By Katy Cowan
I recently decided to create my own personal website. One that’s separate from my consultancy and online magazine, and just about me.
I wanted this new site to highlight everything I’m doing — my background, my career, my skills, where I’m heading — and perhaps show a little more personality than I’m used to.
The design and making was pretty straightforward. I used Semplice on WordPress to style everything. I’m pleased with how it looks — simple, clean and easy to navigate.
But where I became stuck was in writing the copy. The words just wouldn’t flow. I had my hands hovering over my keyboard, utterly flummoxed as to what to write.
Working in PR doesn’t help. As I make money by protecting and enhancing reputations, it makes you incredibly wary of what you communicate. You start overthinking it, worrying about how you might be perceived.
You want to show the ‘real’ you but don’t want to be construed as unprofessional. You’re keen to add some honest, insightful thoughts — but don’t want to give too much away. You want to be taken seriously, but don’t want to seem like a complete bore.
Being British adds to the difficulty. Brought up in a culture where it’s deemed rude to talk about ourselves in a positive light, I — like most of my fellow Brits — find it impossible to write good things about myself. It just seems so… uncouth.
But I did it. I wrote about myself and I’m pretty happy with the results. It took some time, and I had to keep redrafting parts that sounded too formulaic. And I’m sure I’ll continue to tweak as I go along.
When I tentatively launched my new website on Twitter, asking for people’s feedback, I was anxious to hear their thoughts. I needn’t have worried. Their suggestions have been priceless, and now — I wanted to share what I’ve learnt from the whole experience, offering tips to help you tackle the ultimate challenge of writing about yourself without feeling like a show-off.
1. Look at the past, present and future
Not knowing where to start is always a hurdle. Climb over it with ease by writing yourself a guide that considers the past, present and future you.
Put together a bullet-point list of what you’ve done so far: your career history — where you studied, where you’ve worked, what skills and qualifications you might have, and your key achievements.
Then write about where you are right now: your current job/position/venture, side projects and experiences.
Finally, consider where you want to be in the next 12 months. Do you want to secure a new job? Find specific work that you enjoy? Do something else entirely? Use this list as a guide when you write.
2. Start typing
Don’t overthink it, just type. Let it flow. You can worry about the order of things and how it sounds later. When I sat down with my laptop, I surprisingly couldn’t stop. Knowing that whatever I wrote wasn’t necessarily the end-result was a huge weight off my shoulders.
If you’re struggling, take a break or sleep on it. It’s amazing what the brain can figure out if you take a step back from writing. The next time you sit at your desk, you might find that the words flow naturally.
3. Write the way you talk
Whenever people ask me for tips on writing, I always offer the same advice: write as though you’re talking to an old friend down your local pub. What words would you use? How would you describe your work to them?
Relax, make it conversational and don’t be afraid to ditch unnecessary big words and flowery adjectives. Never fear over-using the full stop. Keep sentences short, sweet and punchy — as though you’re trying to hold someone’s attention.
By writing as though you’re talking, you’ll be perceived as honest and authentic, which will ultimately connect with your reader.
4. Show some personality, be yourself
My father always told me that business is about people. If you’re someone people like, you’ll do very well indeed. Write from the heart and allow yourself to be the ‘real’ you.
Don’t feel paralysed by the fear of what people might think. Yes, it’s a very fine line between professionalism and personality but the right chord can be struck. It’s simply about being yourself.
Me? I’m a geek. A bit of a clown. I can get very passionate when I’m talking, throwing my arms around in enthusiastic gesture. I get easily distracted. I work way too hard and forget to press pause. I care. I used to talk too much, now I’m better at listening. If I have one too many pints, I get very loud and funny — and have to dance.
There are parts of ourselves — good and bad — that people warm to. Essentially, people just want to see the real you. It’s authentic and appealing.
But when writing about yourself, offer hints to your authentic self without going overboard. This particular piece of copy is predominantly about you and your work. You can add much more of your personality to your blog.
Just remember, no one likes a bore.
5. Stick with the facts
If you feel you’re waffling and your writing is becoming too self-congratulatory or going off track, bring yourself back to the hard facts.
Who are you? What do you do? What have been your key achievements that you’re proud of? Where do you see yourself heading?
Facts are facts. You’re not being big-headed if you’re simply relaying what you’ve done.
6. Do the cringe test
Now that you’ve got everything you want to say onto your screen, do the cringe test. What do I mean by this? Well, read it back and see how you react to your own copy. Do you cringe? Is your gut telling you it’s too much?
If you do cringe, take it down a notch or two. Go back to the hard facts and have another go at writing about yourself. This is a process, and one that is likely to require tweaks long after you’ve published the copy.
7. Get a second opinion
Before you launch your own website or portfolio, get a second opinion.
When it comes to honesty, family can be pretty good. They know you inside-out and won’t beat around the bush when you ask for their thoughts on something.
Then, don’t be afraid to ask your friends and followers. It’s surprising who will come forward and help.
8. Embrace the fear
Finally, fight the fear and carry on. Stop worrying about what people might think. Just be yourself, stick to the facts and keep it light, friendly and professional.
If you’re still stuck, seek out those you admire for inspiration. How are they promoting themselves? What do they include in their ‘about me’ copy? Do you find yourself judging them? Do you think they’re showing off?
Of course not.
That’s why you have absolutely nothing to fear.
No one will be worrying about your copy as much as you. People simply want to discover who you are and what you do. If you remember that, you’ll give them exactly what they want without the risk of showing off.