Reader question: How do we get people to read to the end?

Thursday, May. 28th 2015

“How do we get people to read to the end of our newsletter articles and blog posts?” This question came up in one of my writing workshops.gold coins

I share some ideas in this article. I also suggest that you complement this goal by asking “How can we ensure that people who don’t read to the end—or who don’t read every paragraph—still grasp our main points?”

1. Write in a reader-friendly way

To attract and retain your readers throughout your articles, write in a reader-friendly way.

This starts with clearly identifying your topic and how it’ll help your reader. Do this in your introduction to snare readers.

Next, write headings that guide your reader through your article. These should show how your article will deliver on the promises made in your introduction.

Observe other good writing practices, such as strong topic sentences and clear, concise writing. Clunky writing discourages readers.

2. Use “gold coins”

Readers tend to bail out of reading online after less than two minutes. That’s the point where Poynter’s Eyetrack research suggests “establishing a ‘gold coin’ like a simple pullout quote or visual element that keeps the reader engaged about halfway through a long story.” This could be a provocative quote, graph, or photograph. Or it could be “a telling detail, a bit of description, an apt phrase, a moving anecdote,” as Dr. Ink says in “Dr. Ink Discovers the Sixth ‘W’.” As Dr. Ink says, “If these are spaced strategically in the story, the logic goes, the reader will have incentive to move down the path. As soon as the gold coins run out, the reader leaves the forest.”

Bonus: Capture readers who skim

It’s not realistic to get every reader to finish each of your articles. However, if you observe the tips listed above, you’ll get more mileage out of your articles. This is because you’ll communicate well with those who only skim. They can still grasp the gist of your articles.

Image courtesy of foto76 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Copyright 2015 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

This content may not be reposted without the author’s written permission.

Posted by Susan Weiner, CFA | in blog, newsletter, writing | No Comments »

Are you crediting your OECD data properly?

Tuesday, May. 26th 2015

You can’t simply grab data for use in your white papers, articles, and blog posts. You may not have the right to use as much of the information as you like, as I’ve explained in “Legal business datadanger for financial bloggers: Two misconceptions, three resources, one suggestion.” Assuming it’s okay to use the data, you need to give the proper credit for it. Some data providers ask for more than others, as I discovered when I looked at the website of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). OECD data is often cited in white papers of investment and wealth management firms.

In this post, I describe some steps you can take to use OECD data according to its guidelines. Please check directly with the organization if you have questions. They’re the authority on the use of their data.

1. Check to see if you need permission

Below is what I found on the OECD website about using its data:

You can copy, download or print content for your own use, and you can also include excerpts from OECD publications, databases and multimedia products in your own documents, presentations, blogs, websites and teaching materials, provided that suitable acknowledgment of OECD as source and copyright owner is given. You should cite the Title of the material, © OECD, publication year (if available) and page number or URL (uniform resource locator) as applicable.

All requests for commercial use and translation rights should be submitted to rights@oecd.org.

This description is vague enough that I wondered if you can use OECD data in a white paper without paying a fee. After all, white papers seems like commercial use to me. I found a pretty broad definition of commercial use on TheHelpful.com. My philosophy about using copyrighted data is “When in doubt, ask for permission.” I emailed the OECD to ask if it’s okay to use its data in a white paper with attribution.

2. Work within the OECD’s constraints

Here’s the part of the reply I received from an individual in the OECD’s rights area.

Thank you for your message. There are no objections concerning the reproduction of OECD data (values) to create your own graphs/tables/charts provided that suitable acknowledgment of OECD as source and copyright owner is given. The material should be cited as follows : Based on data from OECD, title of the dataset, title of the database, friendly url, date of access

It seems as if you are free to cite some data in your text and even to create your own graphs, tables, and charts using the OECD’s data. Make sure those exhibits are truly your own. You can’t simply reproduce OECD exhibits.

Make sure you give proper credit in your exhibits based on OECD data. I’m guessing that the OECD’s preferred citation, “Based on data from OECD, title of the dataset, title of the database, friendly url, date of access,” goes into more detail than many writers commonly provide. However, you probably should have those details available anyhow to keep your firm’s compliance professionals happy.

3. Contact the OECD if you seek to reproduce materials or make commercial use

Found a great OECD graph, chart, or document that you’d like to reproduce? Play it safe by  contacting the OECD for permission. Here’s what the OECD told me about rights requests.

Should you wish to use OECD data/reproduce OECD published material for commercial purposes, please send us more information about your intended use by completing the following form:

About the OECD material you want to reproduce:
Full title:
Publication date:
ISBN:
Internet address (if applicable):
Exact pages / charts / data to be reproduced:
Will you translate the material? If yes, into which language?

About you:
Name:
Full address:
Email:

About your work:
Title:
Number of pages*:
Planned publication date :
Publisher’s name, address:
Print Run*:
Public Price*:
If published online:
Number of subscribers*:
Price of the subscription*:

* even if approximate

Comments (if any):

 

Stay safe by following the rules when you cite other people’s data! Contact the OECD if you have any questions.

Image courtesy of adamr at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Copyright 2015 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

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Posted by Susan Weiner, CFA | in compliance, white paper | No Comments »

Help employees write financial content for publication

Thursday, May. 21st 2015

Publishing investment and financial content isn’t just for the big names any more. In the old days, only chief investment officers and senior executives put their top of pyramidnames on articles published by investment, wealth management, and financial planning firms. This was true even when junior employees, marketing communications staff, or freelancers did the writing. Today, the needs of search engine optimization, social media and blogging, plus the demand for more personal, less bland content are changing the rules. Firms are asking more employees to write for their blogs, newsletters, and other publications.

This creates challenges, as well as opportunities, for financial firms. How can they engage more employees in writing for publication? How can they ensure that the content is good enough?

Most financial services employees aren’t hired for their writing skills. Some are gifted idea generators and wordsmiths. Others don’t enjoy writing and haven’t been trained to write well.

I have suggestions on how to inspire your employees to write more and better. If you need practical help right away, send your employees to my webinar on “How to Write Investment Commentary People Will Read,” scheduled for June 22, 2015 (Early Bird rate ends June 3).

1. Set a good example at the top

Employees notice senior executives’ actions. When your executives publish regularly, they set a good example for the rest of the firm.employee social media sharing stats byNeal Schaffer

Senior management can also help by recognizing the contributions of their juniors. Recognition can take many forms:

  • Sharing content on social media—by the way, don’t underestimate the value of you and your employees sharing on social media, as my photo from social media expert Neal Schaffer’s May 7, 2015 presentation shows.
  • Praising individuals for their contributions
  • Featuring contributions by junior employees, as well as senior management, in a newsletter or blog
  • Including writing as part of job descriptions and performance reviews

2. Offer ideas to jumpstart employee writing

Some people, even veteran writers, get stuck at the stage of generating ideas or starting to put words on the page. You can help them by suggesting topics or providing models for their pieces.

A. Suggest specific topics

When you suggest topics, try to be as specific as possible, especially if you’re helping a new writer. Instead of suggesting the broad topic of “market timing,” you might suggest

  • Why market timing isn’t right for retirees
  • Market timing or buy-and-hold—which is best?
  • Three reasons why market timing doesn’t work
  • Research shows benefits of market timing

A narrower suggestion gives your direction to your newbie writer. Of course, it requires you to have some knowledge of the topic so you don’t steer them wrong.

B. Provide models

Facing a blank page can intimidate writers at all levels of experience. To relieve their stress, provide your writers with models to follow. Give them examples of articles that you like. The examples can be from your firm or elsewhere. I provide one fill-in-the-blanks model on my blog.

3. Train your employees to write

Investment commentary webinar June 22, 2015

Click on image to register

Training can help your employees to overcome their fear of writing and to write better and faster. I train corporate clients and members of professional societies to write better. However, any kind of writing class, even at a local education program can help. I got much of my early training in programs offered by the Boston, Cambridge and Newton adult ed programs.

If you’d like online training, check out my webinar on “How to Write Investment Commentary People Will Read.”

It’s also good to provide training about compliance rules. For example, writers can’t guarantee returns or promise that certain things will happen. Also, some topics, especially discussion of specific products, may demand disclosures. Consider providing your employees with compliance checklists so they avoid violating compliance rules.

4. Provide editing and proofreading

Typos and other mistakes undercut the credibility of your content. It’s hard for most writers to proofread themselves. This is why I suggest you use a proofreader-copy editor.

If your budget permits, hire a professional proofreader-copy editor. This could be someone in your marketing department or a freelancer. If it’s a freelancer, think about whether you want someone with financial expertise who can catch content problems. If your budget is tight, go for someone who only knows grammar and usage.

5. Reward participation

Employees like to do things that are rewarded and praised. When you recognize the contributions of your employee-writers, you’ll encourage more participation.

YOUR thoughts

How do you encourage your investment or wealth management professionals to write? Please tell me.

 

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Copyright 2015 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

This content may not be reposted without the author’s written permission.

Posted by Susan Weiner, CFA | in writing | 1 Comment »

Changing your instructions is risky

Tuesday, May. 19th 2015

My long-suffering husband has a communications lesson for you. Recognize that your first message is most easily absorbed by your listeners. If you change your message midstream, give better instructionsyour listeners may not hear you. To make sure your message gets across, ask them to confirm their understanding of the new message.

“Park your car outside the garage tomorrow, so I can get my tires,” said my husband on a Thursday morning. Okay, I said. We spoke a bit more. I guess my attention strayed because I ran into trouble the next day.

On Friday, I parked where my husband had indicated. However, when my husband arrived home, he asked “Why did you park there?”

Me: “Because you asked me to.”

Husband: “No, I told you that you didn’t have to park there after all.”

Me: “You did?” Apparently my husband’s changed instructions hadn’t registered in my head. Perhaps I was trying to make up for my poor performance that I described in “Instructions for a bad wife.” I should have confirmed my understanding at the end of our conversation. I’ll do that next time. At least, I’ll try. I seem to have a blind spot for my husband’s parking instructions.

What’s the lesson for you?

If you change your mind after giving initial instructions, don’t count on your listeners absorbing the new information. This might apply, for example, if you start by suggesting selling one fund, but then switch to another recommendation.

What can you do to reinforce your change?

  1. Repeat your new instructions.
  2. Explain why you changed your mind.
  3. Ask your listeners, “Do you understand my new instructions?”
  4. Consider putting your instructions in writing.

This may be overkill, if your listeners are more attentive than me with my husband. However, if the new instructions are important, you’ll be glad you took extra steps to ensure your listeners’ comprehension.

 

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Copyright 2015 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

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Posted by Susan Weiner, CFA | in communication | No Comments »

Write your lousy first draft!

Tuesday, May. 12th 2015

I’m a big believer in organizing your thoughts before you start writing. However, please don’t wait until your thoughts are perfectly organized to start your first draft. Waiting for man typingperfection means you may never write anything. On the other hand, a lousy first draft can be a great starting point.

A Margaret Atwood quote recently reminded me of the importance of starting to write.

If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.

Do what you can to organize your thoughts first. You may write an outline, mull over ideas in your head, or draw a mind map, a technique that I explain in Financial Blogging: How To Write Powerful Posts That Attract Clients. Do what you can, but then move on.

The great thing about a draft—even a lousy first draft—is that it gives you material that you can fix. Also, the act of writing helps you to process your information. It’ll give you a better idea of what you’re trying to say.

Once you’ve drafted your piece—whether it’s as short as a tweet or as long as a white paper—you can analyze it. Look first at the big picture, as I describe in ”5 steps for rewriting your investment commentary.” Once you’ve fixed those issues, you can dig into the details.

If editing isn’t your strength, consider hiring an editor, like Sheri Fitts of ShoeFitts Marketing. When Sheri and I spoke on her “Women Rocking Wall Street” podcast, she told me that she sends her drafts to an editor. That’s a great use of outsourcing.

If you can’t afford an editor, ask a colleague, family member, or friend for feedback. Don’t let your desire for perfection stop you from writing. Start your draft today!

 

Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Copyright 2015 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

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Posted by Susan Weiner, CFA | in writing | No Comments »

Lessons from my headshot photo disaster

Thursday, May. 7th 2015
Susan Weiner, CFA

I am thrilled with this photo

Your headshot photo shows up a lot. It’s not only on your company’s website. It’s also on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Gmail, other social media, and other sites where you log in with your social media credentials or upload photos.

Your photo is part of your marketing so you want a photo that looks professional and attractive. It should also be recent enough that people can recognize you.

I learned some lessons from a failed attempt—and my eventual success—at updating my headshot photo. I hope they help you to do better the next time you update your photo.

1. Value the crowd’s wisdom in assessing your headshot photo

“Ugh, that’s me?” That was my reaction to viewing the proofs from my initial photo shoot. However, I know I’m very picky so I asked my friends, “Which photo do you like best?” Perhaps I could learn to like the crowd’s favorite.

One photo proved most popular, but so did suggestions that the photographer had photographed me at a bad angle and with unflattering lighting. The suggestions, which came from people whom I trusted, prompted me to present their comments to the photographer. In our email exchange, I learned that my friends were right. The photos were bad, due to the photographer’s response to my glasses.

2. Ask your headshot photographer about your glasses

Ask your photographer if your glasses will pose a challenge. This question hadn’t occurred to me. After all, the same photographer took a perfectly fine picture of me in my glasses some years ago. However, I learned after seeing my proofs that the photographer had had two problems with my current pair. First, my lenses turn dark in the sun. Second, they lack an anti-glare coating. To work around the reflections, the photographer made choices that didn’t flatter my appearance.

3. Fix the glasses problem

I arranged for a photo re-shoot and decided to do whatever I could to make it more successful.

My key move involved my glasses. To avoid the reflectivity problem, I got the lenses popped out of an old pair of glasses. The store where I bought the glasses did it for me, to avoid damaging the lenses.

If you wear glasses, but lack old frames, you have options:

4. Fix other problems

You can also tackle other issues, such as clothing, hair, and makeup. In a sense, I was lucky because my bad headshot let me work on issues that weren’t caused by the photographer’s lighting or angle.

Your issues will differ from mine, but here’s what I did for my headshot photo re-shoot:

  • Picked a jacket that fit better
  • Added a red scarf to flatter my coloring
  • Wore brighter lipstick and more blush—I was already wearing more makeup than usual
  • Grew my bangs longer—my hair stylist had despaired of getting me grow them longer since I like to keep my hair out of my face, but seeing my initial round of photos convinced me that she was right
  • Made an appointment to get my hair professionally blow-dried the morning of my photo shoot instead of doing it myself—I even got the bit of the gray in my hair professionally colored because I found it distracting in the initial round of photos
  • Brought a friend with me to the photo shoot to help me relax so my smile would be reflected in my eyes as well as my mouth—as a bonus, the friend also arranged my scarf far better than I would have done on my own

YOUR photo tips?

I’m not a photo pro. If you have tips for great headshot photos, please share.

Here are some links that a photo-savvy friend, Dianne Highbridge, author of In the Empire of Dreams, a novel about expatriates in Tokyo, sent me:

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Copyright 2015 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

This content may not be reposted without the author’s written permission.

Posted by Susan Weiner, CFA | in marketing | No Comments »

How to beat blog burnout

Monday, May. 4th 2015

Have you ever felt tired of blogging? Thought about giving up your blog? I have. There was a month when I hated all of my new posts and felt enthusiasm about no potential topics. My Sculpture on Michelangelo's tomb, Basilica of Santa Croceenergy had been flagging for awhile. I say that because “blog burnout” flashed into my head when I saw this statue on Michelangelo’s tomb in the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence, Italy.

I pulled myself out of my slump. Perhaps you, too, can beat your blogging blahs with the techniques I share below.

1. Reexamine why you’re blogging

Take a new look at why you’re blogging. If your business has changed, perhaps your blog is no longer worthwhile. Consider dropping it. It felt liberating to considering dropping my blog as part of my goal-setting process.

However, that positive feeling turned to horror, as I considered losing my readers and my chance to express myself on topics about which I feel strongly. My readers and my passion for clear, effective communications are reasons why I continue to blog.

2. Ask if your blog builds your business

Can you see how blogging contributes directly or indirectly to your bottom line? It may be rare for clients to say, “I picked you because of your blog.” However, your blog makes you easier to find online. It also helps prospects to get comfortable with you before you ever meet them. Your blog also helps you connect with and educate  clients, prospects, and referral sources.

These are some of the measures I mulled over as I thought about my blog. I also thought about how my blog feeds my e-newsletter and helps to differentiate my social media feed from that of people who rely on curating other people’s content. My blog leads indirectly to new business. That’s another reason to keep it.

3. Consider ways to ease your burden

If you want to keep your blog, but you’re losing your oomph, consider cutting the time you spend on it. Options include

  • Taking a break or posting less frequently
  • Getting co-workers to contribute, if you work at a multi-person firm—I’ve discussed this in “How to manage a group blog: Financial advisor edition.”
  • Inviting guests to contribute to your blog
  • Republishing old posts, taking the time to update them prior to republication

I’ve enjoyed contributions by my guest bloggers. I’ve also updated and republished one old post, “Seven tips for slogging through blogging: Lessons from the Blogathon.” I may do that again.

4. Find fresh inspiration

You need fresh ideas to regain enthusiasm for your blog. Ironically, getting out of my office is one of the best ways for me to do this, as I’ve explained in “Museums can inspire your blog posts.” As I mentioned above, this post was partly inspired by a visit to Florence, Italy, and partly by searching for lessons in my own struggle.

I look everywhere for inspiration. Sometimes I find it in something as simple as a photograph, as I explained in “Photo + Mind Map = Blog Inspiration.” Other people’s blog posts and books can also inspire. Plus, there are the ideas in my book, Financial Blogging: How To Write Powerful Posts That Attract Clients.

What’s your best tip?

My list of slump-breaking tips isn’t complete. What has worked for you? I’d like to learn.

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Copyright 2015 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

This content may not be reposted without the author’s written permission.

Posted by Susan Weiner, CFA | in blog | No Comments »

Top posts from the first quarter of 2015

Thursday, Apr. 30th 2015

Top PostsCheck out my top posts from the last quarter!

They’re a mix of practical tips on marketing (#1), writing (#2, 5), blogging (#3), and social media (#4). The top post draws heavily on my personal experience. I learned some lessons the hard way.

  1. 8 lessons from my marketing mishaps
  2. Should your investment commentary be different?
  3. RIA blogs recommended by my Twitter friends
  4. How I’ve benefited from Twitter—and you can, too
  5. That vs. which: Which is right?

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Copyright 2015 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

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Posted by Susan Weiner, CFA | in blog | No Comments »

4 reasons your emails don’t get results

Tuesday, Apr. 28th 2015

Emails are essential to your marketing and client communications, but bad emails sap your effectiveness. I see four main reasons why emails fail. Once you recognize these weaknesses, you can fix them. By the way, you can jump-start your email effectiveness by asking your company or professional association to hire me to present “Writing Effective Emails.”Email

1. Your subject lines stink

A good subject line is like an airplane landing strip. Without landing strips, the pilot must survey the entire landscape, wondering “Is that a dangerous obstacle here? A gully there?” It’s exhausting when pilots don’t know where to head. The same is true for your email recipients when your subject lines don’t offer guidance. An example of a bad subject line is a simple “Hello.”

Good subject lines also appeal to readers’ interest in WIIFM (what’s in it for me), as  I discussed in “Focus on benefits, not features, in your marketing.” Readers decide whether or not to open emails based partly on WIIFM.

What else do readers look for?

  • Action items with deadlines, such as “Enroll by March 3 to save $400”
  • Personal connections, as in “Referred by Allan Loomis,” which I discussed in “Top four email mistakes to avoid when you’ve got a referral.”
  • Entertainment—for example, my e-newsletter with the subject line, “Ssh, don’t tell my husband,” got an above-average number of opens

2. Your email doesn’t get to the point quickly

For the best results, start the body of your email with a summary sentence or paragraph. This may be all your recipient reads before deciding what to do with your email.

If you write a long, meandering email, you’re likely to lose your reader. Even if they skim the entire message, they’re unlikely to respond as you’d like.

Getting to the point quickly is one of the kindest things you can do for your readers. Why? Because you don’t make them work to figure out “What is the point of this message?” Getting to the point quickly also boosts the odds that you’ll achieve the results you desire.

3. Your email lacks a “call to action”

Almost every email needs a “call to action” suggesting the next step that recipients can take for their personal benefit. It could be something like “Click to receive a free e-book when you subscribe to my e-newsletter” or “Sign and mail your beneficiary form to Charles Schwab.”

4. Your email suffers from common writing problems

The best written communications achieve the three Cs. They are compelling, clear, and concise. Emails that lack these characteristics are likely to disappoint.

If you’d like to write better emails

Want help boosting your emails’ effectiveness? Your company or professional association can hire me to present “Writing Effective Emails.” I also offer email and e-newsletter critiques for a fee.

 Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Copyright 2015 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

This content may not be reposted without the author’s written permission.

Posted by Susan Weiner, CFA | in email | No Comments »

My five favorite reference books for writers

Tuesday, Apr. 21st 2015

A printed book is sometimes the best place to find a solution to your question about writing style, punctuation, or grammar.

Here are my five favorite reference books.

  1. Edit Yourself: A manual for everyone who works with words by Bruce Ross-Larson. Everyone should own this small, inexpensive, easy-to-use book. I use Part II, the back of the book, the most. It lists troublesome words in alphabetical order. It’ll help you cut pretentious words and resolve problems such as deciding between “which” and “that.” Part I describes and offers solutions to problems common in everyday writing. Buy it today!
  2. Words into Type, based on studies by Marjorie E. Skillin, Robert M. Gay, and other authorities. This fat classic from 1974 is my second “go to” reference book when I’m flummoxed by a question of style, punctuation, or grammar. I go straight to the index to look for the word or type of problem. The book is aimed at individuals preparing manuscripts for publication.
  3. The Chicago Manual of Style was my favorite reference book for many years. It’s the most academic of the books on this list. You can also subscribe online to the manual and follow it on Facebook or Twitter.
  4. The Associated Press Stylebook. If you’ve ever heard an editor say, “We follow AP style,” they’re talking about the print or online edition of this style book. There’s even an iPhone app for this guide. If you’re geeky enough–like me–to consider owning multiple style guides, you may enjoy the sarcastic, not-to-be-trusted FakeAPStylebook Twitter account, in addition to the Twitter account of the real thing.
  5. The Grammar Bible by Michael Strumpf and Auriel Douglas. This book gives plain English explanations of vexing issues of grammar and more.

Honorable mention

If you’re passionate about good writing, you’ve probably got a favorite reference that I’ve overlooked. Please tell me about it.

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Copyright 2015 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

This content may not be reposted without the author’s written permission.

Posted by Susan Weiner, CFA | in communication, grammar, punctuation, spelling, writing | 16 Comments »