You might have heard of pen portraits (or customer avatars or buyer personas), but have you ever seen one? Take a look at my own pen portrait below.
What are pen portraits?
Pen portraits are written summaries of your ideal customer. They’re the bullseye on the dartboard – the person you most want to reach with your marketing.
To find out more, see Pen portraits – understanding your ideal audience.
Meet my pen portrait – Tony Markwick
Tony is the pen portrait for my technical copywriting business. Let’s find out about him:
I’ll finish with a few final thoughts:
Tony Markwick is a 46-year-old business owner who lives in Hertfordshire with his wife Lucy and their two teenage daughters, Jenny and Saffron.
Tony spent his early years growing up in a small terraced house in London. He and his mates would play out in the road until all hours, kicking an old ball around and often getting it stuck under the neighbour’s car.
A couple of Tony’s friends had trials for Crystal Palace. He wasn’t a massive football fan, preferring rugby and cricket.
School was fun except for all the learning. Tony was good at practical things, enjoying PE and woodwork, but didn’t get on well with more academic subjects.
Tony left school at 16 with a few O Levels, not long before GCSEs came in. Further education didn’t appeal at all. Tony’s dad didn’t go to university and it didn’t stop him having a decent career.
Tony did lots of small, short-term jobs while working out what he was going to do with the rest of his career. His best gig was working in a pub that played Motown music. It’s where he met his first proper girlfriend.
Tony stayed at the pub for six months, developed a taste for good draught beer and occasionally sang a song or two. He wasn’t quite as good as his dad, who was a Sinatra specialist.
Tony met Lucy soon afterwards while working at an office, and they were married in their early twenties.
He started working longer hours so that they could afford a decent place to live as well as the odd holiday or two.
One of their best times together was when they’d saved enough money to take a trip around Australia. It was Tony’s chance to meet his uncle for the first time. They timed the trip to coincide with the Rugby World Cup, and Tony took Lucy to watch a couple of matches. Prices for the final were ridiculous so he ended up watching it in a bar. He had to keep a lid on his celebrations, as England beat the Aussies in their own backyard.
These days, Tony takes regular holidays with the family. Australia is too far for them to bother with, so they prefer shorter trips to Europe. They’ve been on a couple of recent city breaks to Croatia. The girls love it there. Tony likes the people but thinks the food and drink aren’t up to much.
Lucy sometimes reminds Tony to be careful about what he says, because he can be a little blunt at times. He doesn’t mean anything bad by it and is a bit frustrated by people who take offence at every little thing.
When he’s back at home, Tony is all about business. He found his passion in making things – he was more practically gifted than he realised – and now runs SprocketCo, a British company that makes and installs custom metal pipes and parts.
SprocketCo’s main clients are restaurants and cafés, and he manages a small team of engineers, fitters and support staff.
Tony is always busy so mostly leaves the team to get on with many of the day-to-day tasks. The business doesn’t have a proper marketing or sales department, so Tony has to spend some of his time trying to sort out new deals.
Most of SprocketCo’s business comes from word of mouth referrals, which is enough to keep the business going but not enough to help it really grow.
Tony would love to expand his factory or even build a second one somewhere up north. That would mean he could stop sending some of the local guys on long installation trips. The ideal location would be in Scotland, so he could have an excuse to go there for an occasional fishing trip.
Tony’s always liked Scotland and thinks it could be the place to be once Brexit really takes hold.
Tony is generally quite a level-headed guy.
He’s mellowed through the years – mostly because of Lucy’s influence – but was a tough cookie at school. He was never a bully but knew how to take care of himself and occasionally got into the odd scuffle.
Tony once had a fight with Simon, who is now one of his business competitors. Despite this history, the two try to be cordial with each other, and are connected on LinkedIn.
Lucy recently convinced Tony to go through an online personality checker. It showed that he has an ‘Executive’ personality (called ‘ESTJ-A’). She saved his results and gave permission for them to be shared here.
Tony’s politics and beliefs
Tony rarely deals with European clients but is still nervous about the UK coming out of the EU. He’s a Conservative voter and has thought about jumping ship to UKIP, but he doesn’t think either party represents him too well. He regrets the fact that he was too busy to make it to the polling booth to vote on the EU referendum.
Jenny and Saffron are far more politically aware than Tony is, and they sometimes call him a bit of a dinosaur. When he was younger, Tony thought about joining the Labour party. But he thinks that sensible people vote for tax cuts whenever possible, so he’s sticking with the Conservatives and hoping that they don’t mess things up too much. He’s confident that the UK is a better place to be than Trump’s America.
Tony wouldn’t call himself an atheist, but he’s not that bothered about religion. He hasn’t been to church since his wedding, and he doesn’t miss it. He thinks there are a lot of mad religious people about, but never discusses it because his mum always told him not to upset others. No one else in the family is religious either, but if anyone asks they say they’re Christians. Jenny went to Sunday school once. She didn’t like it.
Tony is worried that people have it a bit too easy these days. He had to work really hard to get to where he is now, and he’s concerned that the girls won’t have a chance of paying a mortgage if all they do is sit around on social media all the time.
Saffron got her first iPhone recently. Tony resents having to pay £40 a month for it, but Lucy has told him to stop moaning and says that the girls need a way to phone home. Tony likes to keep the peace so he keeps his opinions to himself.
Tony doesn’t know what the girls are going to be when they grow up, but is reasonably sure that they wouldn’t deal with metal piping even if their lives depended on it. He watched a TV programme about the stars of Instagram and told both girls that under no circumstances should they waste their future like that.
Tony wouldn’t describe himself as a royalist, but he certainly wouldn’t like to see the monarchy disestablished. His dad was always a staunch supporter of the Queen. Tony used to have a soft spot for Diana.
Tony doesn’t speak any other languages. He’s impressed and thankful that everyone abroad seems to know how to speak English.
Tony secretly enjoys listening to Phil Collins, but he knows that’s not considered cool. He is quick to let people know that he likes David Bowie and Pink Floyd. Tony’s just about old enough to remember disco music from the first time around. He doesn’t do embarrassing dad dancing. Well, that’s what he thinks.
Jenny and Saffron like Nicki Minaj and Kanye West. Tony doesn’t know who either of them are.
Tony loves lazy Sundays. He doesn’t get them often enough, and has still to learn how all the features of his new LED TV work.
A couple of friends convinced Tony to try golf a few years ago and he loved it. He’s not bad and has a handicap of 18. He hasn’t renewed his membership at the club this year, though: it’s too expensive, he doesn’t have enough time to go regularly, and one of his last rounds resulted in him aggravating an old knee injury.
Tony doesn’t have much time for books and has never listened to a podcast. He prefers old vinyl records and regularly has Radio 2 on at the office.
Tony likes the occasional bit of Texas hold ’em poker and once won £240 after hitting a straight flush. The family has a regular punt on The Grand National, but Tony’s never done better than a third place finish. Lucy has won, though: she had a tenner on Don’t Push It in 2010. She sometimes reminds Tony of this.
Despite not being a massive sports fan, Tony could easily spend most of a day pigging out on Sky Sports. He doesn’t give this his full attention, though, because there’s usually some work task or other swimming around in his head.
When he has the energy, Tony works on his long-term shed extension in the back garden. It’s always fun but he never has enough time for it. Lucy wants to pay someone to get it done because she doesn’t like the mess. Tony won’t let that happen. He’s got the tools for the job and he’s going to get it done – eventually.
Tony knows how to use email well enough but isn’t a fast responder. His inbox is quite full and he rarely makes time to clear it down. He finds that the most important things have a way of getting his attention eventually, so he doesn’t obsess about keeping on top of email.
Tony has missed one or two important emails in the past, but doesn’t think it’s cost him any business. He prefers the phone to email – it’s a more personal way of doing business. He once used Skype to call the family in Australia, but he didn’t like it.
Tony has a website for his business. It was designed by someone local he found out about through a business partner. It cost him a fair bit of money but it doesn’t do anything to improve his sales.
Almost all of Tony’s work comes from word of mouth and repeat business. He’d love it if more people could find him through his website, but doesn’t know where to start with that. He knows some competitors have more flashy websites and must be getting more business through them. This annoys him a bit, because those people’s service isn’t that great.
Tony knows customers are being convinced by style over substance, which isn’t fair. And his competitors’ profiles mean they receive occasional award nominations even though there’s nothing special about what they do.
Jenny has set up a Facebook profile for Tony, but he rarely looks at it. He’s found a couple of old school friends there, but they’ve yet to meet up for a beer. Lucy is quite active on Facebook, as she’s a member of the PTA and regularly keeps in touch with the other mums from school.
Tony once tried putting out a press release to announce a new type of jet tap for dispensing soft drinks. It was a waste of time and no journalists reported on it in the local news.
Tony has advertised in the local trade booklet that’s delivered free to the neighbourhood, but that hasn’t returned any results either.
Tony is getting just about enough business from his repeat customers. He’s glad he started his business before social media took off and isn’t sure how well he’d do if he were just starting out now.
Tony needs to be convinced of the benefits of selling his services online. He has a general understanding that good writing helps you sell yourself online, but doesn’t know where to start. He’s never been a talented writer and would rather hand the task over to someone else. He’s worried that no one will understand the business well enough to do the right job, and he’s not sure anyone would look at his website anyway. He knows he’ll have to get with the times eventually, otherwise his competitors might start to crowd him out.
Tony doesn’t really use LinkedIn but has been told that it’s the place to be if you’re a business owner. He has only a handful of connections there and thinks it’s a bit of a waste of time – the same as his thoughts on social media in general.
Tony is too busy to spend time tweeting about where he buys his broccoli (the sort of fluff that the girls bother with). He knows that others are using social media to pick up clients, and he’d like to do the same somehow.
Tony has a Samsung smartphone but uses it only to make calls and send texts. He thinks smartphones are a bit of a waste of time. After all, real games are played outdoors, not on a digital screen. That said, he did enjoy Candy Crush when Saffron showed it to him on her iPhone.
Tony is happy that he can earn enough to provide for Lucy and the girls, but would always like a little more. He’s making an income of close to £50,000 per year, which is OK for him and is the vast majority of the family’s earnings.
Lucy used to work in the NHS but is now working part time at the local pharmacy. It doesn’t stimulate her but she’s not sure what else she can do. She’s happy enough because the people are nice, but her income is tiny compared with her husband’s.
Tony fancies bringing in at least another £10,000 a year if he can. At the moment he’s more concerned with keeping things ticking over and making sure that the other new competitors in the area don’t walk off with some of his existing clients.
Tony would love to score some bigger contracts with chains such as Starbucks and Costa, but he doesn’t know how to get their attention.
Tony isn’t bothered about smart clothing but isn’t a slob. He usually wears a buttoned-up shirt with a dark sweater on top. It’s good enough to count as smart casual and suits almost all occasions. The mantelpiece has a couple of photos of him wearing a tuxedo from a decade ago. Generally, it’s comfort all the way.
Lucy bought Tony a Crystal Palace jersey a few years ago but he almost never wears it. When he’s really in casual mode, he’s more likely to wear his England rugby top.
Tony thought about helping out at school when they were looking for a touch rugby coach, but ended up being too busy (and worried about his dodgy knee) to take it on. It might have been different if he’d had a son, though he’s more than happy with his two beautiful girls.
Neither of the girls is particularly sporty, but Saffron likes athletics and sometimes goes trampolining with her friends. Both girls have expensive tastes and Tony knows he’s going to have to shell out a lot when they start learning to drive. Each is going to want their own car. The driveway already has Tony’s and Lucy’s cars on it. They’re going to struggle to put two more there.
Tony doesn’t mention stress to Lucy but she knows he’s not good at relaxing and letting go. She wants to take him to a spa day for a massage and he keeps saying yes but doesn’t really make the effort to actually do it. His dad would have told him that such things are for girls, and he secretly agrees with that.
Tony’s main concerns are with growing the SprocketCo business, fending off the competition and handling all the admin. He hates when staff call in sick. He’s never sick!
Tony sometimes wishes he could do a lower-level physical job but with the money of a manager. He knows the real world doesn’t work like that.
Tony keeps thinking he’ll retire at 65 but he likes his job and knows that retirement ages will have gone up a lot by the time he reaches that age.
Tony’s ideal future is to live in Spain or in Australia, but only after the girls leave university. Realistically, he doesn’t think he’ll make the move. He and Lucy prefer the warmer weather, but they’re both pretty happy with their life and their environment right now.
Tony in summary
OK, there’s a lot of detail above. An alternative would have been to write a very short summary, like this:
- Tony, mid 40s
- Married, two kids
- Business owner
- Always busy
- Conservative voter
- Occasional Crystal Palace fan
- Not a technology lover
- Idolised his dad
This gives us some of the basics, but does it really paint a rich and detailed picture?
By building up Tony’s character with a back story, it’s easier for me to imagine what he might like or dislike. In other words, I have fewer gaps to fill when I’m thinking about writing effective content for him.
By knowing Tony’s personality and preferences, I can shape my words to appeal to him. Ultimately, that means he trusts me and wants to work with me.
But this isn’t a cynical ploy: it makes sense to write in a way that appeals to the right group of people. I attract the people I want to work with and they get a service that helps solve their business problems. Everyone wins.
Does this mean you work only with people like Tony?
No! Tony is simply the bullseye on my client dartboard. I aim for that bullseye but am happy to ‘score points’ from different parts of the board, too.
Other people will read my content, understand it’s not aimed directly at them and will still want to work with me. That’s great because in practice I’m happy to work with any client who sees the value of clear and simple writing.
The important thing is that any good marketing pitch should be aimed at one particular reader (the pen portrait). Failing to do this means you try to pitch to everyone, and that’s unlikely to be successful unless what you’re selling is so amazingly awesome that everyone and his brother will want it – and how often does that happen, really?
Let’s wrap up
You’ll know by now that pen portraits help you keep your ideal customer in mind. The more you think about who your Tony or Tina is, the easier it will be to make the right decisions about how you run your business.
A few Espresso ☕️ subscribers have shared their pen portraits with me, and I’ve shared these in another article:
Remember: there’s a lot of competition for attention. If you invest in truly understanding who your ideal customers are and then take action to improve how you serve them, you’ll have the upper hand.
I encourage everyone who runs their own business to create their own pen portrait. Write out who your Tony or Tina is and add to it over time. Keep referring back to it. Print it out and keep it nearby. Remember who your ideal customer is. Imagine they were in the room with you, giving you their opinions on your products or services. Think about this when you make your next strategic decision. Think about it when you prepare your next product release. Think about it when you sit down to write your next blog post. I keep emphasising this because not enough businesses do it, and they’re either destined to failure or they won’t be as successful as they could be. And that sucks a bit, so don’t let it happen to you!
If you need a hand building a pen portrait for your own business, drop me a line and let’s have a chat.
Do you have a pen portrait for your business? Are you going to create one as a result of reading this post? Have pen portraits helped you communicate the right message to your audience? Let me know by leaving a comment below.
Want relentlessly helpful emails? Join Espresso ☕️
Who wrote this?
John Espirian – the relentlessly helpful technical copywriter
I write B2B web content, blogs, user guides and case studies – all aimed at explaining how your products, services and processes work. I also offer LinkedIn profile critiquing and rewriting.
I work from home in Newport, South Wales and support the (formerly) mighty Liverpool FC 🔴⚽️
Senior Project Manager