Fifteen years ago I wrote an article for The Vancouver Sun about the pain of writing your dating profile. Then, as now, dating sites gave tips on how to write a profile that would attract a true love. And like now, they don’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 a small food business About page on a website. Think of it like a bio or a profile as you relate to your business. Nobody wants to know where you grew up or how many kids you have. This isn’t an obituary. But if you’re behind the business then people want to know your approach to whatever your company makes or sells (it goes without saying that it must match the tone of your whole site).
My first stab at my own About page was to use this skydiving picture you see. 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. Maybe, but it wasn’t who I am. More to the point, it wasn’t about food or writing and my company is. I did call it Food Words for a reason.
That’s a good example of what not to do. I have a better one now.
Here’s some pointers. Not how to write but how to approach the job. If you’re doing it yourself you’re just going to have to accept that writing is a slog. If you’re having it done, use this guide to assess the final copy.
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 part of engagement marketing. If it goes the way it should, the looking and learning about you translates into sales.
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. Was there an aha moment? Did you have trouble finding what you now make (this true of special diets and food from the home country, like Elman’s Pickles)? Were you encouraged by friends and family (who now wonder why they never see you)? There’s one jumping off point – find it.
Tell a Story
The Wize Monkey guys do. They lead with passion. They have it all – exotic location, unique product, challenges, expertise, philosophy, and brotherhood. It isn’t necessary to go this far but look how they mix the right amount of personal with business. I wanted their product even before I read about the mosquito bites.
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, especially 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. The 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 late night ads (the later the cheaper). Then go write the opposite way. Expect to 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 (also they may forget where they are so make sure your name is prominent). 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 (very popular with graphic design agencies). I ended up using a professional photographer because I knew he would take it seriously and ignore my whining about yucky pictures of me. It was a worthwhile investment.
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.