When a friend reads your website bio, would they be able to identify you if your name was erased?
“People want to do business with a person,” says professional biographer, Emma Fulenwider. “They should feel like they’re meeting you when they read your bio.”
During Episode #33, Emma and I unpack three “power-ups” that will take your bio to the next level:
- In five words or less, identify your ideal reader, audience, or client.
- Talk about what you do, not what everyone who has your title does. Specify the result you provide for your ideal reader.
- List a conviction you have about the work you do. Make people question what they thought they knew about you.
We debate the merits of writing your bio from the first-person vs. third-person point-of-view, and Emma explains how to craft a bio that sounds as if a friend is introducing you. In other words, she reveals how to brag about yourself without sounding pompous.
You’ll also discover the secret spot to showcase your bio on social media.
A transcript of this episode is at the bottom of the page.
Double-Shot Massive-Action Step
On your Facebook business page or personal profile, click on the cover graphic at the top of the page. In the “Add a description” area, insert your bio and a link to your website.
Then customize the button that’s directly below the cover graphic. Select the option below that best describes what you want people to do, and be sure to link to your website (or your blog, or a landing page) that helps button-clickers take that next step.
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About Emma Fulenwider
Emma calls herself the Lifestorian because her mission is to help people save their life stories. Prior to being a biographer and memoir coach, she was a marketer and ghost writer which is how she developed a superpower for writing killer bios.
She believes that all biographical writing, be it a bio or a memoir, is a peace-making opportunity because it invites us to examine ourselves and connect with others. Emma lives in Sacramento, where she conspires with her husband to raise two of the goofiest kids on Earth. Visit Emma at TheLifestorian.com
Before you listen to this episode, download this free Business Bio Template that’ll help you draft your bio.
Episode #1: Do You Have to Write Books to be a REAL Writer?
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On-Demand Audio Training and Workbook
During this 48-minute on-demand audio training, Laura will guide you through a series of questions that will help you discover and get to know your reader. Includes a printable workbook.
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Read the TranscriptThree Power-Ups to Take Your Bio to the Next Level, With Emma Fulenwider
Laura: One of the things that I love is bringing on guests who do a variety of different types of writing. In episode #1 of the podcast I talked about the fact that you don’t have to write books in order to be a real writer. There are many different types of writing you can do and explore. Our guest today does a slightly different type of writing than you might have thought of before. I would like to welcome our guest, Emma Fulenwider.
I have to share a kind of a funny thing that happened before Emma and I got on the podcast today. I use a system called Squadcast to record podcast episodes. She and I can see each other on the screen but it only records the audio. Emma it came on the screen but she was upside down!
Emma: Like a little bat. Just popping in to say hi.
Laura: Technical difficulties do not stop the podcast! We keep going. Emma, you have a very interesting brand called Lifestorian. Tell us about that and the meaning behind it.
Emma: When I got into this field, the professional association was The Association of Personal Historians. So everyone who did the kind of work that I do — we’re recording people’s stories, mostly for posterity, not really for publication — but mostly just so that it’s saved for the family. They called themselves “personal historians.”
That just confused people. I didn’t even know that they existed. It was kind of hard to find them in the first place because no one’s looking for personal historians. Most people thought that I researched history as a hobby when they said personal historian – like a hobby historian. So when that professional association went away, we all sort of went, well, we can call ourselves whatever we want to now.”
I usually tell people I’m a biographer. It’s gives people a general sense of what I do. But Lifestorian came from capturing people’s life stories but also that personal historian background. So, instead of a historian I’m a lifestorian.
Laura: It’s a great mashup of terms and it really describes what you do. Your work is a biographer is to help preserve history and to promote mental health through the therapeutic practice of memoir writing. You do a lot of classes as well, correct?
Emma: Yes. I’m certified in a curriculum called “guided autobiography.” It was developed at USC by gerontologists to help people do this thing that healthy people do where they review their life and they write about it.
In studying that process – it used to be something that was taken as a sign of senility. That people were losing their minds when they suddenly started talking about grade school and telling the same stories, so they were studying this to see what it was that was going wrong with people’s brains that they were doing that. What they found was it’s actually a stage of development. It’s a healthy thing that people do.
So they developed this curriculum that said, “If we walk people through the steps, will it make an unhealthy mind healthier? It did. It’s just a really fascinating, very nerdy field, this guided autobiography process. I’m certified in that and that is what I teach.
Laura: What got you interested in becoming a biographer? Do you have some past work experience or writing experience that led you specifically into the biographical arena of writing?
Emma: I was trained as a journalist; that’s what my degree is in. I went into public relations and I was working for a tourism office. I was putting together a list of ghost towns. We were out there in the Mojave Desert, and working in tourism in the middle of the desert will really stretch you as a marketer. Who wants to come here?!
I started putting together a list of ghost towns and I called this roadside attraction that popped up in Google as a ghost town. I said, “I just want to make sure your hours are still the same and I have your correct address.”
The man who answered the phone said, “Joe isn’t here right now. He’s the one who leads the tours because this is all built with his memorabilia. Joe’s not doing the tours right now.”
“When is he going to come back?”
“Well, he had a stroke and I just don’t know if he’s going to come back and he’s like 96 years old. And he remembers the Old West.”
And I thought, here’s this man who’s been literally sitting on the side of the road telling his life story to anyone who would pull off the road and listen. And now he’s had a stroke and he’s not talking. And I said, “Please tell me that somebody recorded him.”
The guy said, “You know, we really should have.”
It was just heartbreaking for me! There were instances like that… there were several of them over the years where I felt compelled to save the story because it’s so important and it’s so fragile. We can lose it so easily.
So I’m working in writing and working in PR. I’m ghostwriting for blogs. Everyone was excited about the fact that I could write. I was really great at the writing aspect.
I was going to go into either technical writing or grant writing. I had narrowed down to tracks that I had done on my research. I was talking to Mom and I said I’d be a technical writer or grant writer. They’re both growth industries. You can get certified in like eight months for $2,000.
She was like, “That’s nice. Don’t do either of those. You don’t want to do either of these things.”
I said, “I know, but I’m 27 years old. I need a career! I need to figure out what I want when I grow up!” I just felt like I was so late to the game of figuring out what I’m going to do as a career.
She said, “Emma, you just want to save people’s stories. Can you just do that?”
And I thought, That is such a cool job. No one gets to do that. That’s not a thing. It’s like being a unicorn trainer.
So I started Googling it and just calling memoir writers and turns out this is a thing that people do. It was five years ago that I discovered this was a thing and I’ve just been educating myself and practicing and taking baby steps and getting into this career. It’s really an amazing career and more people should do it.
Laura: The keywords that I heard you saying were get to do, where you say you get to save people’s stories, versus when you were talking about the technical writing, have to do.
I realize that there are a lot of people who have to do a certain type of writing because that’s what pays the bills. However, it sounds as if you are forging new territory here and are finding a lucrative way of earning a living through something that you get to do.
We’re going switch gears and talk about the bio that you use on your website, on your social media channels, and in other marketing materials. Emma just happens to be an expert on helping people to write their bios. We thought we’d give you some tips about that. Emma, what is the number one mistake that you see people making in their bio?
Emma: When someone writes a bio, they want to know you. I just cringe when I read these bios that tell me nothing about the person. We really get hung up in buzzwords and we get hung up in lots of things. We’re overwhelmed. We want to make everybody happy. So we end up becoming just this thing without any real identifiers.
When I read your bio, if your name is erased, I should be able to say, “Oh that’s totally Laura Christianson.” You should be able to put your bio into the world and your friends and your family would read it and go, “I know who this talking about; this is totally her.”
People want to do business with a person. They don’t want to do business with a business. They don’t want to do it with a machine. They want to do with a person. So they should feel like they’re meeting you when they read your bio.
Laura: In the work that I do in building websites for people, I spend a lot of time working with my clients on the bio or the ABOUT page copy that will go on their website. Which is kind of an extended bio. I see that same mistake a lot, too, where they’re either written in the third-person, or they sound like a resume. That isn’t necessarily bad, because you want to have a bio on your website — or at least a small part of your bio that’s written in the third person — especially if you do speaking. When someone introduces you at a speaking event they’re going to read that third person bio.
In the case of most authors — and you and I can debate this — the writer is the brand. They are the face of the brand. When I work with writers, I encourage them to write their bio from the first person point-of-view because I think that that helps people who visit their website to feel an instant connection with them and view them as a person and not just a kind of standoffish, here’s everything you need to know about this author. Would you agree or disagree with that?
Emma: I actually always tell people to write in third person. It’s sort of like when a book is written in past tense, you can still put someone in the moment even though it’s written in past tense. Present tense can be sort of jarring. But the reason why I tell people to write it in the third person doesn’t have to do with people getting to know you; it has to do with being able to brag about yourself.
This is where people get hung up. They don’t want to sound like they’re talking about themselves. They don’t want to sound self-important and so they end up leaving out a lot of the things that make them special.
And so if you just say, Emma is a biographer who’s amazing and she does all these things and she’s worked with all these people and she’s blah blah blah… It gives you free range to tell people what it is that makes you different and makes you special. It’s like a friend introducing you. But I see the point in having a first-person one and I think it would be wise for people to have either one because being able to tweak your bio for wherever it’s going to appear is a practice I think that everyone should have.
Laura: I think we could agree that it would be a good idea, if you’re working on writing your bio, to do two different versions of it — one in the third person, which would sound as if a friend is introducing you or talking about you. That way, you can put in the things that make you special and different and unique without feeling as if you’re being too pompous or too self-promotional.
Once you have that, you could translate that into a first-person bio, where it’s very conversational, as if I’m introducing myself to you. The key is that if my name was taken out of my bio, you could read my bio and you would still recognize that it’s me.
What are some things that people can do to help take their bio to the next level?
Emma: My three power ups that I always include in a bio:
You should identify your ideal client in five words or less. I help homeschool parents. I help people who have recently retired. I help someone who just lost a pet.
It should be broad enough that people who actually find you are going to identify who it is but is. But should be narrow enough so that whoever is reading it can think of someone that they know who is your ideal client.
You can kind of play with how broad or how narrow it is. People who aren’t your ideal client are probably still going to contact you if they like your work… they like what you do. But this is how you really get those clients that are your favorites to work with. Just call them out and say, “This is the person that I help.”
The second power-up is talking about what you do, not what everyone who has your title does.
In my workshop that I do on this, I use a dentist as an example. “I’m a dentist and I help people to maintain their oral health.”
Congratulations. You’ve just told us what every dentist does. Odds are, if someone’s reading your bio, they already know what every dentist does. If you specialize in people who had a lot of dental work done and they’ve got a lot of caps and crowns and things like that; if you specialize in kids dentistry — you’re going to talk about what it is that you do that not everybody does who has your title, and specifically the result that you provide four people.
“I work with families who have kids so that their kids enjoy going to the dentist.”
If you’re going to tell people what you do, make sure you’re just telling them what you do, not what everybody does.
The third one — and this one is a little bit risky – you need to list a conviction that you have about the work that you do.
It’s okay if it’s something that some people would disagree with you on. Again, returning to the example of the dentist, maybe it’s someone who says, “I believe that you can get your teeth just as clean if you brush them long enough, even if you don’t use toothpaste.”
“I believe that if you have a history of heart disease in your family, you need to be seeing me every other month, not every 6 months.”
It makes them question what they thought they knew about you about what you do. They maybe think that they understand you. You want to make them think again. You want to make them think that you’ve got something to tell them that they’ve never heard before. But also, it shows people that you take your work very seriously and that you have convictions about what you do.
So those are the three: Identify your ideal client in five words or less. Tell people the result that you give that not everybody gives, and list a conviction that you have about your work.
Laura: I love what you’re saying. Identify your ideal client, or what I called your ideal target audience, your ideal target reader, your customer avatar – it’s called all sorts of different things but they all mean the same thing. It’s that person who is a great fit for you and you’re a great fit for them. So be able to describe who that person is in five words or less.
Listeners, if you are going, “Oh wow; I have no idea how to go about starting that,” I have a low-cost (under $10) audio training called Find Your Ideal Target Audience, that walks you through step-by-step how to identify who this person. That would be the first step in being able to identify that person in 5 words or less.
Number two is to identify what you do not what everybody who has your title does, which is great. So many of us, when we’re at a social gathering will answer, “I’m a writer.”
When you’re at a writers conference, 100% of the people will say that!
I call that identifying your superpower. What makes you unique as a writer? What makes you stand out?
I did this on my own ABOUT page on my HOME page as I was reworking that copy and revamping my brand recently. I asked myself, “What is it that makes me unique?”
Tons and tons of people help people with their online marketing, help people to improve their websites and their blogs and their email marketing. What’s my superpower within that niche?
For me, I work mostly with writers or authors or people in writing-related businesses, so that narrows it down. Many of my clients are people who write from a Christian worldview, so that narrows it down a notch more.
Without exception, every single one of the ideal clients that I work with struggles with technology, and so they need someone to hold their hand and equip them to deal with these challenging tech issues in a way that doesn’t feel to them as if they’re being talked down to. That’s my superpower. I have a knack of conveying technical information in a way that non-techie writers who write from a Christian worldview can understand. That’s not five words or less!
Emma: But if someone’s reading your bio, they can say, “That’s me.”
If you say something general like, “I help people,” no one reads that and says, “That’s me! I’m a people! She’s talking about me because she helps people!”
Laura: Your number three point was to be sure to share a conviction that you have about the work that you do. So don’t be afraid to go out on a limb there and to do something really makes people think and that sets you apart from 10,000 other people who are in your same niche or your same industry.
I absolutely love those, Emma! Those are right on target with helping to make your bio the best of it can possibly be.
Let’s wrap up by talking about some places you recommend that people showcase their bio. Obviously they’re going to put it on the ABOUT page on their website. Where else would you recommend that people put their bio?
Emma: Somebody showed me this a couple years ago and it’s so simple and it’s so brilliant that I tell it to everybody. Most people have their author page on Facebook. You have that cover image at the top. When you click on that cover image – and a lot of people do — they want to see it bigger. They want to make the words bigger. If you’ve got your website listed there, so they click on that image and it makes it big. On the right hand side there’s a description. That description box is almost always empty. You need to put your bio there, with a call-to-action and a link so that people don’t even have to type your website in anywhere.
You are just going to put here’s my bio and then work with me and then the link to your website. It makes it really easy for people to see who you are and go straight over to where you want them to be.
Laura: The key there, in addition to who you are or what you do — your short bio — always put the link to your website in there! I see so many Facebook cover graphics that, when you click on them to see the description, they will have a bio or some sort of informationin them, but they often leave out a link to their website.
Emma: If your website address is long, or you’re sending them to a landing page, you can shorten the link so that it’s not this big thing. Use Bitly or something like that to shorten it.
Don’t say, “If you want to work with me…”
Just say, “Find out more,” or “click here,” or “work with me.”
Laura: That is such a subtle distinction but it’s such an important one! When you say, “If you want to work with me…”
People don’t want to be too salesy. They want to be polite. What works much better than “If you want to” is to use a strong, inviting call-to-action.
- Click here for more information
- Head on over and learn more
It has a different tone that “If you want to…”
Emma: I like “Get started,” because almost everyone is ready to start writing their story. 90% of Americans say that they have a story inside them and they just don’t know where to start.
My call-to-action is “get started,” because that works the best for what people are feeling when they land on my website.
Laura: If you have a Facebook page, as opposed to your personal Facebook profile, below that cover graphic is a button you can customize. You can also customize, to a certain extent, the call-to-action, that is, the text that appears on top of the button. It can say something like, “Learn More,” “Get Started,” “Book a Call,” – there are all sorts of different CTAs to choose from for those buttons.
Create that button and customize it and have a link to a page on your website, a freebie you’re giving away, a blog post – wherever you want it to go. But give people something to do and a place where they can go outside of Facebook – your home base on the web (which should be your website), where they can learn more about you.
“Get started” is a great call to action. “Learn more” is another one that’s considered very inviting but not off-putting.
Thank you so much, Emma, for that fantastic information! Is there anything else you would like to say about writing your bio?
Emma: Don’t be overwhelmed; it’s not your driver’s license picture. It can be tweaked at any time. It’s ok if it’s not perfect. Done is better than perfect when it comes to bios.
If it feels hard to write your bio this is just for anyone listening right now who is going to leave here and they’re going to go start working on their bio and two hours later, they’re going to have three words. If it feels hard, it is. It’s very, very hard. You’re not doing it wrong if it feels very hard.
I am the queen of bio writing and last night, it took me two hours to write my bio. It takes work. It takes time. It takes tweaking. No matter what you end up with, you will tweak it later. It’s important, but don’t worry about it.
Laura: It’s always a work in process. I have labored over my bio many, many, many hours and it’s always getting tweaked. I think that’s great advice. Don’t expect that you’re going to have a perfect bio written in five minutes or less. Five hours. Fifty hours… however long it takes you. Done is better than perfect!