Writing a profile article is like painting a picture with words.
It’s a piece that both entertains and informs. A chance to delve into a person’s life to reveal their unique story and character. Usually presented as a short story, profile writing combines known facts uncovered through interviews and research with a narrative that makes it an emotionally involved piece.
Profile writing can take time to master. But no matter who the subject is, writing with a particular angle in mind and developing the right voice for each piece will help build a compelling profile.
Below is an example of my own profile article writing, the length of which would be suitable for a double-page spread.
Hope you enjoy!
The man sits down opposite me at a small table against the back wall of a busy cafe, absentmindedly rubbing at a grease mark on his wrist. The deep stains on his hands and fingernails suggestive not only of endless hours spent in a workshop but also betraying a heavy smoking habit.
He reminds me of a boxer; built solidly, with thickset muscles lining his short tanned frame that make his age difficult to guess at, and a clean-shaven scalp that makes it even harder.
Our drink orders have already been taken by the young and energetic waiter, and as we sit waiting for our English breakfast tea (mine) and double-shot espresso (his) I thank him once again for making the time to meet up with me.
Clive Steele is an instantly likeable but intriguing character. He turns his deeply lined face towards me and I’m surprised at how clear his brown eyes are beneath his grey-flecked bushy dark eyebrows.
“Well like I told you on the phone,” he begins slowly and deliberately, a smile hinting at the corner of his mouth, “you just so happened to catch me with a rare quiet spell. Me and the lads cleared twelve jobs in record time this past week to free up today for a 1974 HQ Kingswood wagon, but the parts never made it in time due to them floods up north.”
Steele is a busy man. It’s taken me more than three months to be here with him sharing a cuppa; his thriving motor mechanic business demanding his attention 12 hours a day, and he also confesses that he’ll often work through the night to finish particular jobs.
“The last ten years have been a whirlwind,” Steele tells me when I ask him about the journey since he first opened the doors to Clive’s Motors. “I was 45 at the time and didn’t know a scrap about business or customers, but I did know one thing well and that was cars and engines.”
And it seems this is a well-known fact, supported by many people in his community who proudly tell me how Steele can tune a car by ear alone.
The locals definitely have a soft spot for Steele, who might not smile much but who’ll greet everyone with a cheerful, “Howdy there, how’s today treating you?” and then genuinely care about their replies.
Most people are unaware of Steele’s rough past and they don’t stop to consider his motivation for taking on apprentices who’ve been dealt a tough hand in life and turned away at every other door.
However he’s well respected throughout the greater community for investing in these troubled teens, not only honing them into skillful mechanics but also shaping them into confident adults with newfound ambition.
He shifts in his seat uncomfortably when I ask him about his own childhood and opportunities. Steele can’t recall much about his youth but he thinks that he left school at the age of 14. “I went through a bad patch,” he reveals stiffly as we discuss his early adult years and his move to Melbourne from rural Victoria. “Alcohol got the better of me but I picked myself up in time. I have nothin’ to complain about now.”
He averts his gaze as he pinches at the bridge of his nose with his right hand. I’d noticed his three missing fingers earlier and now wondered aloud if being a mechanic is a more dangerous career choice than people might be led to believe.
Steele considers his remaining thumb and pointer finger a moment. “Nah, engines and gearboxes have never given me much grief. This little mishap came from my time on the line in the mill.”
He takes a sip of his steaming espresso that has arrived at our table together with my tea. “I’d been there since I closed the chapter on those years in Melbourne, and got the gig thanks to a cousin of mine who knew someone higher up. I’d been there goin’ on 14 years and I thought it was good, you know. I was still living hand to mouth, but at least I had me a solid roof over my head again.”
Steele tells me that aside from a handful of cousins, he had no family left to call on when he returned to his hometown. “All the messes I’d been caught up in were my own doin’,” he says matter-of-factly, “I always accepted that. And I knew no one was gonna to fix things for me but me.”
But then life dealt Steele another blow. “Me and this new bloke [to the sawmill] were working the plant that morning,” recalls Stelle, “a piece of wood got jammed and I thought I could get it free without hitting a stop, but my fingers got caught on the feed rollers.”
He looks down at his disfigured hand and pauses while he considers his next words carefully. “I thought that’d be it. Thought it’d do me in one way or another.”
Steele clears his throat before finishing the last of his coffee shot. “But it turns out the company hadn’t recorded a maintenance schedule of the machine or safe work systems or somethin’ and I got a good payout.” He tells me that his long recovery gave him time to consider the crossroads he’d found himself at.
“I won’t lie,” he says, “turning back to the bottle was never far from my mind back then. But then I spotted that old girl for sale, though she needed a lot of work,” Steele nods his head to the nearby cafe window through which I see a classic model bright red Jaguar parked on the street, gleaming in the sun.
He tells me he’d always had a natural ability with all things mechanical and a passion for older cars. But instead of using his sawmill payout to buy and repair the Jaguar, Steele decided to purchase the town’s rundown motor mechanic business and rebrand it with his own name.
He made a deal with himself that if he could make a proper go of it then he’d buy that prized red Jaguar for himself – whether it was still for sale or not!
Within three years after taking over the business, Steele had developed his mechanical skills, upgraded his qualifications, and could boast a steadily growing turnover from the local clientele.
“But finally buying the Jag was the cherry on the top,” he chuckles. Then for the next four years, as Steele tells it, he put on his “real business boots” and began working hard to secure the freehold on his building.
He now lives in the modest little apartment above his workshop. “Most people think it’s too small and hassle me about getting somethin’ bigger or fancier,” he tells me, “but it’s only me up there, and it feels right. It feels like my palace, you know?”
And I think I do know. Because Steele has managed to turn his life around from sleeping rough on the streets of Melbourne to living on top of a figurative gold mine created by his own hand and sheer determination.
His track record as an esteemed mechanic and business owner now speaks for itself. Clive’s Motors currently operates with a dedicated staff of eight full-time employees, not counting Steele or his apprentices, and they still have more customers most weeks than they can handle.
“I’m not claiming that runnin’ your own business is not a hard slog or tough hours,” Steele runs a hand over his smooth scalp as a rare smile lights up his tired face, “but considering I now have the means to eat at the local Chinese restaurant every night if I want, for an old fella who’s not much of a cook, well in my book that means I’ve perhaps made it.”