Once upon a time a graphic design firm asked us to revise the copy on their website, paying particular attention to the personal profiles on their “About” page. As it was, their website lacked an About page. Nowhere on their site could you find thumbnail bios and photos of the two principals and two employees who made the place hum. Nowhere on the site could you learn anything about the people who designed the stunning images in the portfolio section of the website.
“What we’re hearing from people is that they want to know a little about us before they hire us,” the boss said. “It’s funny.”
Is it? Is it really so strange that a potential client would like to get to know you first, even before sending you an e-mail inquiring about your rates? Is it so odd that human beings still behave like the social creatures they are, even when they have such powerful communication tools at their fingerprints?
I don’t think so.
Technology is a tool, not the solution. Human beings provide solutions. If I’m contemplating shelling out money for a service, I want to feel good about spending that cash. That means being comfortable with the people I’ll be paying. That’s why there’s always small talk before a business meeting. That’s why people look for excuses to take the new client out to lunch. That’s why, in American culture, even long-distance phone calls with a new business contact are always prefaced with idle chit-chat. The first-time contact who cuts right to the chase—on the phone or in the office—comes off as dour, brusque, even weird.
Like it or not, your website is your surrogate in the virtual world. If you can’t be there to personally meet your potential client, you are forced to let your website do the idle chit-chat for you. The About page, the Bios page—whatever you want to call it—is your virtual calling card. If it’s going to work, it must reveal to the world engaging personal details about yourself. Not having a nice one may be costing you money in the long run.
Now the painful truth: Anyone who tells you there is a right way to write your bio is lying to you. All anyone can offer is personal preference guided by years of experience.
In general, the About pages /bios I like tend to…
• Succinctly summarize a person’s work and credentials.
• Drop a few personal factoids.
• Employ a casual, light or even humorous tone.
• Include a clear, professional photo of the person.
The ones that turn me off…
• Bore readers with lengthy recitations of everything the person’s ever done.
• Share nothing interesting or personal about the person.
• Lack humor or seem afraid of it.
• Include no photos, or use crappy, low-res images.
I know. They’re probably too outrageous for the line of work you’re in. If you can’t go the funny route, the only solid, professional, writerly advice we can offer is this: Good writing emphasizes universality.
The more I see myself in you, the more human you seem to me, the more I want to connect with you. Because we have these powerful communication tools at our disposal—or maybe in spite of them—human beings still want to connect with each other in ways that feel meaningful. I see it on Twitter and Instagram every Thanksgiving when people start posting photos of the food they’re cooking. When a major snowstorm whips through a swatch of the country, everyone’s out there posting images of their backyards. And watch—you’ll see a lot of photos of those same backyards when spring comes again. Does the internet really need more photos of food or snow or crocuses? No, but they help us feel connected to others in a weird way. The not-so-funny thing is, we don’t need very much to feel kindly disposed towards other humans.
This is the great irony that I keep playing around with in my head. In the end, a great About page or bio isn’t about you. It’s about us. Discuss.
* These are my Dad’s old glasses. I bet he paid $9.99 for them. He wore them for decades until we forced him to get something a little more stylish. We called them his Swifty Lazar glasses.
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