Who Are You? A Deep Dive Into Writing Your Bio
Crafting your bio may feel like one of the most difficult writing challenges you'll ever have to face, whether you've just started a business, finished a guest blog post for a website you love, or need to dress up your LinkedIn profile. After all, this is very personal stuff. So first, let's cover our bases.
Bio Writing 101
You'll Most Likely Need Three:
- A long one (think a single page), which can be used for your About page (if you're running a small business), programs for events, etc.
- A brief bio (somewhere around six sentences), for things like guest blogs, Facebook profiles, About page copy if you're with a larger organization, etc.
- A super short one, like 140 characters. Great for bylines, Twitter, etc.
And you can expect to update all of them regularly. (How regularly depends on you.)
In our experience, it's best to start with the long one first, then use that to inform the others so they're relatively consistent.
Tip #1: Know Your Audience
This is key for any type of writing. For instance, if you're looking to get a gig in the insurance industry, at say, Traveler's, you'll need a different tone for your bio than if you were applying for a job with Red Frog Events, an offbeat event production company that has a slide and ball pit in their Chicago office.
Also, keep in mind what you're trying to sell people on. Are you trying to convince them to hire you as a social media expert, or as a graphic designer? Your bio should focus on whatever attributes highlight your skill set, and include some sort of call-to-action at the end, whether that's to hire you as a consultant or to sign up for free design tips through your blog.
Tip #2: Relax
This is the hardest advice: get over yourself. No one cares about you. We mean that in the nicest way possible of course, but this advice is necessary because we all get anxious when it comes to writing about ourselves. How will they take this? How will I look? What will they think? What if they think I'm weird or dumb or insane?!
Tip #3: Be a Person
First or Third Person? If your business is literally just you, or just you plus one or two other people, write your bio from the first person. You're not fooling anyone when your bio on JohnDoe.com says "John has more than 10 years' experience..." Just be blunt and say, "I have 10 years of experience, and [here's why that matters.]"
Tip #4: Get Creative
There's this template that's been making the rounds for ages (you know the one we're talking about: "Scott is an expert in X. He's been working in this field since Y. His clients include A, B, and C. He is married and lives in Z.") If you want to stand out, first, break this formula and opt for something more interesting.
Tip #5: Get Personal
For example, let's say you're writing a bio for a speaking engagement geared towards creatives who are trying to sell their work online. Your bio could focus on your experiences within the artistic community, but also try to tell a story. Maybe instead of going through 30 years of experience, focus on one moment in time that's especially relevant to this particular audience. Let's say, you did something like this:
"Fail! Fail! Fail!" That's all I heard from the audience as I tried to finish an improv scene at The Second City Training Center. But it wasn't a bunch of paying audience members screaming that word at me - it was my Level B improv teacher. Any time he caught us overthinking or hesitating, he'd start screaming at us to fail. And being the over-thinker that I am, that word was yelled at me a lot. At first, I hated him for it. I complained to everyone I knew; I didn't want to go to class; I hated doing scenes; I'd wished I'd stayed in business school, or gotten that law degree instead...but I kept on going to class, and I kept on failing. Then one day, years later, the brilliance of that advice clicked in my head: the only way to succeed is by failing - by putting yourself out there, time and time again, and being okay with making a fool out of yourself. That advice is what led me to produce a solo show, start my online business, pitch my services to companies much bigger than my own, and ultimately, build a life for myself as a working creative. Now, every time I hesitate to put myself out there, or hit "SEND," I still hear my teacher's voice in the back of my head, "FAIL! FAIL! FAIL!" Only this time I smile, knowing that it's the best advice I've ever received in my 10 years of being a professional creative.
Tip #6: Bob & Weave
Not in the sense of being evasive, but rather, re-purposing your experiences to fit the needs of your current bio. Let's say your background is in journalism, but now you work as a consultant for press releases. You want to highlight your experience, but also your expertise. You could try something like this:
I used to call it "fishing" - digging through my inbox, eyes glazing over at every press release that came across my screen. They all looked the same, but I had to read them because I needed stories. You'd think it would be simple: I need certain information and I've got quotas to meet; they need to get their ideas out there and attract attention. Why is that so hard? Turns out, when we live in one bubble, we very seldom understand what it's like in the other, which is why I crossed over to the dark side: PR. I can help you get noticed by journalists, who, like me (back in the day), are sitting at their desks right now, hoping to come across a press release that stands out in the sea of blah that is their inbox; the press release that tells them who you are, what the deal is, and why people should care. Let the journalists do the fishing. I'll help you be the trophy at the end of the line. Reach out to me at [email address].
(We didn't mention that this journalist has a B.A. in Journalism from UIC, or that she worked at the Chicago Tribune for X number of years because we want to make the distinction between a bio and a resume. If you're concerned about adding credentials, you could still include a hyperlink at the end that directs them to your LinkedIn page or portfolio. Otherwise, just focus on the story and try to "bob & weave" your credentials in.)
Now, If You Must Be Traditional
When you think of traditional, you probably think science, medicine, law, banking, etc. Those are fields in which credentials tend to be pretty important, but that doesn't mean you have to be boring. There are ways to link your credentials into coherent sentences that still tell stories.
Start by digging deeper into your experiences. Ask yourself, "Why do I do X? What makes my job interesting? Why did I choose this path?" Then, use those answers to backtrack through your resume and determine, "Okay - how did this experience inform my ultimate goal? Why was this experience unique? What did I learn and how does that help me today?"
Ask of Every Notch on Your Experience Belt:
- Why was this relevant? What did I learn?
- How do I use that knowledge today?
- How did that experience help shape who I am today?
- Why am I including this? Is it important to the person reading my bio?
- Is this who I am, or just something that my ego wants me to say?
Turns out, even in traditional jobs, the people doing the hiring are usually anything but. They're constantly looking for new ways to separate the wheat from the chaff, and they want to know you - not your resume. So how can you share with others who you are, and not just what you do?
Now, For the Toughest Part of Your Bio...
In order to write your bio, you need to figure out what makes you unique. Try asking yourself the following questions to really dig into who you are and why your contributions matter:
- When you were a kid, what was the one thing you loved to do more than anything? Maybe it was swimming, or eating ice cream. Maybe you loved to play in the mud, or put fireworks into ant piles. Maybe you built toy rockets, or dreamed of being a firefighter. Whatever that is, write it down, along with why those memories matter to you. Do they reveal anything about you, or your background? Are they relevant to who you are today?
- When was the last time you got to play? Dig into recent memory - when was the last time you did something just for you, or just for fun? What was it? Why did you enjoy it? Did you feel like a different person at the time? What was that experience like? (For example, a big turning point for me was after I had graduated from college. I was participating in a French immersion in Canada, and the program was coming to an end. I'd been a double major in college - political science and finance - and there had been no room for fun in my 21 hour/semester schedule. Then, in Clare, Nova Scotia, I joined in on a massive water balloon fight. It was the most fun I'd had in years, even though it was ridiculously simple and, dare I say, childish. That was a turning point for me because I realized, right then and there, that there was no way I was jumping headfirst into anything that didn't include a bit of creativity or play.)
- If you were an animal, what kind of animal would you be, and why? For instance, are you a honey badger who doesn't give a shit, or a giraffe who doesn't sweat the small stuff? Are you a loyal dog, or an indignant cat? A fierce jaguar, or a cunning fox? How about a beautiful snake slithering across the swamp's surface, or a vegan iguana chilling in the sun? Determining this answer could help you be more creative in your bio, believe it or not.
- If the world were ending tomorrow, and you've been given 24 hours notice, what would you do? Who would you spend that time with? Why? Would you still go into work? Would you write a poem? Would you sleep in? Would you do every drug you could get your hands on? Or would you just cook a large meal with family and hang out in the sun?
These may seem like silly questions, but it's usually the silly ones that reveal the most about you. So don't be shy or nervous. Simply grab a few blank sheets of paper and start writing about yourself. What comes to mind? Do a free write. The answers will probably surprise you.
Formatting Your Bios
Alright, now you've got your free write. It's time to turn that into something presentable (insert dramatic emoji here).
Here Are Our Recommendations:
Tell a story for your longer bio.
- It's longer content, so you need to hook the reader's attention right away and keep it all the way to the end. No one wants to read a 500-word bio that doesn't say anything.
- You can always add bullet points at the end if you really want to highlight those flashy credentials, but we prefer to "bob & weave" them into your copy.
- Watch Dave Chappelle's latest stand-up on Netflix (he did two, but we're referring to the first one): The Age of Spin. Pay attention to how he structures this show. He not only weaves four O.J. Simpson stories into the performance, but also uses "callbacks" very effectively. This might help you better understand how to structure your own content.
Get to the point in your brief bio.
- You've only got about six lines of space available for your short bio, so you basically need to rip the beating heart out of your longer piece and get to the gist of it here.
- Try to tell one aspect of your longer bio - typically the strongest, most relevant bit of information.
- For your first draft, write long, then edit down. Just keep chipping away at it until it's been beaten into submission.
- This is basically an exercise in "who are you" in one line. For instance, Stacey Blank writes about SEO content for seniors looking to stand out online. Or, Bob Gerard sells rare antiques on eBay and Craigslist.
- These can be dry, so if you're opting for the joke route, just remember, you still have to convey information. If people can't figure out what you're trying to say, they will move on. In like 3 seconds.
- And with social media, sometimes it's best just to tell people what to expect on your feed. E.g., "Sharing social media tips, business book reviews and pictures of my adorable spawn."
Try not to be too hard on yourself. Writing your own bio is challenging, no matter who you are. And while I can quickly whip up a bio for someone else, when it comes to writing about myself, I'd rather pull out my own teeth more often than not. So be patient, be kind, and always keep your target reader in mind.
Also, there are probably an infinite number of things you can say about yourself to describe who you are, but that's not the point with a business bio. The point here is to sell. So, what are you trying to sell, and to whom? If you can answer that question, half your work is done already.
Best of luck with your bio. And let us know if we can help!
P.S. Try not to get too existential. That only works for some.