Audio slideshow: What can bloggers learn from a vacation stroll?

You can learn blogging lessons in some of the strangest places. Hit the arrow on the image below to play the slides and hear the audio.

Some of you know that I’m not a big fan of audiocasts and video. However, I’m doing my best to learn how to accommodate the members of my audience who enjoy those forms.

 

 

Top posts from 2018’s first quarter

Check out my top posts from the last quarter!

They’re a mix of practical tips on proofreading (#1), punctuation (#2), white papers (#3), writing (#4, #5, #7, #8, #9), marketing (#6), and blogging (#10).

I’m only listing one Mistake Monday post, although more were among the most viewed. Thank you, readers! However, one Mistake Monday post is much like the others, so I’ll only list one per quarter. Check out my Mistake Monday posts if you’d like to improve your proofreading skills!

White papers (#3) were the focus of my meatiest popular post. Many challenges prevent financial professionals from creating compelling white papers. In this post I describe some of the challenges and how to overcome them.

The popular post in the #2 slot proves that popularity isn’t the only thing that matters for your blog. I imagine that the traffic came from people doing online searches for “U.S. or US for United States?” I imagine that few of those people are likely to become my clients—or even to be interested in many of the other posts on my blog.

My posts that attracted the most views during 2018’s first quarter

  1. MISTAKE MONDAY for Feb. 19: Can YOU spot what’s wrong?
  2. Abbreviation: U.S. or US for United States?
  3. The compelling investment white paper that wasn’t 
  4. What if your article has 5 points, but 1 is a digression?
  5. Avoid long introductory clauses, or lose readers
  6. Marketing wealth management to women with Charlotte Beyer
  7. 7 tips to help you write more and be a better person
  8. Write your book on multiple devices
  9. 7 factors that affect reading ease
  10. Financial blog topic: write a letter

Financial blog topic: write a letter

A letter can be a great format for your financial blog. Writing a letter can help you tackle difficult topics or get a new perspective on an old topic.

I’m not thinking about the kinds of letter you usually write. I don’t mean prospecting letters, quarterly reports, or requests for documentation.

Instead, I am thinking about letters that tackle topics that you feel strongly about. Sure, you can write about those topics in a regular blog post. However, there’s something about a letter that makes it more personal.

Different letter recipients, different content

Imagine, for example, that you write a letter to one of the following people:

  • Your mom, whom you are grateful to for teaching you the value of saving and investing
  • Your son, who just started his first job with a 401(k) plan
  • Your client who holds no stocks in her retirement plan
  • Ted Benna, father of the 401(k) plan

Each of these letters might discuss retirement. However, your choice of recipient will affect the opinions you express, your tone, and the details you use to make your point.

Letter-writing benefits

The details that you use in a letter—especially a letter to your mom or son—are likely to deepen the reader’s sense of who you are. Are you a person like them? A person they can relate to? Your letter to a client will show if you can empathize, or you’re coldly logical. Your letter to Ted Benna may display your technical expertise.

I think that showing your personality, which I’ve written about in “How to add personality and warmth to your financial writing—part one”  is one of the strengths of a letter.

Another reason to use the letter format is to make your language more reader-friendly. I remember struggling with a topic in my essay-writing class at Radcliffe Seminars many years ago. To end my stilted language, my teacher suggested I write a letter to a classmate, telling her what I wanted to say. He hoped that would pull more conversational language out of me. Visualizing your ultimate reader always helps, as I discussed in “Your mother and the ‘fiscal cliff.’

Have YOU ever written a blog post in the form of a letter? If so, please share a link in the comments.

By the way, this post was inspired by a book, Karen Tei Yamashita’s Letters to Memory, which takes the form of letters to historical figures and other people. It’s a provocative read about Japanese-American history that brings in Greek and Indian mythology and other diverse topics, thanks to her choice of letter recipients.

Early Bird registration for financial blogging class

Learn more about my financial blogging class!

Bloggers, honor your influencers

Totally original content doesn’t exist. Everyone is influenced by others. Your work is not diminished by giving credit to them.

As Jeff Goins says in Real Artists Don’t Starve:

…cite your sources, giving credit where credit is due. This won’t discredit you. It will likely endear you to your influences and your audience.

What might citing your sources mean for a financial blogger? It could mean naming and linking to the website of a person, article, or blog that inspired you. Or, linking to a resource for further information. One advantage of sharing your sources is that it gives insight into you as a person. It shows what you read and the resources that you trust. It also shows that you are ethical, in terms of giving credit where credit is due.

Goins also stressed the need to bring something original to what you take from others. He says, “When you steal, don’t just copy and paste the work of your predecessors,…bring those influences together in a new way.”

If Goins doesn’t convince you to credit others, remember that violating copyright can land you in legal trouble. I’ve written about copyright in “Financial bloggers’ posts may violate copyright law.”

Is Real Artists a good resource for writers?

Goins attracted my attention after I read something he wrote about building his career as a writer and blogger.

If you’re in the early stages of building a career as a writer, you may find inspiration and practical tips in this book.

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

Early Bird registration for financial blogging class

Learn more about my financial blogging class!

Top posts from 2017’s fourth quarter

Top posts on InvestmentWriting.comCheck out my top posts from the last quarter!

They’re a mix of practical tips on grammar (#1), writing (#2, #9, #10), investment commentary (#3), client communication (#4 & #5), newsletters (#6), and blogging (#7, #8).

Post #1 sparked a lot of reader feedback when it headlined one of my monthly newsletters. My readers tend to care about topics like this.

I’m surprised that #4 made it on the top posts lists. Published late in December, it got a strong response from readers.

If you’re a blogger, check out #7 and #8, along with my financial blogging class.

My posts that attracted the most views during 2017’s fourth quarter

  1. Shall vs. will—which is best?
  2. My 2017 reading with book recommendations for you
  3. Bond market commentary rewrite
  4. Writing about the new tax legislation in your client letters
  5. Communicate with your clients about their legacy—This post features advice from Kathleen Burns Kingsbury
  6. Canned newsletters can hurt your marketing
  7. Blog post headings vs. no headings for your financial blog
  8. 4 financial blog post ideas from a writing teacher
  9. Don’t wait for perfection
  10. Red tulip writing exercise

Early Bird registration for financial blogging class

Learn more about my financial blogging class!

4 financial blog post ideas from a writing teacher

Writing teacher Roger Rosenblatt’s essay assignments inspired me with ideas for your blog posts. He has had students write essays in each of the formats listed below, as he wrote in Unless It Moves the Human Heart: The Craft and Art of Writing.

1. Menu

How could you adopt a menu to a blog post? For starters, you could riff on the idea of “pick one from column A and two from column B” to discuss essentials portfolios.

Or, you might discuss your financial planning process in terms of appetizer, main course, and dessert.

2. School song

I never learned the school songs for my high school, college, or grad school. I don’t know if Oberlin College even had a school song. That makes this assignment hard for me.

But I think of school songs as very “rah rah.” Is there a topic that makes you excited in a rah-rah way? If so, then perhaps you can write a song about it. Look at the structure of your own school’s song to give your writing the feeling of a song.

 

Or, perhaps you can broaden your scope beyond school songs. Is there another type of song that better suits your personality? Start there.

Another idea is to start with the opening line of a famous song, and then go wild from there.

3. Stand-up comic routine

I can’t crack a joke so I admire the gifts of you comedians.

You can tackle what’s truly funny about your financial field. That could help break down your readers’ fears about tackling their finances. It could also help them to relate to you as a person.

Many comedy routines have an edge to them. You can use comedy to address topics that disturb you, such as inadequate retirement savings or fraudulent investments.

4. Kiss off letter

Have you ever told anyone to “kiss off”? The emotion associated with such letters can be powerful. I can see the advantage of sharing your passions with your readers.

On the other hand, you don’t want to scare readers into viewing you as volatile. Tread carefully.

I can imagine an effective letter that rails against bad financial products or services. Or, maybe you’d take on bad decisions.

If you try one…

If you try one of these approaches, please share your work in the comments. I’d love to see it.

If you liked this post, you may also like “20 topics for your financial blog.”

 

 

Disclosure: 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.

Blog post headings vs. no headings for your financial blog

Should you use blog post headings when you write? One of my readers asked me this recently as he worked on his financial firm’s blog.

Reasons to use blog post headings

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ve probably guessed that I like headings.

For starters, headings make blog posts easier to scan by dividing your content into distinct blocks. When the headings capture the focus of each of your blog post’s sections, they make it easy for your reader to decide if your blog post is worth reading. They also add visual appeal.

Here’s what one of readers told me about why he likes headings:

Blog post headings help me to:

  • Quickly scan the content of an article – beyond just reading the title
  • Zero in on the action steps that the writer is recommending.

Headings may also improve the SEO (search engine optimization) of your blog post. According to “Headings and why you should use them” on the Yoast blog:

…headings still help Google to grasp the main topics of a long post. …Google might scan your post…and why not make that as easy as possible?

When to skip blog post headings

Skip headings when your blog posts are too short or unfocused.

How short is too short? This post has fewer than 300 words, but I still think the headings are helpful. If I didn’t use headings, could you grasp at a quick glance that I discuss when to skip headings?

On the other hand, I don’t think headings would have added anything to my post, “Writers, do you know when something’s wrong?” There wasn’t enough content there.

YOUR thoughts

I’m curious to know how you use headings in your blog posts. Please comment.

Art and mindfulness and blogging

“I love your drawing. And I liked the one you did last time, too.” This statement by a fellow student in an “Art and Mindfulness” class stunned me. It also reminded me of what I believe about blog posts that reflect the real you. Mindfulness and financial blogging can work together.

1. There are many ways to interpret the same instructions (or topic)

The art class teacher’s instructions were simple. First, choose a pastel and draw lines, changing direction each time you switch from inhaling to exhaling. Do that 10 times, then add to your drawing however you wish.

The illustrations show the drawings I made following these instructions in the two sessions of this class. I see similarities between the two. Do you? I think there’s something that makes them distinctively mine.

The drawings that other students made were nothing like mine or one another’s drawings. One person drew a huge, bright smiley face. Another did delicate swirls. Yet another created a minimalist fish.

The lesson for financial bloggers? You may think that writers have exhausted what can be said about your topic. But no one will say it exactly like you. Embrace your differences to make your topic distinctively yours. You have more leeway to do this in blog posts than in other forms of financial writing. Especially if you are a solopreneur or work for a small firm, you’re less likely to be constrained by the idea of a “brand voice” or corporate style guidelines. You can show your personality.

2. People respond differently to your work

I looked at my classmates’ drawings and thought “I wish I could draw like them.” Amazingly, that wasn’t the response of the person who said, “I love your drawing.”

People respond differently to your creativity, whether it takes the form of a drawing or a blog post. I know my drawings aren’t great art, but something in them spoke to my classmate. The same thing can happen to you when you blog about investments, wealth management, or other financial topics.

3. Be open to what your heart and mind tell you

The mindfulness exercise made me tune in to what I was thinking and feeling. I’d like to think that helped me to achieve what the”Art and Mindfulness” instructor called the “Wise Mind” at the intersection of the “Reasonable Mind” and the “Emotion Mind.”

Merging those two in your blog posts can help you to appeal to readers with emotions, while persuading them with your reasoning.

Your openness can also uncover blog post topics. The “Art and Mindfulness” teacher told us to think about the feelings and patterns that come up with mindfulness. They need to be addressed, she said. Looking at my drawings made me think about how I like to analyze messy situations to bring order to them. That led to me thinking about the lessons for bloggers from my mindful art experiences.

4. Have compassion for people whose minds don’t work like yours

In addition to the drawing project, during the second session of the art class we worked on creating a mini-book, making a cover out of a piece of bubble painting that we’d created in the first session. I am not good at following instructions for folding and gluing paper. While I love the cover of my mini-book, the innards are an ugly mess.

The ugliness reminded me to feel compassion for my readers and students. What comes easily to me may not come easily to them. I strive to appeal to different types of learners.

Having compassion for your readers should inspire you to write in a reader-friendly way on your blog. Tailor your content to your readers. Write clearly and concisely.

5. It feels great to work in the moment

It can feel good to be totally immersed in what you’re doing. I experienced that for moments during the drawing exercise. (Yes, I still have a way to go in becoming mindful.) At a minimum, I forgot about my daily stresses. I was also impressed by several participants sharing how mindfulness has helped them to manage chronic pain.

Writing blog posts is one of the times that I feel immersed in an experience. That’s especially true of blog posts like this, which involve exploring my personal reactions. It also happens when I research a question that interests me.

I hope that you can experience some of the same sense of flow in your blogging.

 

If you enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy “What Marilyn Monroe taught me about writing.” My art plays a role in that post, too.

 

What would happen if I stop writing?

Many of you struggle to write as much as you’d like. The large number of inactive financial blogs speaks to the difficulty of writing and posting weekly (or at any frequency). That’s especially true when you face demanding responsibilities as an investment, wealth management, or financial planning professional.

This struggle is why I suggest that you ask yourself  “What would happen if I stop writing?

When it’s okay to stop writing

Your answer might be, “Nothing bad.”

A “nothing bad” answer is more likely if you have colleagues who can pick up the slack to satisfy your firm’s writing needs.

Or, maybe you’re working on a 25-page white paper on an obscure topic. If few people would read—or be spurred to action by—your output, it’s okay to stop writing. You could benefit from using your time for higher-benefit activities. This is the kind of situation I wrote about in “Marketing lesson from clashing clocks.”

If your answer is “nothing bad,” then stop beating yourself up. Use the time and emotional energy that you save for goals that energize and help you.

When you shouldn’t stop writing

What if you’d lose something by not writing?

Financial professionals who write regularly have told me about the benefits they experience. Understanding the benefits may inspire you to make time to write.

Sometimes the benefits go to the bottom line. For example, a student enrolled in my financial blogging class because he wanted to return to blogging regularly. He said that his blog yielded many leads when he posted regularly, but the leads dried up when he stopped posting.

Often the benefits are less direct. For example, you can rarely attribute a sale directly to a great white paper about an emerging asset class. But you know that it enhances your firm’s credibility and makes it easier for salespeople to spur discussions with prospects.

Another benefit of writing is that it helps you to clarify your thoughts about other people’s ideas, as you explain your take on their ideas to your audience. Also, writing more helps you to improve your writing. These issues came up directly or indirectly in my survey about why advisors blog. Here is how people responded to my asking “What are the goals of your blog?”

  • 23% Educate people
  • 19% Attract clients
  • 15% Improve my writing
  • 15% Spread my ideas
  • 12% Learn from others
  • 8% Keep the clients I have
  • 8% Sell information products
  • 0% Other

If you resist my suggestion to stop writing…

Feel appalled by my suggestion that you stop writing? In your gut reaction, there’s a kernel of something that may spur you to write more. Look for it!

If you think a structured process could help you to write more, check out my book, Financial Blogging: How to Write Powerful Posts That Attract Clients, and my financial blogging class.

Blog your passions or your audience’s interests?

“How do I balance my passions vs. the interests of my target audience when I write for my blog?” This was a question from one of my readers.

Passion vs. audience: an easy answer

The easy answer? Blog at the intersection of your passions and the interests of your target audience. You’ll find it easiest and most enjoyable to blog when you’re passionate about your topic.  When your passion shows, you’ll attract more readers. When your passions overlap with the topics that your target audience cares about, you’ll find yourself in a sweet spot of blogging.

However, your passions and your target’s interests aren’t always identical. What can you do?

A case against emphasizing audience over passion

The example of marketer Mark W. Schaefer suggests why you shouldn’t ignore your passions.

“…let me tell you the biggest blogging mistake I ever made — I wrote for an audience!” says Schaefer in “Improve your blog. Stop writing for an audience!” Schaefer says got he bored writing to a content plan focused on target audience, personas, and keywords. So he ditched his plan and started writing about things that interested him. The result? “Pretty quickly my blog had a small band of very engaged and loyal readers.”

When you write with passion, you’ll win better engagement from your readers.

Another benefit of playing to your passions? You’re more likely to stick to a blogging schedule. Based on the many abandoned blogs that I’ve seen, keeping up with a blog is a big challenge. In fact, an entire chapter of my financial blogging book is devoted to “Sticking to a blogging schedule.”

Identifying your audience’s interests

You probably have a good idea of where your passions lie. But how about the passions of your current or ideal audience?

Some tools to help you understand your current audience include:

  • Google Analytics
  • Google Webmaster Tools
  • “Open” and “click” statistics for blog posts that you send via e-newsletter software
  • Surveys that you run on your blog or elsewhere using technology like SurveyMonkey. For example, you can bounce a list of potential topics off your readers, or you can ask an open-ended question, such as “What do you want to read about?” or “What’s the biggest challenge that you face in terms of…?”

If members of your target audience aren’t visiting your blog yet, then it’s time to do research. Read other people’s research about your target audience. Read the publications that your ideal audience members read. Set up Google Alerts for content related to your ideal readers.

Questions for you

Bloggers, please answer two questions:

  1. Are you blogging about your passions, your audience’s interests, or the intersection of the two?
  2. What tips do you have for bloggers struggling with the issue of whether to blog about their interests or their target audience’s interests?