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Feeling blah about your blog?

An article in Mindful, “When Work Is…Meh: How mindfulness helps us deal with on-the-job drudgery,” got me thinking about what to do when you feel blah about writing your blog.

The article says, “It’s understandable how passion even for a career that once felt exciting can fade.” This applies to blogs, as well as to careers.

How to boost your enthusiasm about blogging

The article suggests that you try to engage more with your work. Can you apply the same tactic to your blog? Ask yourself:

  • What’s good about writing your blog?
  • How does your blog serve your clients and your firm?
  • What do others appreciate about your blog?
  • Do you experience “flow” when writing your blog?

The answers to your questions may inspire you to keep writing.

Is it time to stop—or change your approach?

On the other hand, as the article says, “Maybe it’s time to go.” That could mean closing your blog. Or, it could mean giving more responsibility to other members of your firm.

Another alternative is to find ways to make it easier for you to blog. Perhaps that means developing a blogging process, as I describe in “Why you need a blogging process,” or improving your blogging skills using the techniques in my book Financial Blogging: How to Write Powerful Posts That Attract Clients or my blogging class.

Write like an effective lawyer

Lawyers persuade judges when they “communicate clearly and concisely, according to Antonin Scalia and Bryan A. Garner in Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges. I believe the same rule applies to your writing.

Why clear, concise writing matters

Why is this important? Because judges, like your readers, lack the time and patience to decipher unclear, wordy writing. “They are an impatient, unforgiving audience with no desire to spend more time on your case then is necessary to get the right result.” Similarly, the readers of your financial blog posts, white papers, or other communications are looking for information to solve their problems. They want to find it as quickly and efficiently as possible.

“The power of brevity is not to be underestimated,” says Scalia and Garner. “A recent study confirms what we all know from our own experience: people tend not to start reading what they cannot readily finish.” By the way, the source of that research is Susan Bell, Improving Our Writing by Understanding How People Read Personally Addressed Household Mail, 57 Clarity 40 (2007).

I agree with Scalia and Garner that “Every word that is not a help is a hindrance because it distracts.” I also like their editing suggestion that “The final read-through should be exclusively devoted to seeing whether certain points can be put more clearly, more vividly, more crisply.”

Learn more

Want to learn more about writing clearly and concisely? Check out my Financial Blogging book or class, and blog posts like “Does your article pass these writing tests?” and “Writing for financial experts.”

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.

 

Do you edit a printed copy of your draft?

“At least one set of edits should be made on the printed page, pen in hand,” say Antonin Scalia and Bryan A. Garner in Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges. They favor working on a hard copy because “some failings–for example, a missing connection in argument or undue length–are more easily spotted in hard copy.”

My approach to editing

While I tend to edit short pieces on my PC, I agree with printing out longer pieces. My white papers usually get printed out at least twice. I think that editing on paper is better for longer pieces because it slows me down and forces me to consider the piece as a whole before I actually enter my changes into the document.

Please answer my one-question poll

What about you? Please answer my one-question poll. Do you do all of your editing on your computer, or do you sometimes edit a hard copy?

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.

Writing and preventable mistakes

“Does your advice stick?” is the title of an article by Moira Somers in the Journal of Financial Planning (May 2018). Based on her book, Advice That Sticks: How to Give Financial Advice That People Will Follow, it describes why clients fail to follow financial advice, and what advisors can do about it. Somers lists preventable mistakes that advisors make in their personal relationships with clients and prospects.

Some of the mistakes could seep into your writing, making it harder for clients and prospects to feel a connection with you. I highlight two of them below, with comments on how to address them.

Mistake 1. “Using incomprehensible jargon”

If people can’t understand what you’re saying, they can’t follow your advice.

If you’re not sure about the jargon level of your writing, you can run tests using Hemingway, the app I describe in “Free help for wordy writers!” You’ll find more tools in “Does your article pass these writing tests?

Even better, get a member of your target audience to read what you’ve written. Then, don’t just ask them, “Do you understand what I’ve written?” Ask them to summarize it in their own words. That’s the gold-standard test.

Somers suggests that you ask even more from members of your target audience. She says:

Start by taking every piece of written information you might give to a typical client and hand it over to four or five people—either existing clients or people who would be similar to them in major ways. Equip them with a marker and ask them to highlight every sentence whose content they do not fully understand. Compare the results. Redo those documents in client-friendly language.

That seems as if you’re asking a lot of those people. However, it would be a valuable exercise.

When you rewrite your documents, you may find it helpful to use the techniques in “How to make one quarterly letter fit clients at different levels of sophistication” and “Plain language: Let’s get parenthetical.” You can also consult “Glossaries for investment and economic jargon.

Mistake 2. “Allowing disapproval, disappointment, or disdain to taint the relationship”

Somers’ suggestion for this point focuses on in-person meetings. “Do a warmth audit of your team,” looking at “eye contact, nodding, and smiling.” Look at your writing through a similar lens.

Tone matters. Your blog posts and articles can suggest that your readers are making mistakes, but you shouldn’t imply “Oh, you idiot, stop making such stupid moves!”

I struggle with hitting the right tone as I write blog posts. It’s not easy. By saying that many people grapple with similar issues, I hope to avoid shaming people. After, most of my readers aren’t professional writers. It’s not reasonable to expect them to know the ins and outs of grammar, white papers, and the like.

Show empathy. You can do this focusing on the reader, suggests The Search Guru in “Discover how to show empathy in writing and why it’s important.” That means showing that you understand and empathize with the wants and/or needs of a relevant group of people.”

I offer more tips on this in “How to add personality and warmth to your financial writing—”How to add personality and warmth to your financial writing—Part One” and “How to add personality and warmth to your financial writing—Part Two.”

 

Purge these preventable mistakes from the writing you put in front of your clients and prospects! You’ll like the results.

 

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.

 

 

4 tips for mutual fund fact sheet templates

“What’s your best advice for someone who’s creating mutual fund fact sheets?” A colleague’s question spurred this list of tips for mutual fund fact sheet templates that you can use repeatedly.

1. Write your fact sheets so they are compelling, clear, and concise

Focus on the information that your readers care about. Replace jargon with plain language. Trim unnecessary words.

Of course, you’ll still need the disclosures that your compliance officers demand. But even those can be clearly written. As I pointed out in “Ammo for your plain-language battle with compliance,” there’s no legal requirement to use jargon in disclosures. In fact, plain language may offer you a better defense, says lawyer Joseph Kimble in Writing for Dollars, Writing to Please: The case for plain language in business, government, and law.

2. Scavenge from your other marketing materials

Assuming that your mutual fund’s other materials are well written, you should borrow content from them for your mutual fund fact sheet templates. You’ll raise the standards for your fact sheets when you recycle compelling, clear, concise language. You’ll also benefit from consistency across your communications.

3. Hire a writer or an editor to improve the fact sheet template that you’ll use repeatedly

It’s hard for you to view your mutual fund fact sheet template through the eyes of an outsider. You’re too immersed in your product. Hire an outside writer or editor to help.

No budget for outside help? Show your draft to members of your target audience. Don’t simply ask them “Do you have any suggestions?” or “Do you understand?” Ask them, “What are the main messages of this fact sheet—and can you sum them up in your own words?”

4. Consult a designer

Effective design, with plenty of white space and a layout that makes it easy for readers to find what they seek, can make a big difference in your fact sheet’s effectiveness.

Some fact sheets present a cacophony of data. Others draw readers’ eyes to the most important information.

YOUR ideas?

If you have suggestions for how to create better mutual fund fact sheet templates, please comment. I enjoy learning from my readers.

 

Disclosure: I received a free copy of Kimble’s book after mentioning it in another blog post. 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.

Image courtesy of ratch0013 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

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.

 

 

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!

Writing question: how do you know when you have too many details?

How do you know when you have too many details in your writing? That question from a participant in my investment commentary webinar made me think of these six tips. Try them if your writing gets bogged down by details.

1. Go with your gut

Seasoned writers rely on their instincts to know when they’ve stuffed too much into their drafts. They look at the rhythm of the piece or simply go with their guts. That’s fine for experienced writers who’ve honed their instincts through feedback from teachers or editors. But it’s not much help for non-professional writers. That’s why I provide more suggestions for identifying when you have too many details.

2. Word count

How long is your draft and its components? To oversimply, if you’ve written a 20,000-word blog post or a 1,000-word sidebar, it’s too long. It probably includes too many details.

3. What advances your argument?

Too many details may overwhelm your readers instead of convincing them. To cut the excess, ask “What’s the absolutely minimum of details that will make my point?”

Pare your story back to the basics. If it’s compelling, you’re finished.

4. Rule of Three

Examples work better in groups of three as I discussed in “What number of examples is ideal for persuasion?” Do your examples comply with the Rule of Three?

The Rule of Three isn’t an absolute. There’ll be many times when more is better. But it’s a way to filter for easy cuts to your excessive details.

5. Ask what your readers want

Do you have family or friends who are members of your target audience? Show them your draft. Ask them for feedback, including suggestions for what you can cut.

6. Are your sections balanced?

If your piece has three sections and one section is way longer than the others, it’s possible that section is too long. But that’s not always the case. Use your judgment.

Your suggestions?

If you have suggestions for how to recognize when your writing has too many details, please let me know.

Image courtesy of iosphere at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

7 steps toward picking your self-published financial book’s formats and formatter

book cover: Financial Blogging: How to Write Powerful Posts That Attract Clients

I learned some lessons as I struggled through getting my book formatted.

When you self publish your book, you get more control over the final product. The downside? You must sink time and money into the production process, starting with choosing your book’s formats and formatter. I learned firsthand about this when I published Financial Blogging: How to Write Powerful Posts That Attract Clients.

So many format choices

Do you want to publish electronically, produce a physical product, or do both?

Electronic formats include PDFs; formatting for the most popular e-readers, the Kindle and the Nook, and many other less widely used formats. As for physical producers, you can choose between paperback and hardcover as well as print-on-demand vs. printing and buying a batch of books before you sell them. The choices can feel overwhelming.

Step 1. Ask readers for their preferences

In the beginning, I thought I’d publish Financial Blogging as an e-book. After all, they’re the wave of the future. I figured I’m a dinosaur in my preference for printed books.

However, I dutifully surveyed my social media connections after a savvy friend suggested I ask whether people read “how to” books as e-books, PDFs, or printed books. I was surprised by the enthusiasm expressed for printed books.

Step 2. Consider your book’s demands

The nature of your book may influence its format. For example, an interactive book won’t work if it’s printed on paper.

In my case, my book included multi-page worksheets and special layouts that work best on 81/2” x 11″ paper. They wouldn’t display well on e-reader screens. This is what drove my decision to produce two versions of my book—PDF and print-on-demand paperback—formatted with 81/2” x 11″ pages.

Step 3. Decide on DIY vs. outsourcing

It’s possible to do it yourself, especially if you’re creating a text-only mini e-book PDF. My annual Investment Writing Top Tips compilation in PDF format is a DIY job, except for the professionally designed cover.

E-books are more complicated. I had my virtual assistant convert Investment Writing Top Tips 2012 to the Kindle and Nook formats following the instructions the the string of blog posts by Guido Henkel that starts with “Take pride in your ebook formatting.” It took her roughly 9.5 hours to complete.

You can also try automated formatting, following the instructions on Kindle Direct Publishing or Nook Press for the Nook. However, you may run into format glitches. Plus, the quality of your layout in the e-book will be limited to the quality of the layout and coding in your original.

I’m not an expert on the DIY approach, so please do research before you pursue this approach.

If you’re a busy financial professional, you should outsource. Fighting with formatting wastes your valuable time.

Step 4. Ask for recommendations

I’m a big believer in the power of recommendations. However, I suggest that you get specific in your recommendation request. Tell your colleagues the formats you’re targeting and whether your book involves any challenges, such as the inclusion of images or other complex formatting.

Step 5. Investigate pricing and turnaround times

Pricing varies greatly for formatting your book. The ultimate price will depend on factors including:

  • Your page count
  • Special formatting requirements
  • The need to convert from one format to another—for example, my designer prefers to format for print publication before he converts to an e-book format
  • How many edits or other changes you make after you submit your manuscript for formatting
  • Timing—if you have a rush job, your designer may charge a premium price
  • Your book cover requirements—prices vary greatly depending on your source of cover images
  • Nature of services included—the designer I initially hired included consulting on book page size, pricing, and other marketing services in her flat price, but most designers don’t offer such services or charge a la carte.

You may find it hard to compare designers’ price estimates for your book. In my experience, few designers quote flat fees that include everything you want. Instead, they may say $x per page and $y per hour for services such as inserting images or designing graphics.

In “The Real Costs of Self-Publishing a Book,” Miral Sattar says you can pay $150-$3,500 for cover design and from $0-$2,500+ for print and e-book formatting.

By the way, if you pick a book formatter who won’t design your book’s cover, you can pick up tips from “Your Book Cover is Like a Highway Billboard” by Scott Lorenz.

Step 6. Ask for references and samples

If I had been more diligent about Step 6, perhaps I could have avoided my book designer fiasco in which my designer quit partway through the design process because she wasn’t up to formatting mind maps and sidebars.

You should look at samples of work your designer has done in your genre and with formatting challenges such as photos and graphs. Do you like how they look? Also, ask for references so you can learn about the designer’s responsiveness and other characteristics.

However, even good references are no guarantee. After all, nobody gives out names of people who disliked his or her work. In my case, my initial mistake stemmed from relying on the assessment of a consultant who’d had great experiences with the designer who let me down.

What’s the worst that can happen?

I had a book fiasco. My book designer quit without warning, making it impossible for me to launch my book at my May 2013 flurry of speaking engagements. That was a big disappointment.

However, with the help of my book consultant, I hired Jerry Dorris of AuthorSupport.com to design my book’s cover and interior. He did an amazing job. His design is far superior to that of my original designer. My book came out three months later than planned, but it wasn’t the end of the world.

Step 7. Take the big leap

Once you complete Steps 1 to 6, it’s time to hire your designer and move closer to sharing your book with the world. But you have more work to do.

In a future post, I’ll write about managing the book design process.

 

If you’d like to see the book design I ended up with, check out Financial Blogging: How to Write Powerful Posts That Attract Clients. You can peek inside the book on Amazon to see the great work Jerry did on the interior design.

 

Finding your article’s focus with Roy Peter Clark

Identifying their focus is one of the biggest challenges for many of my blogging class students. I try to help them by asking “What problem do you solve for your readers?” I found additional helpful techniques in the “I don’t know what my story is really about” chapter of Roy Peter Clark’s Help! for Writers: 210 Solutions to the Problems Every Writer Faces. I discuss some of them in this post.

1. “Write a six-word theme statement.”

If your idea requires more than six words, it may be too big. A six-word theme may still be too broad. For example, consider “More women than men reach ninety,” one of Clark’s sample themes. However, at least it provides a starting point.

My theme for this blog post is “Tips to focus your articles.”

There are two ways to use your theme. First, as inspiration for your article. Write to explain your theme.

Second, use it to narrow your article. Pare away anything that doesn’t relate to your theme.

2. “Cut the elements least supportive of your focus.”

Use your best material and lose the rest. As Clark says,

Not all evidence is equal. If you can identify the weakest evidence, what is left—your strongest stuff—can support a sharp focus.

The saying “less is more” often applies to articles, blog posts, and more. By deleting flabby evidence, you sharpen your main focus.

Clark lists eight characteristics that make evidence weak. Two of them often apply to financial pieces.

  1. “It will appear in the story only because of your interest in it.”
  2. “It is impossible to write it clearly and quickly for a general audience.”
The next time you read a poorly written post, ask yourself if it suffers from #1 or #2.
……  

3. Use the funnel

Putting your ideas through a metaphorical funnel may also help. As Clark suggests on his book’s back cover:

See your work in the form of a funnel. You pour everything in at the top, but as the funnel narrows, you must become more selective, reaching a point where you can leave things out with confidence.

Alternatively, think of yourself as a sculptor with a block of marble. Only by cutting away stone can you reveal your masterpiece.

How do YOU find your focus?

There are many ways to identify the focus of an article, blog post, or other written communication. What’s your favorite technique?