As you probably know I am forever advising businesses not to write about how “we” do this and “we” do that, unless they can relate that to how they benefit customers very, very quickly.
That’s largely because people writing “we-wee” are too inwardly focused and forget to share with readers what’s in it for them, which in business is critically important. But recently I have been taking a look at websites belonging to, and I assume written by, individual solopreneurs and sole traders. And I have to concede, they have a problem that is harder to solve.
We, me, him, her or who the hell does “me” write as?
Obviously, the same criteria apply to a sole trader writing as an individual as to a larger company – in terms of making very clear what we/I/they/whoever can do for the readers to satisfy their “what’s in it for me” requirement.
However, if you are a sole trader, you are rather more exposed and have very few choices on how to write about yourself in a business context – especially when you’re writing biographical information about yourself and what you do, rather than more general, sales-orientated text…
- In the third person
- In the first person plural, and lie
- In the first person
Let’s look at them in turn.
Writing about “me-mee” in the third person
Here you would refer to yourself as he or she, or possibly as “them” in the vaguely singular use of the word common today for people who prefer a gender-neutral stance.
There are advantages in using the third person when writing about yourself, if only because by regarding yourself as him/her/them you can view yourself as a separate entity and be more enthusiastic about your pros and cons.
At the same time, you can be more complimentary about yourself without seeming to brag, as in this example: which would you say is the nicer, more modest person?
First person: Born and raised in Canada, I am one of the English language markets’ most experienced and prolific business and marketing writers with 30 years’ experience of content strategy and writing for many household name organisations, as well as hundreds of inspiring and successful smaller businesses. I am also founder of the award-winning writing resource, How To Write Better, and I am the author of 35 published business, self-help and humor books.
Third person: Canadian born Suzan St Maur is one of the English language markets’ most experienced and prolific business and marketing writers with 30 years’ experience of content strategy and writing for many household name organisations, as well as hundreds of inspiring and successful smaller businesses. She is also founder of the award-winning writing resource, How To Write Better, and is the author of 35 published business, self-help and humor books.
Hmmm…there’s obviously a case for writing about “me-mee” in the third person. But wait … there’s more to be taken into consideration.
Writing about “me-mee” and lying – using the “royal we”
It’s very common to see websites written in the first person plural, often laying on the “we-wee” with a trowel, when you, the gatepost and I all know that there is only one person in the business who does everything from producing the expert product or service to making the coffee.
This is not always a downright lie, especially when you – as the individual concerned – often work with other suppliers in a virtual team of other, similar sole traders.
But if you don’t make that point clear, and you try to persuade readers that your business is a vast empire of grovelling slaves all hanging on your every word, it just makes you look foolish. And pompous. And hardly an appropriate choice for new potential customers.
So, overall, if you’re a “me-mee,” it’s best to shut up about “we-wee.”
Writing about “me-mee?” Just BE “me-mee”
Much as there are distinct advantages to writing about yourself in the third person – see above – the current fashion online is for straightforward honesty and transparency, and no bullsh*t.
Every LinkedIn expert you talk to right now advises against writing your profile in anything other than the first person singular, which makes it a bit of a challenge to get across your strongest selling points without it reading like a love letter from Donald Rump to himself.
Even web copywriters like me, who enjoy hiding behind the third person because it allows us to sell harder, have taken the hint and ditched Person #3 in favour of “me-mee.” Have a look at my LinkedIn profile – I think I’ve got it about right but am open to comments!
Although LinkedIn profiles have to be very crisp and dry, there are ways we can work in some sell into other text while still seeming sweetly modest and bashful…
Writing about yourself using humour
Humour is a very valuable tool provided you gauge exactly how much, and what sort, to use for your target audience – and, whether your target audience consists of people who regard humour as an important part of life.
Although we could all list dozens of professions and business areas in which humour doesn’t play a major role, don’t think that applies to everything. A little wry comment about your university days or a case study or a recently overcome problem will not have them rolling in the aisles, but will help to show readers that you’re human.
And that, after all, is one of the main reasons why writing about yourself in the first person is so important. It’s just you and your reader – no ghosts of the “royal we” or you-the-product to clutter thing up. How about this, for example … this is how I should change my about page, but haven’t got around to it yet!!
Having been born in Canada I was transported to the UK as a child and despite resultant cultural challenges managed to leave British secondary school with a couple of “A” levels and no talent for anything other than writing, so my career options were fairly clear cut.
After serving a full journalism apprenticeship on a provincial newspaper, I attended and graduated from the then-famous Watford Art School advertising writing course and worked in London ad agencies as a copywriter for a few years, before deciding I was far too bolshie to be an employee and so became a freelancer.
While comfortably paying my mortgage and bills, my work took off into the areas of business theatre and corporate video, in which disciplines I became the Grandma Moses of corporate script and speechwriting for many years.
I also developed useful skills as a conference and video producer, largely in emergencies caused by the actual practitioners’ bunking off through illness, drunkenness, excessive use of recreational substances, etc. It’s amazing how fast you can learn to do a job if the person who should be doing it is in la-la-land …
(And the funniest part of all, is that all of the above is true.)
If you don’t feel comfortable saying how good you are, get some happy customers to do it for you. And now that video is so easy to shoot, edit and upload to a website or other platform, use a very short piece of video of the happy customers saying what they think of you and your product/service, to an off-camera interviewer. (Click on the above link to find out how to do it.)
If anything, a few good testimonials are more powerful than anything you could write yourself, because people are always inclined to take third-party endorsements more seriously than what they perceive as ad copy.
And also, you can use case studies
Provided that you get authorisation from the customer whose case study you want to quote, and they agree to substantiate it should anyone enquire (people hardly ever do), a good, short case study on how you helped a customer out of a hole which lead to a happily-ever-after story is almost as powerful as a direct testimonial.
Just remember two things about case studies:
- Keep it short. Condense, condense, condense until it’s down to a few sentences at most. People won’t read long-winded text, especially if it’s not about them.
- Leading on from point 1., refer each key point to a general audience, e.g. “by using this method I managed to save Company X more than $4,000 – a method which will work for any company of a similar size.” This keeps the reader interested because they can relate to it.
Remind readers that you are human
Some of the best “me-mee” online text I’ve seen contains a fair bit of personal information, even if the subject matter is accountancy or dentistry.
By sharing a few sentences about yourself, your partner, children, hobbies, pets, etc., people will be able to perceive a fuller picture of you as an individual and are more likely to start liking you as well as admiring your skills.
Above all, writing in the first person singular is not like skipping in a field full of landmines. It just takes a little more thought, and more than anything else, honesty.
How do you feel sole traders should write about themselves for business?
Please share your views and experience here.
About the author: Suzan St Maur
This article first appeared on Suzan St Maur’s award-winning writing resource website, HowToWriteBetterHTWB … with more than 1,500 articles and tutorials on a vast range of topics from business to fiction, training to comedy, by Suzan and many other writing experts from around the world. An experienced expert in marketing communications, Suzan is now an author coach, book publishing consultant, and best-selling author.