About the About Page

Fifteen years ago I wrote an article for The Vancouver Sun about the pain of writing your dating profile. Even then dating sites gave tips on how to write a profile that would attract a true love. And like now, they didn’t really help. That’s because it’s a horrible job. Think about it. When was the last time you wrote about yourself?

It’s the same for an About page. Whether you’re doing it yourself or giving information to your content writer, tooting your own horn feels a little like being big shot. It’s also considered unCanadian.

My first stab at my own About page was to use the picture you see here. I wrote about the strength of character I acquired from the many skydives I made in my twenties and how my business was strong because of this. So earnest, so not me. But more to the point, it wasn’t about food or writing and my company is. I called it Food Words for a reason.

That’s a good example of what not to do. But, hey, it’s normal to write several drafts before you’re happy.

Here’s some pointers. Not how to write – you’re just going to have to accept that it’s work – but how to approach the job.

(So you’re clear, here’s what I mean about an About page. For small business, the page is about you as you relate to your business. The business is secondary; don’t worry, it gets to be first on all the other pages.)

Be Nosy  Why do you read an About page (if you don’t, read some)? I know why I do. I want to know the person or people making the business happen. It’s like walking into a store; I get a feeling. Just because I’m online doesn’t mean I don’t want the feeling. In today’s terms it’s called engagement marketing. If it goes the way it should, gawking translates into sales.

Think Small  I realize everything in business tells you to be big and to occupy your figurative space. But one of the things William Zinsser says in his timeless book, On Writing Well, is that it helps to reduce your experience to one very small thing. A whole lot can be said around that small thing.

Tell a story  These Wize Monkey guys go all out. Their whole business is a story. They’ve got it all – exotic location, unique product, challenges, expertise, passion, philosophy, and brotherhood. It isn’t necessary to go this far but look how they mix the right amount of personal with business (proving that Millenials dream in digital). There’s other approaches though, like Elman’s Pickles.

Your Philosophy  Please, please, not your mission statement. That belongs in your boardroom or a kitchen cupboard, not on your website. However, a mission statement can be a good guide – if it suggests your philosophy. You don’t have to be as outgoing as Chika Boom Popcorn, who leave no doubt what it would be like to hang out with them. But they are clear what matters to them. Which leads me to this next point…

Show some emotion  You have to. Even if you don’t want to. Give us some passion. Consider it philosophy revved up a notch. This is hard for people who believe their product is so good it will sell itself (it won’t). Or for people whose mothers told them not to brag. Thing is, we shop by our gut, not our brain. It’s all about the benefits, only on the About page the benefit is you.

Use your voice  It’s easy to sound like an ad. That stuff falls out of us, probably because we hear ads all day long. To avoid sounding this way (unless you want to), listen with special interest to AM radio ads (the later into the early hours, the better). Then go write the opposite way. Flounder through several drafts until you sound like you.

Include a picture of yourself  It’s natural that people want to see who you are (they also want to know who you are, so use your name). Professional head shots don’t have to look like they belong in the Financial Times. You can tailor them to your industry, like this. Or, if you’re the shy type, you can draw a self portrait or show yourself as a kid (like I did). And then there’s video. People love things that move and your page views will go up.

Do the pee test  Imagine that a person you meet at a party has to go to the bathroom real bad but they can’t leave because your business story is so gripping (trust me, they’d be gone if it weren’t). That’s your About page.

About the photo: This is over Blaine, Washington sometime around 1985. That’s Mt. Baker in the background. I am in the grey and my friend Dorothy is at the other end. She uses this same photo with far more success on her About page. I almost didn’t use it here. But you know what, my mother wasn’t always right…

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