Bloggers, value your thoughts

You matter. One of the best ways for writers to distinguish themselves is by sharing their thoughts. That’s why the following line from Theo Pauline Nestor’s Writing is My Drink resonated with me.

One of the essential characteristics of a writer is the willingness and ability to see the stories in our lives and to believe that our observations, thoughts, and obsessions are worth following to the page.

The stories in our lives are particularly important for bloggers. I’ve discussed this in posts like the following:

Pay attention to your thoughts, discover the stories in them, and use them to make your writing stand out.

 

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.

Clone your blog posts

A lovely walk in a Berkshires Audubon sanctuary made me think about blogging. I saw a tree labeled “American Beech and Clones.” Because my mind works in strange ways, I immediately thought about suggesting that you try cloning your blog posts. After all, if a topic or approach works once, growing into a healthy “beech tree,” it may work again.
American beech and clones

But, how can one clone blog posts? I turned to mind mapping to help me visualize the different ways that you might tackle this project (see image below).

That led me to the cloned blog post starting points that I list below.

1. Title

You can generate blog post ideas by cloning the structure used in the title of a successful blog post.

For example, I wrote a blog post called “Do NOT send your newsletter via your email .” The words “do NOT” could apply to many topics that evoke strong feelings from a blogger. I immediately think of “don’t sign me up for your newsletter without my permission,” a topic I’ve “already blogged about.

Do you have an action that you passionately wish your readers would not take? That’s great fodder for a blog post.

Another title-related idea is to riff off topics mentioned in the title, whether or not they’re central to the blog post. For example, there are many potential topics related to newsletters and email, the two main topics in  “Do NOT send your newsletter via your email .”

2. Format

The format of your blog post can inspire you in two ways.

First, you can take the content of your current post, and pour it into a different format. For example, “Infographic: 5 Ways to Add Personality to Your Financial Writing” puts one of my blog posts into infographic form. Some people will absorb the information more easily from the infographic than from the original blog post.

Some of the formats to consider include:

  • List post
  • Q&A
  • Checklist
  • Template
  • Infographic
  • Podcast
  • Video

The second form of inspiration can come from applying your original blog post’s format to a different topic. Have your list posts performed well? Think about other topics that would benefit from a list.

3. Sources

Perhaps it’s time to revisit the sources used in a past blog post.

Perhaps you can return to an individual at your firm or an expert outside your firm. Can that person contribute a post—or participate in an interview with you?

The publications that you quote in articles can spur ideas. For example, when I ghost-blogged about retirement for a financial advisor, I found that EBRI’s research publications provided many ideas. For my own blog, I’ve often been inspired by The Wall Street Journal, as in “Financial jargon killer: The Wall Street Journal.”

Photos are another source, as I described in “Photo + Mind Map = Blog Inspiration.” I haven’t counted, but I think I’ve published a dozen or photo-inspired posts on this blog. Not only did a photo inspire this blog post, but that photo’s reference to an audio tour made me realize I should include podcast and video in my list of formats above.

4. Mind mapping

Mind mapping is a topic generation technique that I describe in detail in my book, Financial Blogging: How to Write Powerful Posts That Attract Clients. However, you can get an idea of how it worked by looking at the mind map I wrote for this blog post.

clone blog post mind map5. Readers

Your readers can also help you clone your successful blog posts. Look at their comments and questions sparked by your post and your social media shares of that post. If there’s something that resonates strongly with them—or something that puzzles them—that’s a good topic to tackle in a future post.

YOUR ideas?

If you have ideas on how to clone successful blog posts, please share them. I’m eager to learn from you.

Cracking eggs for your writing

You have to crack eggs and get your hands dirty to create a delicious dessert. Sometimes the same thing is necessary to create an effective blog post.

Most good blog posts aren’t fully formed before you start writing. They’re not like the products of soulless, mass-produced cake mixes.

You have to assemble ingredients—your ideas, statistics, and other supporting evidence.

You don’t dump your ingredients into your blog post in any old order. The result would be impossible to read. Instead, you add them in the right order. You may decide on that order using different techniques, such an outline, mind map, or discussion with an editor or writer. In a sense, you’re creating a recipe with the right chemistry.

You blend your ingredients. The writer’s equivalent of blending is the editing of your first draft. that’s the stage when you check that your post passes big-picture tests for its organizations.

Then, you bake. For writers, that means line-editing, proofreading, and, perhaps, getting feedback from other people.

Complete these steps, and you have a blog post that’s ready to be consumed by readers who’ll appreciate the care that you’ve put into it.

Want help learning how to bake a great blog post? Check out my financial blogging class!

 

Manage comments on your financial blog

Some investment and wealth management firms don’t allow comments on their blogs. They think the compliance risks are too high, or the process is too time-consuming. However, it is possible to manage comments on your financial blog without too much work or expense.

The most important investments in managing your financial blog’s comments happen before your blog goes live. You must decide on your comment policy and set up your technology.

1. Decide what kind of comments to allow or delete

Some comments are sure to land your blog in hot water with the regulators and your firm’s compliance. For example, you shouldn’t allow comments that are obscene, racist, or defamatory. For compliance reasons, you probably won’t allow comments flogging a specific investment fund.

Other comments are borderline. For example, how would you respond to a post that discusses a type of asset—for example, bitcoin or other blockchain investments—that you don’t like? What about a post that vehemently disagrees with you? It’s good to anticipate these issues ahead of time. Discuss them with others at your firm, including your compliance officer.

When you develop your comment policy before opening your blog to comments, it speeds up your response. It’ll also ease your compliance officer’s concern about allowing comments. As new situations develop, it’s easy to expand your comment policy to accommodate them. I imagine that the regulators will be pleased to see a written policy.

2. Decide whether to moderate comments

The upside of moderating comments, which means that you must approve comments before they appear on your site, is that comments that you wouldn’t approve won’t ever be published.

The downside of moderating comments is that the people who write them are denied the immediate satisfaction of seeing their comments on your post. That may discourage them from commenting again.

Whether or not you moderate comments, it’s good to get comments emailed to you as soon as commenters submit them. If you’re moderating comments, this will allow you to minimize the wait that people experience before their comments appear. If you’re not moderating comments, this will let you quickly delete questionable comments.

3. Consider posting your comment guidelines for the public

Posting comment guidelines for the public can be useful. This is especially true if you think you’ll receive comments that aren’t outright spam, but that you may not wish to allow on your blog.

For example, the SEC’s rules against client testimonials mean that you will probably delete any comments that could be viewed as testimonials. A client who praises you in a comment may be puzzled, or even feel hurt, when you delete such a comment. If you share your guidelines, clients will realize that your deletion isn’t directed against them. Similarly, a person who recommends an investment with the best intentions, may feel better after reading your comment guidelines.

In “Blog comment guidelines for financial advisors: Russell Investments example,” I share one large asset manager’s guidelines.

4. Set up your technology to minimize and manage spam

If you’re a small business blogger like me, you may use WordPress as your blogging platform. There are some WordPress settings that can help. For example, look at the “Discussion” section under “Settings” on your WordPress dashboard.

There you can:

  • Require that commenters give their name and email
  • Automatically send to moderation any comment that has a number of links that you specify
  • Automatically turn off commenting after a set number of days (spammers tend to target older posts that have attracted lots of traffic)—I reluctantly implemented this change earlier this year.
  • Create a blacklist that will automatically send comments containing those words to spam (see image)
WordPress spam comment blacklist

Create a spam comment blacklist using WordPress

You can learn about more settings you may use in “10+ Best Anti-Spam Plugins for WordPress 2018.” I’d like to thank Bruce Miller of SlashYourPhoneBill.com, my colleague in the American Society of Journalists and Authors, for this link.

You should also consider installing a plug-in to fight comment spam. I use Akismet. You can find alternatives in “10+ Best Anti-Spam Plugins for WordPress 2018.” If you find one you like, please let me know.

Why the fuss about spam comments?

You may wonder why I’m making a fuss about spam comments. If you’re an investment, wealth management, or financial planning professional, you need to be concerned about compliance.

However, even people like me should seek to minimize spammy comments. Links from disreputable websites will damage the reputation of your website. Here are some posts that explain why:

Shakespeare lesson for bloggers

Shakespeare said, “There is nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” I read this in The Happiness Hypothesis, which cites it to emphasize the importance of your mental filters.

The quote made me think about how what seems bad can ultimately turn out to be good for your blog.

1. You’re a lousy writer—and an even worse proofreader

If you recognize that writing and proofreader aren’t your strong suits, you can work around those weaknesses.

The obvious solution is to hire a writer or proofreader who can make up for your weaknesses.

A less obvious solution is to communicate in formats other than written blog posts. Play to your strengths. Consider sharing videos or starting a podcast.

If you’re not a good communicator in any format, perhaps blogging isn’t for you. If you’re in a multi-person firm, turning the blog over to other members of your firm could energize your firm’s blog. If you go this route, check out my post on “How to manage a group blog.”

2. You lack ideas

Your lack of ideas could spur you to aggressively research what members of your target audience want to read about. You could do this by asking them in your meetings, keeping a running list of the questions they ask, and doing research online and elsewhere. You could even have someone survey your clients.

If you lack direct access to your firm’s clients, try these techniques to learn about their interests.

Asking questions of your readers is also a great way to generate content.

Another approach is to blog about the mistakes your clients make.

The research you do to make up for your lack of ideas could result in blog posts that speak more powerfully to your the hopes, fears, and dreams of your ideal clients.

3. You’re a financial professional who has made financial mistakes

Financial mistakes don’t disqualify you from blogging. In fact, sharing your personal story can boost the impact of what you write.

Carl Richards’ article, “How a Financial Pro Lost His House” sticks in my mind more than seven years after it appeared in The New York Times.

4. Your blog doesn’t get responses

It’s hard to find a silver lining in this one. However, if your blog isn’t generating responses, then perhaps there’s a bigger problem in your approach to your business. For example, perhaps you’re targeting too narrow a niche, or the wrong niche, for you.

Another problem might be that you’re not spreading the word about your blog aggressively enough.

Look at the statistics generated by your blog. If they’re bad, then let that spur you to examine what you could do better.

5. Your blog attracts too many unqualified prospects

It’s disappointing—and potentially time-consuming—if your blog attracts too many unqualified prospects.

You may be able to fix this by:

  • Changing the topics you address (or how you address them) on your blog
  • Making it easier for readers to identify whether they are one of your ideal clients
  • Creating a better process for screening clients who contact you (and having referrals or products for those who don’t qualify to work with you)

Other negatives that can be positives?

I’ve  discussed several negatives that can become positives. Can you add others to this list?

Why I’m lucky clients didn’t flock to me “describes how something I initially saw as negative helped to push me in a positive direction.

Top posts from 2018’s fourth quarter

Check out my top posts from the last quarter!

They’re a mix of practical tips on writing (#1, #4, #5, #9, #10), blog (#2), proofreading (#3), investment commentary (#6), newsletter (#7), and grammar (#8). If you’d like to quickly improve your writing, check out #1! The #2 post is a practical checklist for writing more than just blog posts.

I’m only listing one Mistake Monday post, although more were among the most viewed, because one Mistake Monday post is much like the others. Check out my Mistake Monday posts if you’d like to improve your proofreading skills!

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

  1. 5 things my English teachers failed to teach me
  2. Financial blog post test—do you pass?
  3. MISTAKE MONDAY for December 24: Can YOU spot what’s wrong?
  4. Down with (The Index) parenthetical notes!
  5. My 2018 reading, with recommendations for you
  6. My best tip for improving your investment commentary
  7. The e-newsletter problem you don’t know about
  8. Being right about grammar isn’t always good enough
  9. Write like an effective lawyer
  10. 4-step process to define your audience

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.

Bloggers, start with what interests you the most

In the first of her The Writing Coach podcasts, Rebecca Weber mentioned that she often starts an article by writing the part that interests her the most. Then, she says, it’s easy for her to fill in the other parts, especially if she already has an outline. That’s a great way to overcome writer’s block, in my opinion. It may also be a great way to find a new focus for your blog post.

Benefit from your passion

Blog posts benefit from passion. For starters, you’re more likely to enjoy writing them. That cuts your tendency to procrastinate.

Also, when you write about what interests you, you’re likely to convey your enthusiasm. Your enthusiasm will give your readers a better sense of who you are. If they care about the same things—or if they like your positive energy—you will captivate your readers.

Perhaps there’s more that you can say about that topic to develop it into a complete blog post. Not sure how to expand your topic? Try mind mapping or freewriting, both of which are discussed in my financial blogging book. See where those techniques take you.

Avoid turning off readers

If parts of your outline touch upon topics that don’t excite you, that may deaden the tone of your writing. Your readers may pick up on your lack of enthusiasm. That’s a turn-off.

Of course, there are times when you can’t avoid writing about dull stuff. After all, some of it is essential.

Do your best to write in a reader-friendly manner. Focus on the benefits to the reader, and you may still achieve good results.

Another take on refining your focus

I’ve written about the usefulness of pursuing your interests from a different angle in “Writing tip: Pop the balloon or make it your focus.”

Financial blog post test–do YOU pass?

Do your posts pass the financial blog post test? If they do, you raise your odds of attracting clients and prospects. Aim to put “yes” in the check-boxes below.

TOPIC

___ Does your post solve a problem for the reader? Most people who search online are looking for a solution to a problem.

___ Is your topic narrow enough? The people who are searching for solutions want answers specific to their circumstances. If you tackle budgeting tips for everybody, you’ll satisfy nobody. Instead, target people who share characteristics such as age, income, and other characteristics that are important to the challenges they face.

___ Are you addressing a topic that your target audience cares about? Of course, you have to identify your target audience before you can answer this question. Here’s an example of what not to do. Don’t write a blog post about Social Security claiming strategies for an audience of twenty-something teachers who work in a state where teachers aren’t covered by Social Security. It’s wrong in two ways because of your audience’s age and lack of Social Security coverage.

TITLE

___ Does your title attract readers by appealing to their WIIFM (or by intriguing them in some other way)?

WRITING

___ After reading your first paragraph, will the reader know the main point that you’re making?

___ Is your post well organized? For example, does it pass the first-sentence-check test?

___ Have you avoided jargon? When you’re writing for professionals, a little jargon may help. If you’re not targeting institutional investors, check my list in “Words to avoid in your investment communications with regular folks.”

___ Have you avoided common grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors? Mistakes undermine your credibility. Style guidelines can help you avoid some mistakes, as I explain in “Style guidelines for financial services firms.

___ Is your writing reader-friendly? Your writing should be compelling, clear, and concise. You’ll find tips for achieving this in my financial blogging class.

FORMATTING

___ Does your post use headings? Headings help to break up your post into manageable chunks. Another way to break up your text and introduce more white space is to keep your paragraphs short. White space makes your posts easier to read, especially for people using mobile devices.

___ Does your post use images, as appropriate? Especially when you share your posts via social media, images help to attract more views.

PROMOTION

___ Do you have a plan for promoting your blog post? If you write a great blog post that nobody sees, it does you no good. Plan to promote your blog posts via email, social media, and more.

 

If your writing passes this financial blog post test, you’re in good shape. Congratulations!

If you think you could improve your financial blogging skills, check out my book, Financial Blogging: How to Write Powerful Posts That Attract Clients, and my financial blogging class, available on-demand.

Do your blog posts have laugh lines?

A fashion magazine article praising laugh lines surprised me. What about all those years of magazines slamming “laugh lines” as “crow’s feet”? And, what can this reversal tell you about your blog posts?

Here’s part of a crow’s feet apology in “For the love of laugh lines” in Allure (sorry, it’s not freely available online).

We shouldn’t have called them “scary crevices.” But we did, in 2006, and then we doubled down with: “The most evil eye skin problems can be combated–without voodoo.” So bonus points for being creepy and weird! Then we just got personal (in the same story): “You don’t have to be a chronic squinter like George W. to end up with crow’s-feet.”

Oh my! It wasn’t very nice what they said in 2006, was it?

In 2018, Allure has seen the light. The author quotes dermatologist Ranella Hirsch saying, “More than any other wrinkle, crow’s-feet are expressive. I often say, ‘Trying to emote without facial expressions is like trying to text without emojis.'”

Later, the article quotes psychologist Alexander Todorov “…we tend to believe genuine smiles are accompanied by crow’s-feet.”

What does this have to do with blogging? I believe that, just as an imperfect facial surface can make your smile seem more genuine, less-than-totally-polished writing can make you seem more real and approachable. That’s an asset. A few imperfections act as “laugh lines.” Showing personality in your blog posts helps as I discussed in How to add personality and warmth to your financial writing–Part one.

Do your blog posts have laugh lines?