn self confidence. I’d say,” Repeat after me..I WILL learn this stuff.” I could tell the 90% who repeated the mantra didn’t quite believe it. The other 10% were playing solitaire and didn’t even hear me.

    I’d tell them to read up on the subject matter online, in the library—hell, even the help files of the programs. I told them that’s how I got my instructor position, but they still doubted THEY could do the same.

    There’s nothing you can teach to people who don’t believe in the secret ingredient.

    There’s a saying in the strong man community, “Bend or die.” Replace bend with blog, and if you truly believe the rallying cry, you will succeed. If you don’t, you’ll have to settle on reading those people who do.

    Great write as always.

  40. Sonia Simone :

    If it was any other writer with the finger story I would have sworn they were making it up, but somehow from Josh it seemed almost reasonable.

  41. Josh,

    The hamburger incident is a great example of how anything which occurs in your daily life can be turned into a post with value…well done!

    The question I have is was that ketchup or blood?

    Passion is something I had to find within myself, and only recently I might add…it was only a few years ago when I stood up in front of about 30 entrepreneurs, who were all talking about their passions, and told them they were all dreamers, and that without dispassionate people like me in the background of their businesses making things happen, their dreams would never become realities.

    I’ve since learned that passion does not need to be mindless day-dreaming…in fact my passion has been the driving factor is getting my book completed after 2 years of stuffing around with editing…

    Loving to write is only have the battle…you have to love to share if you want to be heard!

    Write On!

  42. Nice post Josh. I guess some people just need to pull their finger out. That’s what you did with the burger and the blog. It works:)

  43. That simple ingredient is so true. I once read on another blog to be yourself when you write. It’s the easiest way to be, and if other people like it, great! If not, they can read someone else’s blog. I’m a fan of brutal honesty. Being real to yourself makes blogging an enjoyable, and hopefully profitable, venture.

  44. Good stuff! Good stuff!!! Be real to yourself when blogging!

    happy tuesday!

  45. Every time I start to type Elance.com into my browser, I get the “willies”.

    Do I really need someone to write my copy? Probably!

    Do I really need someone to design a site for me? Probably

    Do I really need help with keywords and SEO? Probably!

    I know I can’t continue to be a one man show. With a dozen websites, I’m wearing myself out. I have to choose which areas I’m okay with farming out.
    The problem I have to come to grips with is … I don’t know if I can convey my vision to someone who doesn’t share my passion.

    Your post came just in time, Josh. I’m really struggling with the concept of outsourcing. Now, I have a way to look at my requirements and decide what to ask myself and prospective free-lancers.

  46. I got a little lost at first, Josh. In fact, the thought of biting my finger in a hamburger was a little too much. I tried to see where you were going, and almost gave up on the post.

    Glad I didn’t, though. The last third was worth the wait.

  47. Great post Josh and great insight. While a lot of the technical know-how of running a blog can be taught, the passion, the motivation and the love cannot. And that’s the life’s blood of a blog. Maybe will it drive blog evolution (blogolution?)?

  48. And I thought I had some good date stories….I would have laughed if my date almost ate his own finger. Guess yours (date, that is – not finger) had no sense of humor.

    Great post!

  49. What great insights Josh. I am realising success is such a personal thing … really someone else can only teach us to unleash out own passion and skills not emulate theirs.
    Love the hamburger story! Hope your fingers ok! :)

  50. Josh:

    Great read!

    I agree that long-term success requires you to be passionate about what you a writing. The problem with most people is they want success quickly. Most people want to be told how to be successful instead of experiencing success.

    Being successful (each person defines there own success) takes time. People can not copy others writing styles. Sure they can mimic but in the end they need to develop their own style, like you have done.

    - Rick

  51. OW!

    Note to Josh (and self): do not take the words “finger foods” too literally.

  52. Yeah. I’ve done that. Not with a date though. Thanks for the great post!

  53. I couldn’t agree more.

    I get many people asking me for advice but huh I kind of ask for that running as I do a blog which purports to give writing advice, Going Down Writing. But a depressing amount of people are basically asking me to do the work for them and funnily enough they don’t take too kindly to being told how to do something, preferring instead to give you their script and ask you to re-write it. I’m happy to do that of course but I insist on charging them through the nose for it. :)

    Passion is important, as is being authentically yourself. Posting often is a must, and making sure those posts are really as good as they can possibly be. Expecting success quickly is something you shouldn’t expect, and a year or so of thankless trudging will pay dividends in the end, people. Just check your need for instant gratification at the door.

    Great post, keep up the good work.

    Phil

  54. Josh – I liked your point about making others experts.

    Ask and involve. That’s always good to build communication traction.

    What I have found is – answer the question or part of it in the post, and then ask others for their answers and opinions. That always helps to stir up the discussion.

    -Deven

  55. Thanks for a great read Josh!

    I particularly share your feelings on some guru ethics:
    “But sometimes our need for answers spawns “gurus” who are freaking travesties of ethics and exploitation.”

    Dave

  56. Love the burger story – almost too funny to be true.

    I agree that looking up to someone is great; however, measuring ourselves by someone else, no matter how great they are, can be very limiting.

  57. Hi Guys,

    That hamburger is making me hungry. So you bit down on your finger? “Ouch!!!” I know that hurted. I love when you said that the secret ingredient to a great blog is you.

    Kind Regards,

    Sam
    X

  58. It’s great to know I’m not the only one that has almost bitten off a finger while eating. :)

    Great post. The concept can really be applied to anything. If you aren’t into what you are doing, you probably won’t succeed at it.

  59. Hi Josh,
    Great post and love the comments you’ve received too. I think there are too many blog skeletons out there as people/businesses have decided to start a blog because they thought that it was the right thing to do and when it has got hard or they have only been doing it for the money then they abandon the project not realising what impact it has on their image when their blog is left abandoned. Therefore, I would suggest that no one should start a blog unless they are going to finish it….whatever that might mean.

    Adrian

  60. Great article! Lots of personality and authenticity in it! true, you need to have the passion for writing, no one ca teach you that…

  61. Hi Josh,
    Very amusing! And a good way of getting point across (and er ahem…making sales).
    But the question of passion and whether or not you have a passion for blogging, is surely the wrong question. Shouldn’t it be ‘Do you have a passion for the topic(s) on your blog?’ If the answer is yes, then the work required and for that matter, the method of delivery doesn’t matter.

    Regards,

    Mac

  62. Great title man, I had to read it with a title like that.