Writing a bio is a painful task dreaded by almost everyone. The standard short bio is about 50-75 words (usually 3-4 sentences or 400 characters) that communicates who you are and what value you offer as an individual in your given field. As an entrepreneur, you might get asked to do this frequently for events, websites, and more.
Below is some guidance to help make the process a little easier. We gave bio-writing some steps and structure so you can craft something you’re confident in that represents you and your brand. The bio should be suitable for use on social media profiles, event programs, and even for hosts to use as introductions for podcast interviews or speaking engagements.
If you read nothing else, the biggest takeaway is to always consider the audience for the bio. Think about who is going to be reading this. Is it prospective customers? A bank loan officer? Potential business partners? Once you have an answer, think about what information about you is relevant to them, and lets them feel like they know something about you.
Step 1: Check the Limitations
Check with whoever is asking for the bio, and ask if there are limits for word-count or character count. You don’t want to hand in your two-page masterpiece after hours of effort only to find out the bios need to be able to fit in a single Twitter post.
Step 2: Make a List
There are basically three questions any good bio must answer. Usually, a bio ends up dedicating a single sentence to answering each question. A good place to start writing your bio is to make a simple, short list of this information for each question:
- Who Are You? This generally includes your name, and your relevant title/position. If your bio is for a start-up business, note that your day-job title may or may not be relevant to this question (though it might fit into one of the next two questions).
- Are You Qualified? What qualifications do you have relevant to your title/position (or perhaps aspiring title/position)? This is a great place for relevant education and experience in the field, or even a related field. Relevance is the key word for this question. We aren’t trying to list every qualification and certificate you’ve earned in your lifetime, just the 1-3 most relevant to the audience of the bio.
- What Makes You Different? This is a chance to show some personality and differentiate yourself from others in your field. It’s a great place to showcase hobbies, indirectly-related experiences (particularly military service if it’s not in one of the first two sections), your family, pets, or anything else that you want to be part of your personal branding as an individual.
Your list might look something like:
- Who Are You? Ryan Smith, CEO of EnTRIPreneur Airlines, Retired Veteran.
- Qualifications? 22 years and 5,000 hours flying the C-130, Licensed/Certified Commercial Pilot (for single and multi-engine), Masters in Business Administration from Colorado State University
- Differences? Loves travel, snorkeling, scuba diving, pizza, Denver Broncos
Step 3: Trim To Relevant Data Points
Once you have a list, you can narrow that list down to what you consider the most important highlights for the audience. Ask yourself what action you want someone to take or what you want them to think about you after they read your bio. Try and curate your list as best you can to support that goal and stick to relevant datapoints.
You generally want 1-3 items per question to fit in a standard 75-word/3-ish-sentence/400-character bio. Longer bios might fit twice as many items, or even dedicate an entire paragraph or two to each item.
A note on military service: For some things you might get asked to do a bio for, it’s important to consider who else is going to be included. For instance, for a Bunker Labs project, every bio we feature probably belongs to a Veteran or military spouse. Because of this, we probably don’t want to just say “Veteran” or “retired Veteran” because it’s just too vague.
If you’re a Marine combat Veteran, say so! If you received a medal for heroism (Medal of Honor, Silver Star, Bronze Star, Purple Heart, or a service cross), mention it! Feel free to include your specific job title or duty stations if you think they’re interesting or otherwise relevant. If what you did in the service at all overlaps with your business, get super specific, especially if you’re struggling to find relevant items to list. I know we Veterans don’t like to talk up our service, but this is the time for it.
However, if you have a lot of items on your list, you need to get pretty clinical about cutting the list down to just a few. For example, Ryan’s business is an airline, but he won’t be flying C-130s, it’s an executive travel service that uses private jets, so experience with the C-130 specifically isn’t so relevant to the audience. Similarly, the differences list has three hobbies that are all sort of related (travel, snorkeling, and scuba diving), so let’s just pick scuba-diving, which might be his favorite of the three. And let’s ditch pizza, too, since it’s a little generic.
So now Ryan’s list looks like this:
- Who Are You? Ryan Smith, CEO of EnTRIPreneur Airlines, Retired Naval Aviator (24 years)
- Qualifications? Licensed/Certified Commercial Pilot (for single and multi-engine), Masters in Business Administration from Colorado State University
- Differences? Loves scuba diving, Denver Broncos
Step 4: Making Sentences
So now that we have our list of relevant data points, we’re going to group them into sentences. Generally, we just want to make a sentence that answers each of the three original questions. So, one sentence will answer “Who Are You?” the next will answer “What are your Qualifications?” and the third will answer “What Makes You Different?”, typically in that order. In the writing, you might decide one piece of information fits better in another section; that’s fine! Feel free to shuffle and move things around if necessary.
Important Note: Bios are always written in the third person, which means you use your own name, or he/she/they pronouns when referring to yourself as appropriate. The words “I” or “me” should never appear in a bio.
- Who Are You? So, with the trimmed list I had in Step 2, I might try something like: “A Retired Naval Aviator of 24 years, Ryan Smith is now the CEO of EnTRIPreneur Airlines, an executive travel service.”
- Qualifications? And my second sentence might be something like: “Ryan earned his Master’s Degree in Business Administration from Colorado State University, and maintains a Commercial Pilot’s License for single and multi-engine aircraft.”
- Differences? My final sentence(s) might be: “When Ryan isn’t cheering on his Denver Broncos, he’s mapping out his next scuba diving trip! His next stop is Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.”
So, we end up with this serviceable bio:
“A Retired Naval Aviator of 24 years, Ryan Smith is now the CEO of EnTRIPreneur Airlines, an executive private travel service. Ryan earned his Master’s degree in Business Administration from Colorado State University, and maintains a Commercial Pilot’s License for single and multi-engine aircraft. When Ryan isn’t cheering on his Denver Broncos, he’s mapping out his next scuba diving trip! His next stop is Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.”
A note on adding humor: Some people want their bio to be funny. This goes wrong far more often than it goes right. Our best advice: avoid adding humor to your bio.
Step 5: Final Checks
To close things out, there are three final things to check and double-check:
Limitations: Double-check any rules for word-count limits or character-limits, and make certain you’re within the tolerance for minimum or maximum length.
Links: If the bio is going to live in a digital space, you might include a link to your company, or one of the more relevant qualifications, or even your LinkedIn or LocalVest profile page.
Spelling/Grammar: There is nothing more frustrating than a typo, spelling, or grammatical error in your bio. Be extra vigilant about homophones, as they won’t get detected by most spell-check software (homophones are different words that sound the same but are spelled differently, like there and their, or here and hear). Consider putting the bio into Grammarly, or something similar, to make sure it’s as well-written as possible.
Read it out Loud! The absolute best way to catch any latent errors in your prose is to read it out loud. It sounds silly, and it feels even sillier, but it is by far the most effective tool for catching errors in writing. If you really want to fine-tune your phrasing, read it out loud to a friend. Your sense of what sounds good or bad is heightened when you’re reading for a live audience like your Veterans in Residence cohort or your local Ambassador! Any awkward phrasing or errors should stick out like a sore thumb.
There are hundreds of online resources for writing bios. Some provide templates you can just plug your information into, others provide more general guidance. A simple web-search for “How to write a bio” should yield a variety of supplemental support. But don’t get too bogged down in theory-crafting your bio. The best bios are going to come from writing it, revising it, and then getting feedback from trusted peers before revising again.