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The Third-Person Bio Problem

About pages are the most frequently visited page of a website. A good bio or about page can humanize you and your product or service. It’s where you can forge connections by blending your story, values and interests into a compelling narrative.

Why then do so many one-person businesses talk about themselves in the third person? A related issue, not covered here, for many freelancers is whether to refer to oneself as an “I” or a “we.”

No matter how well written, a third-person bio can come off as pretentious, especially if it’s clear you are the one running the show and making coffee. This can create a credibility problem that you’re trying to avoid by writing in the third-person to begin with. Most of us don’t refer to ourselves in the third person at a cocktail party so there’s no reason to do it on a website. Third person can also come off as cold and detached if you’re not careful.

More and more, people buy from businesses whose stories and values they can relate to. In the quest for authenticity, maybe it’s time to embrace your “I” and just do a great job of it.

Before I tackle ways to do that, here’s why writing in third person is preferred:
  • It makes us appear more important.
  • It’s easier to include content that would otherwise sound awkward wedging it into a first-person narrative.
  • It’s difficult to write a compelling first-person bio without using the word “I” too often, which can make it read like a what-I-did-at-camp story.
What to do instead?
  • Write down all the points you think you want to hit: backstory, your path or trajectory, who you serve, stumbles or changes along the way, ah-ha moments, what people get from working with you, etc. Take each part and write it several ways till it sounds right.
  • To reduce how many times you use “I,” reconstruct every other sentence’s word order.
  • Instead of “I believe…” or “I think…,” link to a separate list/page of values or beliefs that serve as your business’ manifesto. Heck, make into a poster.
  • Instead of “I do…” or “I make…,” link to a separate list/ page of services or offerings.
  • Always keep your audience in mind. Yes, it’s your about page but people what to know what’s in it for them, even in your bio. “I serve x type of people with x problem who want x benefit,” is a good framework to use.
  • Replace phrases that sound too self-congratulatory with testimonials instead. Include them on the bio/about page or link to another page. It’s easier to let other people speak to your achievements and excellence.
  • Reduce unnecessary text by leaving out descriptions of your work that are self-evident elsewhere on your site.
  • For artists or others who commonly include degrees, education and awards, move all that to the bottom or in a separate list. Those credentials might impress someone but the point of a good about page is to connect and be relatable.

There is a place for your third-person bio in any venue outside your own website or LinkedIn profile, and it’s good to have that handy.

Here are a few examples of good first-person bios that hit all the right notes.


Have a new bio you’d like to share with me? Good luck!

Messagecraft: Benefits Light the Path

If there’s one thing you can do to activate your brand image, it’s to improve your writing.

Better writing connects with your customers or prospects.

People feel connected if, when reading your copy, they feel like you have considered their desires, fears or needs.

And people who feel that way want more of what you’re selling. This goes for selling a plumbing service, getting people to read your annual report or attracting new members.

One thing that prevents this connection from happening is a focus on features, often masquerading as benefits. Read more

How to Write an Article: The Basics

A friend emailed with a problem. Her gardening club loved her tales of digging in the dirt and her near-obsessive, homesteader-like canning and preserving activities that they asked her to write an article for their newsletter.

Then panic set in, so she asked me how write an article, which is funny for two reasons. One, that she asked me; I feel like I fumble through this. And two, her emails are already full of article-ready descriptions of her fruits and her labor, like this one:

I’ve been hanging out my bathroom window picking fresh figs. I’ve got a jar of figs in vodka. Will be doing another in bourbon later. Fig jam and chutney are on the list for this weekend. I guess there are worse problems to have.

Read more

Conjuring Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell just told me I should keep writing.

Well, not exactly.

In desperation a couple weeks ago, I realized that I was in need of wisdom. Could someone, anyone, of sound mind please explain, among other things, how we arrived at this place in political history, how Palin be could be happening to us, what all this says about us as a people? For a moment, I had the misguided idea that one could impose logic on the illogical.

Who better than Malcolm Gladwell to unravel a mystery, I decided? I pictured his characteristic thesis that, on the surface, would have an obvious answer. But as the mystery unfolded, unexpected answers would emerge. I did what any desperate person would do. I stalked him.

Well, not exactly. But I did go to the New Yorker website, where Gladwell is a regular contributor, in the hopes of finding that he’d expounded on this very subject. I imagined I might breathe a sigh of relief to know that, even if people shout racist epithets in public, Gladwell would have taken the edge off by presenting an idea that I could live with. The idea, mind you, not the racist epithets.

What I found was that he hadn’t written a column since May of this year. Then I want to his own website and looked at his blog, only to find that he hadn’t written a post since March of this year. A writer like Gladwell? I became worried.

So I emailed him. My email must have sounded like he should keep his finger on the pulse of my fears about society, and that he’d shirked his duty. A few days later, my heart skipped a beat when I checked email and found his name in the inbox.

For a nerd, this is a bit like not wanting to wash your cheek for a week because your crush just kissed it. I’ll admit that the reply was not, indeed, written by Gladwell himself, but by an assistant. Still, I like to believe that when she said Gladwell thanked me for my “kind email” and that he “really appreciates you taking the time to inquire about him,” that she was telling the truth. She told me that he has a new book coming out in mid November.

Ah. Makes sense. I could live with that.

Imagine my surprise then, when I logged on to the New Yorker today, and lo and behold, there was a new column from Gladwell, the first in four months. Better yet, the column, titled “Late Bloomers,” questions the notion that genius is equated with precocity. He builds a case for exhibiting genius late in life based on repeated effort, and not so much from luck being born a prodigy. Thank goodness for that.

Gladwell says at one point, “…sometimes genius is anything but rarefied; sometimes it’s just the thing that emerges after twenty years of working at your kitchen table.”

Given my nascent attempt at writing at the ripe age of 42, I decided I’d conjured Malcolm Gladwell at just the right time. I’ll pretend he was sending a secret message my way and that he just didn’t have time to email me personally.