Why It’s Not About You (Except When It Is)

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When new entrepreneurs learn about copywriting that works, many think, “Great! Now I can talk about myself in a more compelling way!”

No. Never talk about yourself.

Once you learn this rule, your audience may start paying attention — but if you follow it blindly, your copywriting will lack punch … and it’ll lack a high conversion rate, too.

That’s why you need to learn the following three exceptions to the “Never Talk About Yourself” rule …

Whenever you’re creating content, ask yourself, “How does this help my reader solve a particular problem?” If it doesn’t help (or inform, or entertain), it’s not of service to them. Delete it.

This can take some getting used to. You’re changing the way you interact with the world through content. These growing pains are natural; it means you’re shifting into an entrepreneur’s mindset.

If you find yourself feeling creatively stifled, write morning pages or write in a journal, but you don’t need to share that with your readers.

If you find yourself feeling socially stifled, email your friends or peers. Don’t rely on your audience to meet your social needs — that can get awkward and ugly real fast.

If you’re not sure what to write about, ask your readers what they’re struggling with. Find one small piece of that struggle that you can help with. And remember, providing empathy and helping someone feel seen totally counts as helping.

Exception #1: Connection

It’s okay to talk about yourself if you’re building rapport with your readers.

For example, I occasionally talk about playing Dance Dance Revolution so that you get a sense of who I am as a whole person, not just as an entrepreneur, not just as a floating, purple-haired head.

But I don’t (usually) write blog posts about Dance Dance Revolution because that wouldn’t solve a problem my readers care about.

The exception to the exception: Be sure that your connection doesn’t drown out your helpfulness. Mix in moderation.

Exception #2: Authority

It’s okay to talk about yourself if you’re helping your readers feel safe enough to lean into you.

For example, if you share, “I helped a client fix her hacked website today! Now everything is safe and back to normal,” that can help future clients feel safe enough to ask you for help with their websites, as long as it comes from your heart.

The exception to the exception: Share your expertise if it actually builds trust with your audience, but check yourself and make sure it’s not out of a desire to merely bolster your ego.

Exception #3: Personal stories

It’s okay to talk about yourself if you’re sharing a personal story. Here’s an example:

When I first started blogging, I was on LiveJournal. I talked about myself. “Journal” was in the name of the website, so of course I talked about myself! It was a great way to scrapbook my memories, process my emotions, and keep in touch with friends.

But I learned one horrible, horrible habit that took a lot of effort to unlearn when I started blogging as an entrepreneur: I learned to write about myself.

When I started writing on my first WordPress blog, I wrote about myself. I assumed everyone would be interested in me, in my thoughts, in my opinions.

If tumbleweeds could blow across the internet, you would have seen them blow across that blog in the early days.

It was only after I started writing to solve the problems that my readers actually cared about that I became a successful blogger — and a successful entrepreneur.

The exception to the exception: The above example is relevant to the problem I’m trying to help you solve: to become a more effective copywriter. If I had told a personal story of that one time the awning of our RV came loose on the interstate, it wouldn’t be relevant and it wouldn’t be helpful.

Let’s recap …

Never talk about yourself. Instead, focus on helping your reader solve a particular problem.

Here are the three exceptions to this rule:

  1. Connection
  2. Authority
  3. Personal stories

Do you have an “Exception #4″ to add to this list? Share it in the comments!

About the Author: Pace Smith helps spiritual entrepreneurs bridge the practical and the profound. Click here to get her free eBook 5 Things All Entrepreneurs Need to Know About Writing (And The 1 Thing All Writers Need to Know About Entrepreneurship), including writing advice from Neil Gaiman, SARK, and many others.

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Comments

  1. If you’re already celebrity then yes, talk about yourself.

  2. My #4 would be to tell stories that relate to readers. If I’m writing about myself, it’s usually to show others that I’ve been there, or in the same situation or faced the same issues as they have. Then I can get into what worked for me to overcome things.

  3. Thanks for this article – as an online editor (for an instructional art website/community), I’m always striving to find the right balance of personal voice and solid take-aways for my readers. I think it’s important to show personality, and let your audience know that you’re a human that they can relate to and see themselves in. But I always try to provide solid tips and advice that they can walk away with.
    Have a great day!

  4. Talking about yourself and sharing your success stories works well when they are made to inspire others and not to boast your success.
    Nice article :)

  5. No additional exceptions – I think you’ve nailed it. I almost never talk about myself ever except to relate a brief anecdote or with the angle of “what I’ve learned that you need to know about X.”

    I was however horrified last year when it came out that readers saw me as an older grandmother-type person (for the record I’m 42). At that point my photo got moved into the sidebar because I wanted to make it clear that I wasn’t in a rocking chair knitting doilies.

    • Ha! I think a photo is usually a good thing, for anyone with an individual voice, whether or not they’re part of a brand/company. People like to know who they’re in a conversation with.

  6. I like that you speak to the balance here, Pace. Your content needs to be about and in service to the audience, but there’s a real place for letting them know who you are too.

    • Thanks, Sonia!

      Thinking about it in terms of authority – you can’t be an authority unless you help your audience, but you also can’t be an authority if no one knows who you are!

  7. I’ve seen plenty of sites where people rant on about how amazing they think they’ve been in the business world – some are very successful. I won’t name anyone, but I find these blogs impossibly dull and narcissistic. It’s much better to make some interesting content. It’s not too difficult, either, just wrack your brain and come up with something fun.

  8. Great points, Pace, and I think you’ve hit the nail on the head here. Hashim is right that if you are a celebrity, then by all means talk about yourself. (although it could be argued that that creates connection, I suppose.) ;)

    Will keep this bookmarked so I can point artists and entrepreneurs to it when I encourage them to blog.

  9. A fourth exception could be if it’s an emergency. Of course, this could be tied into connection and personal stories.

    For example, if you write about health and wellness and established yourself as an authority within the industry and connected with your audience, they may be receptive if you posted an emergency blog or video such as, “My friend Jenny has a 10-year-old daughter who was diagnosed with cancer and she needs your help to pay the gigantic hospital bill.” Something like this. Your clients, customers and readers will donate because they’ve established a trusting relationship with you. They know you’re sincere and won’t hesitate help your friend and her daughter. Of course, you could post follow-ups and give your audience something for donating, e.g., free eBook and meditation music.

    Great post…thanks!

    • Good point, Amandah. I remember Patti Digh did that when her husband fell very ill, and her tribe pitched in to help. (He got better!)

      Done poorly (without connection), that sort of thing can come across as desperate or sleazy.

      Done well (with heart, like Patti did), it increases connection by letting your audience be more of a part of your life.

  10. Definitely something to think about. Focus more on helping, informing, or entertaining rather than what I ate for breakfast today. Makes sense…

  11. Excellent advice. The hardest thing in the world is to get out of our chair and into the reader’s. It’s a prime reason for letting an article sit overnight…again…and again.

    I’ve noticed in 45 years of writing that a piece I’m working on never feels right until the ego has been edited out of it. First drafts are, rather naturally, focused on my world. It’s the editing process where I turn the focus around. It’s quite liberating and satisfying – gives me a sense of expanding my awareness to include others.

    • I know, George! And it makes me think… about how hard it would be to write a memoir! Because even in a book that’s ostensibly about ME, I would need to continually make sure I’m being of service to the reader.

  12. Your customers don’t care about how great you are… they care about how great you are going to make them!

  13. hi Pace

    I often talk about myself and my experiences with building niche sites and making money online with affiliate product reviews… this helps my students, readers and followers to test on their own what I’m referring to, and exposing on my blog.

    It helps other see a new perspective on how to generate a living online, not just talk about it…

    I give more info in my free PDF report, for those looking to learn my unique approach to affiliate marketing, niche sites, and SEO/Google…

  14. Pace,

    Thanks for the post.

    I’m printing your comment below and sticking it on my computer.

    Whenever you’re creating content, ask yourself, “How does this help my reader solve a particular problem?” If it doesn’t help (or inform, or entertain), it’s not of service to them. Delete it.

    Adventure Insider
    Explore the Adventurous Life

  15. Alexis, just for the record, older women do things other than sitting in rocking chairs and knitting doilies.

    In my case, for instance, I write blog posts about blatant ageism in the the social media and technology industries. Keeps me busy — there’s so much material to work with!

  16. Wow I see it a delicate balance of helping sharing and ego boosting and when to know the difference. I think the niche your in also determines how much your allowed to talk about yourself! I also think the less you use the word I the better. I was always told that if you have something to say from your life spin so that it has something your readers and not just some random ego stroking story

  17. Each month I get an order for 5 articles on child care, with the emphasis on daycares and preschools.

    I was feeling a little bored this month so decided to write one article on my own memories of preschool. I made sure that each of my 3 stories in the article actually pointed out some advice concerning preschool.

    I made sure to tell my employer to get back to me on the traffic to that post compared to the others. We’ll see if readers were interested or not in a couple weeks, and I can decide whether to occasionally continue with that approach or not.

  18. Terrific post Pace. And as Sonia wrote, I love that you spoke to the balance. I don’t have a #4, but I do have what I feel is an exception to the exception of the exception. If you’re going to tell a story about something which on the surface seems random, i.e. “that one time the awning of our RV came loose on the interstate,” find the metaphor in that that does apply to your readers. For instance: Have you made sure that you’ve tied down all the aspects of your marketing, so the roof doesn’t blow off? or Are you traveling so fast that you’re not paying attention to the details? etc. I realize there’s a limitation in a post to how “down the rabbit hole” you can go with exceptions, so this is probably already a part of your strategy, but just thought it was worth mentioning.

  19. Masterpiece! Thank you Pace Smith!

  20. Excellent advice, excellent exceptions to the exceptions.

    I noticed in your bio that you help spiritually leaning people. One of the things I’ve noticed in this community (yoga/kung fu guy over here) is that they are generally pretty bad at blogging. They do the ole LiveJournal thing. Fortunately, there’s people like you and me that can help them do it well!

    Thanks for the post!

  21. When I am writing a blog posts, I mainly use the word “you” to get personal with the reader and make it more of a one on one discussions. However, I do like to share my experience in some posts to allow the reader to relate to what I have experienced in association with the blog post’s topic. I do agree though that if you make all of your posts about you and not the readers, your blog will likely not get too far. When you get online to find knowledge on something, you look for things that can help you more than you look for things that is helping the author.

  22. Great advice – I’ve written some posts on this subject, because I think bloggers are often unsure about how to incorporate themselves into their posts and sometimes get it horribly wrong. These three criteria provide a very helpful guide – thank you.

  23. I agree. It’s okay to talk about you, if people can get useful information from that story and can use it to make their lives safer and better. Also, I want to add that we have to see to it that we are talking to a targeted and relevant people who are interested to our stories. No matter what our story is, if we are not telling it to the right people, it will only go in vain.

  24. I do little things about me in my posts to relate to readers.. An “I’ve been there” (which, I think, is VERY necessary with what I do).

    I do random stuff about me on facebook/twitter, as well as linking my own and others articles in the field. That’s how I like the people I follow to be.

  25. Awesome tips and definitely relevant/powerful for me. For much of this year I have been developing a voice on a personal travel blog and after reading this, I can definitely see that I’ve been doing at least one thing terribly wrong: talking about myself! Now, I can see that my anecdotes and personal experiences take a backseat to the problem of the reader and should only be brought up if they are helping to solve that problem somehow. Very good read!

    -E

  26. This is definitely a hard lesson to learn! I mean, who doesn’t want to talk about themselves? :)

  27. Great post :)
    I have a question. When it’s about art blog, where I want to share my technics, style of working and help other to develop others on their way, is it good that I’ll be talking about me? About the way I’m working, how I do this, about my inspirations, etc.
    Thank you :)

  28. Great little article, I have to say I’m struggling to add to it, the three rules are broad enough to encapsulate most of the reasons people/companies would want to write about themselves.

    There is a delicate balance to be struck between helping your readers and giving just enough away about yourself that they can forge a real bond with the person behind the copy. I think it comes with experience – you have to try different measures of both to see what works for you in the end.

  29. Supposing a blog is written regularly, but is never read? It still registers with Google’s robot crawler that some positive activity is taking place on that website.
    Is this a correct view, however cynical, that the content of a blog is not really that important?

  30. I definitely agree with you Pace in that you should always think ‘What benefit does the user get?’ when they read your content.

    Content should be engaging to your target audience and help solve an issue that they might be having. When I write content, I use short and snappy paragraphs as I do not want bore them with long chunks of texts and try to avoid repeating myself.