Congratulations! You’re making a name for yourself as an authoritative voice in your industry, and pursuing more speaking and publishing opportunities. You may even be landing a few guest appearances on YouTube series or podcasts. With every new gig you land, you do a little happy dance because you can feel your star rising.
And then…the host or editor asks you for your professional bio.
Happy dance over.
You sigh and Google a random bio-writing template. Then you slog through the process of writing, and furiously deleting and rewriting, a soulless sentence or two about what you do and where people can find you. You hit “send” on your bland bio and feel a weight off your shoulders. Thank goodness that ordeal is over.
Little do you realize that by treating your bio as a tedious afterthought, you’ve just done potential followers, clients and fans a big disservice.
You’ve robbed yourself of business opportunities. And you’ve undermined the personal brand that you’re carefully crafting with everything else you share with the world.
Even Bestsellers Get the Bio Blues
If you hate writing about yourself and your accomplishments, you’re not alone. Even professional, bestselling authors despise this task and openly mock the whole affair.
I mean, just take a look at Neil Gaiman’s Twitter bio:
Then again, loads of Twitter profiles of internationally famous people are intentionally understated, so let’s give him a pass for a moment and take a look at Neil’s bio on Amazon, where millions of copies of his award-winning books have been sold.
Oh dear. Even his author bio-slash-humblebrag on Amazon screams, “I love to write but hate writing about myself.”
And if you go to his website and click his about page? Augh. Just…augh.
It looks a bit like a shopping list, doesn’t it?
It’s a good thing he’s Neil Gaiman. Otherwise we wouldn’t know much about what makes him a fascinating person worth booking for speaking engagements (beyond his many, many, many-many-many awards).
And when you eventually click Biography, here’s what we get:
A wall of text with several paragraphs devoted to his life story.
Look, I’m a really big Neil Gaiman fan (as in, “have been a member of his online discussion board since 2002” fan). And as a fan, I know his amazing speeches over the years have offered a combination of vulnerability, humor, and wisdom. If you’ve ever seen him speak, there’s a very good chance your life has been changed in some way by his words of inspiration.
So if someone invites him to be a guest on their podcast or give a keynote at a conference or present a talk at their book store opening…shouldn’t there be a happy medium between a snarky 140-character throwaway bio on Twitter and a Wikipedia entry?
How to Write a Bio: Perfecting Your Professional Bio Is an Artform
As a contrast, let’s take a look at Neil Gaiman’s partner in life, musician and creative entrepreneur Amanda Palmer:
This is her bio on LinkedIn:
Provocative, irreverent, controversial and wildly creative, Amanda Palmer is a fearless singer, songwriter, playwright, blogger and an audaciously expressive pianist who simultaneously embraces – and explodes – traditional frameworks of music, theater and art.
Amanda first came to prominence as one half of the internationally acclaimed punk cabaret duo The Dresden Dolls. In 2008, she released her debut solo album, Who Killed Amanda Palmer. After parting ways with her record label in 2010, she self-released two EPs: Amanda Palmer Performs The Popular Hits of Radiohead On Her Magical Ukelele and Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under, along with a musical theater-esque Evelyn Evelyn album and tour with Jason Webley.
Amanda is widely known as “The Social Media Queen of Rock-N-Roll” for her constant and disarmingly intimate engagement with her fans via her blog, Tumblr, and Twitter (800,000+ followers), and has been at the vanguard of using both “direct to fan” and “pay what you want” (patronage) business models to build and run her business. In May of 2012 she made international news when she raised nearly $1.2 million pre-selling her new album, Theatre is Evil, along with related merchandise and “experiences” via Kickstarter. Theatre is Evil went on to debut in the “Billboard Top 10” when it was released on Sept. 11, 2012, and has been released in over 20 countries on her own label, 8ft records.
Amanda was invited to present a “TED Talk” at TED’s 2013 Conference. To date her Talk, “The Art of Asking”, has been viewed more than 4 million times worldwide. 2013 also saw the release of “An Evening with Neil Gaiman & Amanda Palmer”- a 3 CD collection of tracks culled from a live tour with her husband and best-selling author Neil Gaiman.
In Nov. 2014, Amanda released her book “The Art of Asking: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help”, an expansion on her TED talk and memoir of her life as an artist.
That’s more like it. At a concise 324 words, Palmer’s LinkedIn bio conveys her passion, background, and accomplishments—without being too braggy.
If there were a Nebula Award for bio writing, Amanda Palmer (or her PR copywriter) would win it, hands down.
Do you have to be a TED Talk-giving, world touring, Kickstarter-record-breaking virtuoso to bring on your best bio game?
Anyone, no matter their level of experience or number of accomplishments, can write a stellar professional bio.
To prove it, I’ve reached out to some of LinkedIn’s Top Voices—everyday professionals who have earned hundreds of thousands of followers by sharing their stories on LinkedIn—to get their advice on how to craft a professional bio that pops.
When we’re done, you’ll stop treating bio writing as a form of torture and start creating a bio that will cut through the cookie-cutter noise, convey the power of your personality and professional accomplishments, and get people excited about what you have to say.
But first: Why do we even have these blurbs about ourselves at the end of blog posts or on conference programs?
What’s the Purpose of a Professional Bio?
To learn how to write a bio, think of your professional biography as an icebreaker to what will hopefully become a deeper conversation with your prospective clients.
Brand and marketing strategist (and LinkedIn Top Voice for marketing) Kristin Gallucci defines a pro bio this way:
A professional bio is an introduction to who you are, what you do, and what interests you. It is an opportunity—in a few paragraphs—to showcase your talents, your expertise, and highlight your accomplishments. It is the single most important piece of copy that you will ever write about yourself. It can draw your audience closer or turn someone away.
Another way to think of your bio is as a way for your industry colleagues to tell other people about you.
“A professional bio is critical because it adds instant credibility to you and your company. Your bio can be found among your current colleagues, recruiters, former prospects, potential new clients, your boss, classmates, and investors,” says Robyn Shulman, executive editor for EdNews Daily and LinkedIn Top Voice for education. “Also, by having a professional bio, you can open the doors to lifelong networking—including business and organizational-based relationships. Finally, your digital bio is usually the deciding factor when people outside of your usual network want to connect with you in some way.”
The Key Elements of a Kickass Professional Bio (With Examples)
Before we start talking about how to write a bio and dissecting the anatomy of a great one, let’s get one thing clear: while discussing your professional accomplishments can help people feel confident about your level of expertise, they are not the sole purpose of your bio.
More than anything, your bio is an opportunity to help people know you, regardless of your experience level.
Someone could have a shelf full of trophies and a wall full of plaques and people will still have second thoughts about hiring them if they make people feel uncomfortable, seem hard to work with, or don’t appear to be a good fit for their needs.
So it’s no surprise that the most important and overlooked element of a professional bio, according to the LinkedIn Top Voices, is…
Bio-writing Prompt #1: What makes you unusual or remarkable?
“Showcase your brains and personality,” says video growth marketer String Nguyen. “Don’t be boring AF and become a professional sheeple. Own your expertise and stand out.”
If you follow String on LinkedIn, you can see she’s bursting with personality and her bio definitely reflects it.
Hey from the future, I’m String. My latest win is that I grew my LinkedIn channel from 0 to 30k in 14 months. The secret is video. For last 4 years I’ve been creating and being recognised for my video growth efforts (2x LinkedIn’s Top Voice, Shorty Awards). I also love fried chicken.
You can see that String has a youthful personality full of wonder and humor. This explains her impressive video channel growth. After all, who wouldn’t want to follow a friendly, entertaining, fried chicken-loving professional video creator?
Bio-writing Prompt #2: What are your driving passions? What values do you bring to your work?
Passions & Values
Chances are, there are thousands of people who have similar experience to yours. But not everyone out there shares the values that drive you to do what you do.
“People often overlook answering some important questions in their bio: What inspires you? Why do you do what you do? What are you passionate about?” says Kristin Gallucci. “Often overlooked but worth considering is your ‘why.’ If you do not include your ‘why’ then your professional bio is simply a resume in paragraph form.”
Kristin has become known in the LinkedIn community for her passionate takes on digital transformation and customer-centric marketing, as well as her thoughtful conversation starters about industry trends.
Kristin’s bio on her website reflects those passions:
After spending over a decade leading the largest woman-owned advertising agency in NJ, Kristin knows what truly drives lasting engagement and continuous conversions – and it’s not a well-crafted product or beautiful website. It’s how deeply you connect with your customers.
Notice that Kristin highlights both her accomplishments and what drives her to succeed (“how deeply you connect with your customers”). This shows that she has a long track record of client success to show for her dedication to customer connection.
Bio-writing Prompt #3: What are the outcomes of successful projects you’ve been involved with? How have you been recognized for these outcomes?
Even if you’re a relative newbie compared to other folks on a speaking panel or a blog, there’s a reason people should trust that you know what you’re talking about. So make sure they see why you’re an expert in your area.
“Show your accomplishments—don’t tell,” Robyn Shulman says.
One of the best ways to present your experience is to offer specific data on how you’ve created change in the lives of your customers, clients, and audience.
When you take a look at Robyn’s bio, she has real numbers to go with her accomplishments, which demonstrate the impact she’s had over the course of her career.
Prior to my work today, I’ve taught various grade levels from elementary through college level. I built the first graduate advising center at National Louis University, supporting over 2,500 educators & 50 professors–raised enrollment over 50% on-site & over 2,000% off-site.
If you’ve never considered just how many people your words or work reaches, this is a great exercise in understanding just how much your service or product has already done to create positive change in the world.
Bio-writing Prompt #4: Who do you work with, and what will the future look like for people after working with you?
As with all marketing communications, a great bio considers who will be reading it and adapts with the platform on which it’s being seen.
According to career coach Kerri Twigg, the most overlooked aspect of a bio is “the person reading it.”
“Think about what the audience will care about, and share that side of your work,” she says. “We all have diverse skills and experiences, but less is more.”
Kerri is known on LinkedIn for creating spontaneous, lively videos infused with stories and advice for job-seekers who are considering a career change. And it’s clear from her bio that these videos are just a part of what she does as a career coach:
I help you to see the awesome in what you have accomplished and how to tailor that story to land meaningful work. Once you know your career story and how to tell it on paper, online and in person, you can navigate a meaningful and intentional job search confidently.
One of the powerful aspects of Kerri Twigg’s bio is how it targets its language to the needs of her prospective clients, and helps them imagine a future she can help them obtain.
Bio-writing Prompt #5: What key moments of struggle or inspiration had an influence on who you are and what you do today?
A Compelling Story
A memorable bio helps readers see that you understand their struggles because you’ve been where they are and have come out the other side, stronger and wiser.
ShedWool founder Cory Warfield’s open nature and ability to see the connections between his previous struggles and his current success have made him a master storyteller on LinkedIn.
His bio makes no secret of his beginnings and how they informed his business journey.
20 years ago I was homeless sleeping in parking garages and parks and eating food from dumpsters behind grocery stores. I found a job washing dishes, became a busboy, then server, then sommelier, then manager, then director, then back to waiting tables (where the money and glory is!!). I spent nearly 20 years in the hospitality industry before starting ShedWool.com to solve the problem I experienced every day for my entire career – shift scheduling!! Over staffing, under staffing, on-call shifts, and more – it’s hell on the management and employees alike. Today ShedWool is used by hospitals, police and fire departments, retail chains, franchises, universities, and yes – restaurants!
When you start seeing your professional accomplishments (and failures) as a part of an ongoing narrative, you have what you need to bring your story to your bio.
Bio-writing Prompt #6: What do you want your audience to do after learning a bit about your background?
A Call to Action
All of the above elements are the foundation upon which you’re building the primary purpose of your professional bio: your call to action.
“Don’t be passive, be active with your CTA,” String Nguyen says.
Her LinkedIn bio has several ways for potential community members to connect:
My mission is to create a community of video storytellers.
As a founder, entrepreneur and professional expert wanting to use video to amplify your message:
Join the ‘Master your Video’ community now, and start learning!
“Be specific in the ask,” recommends Kerri Twigg. “Instead of ‘contact me to talk more’ you can say, ‘sign up here for insider information to improve your marketing.’ Or, “like coffee and accounting? Set up a 15 minute call with me here.’”
How Long Should a Professional Bio Be?
After all this advice, you may feel like you need to write a lengthy biography listing every accomplishment and milestone in your life. But staying concise and targeted to your audience is key to a smart bio.
As a LinkedIn Top Voice for four years running, Steve is a big fan of cutting the B.S. from professional bios and all business communications. So much so, he’s written a comedic book about business jargon called Billy Bullsh!t Talks Business.
Steve warns against turning your bio into a lengthy listing of companies you’ve worked with.
“Focus on the experience you have gained rather than jobs you have had,” he says.
Robyn Shulman says your best bet is to create a bio that can be easily adapted to the platform:
There is not a one-size-fits-all for professional bios, especially if you are using different social media platforms. For example, one would expect your bio to be longer on LinkedIn than on Twitter due to the number of characters they allow. Always remember that your bios across all social media platforms should offer a similar high-level description that answers the questions: who you are, what you do, why you’re qualified to do something, and what you can do for others.
Kerri Twigg says the less jargony fluff and the more evocative language, the better:
Keep it short, and use less fluff words. People don’t remember things like “organized, strategic, led.” They remember things they can imagine. My speaker bio says, “Kerri has taught at Universities, theatres and even a boathouse.” People always ask about the boathouse.
For a bio on a webpage, go four paragraphs. One on your work scope, one on what you’ve done, one focused on what you’ll do for them, and then a call for action.
With that wisdom in mind, here’s a quick cheatsheet to use to make sure your bio stays within the character limits for each social media platform:
Don’t Just Write Your Bio, Live It
No matter how long or short, your bio is ultimately just words representing what it is that you do in the world. So back it up with action.
“A bio is also half the equation,” says Kerri Twigg. “If you write a compelling bio, you need to live up to it. Model it elsewhere. I can’t talk about my quirky videos and never make them. The bio is a narrowed-in extension of who you are really are.”
Now that you understand how to write a bio and you have all the tools and examples you need to craft one…go ahead: break the rules! Make your bio a true expression of your unique self and start winning the trust and interest of the people you seek to help.
Have a great bio? Want to improve yours? Share it in the comments!