5 steps for rewriting your investment commentary

Tuesday, Sep. 23rd 2014

Investment commentary authors often know the markets well, but lack writing and editing expertise. After all, they’re earning big bucks to manageinvestment commentary money, not to write. You don’t want me to run your portfolio, but I’ve learned some lessons about how to edit investment commentary. I’ve edited and written commentary for a diverse group of clients.

My experience has inspired this list of steps for anyone who’d like to edit investment commentary or other articles.

Step 1. Analyze overall structure

Before you dig into the details of your commentary, look at its overall structure. Your analysis may lead you to delete or move entire sections to make the structure more reader-friendly.

First, identify the main themes of your commentary. You may decide after a quick reading that your themes are something like the following:

  1. This was a volatile quarter, due mainly to disappointing corporate earnings and instability in the Middle East.
  2. Corporate earnings are likely to recover for three reasons.
  3. Instability in the Middle East will continue and here’s how it affects our investing.
  4. Here’s why these six stocks are the portfolio’s biggest winners or losers for the quarter.

If a simple read-through doesn’t identify your main themes, you can try mind mapping your commentary’s content. I sometimes use mapping when editing complex client documents. Mapping gives me a bird’s eye perspective that helps me spot clustering of ideas that form themes. For more on mapping, please see my book Financial Blogging: How to Write Powerful Posts That Attract Clients.

Once you’ve identified the themes, delete any paragraphs that aren’t relevant. Also, move your paragraphs so your argument builds in a logical order.

Step 2. Provide guideposts for your readers

Once you’ve identified your commentary’s themes, you can make it easy for your readers to absorb them. Three key tools are your title, introduction, and headings. Each of these components should manage your readers’ expectations.

Titles should communicate your main topic. Simply writing “Third Quarter Review” isn’t enough. It doesn’t distinguish this quarter’s review from all that preceded it. Nor does it distinguish your review from your competitors’. At a minimum, name your main topic in your subject line. For example, “Third Quarter Rocked by Earnings and Middle East Conflict.”

As for your introduction, I believe in having it say exactly what you’ll cover. This lets your readers quickly assess whether your commentary interests them.

Next, use your headings as milestones for your commentary. Express your opinion or conclusion, if possible. For example, instead of using “corporate earnings” as your heading, consider something like “corporate earnings disappoint, but rebound likely.”

Step 3. Work within paragraphs

Once you’ve completed your “big picture” edits, dig into your individual paragraphs. Strong topic sentences will ensure that today’s busy readers can skim what you read, using their quick scan to zero in on the content that most interests them.

A strong topic sentence covers the paragraph’s main point. Everything that follows in a specific paragraph should relate to the topic sentence. If not, then cut it. This isn’t the only correct way to write, but it’s the best way to write for online readers and readers suffering from information overload.

For more on this topic, read my blog post about the first-sentence check.

Step 4. Examine your individual sentences

The next step is to make what professionals call “line edits.” This means correcting and improving your sentences for grammar, punctuation, vocabulary choices, and other issues in your writing style.

Working down to small items from a “big picture” items is efficient. It means that you don’t waste time improving your word choices in a sentence or paragraph that you ultimately cut from your draft.

Step 5. Proofread and check statistics

Once you’ve completed your editing, it’s time to proofread. I’ve blogged in “5 proofreading tips for quarterly investment reports” about my best proofreading tips. Also, check the accuracy of your statistics, such as index returns. If possible, get someone else to proofread your work. After you’ve lived with a document for awhile, it becomes hard to spot errors that would smack you in the face on a first reading.

If you follow these five steps, you’ll attract more readers. That’s your goal, right?

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Copyright 2014 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

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

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Financial advisor blogging Q&A: Michael J. Evans

Thursday, Sep. 18th 2014

Michael J. Evans of The Cogent Advisor in Chicago is the latest participant in my Q&A series with financial advisors who blog. Advisor Tim Maurer suggested Michael for this series, saying via Twitter, “@CogentAdvisor stands out as a recovering commodities trader serving traders through evidence-based investing.”

I was interested to learn how Michael manages the burden of regular blogging by mixing his own substantive posts with a strategy of highlighting other people’s content with his quick takes on that content. This is a technique more blogging advisors should consider.

If you enjoy this Q&A, check out others in this series, which started with a Q&A with Michael Kitces.

michael kitcesQ. When did you start your blog?

A. The Cogent Advisor Cogent Conversation blog grew out of my monthly e-newsletter. Clients and prospects had mentioned how much they enjoyed the educational information I was sharing in our monthly newsletters, and urged me to write a blog post and share insights more often. My first post was in March 2012.

Q. How has your blog brought you new business or improved your existing client relationships?

A. It’s been an interesting and unfolding experience! I started to blog to further my passion and mission to educate investors in an additional forum. As I started to post ideas targeted to my niche of financial professionals and other high-end professionals, I found I was being contacted by followers from wider circles about a variety of subjects ranging from wealth management to money challenges in their relationships and more. While I appreciate the business connections, I’ve also enjoyed serving as a connector among intelligent and inquisitive people. Some of them have become clients, but all of them help me think and grow as a wealth advisor and a person.

In terms of specific business growth results, I’ve heard many anecdotes from clients who have shared specific posts with others they believed might benefit. I’ve also heard from prospects who have accessed the blog to learn more about me and my firm’s culture. By combining blog posts with related supporting tweets, LinkedIn announcements, and periodic e-newsletter “best of” distributions, our overall social media presence continues to develop as well.

In a report we compiled last year-end, our LinkedIn connections and e-newsletter open rates remained relatively consistent in 2013, but we found our Twitter followers and LinkedIn impressions were up 27.0% and 4.5%, respectively, between Q3 and Q4 2013. It’s admittedly difficult to directly connect specific social media stats with client growth. However, given the blogging benefits described above and the general health of our firm, we’re convinced that our blog plays an important and integral role in our overall business development efforts. Besides, it’s fun!

Q. What blogging techniques or topics have most helped your business?

A. My mission is to educate successful professionals to build durable wealth. Everything in my blog relates to sharing content that my readers can use to enhance the quality of their lives and to Free Their Wealth for Something More®. To be effective and efficient with our mission, we aim to produce one more substantive Cogent-authored post each month (which is then republished in our e-newsletter), and then regularly serve as a “content curator,” by sharing others’ posts along with our brief take on them.

I try not to sell anything on my blog. If I do my job and produce or share others’ ideas that help readers visualize a better future for themselves and their families, I’ve accomplished my goal. I’m convinced that the business development will flow naturally from there as I share my Cogent content.

Q. What are three of your favorite—or most effective—blog posts? Provide the titles, URLs and a comment about why you included them.

  1. As an educator, I love it when I can write a post and elicit a response that creates an “Ah ha!” moment in the reader’s mind. For example, our recent post, “The Triple-Action Power of Donor-Advised Funds,” helps successful individuals consider how a donor-advised fund may enable them to best fulfill their charitable intents. How great that I can reach out to readers and help them advance a cause that matters to them.
  2. I also have teamed up with The BAM Alliance, whose experts share my passion for promoting financial understanding. One of my recent shared posts came from BAM’s Director of Personal Finance Tim Maurer: “Tim Maurer on College Spending: Planning vs. Procrastinating.” Sharing a lucid explanation of an intimidating but important subject like saving for your children’s higher education is just great for me.
  3. A subject vital to a family’s wealth but often overlooked is the critical need to balance one’s investment risks with the related risks a high-end professional may be taking in his or her career. I took on this subject in this post: “From 65 to Zero in 10 Seconds: Managing Your Human Capital Risk” and also as an article in the Spring 2014 Inside Advantage, a trade journal.

Q. What’s your best tip for advisors who blog?

A. Write from the heart, on ideas of relevance to your audience (which assumes you have identified who your audience is)! It enhances the quality of your readers’ lives, positions you as a subject matter expert, and makes the effort more enjoyable and personally rewarding – financially and emotionally.

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Learn to write better! Hire Susan to critique your writing or buy Financial Blogging: How to Write Powerful Posts That Attract Clients.

 
Copyright 2014 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

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Revisiting tired topics, with journalist Donald Murray

Tuesday, Sep. 16th 2014

Financial bloggers sometimes ask me, “How can I take classic topics and make them sound new?”

As Donald Murray says in Writing to Deadline: The Journalist at Work,Writing to Deadline by Donald Murray “All stories, even those in the Bible, are old stories. But there are ways that we can make them new, for the moment, both for our readers and for ourselves.”

Inspired by Murray’s sections on “Old Stories Seen in New Ways” and “Old Stories in a New Form,” I suggest some approaches for you.

1. “Change the angle of vision”

Look at your topic from a different person’s perspective. For journalists, Murray suggests that you “change the angle of vision from the senator to the senator’s aide, the view of the opponent, the voter, the lobbyist, the citizen affected by the vote.”

How can this apply to you? Let’s say you’re writing about education saving plans. Instead of writing from the perspective of the patients who are your clients, you could take the students’ perspective, in terms of issues such as how much control they’ll have over the funds. Or, you might look at how providers price the plans and their impact on the plan’s relative attractiveness.

2. Write a case study.

Murray suggests that you “focus on a single person.” You can apply this by writing a case study that shows how you’ve solved a problem for a specific person. Of course, make sure you don’t violate your clients’ privacy or your regulators’ rules about testimonials.

3. Look at rejected alternatives.

For journalists, Murray says, “Focus on the background instead of the foreground—the technology available, considered, rejected, and used in the trauma center.”

You can do the same thing with one of your topics. For example, if you prefer a certain kind of trust for transferring client assets, you might write about one or more of the trusts that you typically ignore.

4. “Tell the story through an interview.”

Interviews benefit from the fresh perspective and personality of someone new. Plus, they may offer specific details that your blog posts and articles lack. Consider interviewing someone who’s an expert in a technique, product, or service that you use.

Or, go to the other end of the spectrum to interview an individual who suffered because of their lack of expertise. An interview with an individual client might also demonstrate the benefits of something you recommend. A personal story can make the benefits seem more real. However, again I suggest that you check with your compliance expert to avoid violating the rules about testimonials.

5. Write the story in a different form.

Changing formats could give your topic new life. Murray suggests, “Write the story as a rhetorical form central to the story: a police report, a political speech, a company memo, a nursing report, a job application, a letter by a participant to a friend.”

For example, if you’re railing against a specific product or service, you could imagine a memo detailing the reasons why it’s good for the seller even if it doesn’t benefit the buyer.

Or, you might create a nursing home’s report on the finances and experiences of someone who bought long-term care insurance vs. someone who didn’t.

There are lots of possibilities. Another is the approach taken by Chuck Rylant in How to be Rich: The Couple’s Guide to a Rich Life Without Worrying About Money. Chuck wrote a fictional story to illustrate lessons of financial planning. However, when you write fiction, make sure you label it as fiction.

If you’ve used these techniques…

…I’m curious to learn about your experience with the techniques. How have they worked for you?

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Copyright 2014 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

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Beating financial writer’s block with author Julia Cameron

Sunday, Sep. 14th 2014

Every writer runs out of ideas or the will to write at some point. This happens to financial writers as well as novelists and other, more artistic authors.

therighttowriteWhat can you do? One option is to learn from the class resources of creative writers, such as Julia Cameron’s The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life.

Here’s one of Cameron’s exercises:

Pretend that you are sitting under a large tree with your back resting on its trunk. On the other side of the tree, a Storyteller sits also resting against the tree trunk. Take a sheet of paper and number from one to five. Tell the Storyteller five things you’d like to hear stories about.

Here are five topics that popped into my head:

  1. How to target your blog to attract ideal clients
  2. How to create a powerful social media presence in 20 minutes a day
  3. How to use your easily distracted personality to your advantage in marketing
  4. How to show your appreciation for your amazingly supportive connections on social media
  5. How to keep marketing when you’re busy with other stuff

I’m curious. What are YOUR five topics?

Also, what techniques do you use to beat writer’s block? I’m always interested in learning from you.

Disclosure: If you click on the Amazon link in this post and then buy something, I will receive a small commission. I only link to books in which I find some value for my blog’s readers.

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Copyright 2014 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

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The silver bullet for attracting more readers

Thursday, Sep. 11th 2014

Media coverage can boost your visibility, helping you to attract more clients. Joanne Cleaver, a fellow member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, suggests in her guest post that you expand your ideas of the topics on which you’d like to be quoted.

The silver bullet for attracting more readers

By Joanne Cleaver

If you know enough to write regularly about investing and financial planning, you know enough to be quoted. But how can you elevate your hand-built riser into a national platform?

Joanne Cleaver 2010The best way to gain expert status is to be quoted by journalists. Their responsibility is to present credible information in context. When your expertise adds clarity, insight and experience that brings an article to life, you will become a go-to source. That establishes you as an expert and builds your reputation .

That’s all well and good. But how do you get started? Here’s how to break the anonymity trap of not being quoted because you aren’t known, and not being known because you’re not being quoted.

First, sign up for HelpAReporterOut.com.

For $19 a month, HARO delivers to your inbox a daily list of requests from journalists looking for immediate sources for stories they are working on now. Simply reviewing the requests helps you detect what journalists need.

Your initial reaction will be to respond only to requests that seek financial experts. With 50 or more HARO requests daily, it’s only a matter of time before you find a request for precisely your technical and advisory expertise. And offering quotable, useable financial insight is a great way to win media mentions.

But you have more to offer than professional commentary. Your life experience—as a parent, a business owner, a volunteer—also is invaluable fodder. For example, you might respond to a reporter search for parents who have recently navigated the college application and financial aid process. Your pitch would pivot on your experience as a parent who’s better informed than most on financial topics, but you’d also be interviewed about your frustrations and feelings about financial aid.

Responding to a HARO request that appears tangential to your professional expertise does two things: it opens a relationship with the journalist, and it is a chance to showcase personal insight that rounds out your professional reputation and presents you as human, empathetic and approachable.

Both types of media mentions—professional and personal—build reputation and blog readership…as long as that silver bullet hits your target audience.

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A former daily newspaper deputy business editor, Joanne Cleaver helps professionals develop and deliver the right messages to the right audiences through media and communication training. Learn more at http://wilson-taylorassoc.com/media-training.

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Copyright 2014 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

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Posted by Susan Weiner, CFA | in marketing | 4 Comments »

Confidence–good or bad for writers?

Tuesday, Sep. 9th 2014

“Confidence is a bad thing to have as a drug addict. No drug addict deserves confidence.” This quote by actress-writer Carrie Fisher in a Wall Street Drugs and hypodermic needleJournal Magazine‘s roundup about the topic started me thinking about the role of confidence for writers.

Confidence helps

A little confidence is a good thing. Without it, you’d never touch your fingers to the keyboard. Nor would you share your words with the world.

It’s important to write to help you refine your ideas and to educate and persuade your readers. Once you create a first draft, you can review and refine it.

Don’t become overconfident

Too much confidence can hurt writers. You may become sloppy or stop learning. Most writers believe that we must continue to work at improving our craft as writers.

 

Image courtesy of Grant Cochrane / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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It’s okay to blog about your company–sometimes

Tuesday, Sep. 2nd 2014

Born to BlogWhile a business blog should focus on its clients, it’s okay to write about your company sometimes. After all, your clients and prospects want to know that they can trust you. I was reminded of this when reading the “identity content” section of Born to Blog: Building Your Blog for Personal and Business Success One Post at a Time.

“Identity content should explain your company’s values and standards,” write authors Mark W. Schaefer and Stanford A. Smith. Getting concrete, they suggest that you “Use identity content to explain policies that guide your decision-making process. Identify the policies that your customers may encounter and explain the reasoning behind them.” For example, an investment manager might explain her preference for active over passive management. Or, an advisor could go into how he builds a financial plan.

The authors made me wonder if I have enough identity content on my blog. The only post that explicitly addresses my process is “How I ghostwrite your financial white paper.”

On the other hand, my many posts about writing give readers a good sense of the values that drive my writing. You, too, may find that sharing your values in your posts lessens the need to blog specifically about your corporate values.

Is this book for you?

I wanted to love this book, but I couldn’t. I had a hard time finding content that made me say, “Yes, I must do that.”

Perhaps this book is best for the person who’s thinking about starting a blog. It will help you decide whether blogging can work for you. It’ll also give you some ideas about where to start. Established bloggers will have a harder time finding value in this book.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from McGraw-Hill in return for agreeing to write about it. If you click on an Amazon link in this post and then buy something, I will receive a small commission. I only link to books in which I find some value for my blog’s readers.

If you click on an Amazon link in this post and then buy something, I will receive a small commission. I only link to books in which I find some value for my blog’s readers. – See more at: http://investmentwriting.com/index.php?s=amazon#sthash.D1YjcRwr.dpuf

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Learn to write better! Hire Susan to critique your writing or buy Financial Blogging: How to Write Powerful Posts That Attract Clients.

 
Copyright 2014 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

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Ssh, don’t tell my husband: A writing tip

Tuesday, Aug. 26th 2014

I love Floyd Norris, the “Off the Charts” columnist for The New York Times. That’s what you shouldn’t tell my husband. However, if you’re an investment professional or financial advisor who writes, you should love him, too. Why? Because he writes clearly and in an engaging manner about markets and the economy.

You can find ideas in how Norris

  • Writes his ledes, those first sentences or paragraphs of your articles, blog posts, or investment commentary—I discuss this in “Snare more readers with this technique from Floyd Norris
  • Uses charts and graphs, a key component of white papers, investment commentary, and many other financial communications
  • Uses words skillfully—I discuss this in “Plain English can bring your financial topic to life
    Vary your paragraph length like NYT columnist Floyd Norris – See more at: http://investmentwriting.com/2008/08/vary-your-paragraph-length-like-nyt-columnist-floyd-norris/#sthash.bQXhEren.dpuf

For more examples of lessons I’ve learned from Norris, read:

Financial writers clinic: Lessons from Floyd Norris of The New York Times – See more at: http://investmentwriting.com/2010/03/financial-writers-clinic-lessons-from-floyd-norris-of-the-new-york-times/#sthash.OuCURNky.dpuf
Financial writers clinic: Lessons from Floyd Norris of The New York Times – See more at: http://investmentwriting.com/2010/03/financial-writers-clinic-lessons-from-floyd-norris-of-the-new-york-times/#sthash.OuCURNky.dpuf

 

 

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Copyright 2014 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

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Email subject lines: How to handle boring disclosures

Tuesday, Aug. 19th 2014

What subject line should you use when you send clients a disclosure via email? This question came up came up when I spoke to the Financial email tipsPlanning Association of Massachusetts in 2013.

The problem: Losing your clients’ attention

You send some emails because you need to move clients to action. Others, such as disclosures required by regulators, are less compelling.Choose your subject lines carefully, if you don’t want these emails to discourage your clients from reading your emails.

Here’s a list of disclosures that advisors told me might be sent via email:

  • Client agreement
  • Fee disclosure
  • Form ADV, Part 2
  • ERISA-related disclosure, such as a Rule 408(b)(2) disclosure
  • Privacy policy

Sure, it’s important for clients to understand the legal nature of your relationship. However, most of them won’t read boilerplate disclosures. Even worse, when they receive one boring email from you, they become less likely to open your future emails.

Solutions: Label clearly or bundle

The worst thing you can do is to send the disclosure with a vague or misleading subject line—something like “update from XYZ Advisors.”

Instead, label the email clearly, making it easy for your clients to decide whether to open it. You could write something like “annual disclosure of _____,” dropping the key topic in my blank.

Another possibility is to avoid sending the disclosure as a standalone email, assuming that’s okay with your compliance experts. For example, you could include the disclosure with your quarterly client email or monthly client e-newsletter.

YOUR solution?

I’m curious to learn how you handle this challenge. Please comment.

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Learn to write better! Hire Susan to critique your writing or buy Financial Blogging: How to Write Powerful Posts That Attract Clients.

 
Copyright 2014 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

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Posted by Susan Weiner, CFA | in email | 2 Comments »

Blogging question: Can my researcher do interviews?

Tuesday, Aug. 12th 2014

My blog readers sometimes ask questions that could help you. For example,  a reader asked me about having an assistant help her with research for blog tipsa blog post.

Can my assistant interview people for my blog posts?

Here’s what my reader asked. I’ve removed information that might identify the questioner.

I’d love your opinion on something. I have a gal helping me with my blog. She will be giving me an outline of points for an article about what they are looking for in a specific service. Then I will complete the writing. My question: Will I be shooting myself in the foot if I ask her to do one or two phone interviews with these folks? Any idea what the etiquette is here? Will they be wanting to hear from me directly if I don’t know them?

My answer: It depends.

Here’s what I said:

It depends how you position her interviews. If you position her as a good researcher who’ll ensure their thoughts are conveyed accurately, that could work.

Actually, I think they may be more concerned about the following issues:

  • How will your blog post benefit them? What are your monthly unique visit statistics or other metrics that reflect your influence? Will you provide links to their websites so they get a little link love? Will your post help them because they can use it to educate people who contact them?
  • Will you give them the opportunity to check that their thoughts are communicated accurately? While journalists don’t do this, it’s not unusual for bloggers to do this.

 Your opinion?

Have you ever had an assistant interview a source for your blog? How did you handle it? Did it work for you?

 

 

 

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