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?

Don’t give up on being different

Do you worry that nothing can make your writing stand out from the rest of the pack?

Here’s some inspiration for you from Roger Rosenblatt’s Unless It Moves the Human Heart: The Craft and Art of Writing:

Eventually, we all tell the same stories, yet none of our stories sound like anyone else’s. Think of your dullest family member, the pixilated uncle who tells the same family anecdote over and over every Thanksgiving. Even he never tells his story the same way twice.

Rosenblatt’s statement reminds us that everyone expresses things differently—and their own way of expressing themselves varies over time. As a result, the way that you express yourself is inherently different.

But, you may say, I don’t want to be a boring uncle. Of course not. That’s why you should build on your differences.

Ways to differentiate your writing

Consider using the techniques I discuss in “How to add personality and warmth to your financial writing, part one” and “Part two. “(The two posts are summarized in “Infographic: 5 ways to add personality to your financial writing.”

Also, strive to make your writing achieve the three C’s of being compelling, clear, and concise.

Another way to differentiate yourself is to speak to a narrowly defined audience. Show that you understand your audience’s unique characteristics.

Do these things, and you’ll achieve a difference that attracts readers.

 

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.

Writing lessons from a famous painter’s journey

I don’t usually read books like Franny Moyle’s Turner: The Extraordinary Life & Momentous Times of J.M.W. Turner. But I shook up my routine during an out-of-town vacation. As I read about the artistic education of Turner, a barber’s son who became one of Britain’s greatest painters, my mind flashed to lessons for writers, especially bloggers.

Turner took lessons from other painters. Writers should do this, too. But that isn’t the lesson that struck me. Instead, I was intrigued by the role of copying. “In addition to views he worked up from his own sketches, Turner copied published work by other living artists to sell in his father’s shop,” writes Moyle.

I’m not suggesting that you copy other people’s writing. I certainly don’t want you to plagiarize. However, before long, Turner started using copies as the foundation for experiments. For example, while working within outlines set by an artist named Cozens, Turner “reverses Cozen’s scheme, placing in light what the artist had placed in shade and vice versa, altering the drama of the view,” writes Moyle.

Can you do a Turner on a blog post that you admire?

Here are some ideas for how to achieve that.

1. Copy the structure, not the content

Study the structure of a blog you admire. See if you can apply that structure to a different topic.

For example, if you read a great post about “5 ways to save more for retirement,” analyze it to see why it works. Then, you can apply what you learn to a different topics, such as “5 ways to get the most out of your homeowner’s insurance.”

2. Turn dark into light

Turner literally turned dark into light in Moyle’s example.

You can metaphorically change dark to light by writing, for example, about the upside of indexed annuities after you’ve read an article about their drawbacks.

3. Change perspective

Turner sometimes changed the perspective from which he viewed iconic sights. Or, he inserted people or cows where he’d seen none in real life.

You can mix up your perspective too. Instead of viewing an investment product through the eyes of your typical client, discuss it from the perspective of a broker who puts commissions above all else. Or, take the perspective of an investor in a very specific situation who might benefit from that product.

Looking at how others write—and putting your own twist on their writing can help you generate new topics and new approaches to tired topics. Try it!

Top posts from 2017’s first quarter

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

They’re a mix of practical tips on investment commentary (#1), marketing (#2, 3), public relations (#4, 7), writing (#1, 5, 10), email (#6, 7), and blogging (#8, 9).

My post about words to avoid (#1) seemed to resonate the most with readers. It also spurred comments suggesting more words to avoid. I was surprised that I didn’t receive angry comments from fans of technical language. Perhaps that’s because I said that “Some jargon is okay if your communications go exclusively to other investment professionals.”

I must thank my gym for its contribution to this top 10 list. “Words to avoid” was inspired by watching CNBC on the elliptical machine. Some words are okay there because CNBC targets investing geeks. But those same words will puzzle regular folks. “Marketing lesson” discusses my gym’s smart handling of an annoying problem.

Here’s my list of posts that attracted the most views during the first quarter.

  1. Words to avoid in your investment communications with regular folks
  2. Marketing lesson from clashing clocks
  3. 10-minute boosts for your financial content marketing
  4. Financial PR opportunities for professionals—and they’re free
  5. 20 ways to organize a story
  6. Personalized subject lines can backfire in emails
  7. Quit sending press releases as attachments!
  8. 4 reasons learning to blog helps CFA charterholders
  9. 5 ways blog posts are like tulips
  10. When do you push proper usage on your writing clients?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fixing compliance issues with comments on your LinkedIn Pulse posts

More financial professionals are blogging on LinkedIn Pulse, LinkedIn’s blogging platform. Sometimes this raises compliance issues that you may not know how to fix. Compliance issues for content that you post are easy to handle. But what about compliance issues with other people’s comments on your LinkedIn Pulse posts?

Compliance issues for content that you post

It’s easy to manage compliance issues directly related to the content that you post to LinkedIn Pulse—or any social media. You handle it by only posting content that you believe to be in compliance.

If you’re a registered representative affiliated with a broker-dealer, you should probably get all of your content reviewed before you post it.

If you’re a registered investment advisor (RIA), your employer may require compliance review before posting. However, many RIAs have a lot more leeway than registered reps. If there’s no formal review process, you should identify criteria for distinguishing compliant content from non-compliant content. You can also keep a list of recommended disclosures.

Compliance issues with other people’s comments

But what about other people’s comments on your LinkedIn Pulse posts? I investigated this after someone posted a spammy link in response to one of my posts on LinkedIn Pulse. Surprisingly, the LinkedIn Help person who responded to my inquiry didn’t immediately know the answer to my question.

However, eventually, I learned that you can flag and hide comments. Just click on the three dots (…) next to any comment and a dropdown menu opens. Click on “Flag and Hide” to remove the troubling comment.

If comments make you—or your compliance professionals—too nervous, then you can disable comments. I don’t recommend this unless your compliance professionals insist on it. After all, you’re posting on LinkedIn to deepen your relationships with readers. You don’t want to mistakenly give readers the impression that you don’t care about their reactions.

Managing Comments on LinkedIn Pulse gives LinkedIn’s official explanation of how to disable comments, as well as how to flag and hide comments. However, I couldn’t find the Settings icon that they refer to on my Pulse post.

If you have problems with LinkedIn, visit its Help Center. If you don’t find what you need, open a case using the contact form.

4 reasons learning to blog helps CFA charterholders

CFA candidates and charterholders have great quantitative and analytical skills, so why should they care about learning to blog? The ability to write a great blog post matters because good writing skills will carry you far in your career—and life in general. There are four reasons that learning to blog helps CFA charterholders at all stages of their careers.

Reason 1: Writing is an essential career skill

The world’s best ideas don’t mean anything if you can’t move people to act on them. Whether you’re writing an equity research report, a marketing email, a resume, or a blog post, good writing will boost the impact of your ideas.

Reason 2: Blogging is a great way to improve your writing

 Blog posts are short, which makes it easier to produce many of them. Yet each post must satisfy the basic requirements of strong written communications:

  1. A strong title and introduction, which quickly relays your main message.
  2. Information about why your readers should care about your topic—your audience suffers from information overload. Readers want to know “What’s in it for me?” before they invest time in your piece.
  3. Reader-friendly writing—this means writing that’s well organized and economically written. A logical flow of information, informative headings, and strong topic sentences make it easy for people to understand your message even when they only skim it. Short sentences that avoid jargon make it easy for readers to absorb your details.

These characteristics will serve you well in most written communications. Financial professionals who have taken my blogging class tell me that they’ve applied my lessons to emails, articles, and more.

Reason 3: You may need to blog for work

The number of investment management firms in the blogosphere has been increasing. The range of corporate blog contributors is also expanding, from the strategists who’ve traditionally opined on markets, to folks in lower-level roles and with other areas of expertise.

Blogging is also relevant to CFA charterholders who go out on their own, whether they start private wealth management firms, launch a product, or do consulting. A blog is a great way for smaller firms to differentiate themselves with a display of personality. That’s much harder for a large firm limited by a bureaucracy, corporate branding guidelines, or other constraints.

All of this makes it increasingly likely that you’ll need to blog at some point in your career.

Reason 4: It’s fun and helps you think better

Blogging can be fun. Writing helps you to develop your ideas. It’s satisfying when a glimmer of an idea turns into a complete post. Even better is when your posts help—and spur comments from—your readers.

Start now!

You can start blogging today. It’s easy to set up your own blog using free software from WordPress.com or other providers. You can also contact other people’s blogs for guest-posting opportunities. I’ve blogged about how to find opportunities in “How to guest-blog on personal finance or investments—Part I Your approach” and “Part II Blogs that accept guest posts from financial advisors.”

Check out my five-week financial blogging class if you’d like to learn more about writing blog posts.

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Financial Blogging class registration ends Feb. 24, 2017.

 

5 ways blog posts are like tulips

I love tulips. But for years I didn’t grow any because my backyard squirrels dug them up and ate them. I finally figured out that my front yard was a safe place for tulips, so I planted some.

As a result, when a writing exercise suggested thinking about red tulips, I was interested. The red tulip exercise yielded this post.

Here are five ways blog posts are like tulips.

1. Their starting points may be ugly

A tulip bulb isn’t pretty. Your blog post may start with a poorly shaped idea. With either one, if you plant and nourish it, it may grow into something beautiful.

2. Symmetry is powerful

A tulip has symmetry, with equal-sized petals around a center. This structure can work for blog posts, too. For example, it works in list posts like this, where each numbered item is like a petal of roughly similar size.

3. Everything comes back to the center

As a tulip’s petals connect to its stem, a blog post’s paragraphs connect to a central theme. There’s power in this connection.

Also, the petals overlaps slightly, forming a connection. That’s similar to how transition sentences link paragraphs.

4. Large collections are powerful

Have you seen photos of vast tulip fields in the Netherlands? They’re stunning, especially because they form single-color blocks. Folks can see them from far away.

Similarly, when you create a large body of blog posts with a narrow focus, they boost your visibility. You’ll appear prominently in search results. Also, the depth of your work will boost your credibility when people visit your blog.

5. They can be overrated

Have you read about the seventeenth century tulip mania, when a tulip could cost as much as a house?

Blog posts can be overvalued, too, though I doubt the mismatch will ever reach manic levels. A blog is not the solution to all of your marketing or communication problems. Your strategy must integrate other elements, too.

If you liked this post, you may also enjoy “Financial blogging lessons from my spinning class.”

Image courtesy of  panuruangjan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Financial Blogging class registration ends Feb. 24, 2017.

Controversial topic spurs LinkedIn discussion

One of my LinkedIn Pulse posts on a controversial topic received 34 comments in less than two days. It also received 33 likes and more than 200 views in that period. That floored me.

The comment-spurring post was “Periods: One space or two at the end of a sentence?” It’s a topic that spurs strong feelings in people, especially if their teachers or editors have emphasized that there’s only one correct answer.

What can you learn from my controversial topic experience?

You may assume that my post generated comments because it was controversial. In “13 Types of Posts that Always Get Lots of Comments,” ProBlogger’s Darren Rowse lists “Debate or controversy posts” as one of his 13 post types. “Put two or more opposing arguments to your readers and step back to see what happens,” says Rowse.

I think it’s more than that. I think part of my post’s success was due to my choice of a controversial topic that is also safe. Punctuation isn’t a sensitive topic in the same way as politics or religion. Readers can disagree on punctuation without others thinking “Oh, how horrible that person is for opposing my opinion!” I doubt that clashes over punctuation have ended any friendships or turned off potential clients.

Another strength of my post was that it posed a question, inviting comments. Moreover, it was an easy question—one space or two?—that could be answered briefly. Rowse’s article listed question posts among the types mostly likely to spur an above-average number of comments. He said, “Ask a question and those who hear it are wired to answer it. I find when I include a question in the title of my posts that comment numbers tend to be at least double normal posts.”

My post wasn’t one of my more in-depth or insightful posts, much as it hurts me to say this. Sometimes being safely controversial and asking an easy-to-answer question can override the quality of your work. On the other hand, I am relieved to report that some of my more thoughtful posts have also spurred comments. In his article, Rowse listed “meaty posts” as good candidates to spur comments.

What’s YOUR experience with comments on LinkedIn Pulse?

To get a sense of whether controversial topics—especially those that are safe and pose a question—work best at spurring discussion on LinkedIn Pulse, I invite you to share the name of your most commented-upon LinkedIn Pulse article in the comments, along with a link to your post.

If you’d like to learn more about my experience with LinkedIn Pulse, read “My experiment blogging on LinkedIn.”

Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.