In tough times, CFA charterholders are getting creative about their job options. That’s undoubtedly why the January 2009 panel on “Alternative Careers for CFA Charterholders” that I organized for the Boston Security Analysts Society was well attended. Freelance writing is one non-traditional option. In this blog post I discuss five types of writing.
1. Investment performance commentary for institutional portfolios or mutual funds
Reporting and explaining a portfolio’s investment performance is an important component of client service. In the case of mutual funds, annual and semiannual reports are mandated by law.
In my experience, this is the freelance writing gig that requires the least writing skill because reports follow a strictly defined model. There’s no room for individual creativity. It’s more important that you understand attribution analysis and other components that feed into reports. You should also be accurate and detail-oriented.
2. Company reports for websites or newsletters
Lisa Springer, CFA (lisa AT beaconequityresearch.com), says
The great thing about writing for a newsletter or website is it’s steady, predictable work, typically involving weekly assignments. In most cases, they pick the stocks they want you to write up. Most jobs are free-lance and permit telecommuting. I think there are probably more opportunities out there writing for websites than for print newsletters since most newsletters are 1-2 person operations.
Here’s her advice on finding opportunities:
This is not the best time to be looking for this type of work since ad revenues are way down and the investment web sites are mostly ad-driven. There is also a trend towards smaller “sound bytes” (100 words or less) rather than 500-800 word articles. Still, sites like Motley Fool and Street Authority were recently hiring free-lance writers. I’ve also found opportunities on free-lance writer boards, contacting sites that interest me directly (just google investment web sites and you will find hundreds of sites) and even on Craigslist.
3. Market commentary
Market commentary requires a mix of writing skill and investment knowledge. Sometimes clients want you to write commentary from scratch, reporting your own opinions and statistics. Other times, they’ll want you to interview their investment professionals to reflect their take on the market.
4. White papers
The ability to identify the client’s problem and write persuasively about it is key to a successful white paper. White papers are a cross between an article and a brochure. They typically pose a problem faced by clients and tell how to solve the problem. While the solution is offered by the company commissioning the white paper, the most credible white papers don’t overtly flog their products.
Information for your white papers may come from different sources: your own research, materials provided by your client, and interviews with experts at your client’s firm.
5. Articles and books
Of the five kinds of writing discussed here, articles and books require the highest degree of writing skill. They may also expose you to clients who don’t understand your topics. Writer Annie Logue, CFA, author of Socially Responsible Investing for Dummies, says “editors don’t always understand finance. If you can make it understandable to the editor, you can make it understandable to anyone.”Writing for individual investors may force you to work hard to describe your topic in less sophisticated terms.
Writing articles and books also requires the ability to develop story ideas and pitch them to editors. That’s something you don’t typically do with corporate clients.
Resources for freelance writers
Freelance writing isn’t just about the mechanics of writing. As Logue says, “You have to spend time on marketing, information technology, accounting, etc.”
A number of websites and blogs offer advice, classes, and other resources for freelance writers.
Investment Writing blog posts: