My best tip for improving your investment commentary

Improving your investment commentary is typically the goal when you hire me to edit or rewrite your quarterly client letters or other commentary. Some of what I do is hard for me to teach you. But one of my most powerful tips is easy for you to implement. My best tip for improving your investment commentary is to add headings to it.

Headings 101: Add visual cues

I’ve worked with several clients whose commentary consisted simply of one paragraph after another. That’s manageable if we’re talking about a two-page client letter that follows the same format quarter after quarter. However, if it’s a seven-page document, that leaves your readers clueless about where to look for which content.

Today’s busy readers often skim documents looking for specific content. Headings as simple as “The Economy,” “Stocks,” “Bonds,” and “Portfolio Positioning” can ease their search. That makes them more likely to engage with what you’ve written.

Headings 201: Convey a message

You can get more mileage out of your headings by making them convey a message. For example, instead of simply writing “Bonds,” write “Bonds: Fed rate hike likely to depress Treasuries.”

With the addition of just seven words, you’ve boosted your readers’ understanding of your views. That’s true even if they never read another word of your commentary. That’s the kind of ROI an investment professional should love.

More tips for improving your investment commentary

To learn more about improving your investment commentary, check out my on-demand webinar, “How to Write Investment Commentary People Will Read.”

How to write calendar dates in your financial communications

August 30 or August 30th—which is the best way to write the calendar date?

Major style guides prefer August 30. I like it, too, because there’s less visual clutter. August 30th becomes even uglier when Microsoft Word uses superscript to raise the “th.”

The Chicago Manual of Style says, “Although the day of the month is actually an ordinal (and so pronounced in speaking), the American practice is invariably to write it as a cardinal number: 18 April or April 18, not 18th April (the British preference) or April 18th.”

The Associated Press Stylebook agrees.

When you write out dates for a global audience, keep in mind that preferences vary about whether the date goes before or after the month.

 

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

FAQ: “How to Write Blog Posts People Will Read: A 5-Lesson Writing Class for Financial Advisors”

Are you a financial professional, writer, or marketer with questions about whether “How to Write Blog Posts People Will Read: A 5-Lesson Writing Class for Financial Advisors” will work for you?

You’ll find answers to common questions below. Do you have questions I haven’t answered below? Leave them as a comment or call me at 617-969-4509.

Q. Is this a webinar?

A. No, it’s a relatively low-tech approach. Students told me they enjoyed not being tied to their computer during the lecture part of the class. This reinforced my instinct to keep the technology simple.

Q. How are classes taught?

A. Each of the classes consists of a recorded audio file (.mp3 format) and a handout (.pdf or Word file) for you to print or view on-screen, complemented by homework assignments, discussion posted to a private website, and a weekly telephone conference call. You’ll download the files from the private website, and then review the lesson at your convenience. You will post your homework assignment and any questions to the private website. You will receive my feedback through the website.

Register for How to Write Blog Posts People Will Read: A 5-Week Writing Teleclass for Financial Advisors in Once-a-week telephone conference call for 5 weeks, April 22-May 20 on Eventbrite

Q. What if I don’t see myself as a “financial advisor”? Can I still take your class?

A. I use the term “financial advisor” as shorthand for my target audience, which includes employees of investment, wealth management, and financial planning firms as well as the vendors who support them. You could be a marketer or writer, not just a financial professional.

Register for How to Write Blog Posts People Will Read: A 5-Week Writing Teleclass for Financial Advisors in Once-a-week telephone conference call for 5 weeks, April 22-May 20 on Eventbrite

Q. I can’t commit to a class that meets at a specific time. Will you work around my schedule?

A. I’ve tweaked the class format so you can listen to the class on YOUR schedule, not mine.

  1. Lessons are prerecorded. This way, you can listen when it’s convenient for you.
  2. You can post your homework–and receive my individualized feedback–any time between the posting of the lesson and two weeks following the end of the class. Students who did their homework and then revised it following my feedback told me that doing the homework–and getting my feedback–was incredibly valuable.
  3. Class discussion sessions will be recorded and may be downloaded. Listening to a recording isn’t the same as participating “live” but at least you’ll hear your classmates’ questions and comments.

You can save all the audio and handout files to give yourself a refresher course months or even years after your formal training ends.

Register for How to Write Blog Posts People Will Read: A 5-Week Writing Teleclass for Financial Advisors in Once-a-week telephone conference call for 5 weeks, April 22-May 20 on Eventbrite

Q. Why is the class limited to 16 students?

A. You’ll learn more when you get the personal attention that comes with a small class. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to ask questions during our group telephone calls. Plus, you’ll get written feedback on your homework assignments.

Register for How to Write Blog Posts People Will Read: A 5-Week Writing Teleclass for Financial Advisors in Once-a-week telephone conference call for 5 weeks, April 22-May 20 on Eventbrite

Q. Do we get any live interaction with you and other students?

A.  Yes, there will be five live conference calls for May 17, May 24, and June 7, June 14, and June 21 at 1 p.m. Eastern. These calls will focus on your comments and questions. They will be recorded in case you can’t attend “live.”

Register for How to Write Blog Posts People Will Read: A 5-Week Writing Teleclass for Financial Advisors in Once-a-week telephone conference call for 5 weeks, April 22-May 20 on Eventbrite

Q. What do students say about your class?


A. Please read What students say about “How to Write Blog Posts People Will Read.” You’ll also find a brief selection of testimonials if you scroll down the registration form.

Register TODAY to learn a step-by-step process to

  • Generate and refine ideas for blog posts that will engage your readers
  • Organize your thoughts before you write, so you can write more quickly and effectively
  • Edit your writing, so it’s reader-friendly and appealing

Guest post: “Only”

The topic of proper word usage matters to my readers. So I perked up when Kim Blanton told me over coffee that she had a great explanation of how to use “only” properly. I immediately asked her to guest-blog for me.

By the way, if you haven’t read Kim’s Squared Away blog, it’s a terrific example of plain English writing about financial behavior.

Only

By Kim Blanton

You may want to ignore this column. After all, it’s only about improper placement of the word “only.”

 

But this common error distorts a writer’s meaning – and can even imply the opposite of what you intended.

I am ever-mindful of this issue when writing my blog about financial behavior and psychology, Squared Away. But here’s a fun example, involving March Madness. It appeared in an article about a win by my alma mater, Indiana University, titled, “Indiana Beats New Mexico State.”

Just to set up the game first. IU finished in the middle of the pack in the Big 10 season rankings. But they played well in a rebuilding year against the New Mexico State Aggies in the first round of the NCAA playoffs, winning 79-66. The Hoosiers forced turnovers, nearly matched the Aggies in rebounds, and disabled the Aggies’ secret weapon: its ability to get to the free-throw line an average of 30 times per game.

Here’s what the Herald-Times in Bloomington, Indiana, had to say about that: The Aggies also shot more free throws this season (1,048) than any other Division 1 team. But the Hoosiers only sent them to the line 10 times.

Only? You gotta be kidding! IU freshman Cody Zeller put it better than I could: “That was huge for us (italics added).”

The misplacement of “only” made it sound as though containing the Aggies’ free throws was unimportant (on closer scrutiny, maybe the sentence doesn’t make any sense). Here’s where the writer would’ve planted his “only” if he’d written what he meant:

The Hoosiers sent them to the line only 10 times.

The rule: “only” must be next to or as close possible to the word or phrase that it modifies – in this case, the number of free-throw attempts. [IU went on to beat Virginia Commonwealth University and faces powerhouse ranked Kentucky in the Sweet 16 – but that’s another issue altogether.]

It can be difficult to explain syntax, but here’s an easier example. Car keys in hand, you announce to your roommate or spouse, “I’m only going to the store to buy milk and bread.”

This means that you’re not going to Tahiti or the megamall – or the moon for that matter. As in: it’s not a big deal and I’ll be back in 15 minutes.

But if you mean that you’ll buy milk and bread but not salsa and chips, avocados, beer and chili fixings, you’d say:  “I’m going to the store to buy only milk and bread.” Note that “only” follows the rule, sitting next to the words it modifies: bread and milk.

In conversation, proper placement doesn’t seem to matter much – things tend to work themselves out. But precision in writing is critical to clarity. Readers seeking to understand your meaning will re-read a sentence closely – sometimes more than once. You don’t want that careful reader to reach the wrong conclusion.

In her blog, Squared Away, Kim Blanton demystifies financial behavior for everyone, from young adults to retirees. 


Sign up NOW for my free webinar: “‘You’: The Secret of Great Blogs that Boost Your Readership.”

November 16 is the date of my first free public webinar, “You: The Secret of Great Blogs that Boost Your Readership.” You can sign up by clicking on the ATTEND button in the link below.

If you sign up to receive my “Events” emails, you’ll receive timely reminders about this and other upcoming events.

Reader question: How can I ask clients to follow me to a new firm?

When financial planners, wealth managers, and portfolio managers change firms, they want their clients to follow them. But clients don’t fall in line as easily as ducklings following their mother. An advisor recently asked me for advice about composing a letter asking clients to switch firms.

My suggestions follow below. I hope that my readers will share their ideas, too.

  1. Your letter should be about your client first, then you and your new firm. I’d use “you” in the first sentence and focus on the benefits to your clients from your move. For example, “You’ve said you’re interested in a broader range of investments. You can choose from many more options when you follow me to my new firm, XXX Financial. The concerns expressed by clients like you are a big reason behind my move. At XXX Financial, you’ll benefit from…”
  2. Make it easy to switch. Do anything legally possible to make the change easy. If you can fill out the paperwork, so all they need to do is sign, then do it.
  3. Stress the benefits of continuity. It must be easier to continue working with the same advisor than to educate a new one from scratch.
  4. Show that you know them well. No form letters, please. Personalize your letter, referring to things their new advisor at your old firm won’t know.
  5. Follow up with a phone call. Letters and emails are a great way to reach a large group of people quickly, but a phone call is more personal.

Readers, please help this advisor make the transition. Leave your suggestions as comments below.

 

Image courtesy of cj berry

Guest post: Easy animation can boost your financial blog’s appeal

Animation and financial blogging don’t go together. Or so I assumed until I saw investment performance expert David Spaulding’s “An animated debate on geometric vs. arithmetic attribution.” In this guest post, Dave discusses his experience using GoAnimate.com to  produce his first animated video. The enthusiastic response by his readers shows this kind of innovation can pay off.

Easy animation can boost your financial blog’s appeal

By David Spaulding

Since starting my Investment Performance Guy blog, I have attempted to use creativity, in my titles, content, and appearance (for example, I typically use clipart). In the February 11, 2011 edition of The Wall Street Journal Ellen Gamerman wrote an article titled “Animation Nation,” which discusses the proliferation of cartoons and the software that makes them fairly easy to create. She referenced a couple do-it-yourself animation sites, and the one that appealed to me was GoAnimate.com. It offers a free, though somewhat limited, ability to create cartoons, as well as the option to sign up for three or more months of paid service, which provides more options to the creator: I chose the latter.

The software is powerful and yet quite easy to use. The animator can select various backgrounds and within each make adjustments, such as moving, eliminating, or changing the color of the items in the set. A group of characters comes with the subscription and many more are available, which can be adjusted, too (facial structure, clothing, hair and eye color, etc. can be modified). In addition, you can select from a variety of voices to assign to them.

Once you decide on the background and the characters, you can begin. You create individual scenes, where each involves a brief statement which you type in, to be uttered by the character of your choice. These scenes are then strung together. You can, if you’d like, zoom in on particular characters as well as introduce entirely new scenes and characters. You can run the animation at any time to see how it looks. It is also easy to make corrections or changes to your creations.

When your animation is completed, you can download it into an MPEG4 format or directly to YouTube, which is what I did. I then brought the appropriate “embed” codes into my blog. The video’s size had to be adjusted slightly, which isn’t difficult.

The response to my first animation was phenomenal. Not only did it engender some nice comments from readers (e.g., “I say ‘Go Animate!’ Who wouldn’t rather watch a video than read?”) but a significant number of “likes” from a posting done by an industry group that linked to this post.

Animation is just a different way to communicate to your readers. You can use humor in your post in an animated manner that perhaps works better than in written form. This tool allows the blogger to introduce a debate, which would be difficult to pull off in written form (and you control what is said, thus getting your message across). You can simulate class instruction with the “presenter” fielding questions from the “students.” This form of communication is obviously unlimited.

Animation is different, clever, creative, colorful, energetic, appealing, fun, and easy to do. You can have your first post done in less than an hour.

Watch Dave’s first video.

How asset management giant BlackRock is tackling social media

BlackRock is jumping into social media, as you’ll see in this video, which I discovered on Adam Verchinski’s Everyday Tenacity blog. You can read Adam’s post about the presentation and also see BlackRock’s PowerPoint slides on his blog. Adam is on Twitter as @EverydTenacity. Nice job, Adam!

BlackRock: The Power of Social, presented by Jonathan Haley from GasPedal on Vimeo.

Social media: How to succeed in 30 minutes a day

LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter are powerful marketing tools for financial advisors. But they could easily consume
you 24 hours a day. This is why I suggest you learn from 30-Minute Social Media Marketing by marketer Susan Gunelius.

Cover these four areas for success

Gunelius offers sample plans for achieving social media success in just 30 minutes a day. I particularly like her idea that you divide your time among the following four areas:

  1. Content creation
  2. Content sharing
  3. Connections
  4. Community building

If you touch all of these areas, you’ll develop a robust presence. Skimp on any, and your connections may suffer.

1. Content creation

Content creation refers to activities such as tweeting, blogging, and creating audio interviews, podcasts, and videos. Clearly a single blog post–and even audio and video–can consume more than 30 minutes, so Gunelius focuses on less time-consuming content.

2. Content sharing

For example, Gunelius mentions retweeting other people’s Twitter comments, inviting other people to guest on your blog, and syndicating your content to other publications or social media. For me, this ties in with making connections, Gunelius’ third category, and community building, her fourth category.

3. Connections

Gunelius suggest that you engage in activities such as sending Facebook friend and LinkedIn connection requests and adding social media links to your email signature. As I see it, if you lack connections, you handicap your chance of achieving your business goal.

4. Community building

For me, one of the most amazing things is the sense of community that I’ve developed through social media. So I think you’re missing out if you skip activities in Gunelius’ fourth category.

These activities include the following:

  • Leaving comments on other people’s Facebook walls and LinkedIn profiles
  • Participating in forums related to your business
  • Publishing a poll on your blog
  • Creating your own LinkedIn or Facebook group and inviting people to join

However, I know some investment and wealth managers are just too busy to engage in these activities. Plus, they’ve got compliance concerns, especially when it comes to commenting on other people’s content.

Too optimistic?

Gunelius is a bit optimistic about how much you can accomplish in one-half hour. As I mentioned above, creating a single piece of content can take much longer than 30 minutes.

On the other hand, some tasks can be delegated. There are ghost bloggers and ghost tweeters. In addition, tools such as HootSuite and blogging software make it possible to schedule a slew of communications at one go.

Another thing about Gunelius’ book, if you’re a social media newbie, you’ll get an easy introduction in 30-Minute Social Media Marketing.

Can you add tips?

How do YOU ration your social media time? I’d like to learn from you. Please share your tips below.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from McGraw-Hill in return for agreeing to write about it.

Business lesson from my Tanzanian safari

Sometimes it pays to hire an expert, even when you could do things more cheaply yourself. An expert can get you to your destination more quickly–and with less hassle–than if you travel by yourself.

My family could have reserved hotels and done a drive-yourself excursion on our recent safari through northern Tanzania, but I hate to think of all the yelling and screaming that would have resulted as we fought over “Which way shall we go?” and “Is that a lion over there?” Instead, we landed a great guide. He navigated unpaved roads with panache while spotting wildlife that was barely a speck on the horizon when I first looked in the direction he pointed. He also shared his in-depth knowledge about the animals. I got very lucky and spotted one leopard before the guide, but even that freak sighting wouldn’t have happened without him because he knew where the leopards hung out in Ndutu.

Think about your strengths and weaknesses before you decide whether to do a project yourself or hire a consultant. The boost in your productivity and pleasure could make the consulting fee worthwhile.

Highlights of my Tanzanian safari

This next section is an un-businesslike recap of the highlights of my safari. Stop reading now, if you’re looking for business insights.

Arusha National Park

An enormous flock of lesser flamingos was the highlight of this park. It sounded like rain when they took off. Animals that I saw in Arusha, but not elsewhere included colobus monkeys and blue monkeys.

In the city of Arusha, there’s a clock tower that represents the center of Africa, if you measure from north to south. There was an election-related demonstration around this tower while I was on vacation, although I wasn’t around then. Apparently the ruling party offered big bucks for a concession by the local winner from the opposition. People gathered around the tower saying “No, you can’t steal our vote.”

On the road to the next park, I saw many Masai people carrying water jugs because of a water shortage. If they weren’t carrying plastic jugs, they were carrying sticks and driving cattle.

Tarangire National Park

This is where I first saw wildebeest and zebra walking and running single file. Apparently they think this is the safest way to proceed, so that only one member of the group is exposed to danger.

The cheetah is a beautiful animal. It has a black teardrop will help you tell it apart from leopards.

I saw my first baobab–also known as an upside-down tree–outside the entrance to Tarangire National Park, not far from where my husband bought me a Masai beaded necklace.

From the Tarangire Safari Lodge, there’s a great view of a river where many animals, especially elephants, gather.

Lake Manyara National Park

Lake Manyara is where I saw my first hippos and water buffalo. If you look quickly, you’d think the hippos were big rocks sticking out of the water. The park supposedly has lions that sleep in trees, but I didn’t see any.

From Lake Manyara, I went to Ksima Ngeda Tented Camp, which is located at the end of a rocky, dusty road. One of the owners joked that it was too bad that the president had visited the region by helicopter because the road would have been improved if he’d come by car. I experienced a trip highlight at the camp. I asked if they could stick a candle on a plate for my uncle’s birthday. Boy, was I surprised when the entire staff brought out a specially baked cake and then danced around our table singing “Happy Birthday” in English and Swahili.

Not far from the camp we visited a tribe of hunter-gatherers. It’s a tough life. The women dig tubers with pointed sticks and gather berries that taste like radishes. The men are lucky if they bring down some small game. They hunt with bows and arrows, as you see in the photo where our guide is trying his luck.

Ngorogoro Crater

The crater is massive. This is where I saw six hyenas unsuccessfully try to steal a kill from two lions. This was also the closest we got to spotting a rhino. Our guide pointed to a pin prick that might have been a rhino, but we weren’t able to track it down. Later on, I heard another guide say that he prefers Americans to Europeans because Europeans will ask for a refund if they don’t see a rhino.

En route to Serengeti, a few boys with white patterns painted on their faces ran up to our Land Rover and hung on yelling “pikcha, pikcha,” asking for money for a photo. Apparently they were coming from a circumcision ceremony.

At Ndutu Lodge that evening, I enjoyed sitting by a campfire while some of the staffers fed an acacia mouse. The stars are very clear when viewed from the African bush.

The next morning, we saw lots of impala. Our guide said, “If you see impala, that means there must be some cats.” Within 10 minutes I spotted my young leopard lying in front of a log.

Serengeti National Park

We saw lots of lions in Serengeti. Most interesting was watching a pride of about 14 lions in various stages of feeding on a buffalo.

More photos