Tune up your writing skills on Nov. 10 or Nov. 19–or hire me to help you

Could your writing skills use a tune-up? If you work with investments, you’ll get useful tips from my November 10 lunchtime presentation to Boston Women in Finance (BWF) on “How to Write What People Will Read About Investments.” Lunch is included in the program cost.

This program sold out the first time I presented it to BWF, so register early. 

It would be great to meet you at this program. Please introduce yourself as one of my readers.

If you’re a NAPFA member who lives in the Boston area, you can see me present on “How to Write Effective Emails and Letters to Your Financial Planning Clients” at your November 19 study group

If you can’t attend either presentation, consider hiring me to train people at your company. I’ve presented across the U.S. and Canada on “How to Write Investment Commentary People Will Read.” I can develop presentations tailored to you. 

Note: I updated this blog post on Oct. 21 with the BWF registration link and NAPFA information.

Guest post: "Can I replace my paper newsletter with an e-newsletter instead?"

Are you considering scrapping the newsletter you send via U.S. mail in favor of a newsletter delivered via email? If so, please read the guest post below by Tom Ahern of Ahern Communications, a specialist in fundraising, advocacy, and “persuasion” communications. It is excerpted with permission from his Love Thy Reader newsletter.

Ahern writes from the perspective of non-profit organizations seeking donations. But most of what he says applies equally well to investment and wealth managers seeking to retain existing clients and attract new ones through communications with clients, prospects, and referral sources.

Can I replace my paper newsletter with an e-newsletter instead?

This is the most commonly asked question at my workshops. My considered answer has stayed the same for the last five years: “Ummm…no. You really want both.”

A well-done paper newsletter can produce significant revenue. Witness the Gillette Children’s Foundation in Minnesota, which went from generating $5,000 per issue to $50,000 per issue just by changing a few things.

Understand, too, that paper and electrons are two very different media.

Paper is slow — the good kind of slow, the kind that’s made the “slow food” movement so popular among the health-conscious. Paper is a reader’s medium, a relaxing place where you, as the writer, have the elbowroom to tell stories, show terrific pictures and report results.

An emailed newsletter, on the other hand, is fast. It’s an ACT NOW! medium. Words are kept to a minimum.

In December 2008, Jeff Brooks shared with me some conclusions from his company’s ongoing research into e-newsletters.

“I had a hypothesis,” he wrote, “that e-newsletters were radically different from print newsletters. Not about story-telling,” Jeff clarified, “but about the actions you can take. We’ve tested that notion a couple of times, and so far, that’s proving to be true. It seems what works is to have one topic with 3 to 5 actions a reader can take, at least one of which is to give a gift, but the others aren’t.”

A fully firing communications schedule stays in touch with the donor base at a minimum once a month. Electronic newsletters help you satisfy that torrid pace. But if you pull the plug on paper and switch to utterly electronic, your donor income will almost certainly fall.

Here’s a tantalizing bit of confirming data from Convio, via Ted Hart: Donors you contact with BOTH email and conventional mail give $62 on average annually versus a $32 average gift for those donors whom you contact ONLY through postal mail.

In other words, it’s NOT an either/or situation, paper or electronic. It’s a BOTH situation: paper AND electronic, if you want to maximize results.

Of course, that assumes you are actually getting results.

If you aren’t currently making money with your paper newsletter, don’t expect to do any better with an e-newsletter. Really good donor newsletters are few and far between, in my experience. Most nonprofit newsletters sent to me for audits are unwittingly built to fail, due to a variety of unguessed fatal flaws.

Related posts:
* Should you drop subscribers who don’t open your e-newsletter?
* Boost readership of your e-newsletter with powerful subject lines
* Three tips for how often to publish your newsletter 

Six ways to stop sending emails with errors

Everybody sends occasional emails with typos and punctuation mistakes. But some emails are more important than others. When you want to make your email perfect, follow these rules. 

1. Print out your email.
Somehow it’s easier to see errors on paper. 

2. Read it out loud.
This is good for catching missing words that your mind might otherwise fill in.Otherwise, you often see what you expect to see.

3. Get someone else to proofread it.
It’s easier for a third party to catch your errors. 

4. Let it sit overnight.
When you read with fresh eyes, you’re more likely to catch errors. 

5. Use a spell-checking program.
If your email program doesn’t support spell-checking, copy the email into your word-processing program, so you can check it there. However, remember that spell-checkers aren’t foolproof. 

6. Create a checklist of common errors.

Using a checklist makes you slow down and, so you’re more likely to catch the errors highlighted on the checklist. For example, let’s say you’re confused about “How to punctuate bullet-pointed lists.” Add to your checklist: “check bullet point punctuation rules” with a link to the rules. 

Have you got other suggestions for keeping emails error-free? Please share them in the Comments section.

Your mail has three seconds to grab your reader’s attention

“The consumer decides in 3 seconds whether to trash your mail, or take 30 seconds to scan and prioritize your mail, and 3 minutes to actually sit and read it,” according to a RR Donnelley Direct Marketing Tip of the Day  provided by copywriter Pat Friesen.

That’s why it’s so important to create a compelling subject line for your emails and a strong opening paragraph for your letters.

Related posts:
* When NOT to personalize your email’s subject line  
* Boost readership of your enewsletter with powerful subject lines
* “Email Subject Lines: 15 Rules to Write Them Right”

"How to send a personal email" by Seth Godin

How to send a personal email” by Seth Godin gives some excellent suggestions about how to avoid being perceived as a spammer.

But there are no easy answers. Basically his 14 points boil down to taking the time to make your email short, clear, personal, and relevant to the recipient. 

I found Godin’s blog post thanks to Anna Goldsmith’s “Just Because You Have Someone’s Email Address Doesn’t Mean You Have the Right to Email Them.”

To "dear" or not to "dear" in your email

What salutation should you use to start a business email? 

  • Dear? 
  • Hello? 
  • Something else?

I typically open with the person’s name followed by a comma. Like this


This is how 95% of my business correspondents start their emails.

Some people use “Dear,” then the recipient’s name. That’s essential for a business letter, but it’s too intimate for a business email. At least, that’s how it feels to me.

I was surprised to see that the authors of Send: Why People Email So Badly and How to Do It Better argue for using “dear.” They don’t like my approach. They say:

For some reason, people who would never in a letter write “Jim” or “Bob” or “Mr. Smith” with no introductory word beforehand feel no hesitation in doing so in an email…. But it strikes us as rude to bark out someone’s name like that, even in an email, especially if you don’t know your correspondent.”

I reserve “Dear” for my correspondence with friends. Or for replies to emails in which I’ve been addressed as “Dear Susan.” I think it’s usually appropriate to echo the salutations used by the person with whom you’re corresponding.

I don’t have strong feelings either way about starting an email with “Hello” and then the name of the recipient. If Allan emails me with “Hello, Susan,” I’ll “Hello, Allan,” back to him.

If you read my “Should you say ‘No’ to ‘Please,’ ” you’re probably not surprised to find me disagreeing with the authors of Send, as did most of the respondents to my reader poll on the use of please in emails.

So, how would you address an email to me? Would you use one of the following salutations?

  • Dear Susan:
  • Dear Ms. Weiner:
  • Hello
  • Hi
  • Hi, Susan
  • Ms. Weiner,
  • Susan,


When NOT to personalize your email’s subject line

Personalizing your email subject lines with the recipient’s name—for example, “Susan, can you attend meeting on Feb. 12?”–will always increase your readership. 

Or so you’d think. But that’s not true according to an article about email subject lines by Mark Brownlow on Email Marketing Reports.

If your email recipient doesn’t know you well, they may assume your email is spam. Using first names in the subject line is a classic spammers’ technique.

“If you haven’t got a real ‘relationship’ with your subscriber as such then maybe personalizing isn’t the way to go as they may see it as being artificial or spammy,” said Kath Pay, as quoted in Brownlow’s article.

I think that using your recipient’s name is most useful in the subject lines of emails you send to colleagues and clients. They know you’re no spammer. Instead, your use of their name signals that your content is directed specifically at them. They realize they’re not one of gazillion people who are cc’d on the email. That’s why I recommend this technique in my workshop on “Writing Effective Emails.”

What’s your experience with personalized email subject lines?


Dec. 19, 2017 update: I deleted the link to Brownlow’s article at http://www.email-marketing-reports.com/iland/2008/11/subject-lines-iv-personalization.html because the website no longer exists. I also added a link to my email writing workshop.


Good wording: "Has the Market Wreaked Havoc on Your 401(k)?"

Morningstar has a knack for good email subject lines. Like “Has the Market Wreaked Havoc on Your 401(k)?” That’s a line that many people can relate to.

Morningstar also achieves a nice conversational tone in its email, which starts out:

Yes, it feels awful right now. And it’s possible things could get worse before they get any better. But as unnerving as recent events have been, history has shown us that the economy will come back–and that means the market will, too.

This email was an advertisement for Morningstar Fund Family Reports. I’ll bet some folks signed up for trial subscriptions in response.

"Email Subject Lines: 15 Rules to Write Them Right"

“Email Subject Lines: 15 Rules to Write Them Right” on the LyrisHQ blog offers some tips that can help even with your routine client communications.

For starters, remember that “Fifty characters could be all that stands between you and success in your next email campaign.” 

Why? Because our reader will probably see only 50 characters–that’s about eight words–of your subject line before deciding whether to read your email or delete it.

Here are four particularly useful rules from the LyrisHQ blog post. 

Rule 1. Read the newspaper.

Modeling your subject lines on newspaper headlines is another good suggestion. Newspaper headlines get to the point fast. They’re also good at pushing readers’ hot buttons.

Rule 5: List key info first.
If you’re making a request, use an action verb. For example, if you’re asking a client to send you something, start your subject line with “Please send.”

Rule 7: Personalize.
If I really want to get a response from Jane, I might start my subject line, “Jane, can you….” That way she knows my email is directed specifically to her. 

Rule 15. Can you pass the must-open/must-read test? 
People’s email in-boxes are jammed. You’ve got to give them a compelling reason to open your email.

You may find the other 11 rules of interest if you’re sending an email newsletter or selling something using email.


July 2014 update: The blog post I referred on the LyrisHQ blog is no longer available.

“Stop Sending ‘Dear Valued Client’ Emails”

When you address your correspondence to “Dear Valued Client,” you send the wrong message. It says you don’t care enough to personalize your message.

So, check out the email solutions described in “Stop Sending ‘Dear Valued Client’ Emails” by Bill Winterberg on his FP Pad blog. He suggests using a service like Constant Contact, which I use to send my newsletter, or mail merge, like the function available in Microsoft Outlook.

Allow plenty of time to get the hang of mail merge. It’s complicated. At least, that’s my experience.

And, be sure to test your mail merge on non-clients before your first email to clients. 

I discovered some unexpected problems the first time I used Outlook’s mail merge function. Luckily, I’d used my husband as my mail-merge guinea pig. So none of the prospective clients for my writing and editing business had to suffer through my mistakes.

March 13, 2017 update: The number of newsletter services has multiplied since Bill and I originally wrote about this topic in 2008. If I were starting my newsletter today, I’d look at MailChimp (free for up to 2,000 subscribers and 12,000 emails per month) and other competitors to Constant Contact.

If you liked this article, you may also enjoy “Personalized subject lines can backfire in emails.”