Marketing lesson from clashing clocks

I’m a regular at my gym. I go there to use the elliptical machine, work out with free weights, and take spinning classes. But sometimes I learn lessons that have nothing to do with exercise—like the lesson of the clashing clocks.

For years, my gym has had two wall clocks facing each other. One was above the mirrors next to the exercise mat. The other was on the opposite wall.

For years, it has driven me crazy that the two clocks disagreed about the time. Sometimes they differed by only a minute. Other times, the gap was as much as five minutes. That made a big difference when I was watching the clock to figure out if I needed to go clip into my spin bike for the start of class.

I complained occasionally to management, but the clocks never stayed aligned for long.

One day, things changed for the better. But that didn’t happen in the way that I expected. The gym didn’t buy two perfectly aligned clocks. Instead, they permanently removed one clock.

This is a clever solution because it forever removes the potential for members to complain about a mismatch between two clocks that they can see by simply swiveling their heads. This solution saves time for management and costs them nothing.

What clashing clock can YOU remove?

Your business may have the metaphorical equivalent of clashing clocks.

For example, I imagine that you may have marketing messages for different products that conflict. You could spend time rewriting your marketing collateral. Or, you could simply stop marketing one of the products, assuming that it isn’t core to your business.

Or, you may be active in six social media channels. If your marketing isn’t consistent across those channels, you can drop one or more of them. Sometimes less marketing is better marketing because you spend the time to do a better job on your remaining tasks.

You needn’t limit your clashing-clock analysis to marketing. Perhaps there are components of other parts of your business that you can eliminate.

What clashing clock can you remove?


If you enjoyed this post, you may enjoy “Financial blogging lessons from my spinning class” or “Learn what works in winning clients.”


Image courtesy of Serge Bertasius at

10-minute boosts for your financial content marketing

Financial content marketing helps you to attract new clients by boosting your visibility and showing that you can solve their problems. Great financial content takes time to create. But you don’t always have big chunks of time to devote to your content strategy, writing, editing, and promotion.

Don’t despair! You can give your content a boost when you have as little as 10 minutes to spare.

Generate financial content ideas tailored to your audience

  1. Mind map ideas around one of your key topic areas. Put the topic in the middle of your map and record any idea that pops into your head. I discussed a variation on this exercise in “Photo + Mind Map = Blog Inspiration.”
  2. Generate ideas by reading an article—any article. I got the idea for this article from reading “Time Crunch: 13 marketing tips that will take you 10 minutes or less” in the Journal of Financial Planning (July 2016). However, any article can spur ideas if you let your mind run free. For example,  the Boston Sunday Globe‘s “More height warnings coming to Storrow,” which discussed trucks crashing into road overpasses, made me think about those crashes as a metaphor for individuals ignoring warnings about their finances. It could turn into an article about “3 warning signs you shouldn’t ignore” or a topic in behavioral finance. It could also serve as a story for content about auto insurance, or infrastructure investments. You can also riff on the titles that appear on a magazine cover.
  3. Ask your target audience what they want to learn. One technique is to pose a question on social media. The cool thing is that when people comment on your social media post, people whom you don’t yet know may see it and comment. This expands your network. I discuss other techniques in “Financial content: Ask questions of your readers.”
  4. Do keyword-based research. Brainstorm ideas around the keywords for which you’d like your website or blog to rank high. Some online tools, such as AnswerThePublic, spit out ideas based on the words that people input into search engines.
  5. Set up a Google Alert. See what people are talking about in your main areas of interest.

Create financial content

  1. Introduce content you’ve already created. It took me less than 10 minutes to write an introduction and load an infographic that I’d had my virtual assistant create for me. You can see the results in “Infographic: 5 Ways to Add Personality to Your Financial Writing.” You can take content that you’ve created elsewhere—an infographic, video, podcast, webinar, SlideShare, or guest post on someone else’s blog—and re-purpose it on your blog.
  2. Assign a task to a team member. You don’t have to do all of the financial content marketing work yourself. For example, every month I email my virtual assistant with introductory text and a list of articles to highlight in my newsletter.
  3. Request a guest post. Ask an expert, referral source, client or other person for a guest post.
  4. Draft a list of questions for a Q&A post. Think of a topic that you’d like to cover in an “interview” via email. After you gain your interviewee’s consent, send them a list of questions to answer.
  5. Start a blog post with the intention of not finishing. You don’t have to finish every post in one day, especially if you’re pressed for time. Sometimes it’s good to stop a post before you finish dumping your thoughts on the page. Later, when you return to the post, it’ll be easier for you to resume writing by expressing the thoughts you had left unstated in your last session.

Edit your financial content

  1. Assess your draft’s readability. You can use a free online tool like Hemingway, which I discuss in “Free help for wordy writers!”
  2. Proofread by listening to your content. I describe this in “My best tip for editors who proofread their own work.” Of course, fixing things may take you more than 10 minutes.
  3. Send your content to a colleague or a professional for proofreading, copyediting, or other feedback. Another set of eyes is always helpful.

Amplify your financial content marketing

  1. Install an SEO plugin. I use the free version of the Yoast SEO plugin for WordPress to boost my awareness of how to highlight my keywords.
  2. Learn more about SEO. You can find relevant videos on the Google Webmasters channel on YouTube. Some of them, like “SEO for startups in under 10 minutes,” are short. You can also check out classes on the Google Webmasters website.
  3. Write a social media status update. Promote your content via LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, or whatever social media channels work best for you.
  4. Research a blog for a potential guest post. My two-part post, “How to guest-blog on personal finance or investments,” tell you how to approach blogs for guest posts and gives you links to some blogs that accept guest posts.
  5. Pitch a guest post. Email your potential host to propose a guest post.

Early Bird pricing ends Jan. 31

Hourglass image courtesy of Graphics Mouse at

Print newsletter vs. e-newsletter for financial marketers

Should you send a print newsletter or an e-newsletter? I’m asking this question because I just added a 28-page paper newsletter to my “to read” pile. This newsletter wouldn’t have commanded my attention if it had come via email. While newsletters printed on paper and sent via the postal service are becoming dinosaurs, you may find them worthwhile.

The case for a print newsletter

The big reason to send a print newsletter is to break through the clutter encountered by e-newsletters. I have e-mail inbox rules that move most e-newsletters into a folder called “newsletter.” I rarely read them. I even skip newsletters that would interest or help me because there are too many of them.

Marketing via mail generally achieves higher response rates. According to “2015 DMA Response Rate Report: Direct Mail Outperforms All Digital Channels Combined By Nearly 600%“:

Direct mail achieves a 3.7% response rate with a house list, and a 1.0% response rate with a prospect list. All digital channels combined only achieve a 0.62% response rate (Mobile 0.2%; Email 0.1% for a Prospect list and 0.1% for House/Total list; Social Media 0.1%; Paid Search 0.1%; Display Advertising 0.02%).

Direct mail’s 3.7% and 1.0% response rates for house lists and prospect lists respectively look attractive compared with the 0.1% response rates for email. Of course, your experience may differ from the DMA’s results.

Another plus of print is your control of what readers see in front of their eyes. This contrasts with e-newsletters, where readers’ email programs or browsers may distort your layout or blank out images.

The case against a print newsletter

stamps for print newsletter

Stamps on the envelope of the 28-page newsletter that inspired this post

I see three main drawbacks to print newsletters: cost, timeliness, and lack of analytics.

It’s relatively expensive to send a print newsletter via the U.S. mail. A $1.57 worth of stamps adorned the newsletter I just opened. Other costs may include envelopes, paper (fancy stock is pricey), ink, and design work. Only design work might apply to an e-newsletter, though you may also need to pay for an e-mail marketing provider, such as Constant Contact or MailChimp.

Taking a contrary view on cost, “2015 DMA Response Rate Report: Direct Mail Outperforms All Digital Channels Combined By Nearly 600%” argues that direct mail’s costs are competitive with other media, perhaps partly because of print’s higher response rates. Here’s the article’s take on costs:

Cost-per-acquisition for direct mail is very competitive. Direct mail stands at $19, which fares favorably with Mobile and Social Media (both at $16-18), Paid Search ($21-30), Internet Display ($41-50) and even email ($11-15).

Print newsletters take longer than e-newsletters to reach your readers. That’s partly a function of the creation process, especially if an outside designer or printer is involved. Plus, you must give your newsletters to the post office and wait for their delivery.

Unlike e-newsletters, print newsletters don’t give you detailed analytics. You can’t see who opened your newsletter or which content attracted the most attention.

Use both instead of only a print newsletter

Enjoy some of the benefits of both printed and electronic communications by using both formats, if your budget permits.

For example, like the person who sent me the 28-page newsletter, you can email your list about with teaser copy about your printed newsletter. You can also include a link to an online version of your paper newsletter.

Another possibility: use print for your regular newsletters and use e-newsletters for more time-sensitive communications.

What are your results?

If you’ve used both a print newsletter and an e-newsletter, how do your results compare? Would you recommend one over the other? I enjoy learning from you.


Dinosaur image courtesy of Geerati/

Get more mileage out of your financial webinar or podcast

Webinars, videos, and podcasts about investments and other financial topics are a great way to highlight the expertise of your firm’s subject-matter experts. But are you getting the most out of your financial webinar or podcast? Probably not.

Some members of your clients, prospects, and referral sources will never watch a financial webinar, video, or podcast. That’s true no matter how professionally you produce it. Even if your topic is central to the problems they’d like to solve.

What can you do?

If your time is limited, use the techniques I describe in “Videos: 3 ways to make them palatable for video-haters like me.”

If you have the time and resources to do more, consider the techniques I list below.

1. Create an infographic

The visual learners among your target audience will appreciate an infographic of tips or a key process from your financial webinar or other presentation. For a sample, see my “Infographic: 5 Ways to Add Personality to Your Financial Writing.” After they look at your infographic, they may be more willing to sign up for your presentation.

Your webinar, video, or podcast audience may also enjoy your infographic as a review of your presentation. You could offer it as a “thank you” present for audience members who join your email list or respond to a survey that follows your presentation.

An infographic can also do double duty as a blog post.

2. Create a worksheet

Repackaging your tips or process into a worksheet makes it easier for readers to act on your information. They love worksheets.

I’ve created worksheets using Adobe Acrobat Pro that are nicely formatted, but can be filled and saved by the reader. The combination of nice formatting and the ability to save is a winner. A one-time effort by you gets big results for your readers.

Like an infographic, a worksheet can be a reward for people who participate in your presentation or join your email list. It’s less appropriate as a blog post because worksheets typically don’t fit in the available space. Still, you could offer it as a free download from your blog.

3. Write blog posts

A typical webinar or other presentation holds the seeds of multiple blog posts.  Plant those seeds by writing the blog posts.

Of course, your presentation may have its roots in earlier blog posts or other written pieces. If so, congratulate yourself for having learned “A top technique of financial advisors who blog successfully.”

4. Create an e-book

For the die-hard readers in your audience, you can turn your financial webinar or other presentation into an e-book. Your notes—or a transcript of your live presentation—is a great starting point. The fact that you’ve attracted people to attend your presentation confirms that there is a market for your book. My book, Financial Blogging: How to Write Powerful Posts That Attract Clients, grew out of my blogging class for financial advisors.

5. Use the audiovisual format that you skipped earlier

If you produced a great webinar, consider converting part of it into a podcast to attract people who listen when they can’t watch educational materials. You can also see about being a guest about your webinar topic on somebody else’s podcast.

On the flip side, perhaps your podcast contains an idea that would benefit from engaging your audience’s eyes in a webinar or video.

6. Turn compelling statistics or one-liners into social media status updates

If you’re active on social media, you know how hard it can be to keep your status updates flowing. Use your presentation’s compelling statistics or one-liners as social media status updates.

If you identify these updates before your presentation, you can use them to promote your event.

7. Put a clip on your website

A clip from your financial webinar, video, or podcast can spice up your website. Try it and see.

8. Try something else

The possibilities for reusing your content are vast. Please leave a comment about opportunities that I haven’t mentioned. I’d also like to hear about how recycling your presentations has earned results for you.

6 design tips for your first infographics

Infographics are a powerful way to attract people who are more visually oriented. They also are a great way to re-purpose ideas that you’ve published earlier in a text-heavy format.

I learned some lessons in the process of working with my virtual assistant on the design of my first infographics. She also contributed to this post.

1. Pare your word count

Infographics are short on words. That’s part of how they boost the visual impact of your text. Here are statistics from various sources on the appeal of visual content, which HubSpot shared in “37 Visual Content Marketing Statistics You Should Know in 2016“:

  • “Researchers found that colored visuals increase people’s willingness to read a piece of content by 80%.”—for more details, see the Xerox article (PDF) that’s the source of this statistic cited by Hubspot.
  • “Content with relevant images gets 94% more views than content without relevant images.”
  • “Infographics are Liked and shared on social media 3X more than other any other type of content.”

I created my first two infographics for this blog by dramatically paring the word count of blog posts that I’d written earlier.

2. Get help from a designer, website, or template

I’m lucky to have a virtual assistant (VA) who’s more visually savvy than I am. Kelly, my VA, created my infographics using templates from Canva. I sent her my text and some suggestions about images. Then I turned her loose.

Canva offers pre-designed templates. This is helpful if you struggle to choose colors that complement each other or if you need a boost of creativity in terms of the graphic layout. Within the  template, you can change the colors to anything you want. Be careful not to choose colors which either clash with each other or blur together into a bland landscape. The pre-designed templates already have color choices which are complementary, done by a designer. If you wish to change the colors, the Adobe Kuler site gives many complementary color palettes that you can choose from. This will help you identify an attractive, appealing color scheme.

After starting the first infographic, Kelly figured out that we’d need a paid account to customize the dimensions of the graphic. It is hard to choose the exact dimensions before getting started because you don’t know how well your content will fit inside those dimensions. With a paid account, you can customize the dimensions partway through your design process so that it fits your content. I mention this so you’re not surprised if this happens to you with Canva. You can get a free one-month trial to see if Canva is right for you.

Canva isn’t the only tool for creating infographics. Some people use PowerPoint. HubSpot, for example, offers some free infographic templates using Powerpoint. There are other providers of free or low-cost tools. Contently’s “The Pros, Cons, and Costs of the Top 5 DIY Infographic Tools” reviews some alternatives.

If you can hire a professional designer and use tools designed for a big-company budget, I imagine that you can get much nicer results.

3. Think about images for your infographic

As you create your infographic, think about the images that can represent your ideas. Visual appeal plays a bigger role in infographics than in articles or even blog posts. Images are essential. Even if you discuss abstract concepts, you need images to represent them.

Working with Kelly on my first infographic reinforced for me how important the images are. For the second infographic, I inserted screenshots of some stock photo images that I thought might work.

Kelly pointed out that the images used in an infographic have to go together. They need to have a similar look, which might be a bit cartoonish, like the piggy bank pig in my first infographic. These computer-generated images are called vectors by many sources of stock illustrations.

For consistency—and to conform with a template—they may even need to be the same color, as in my second infographic. For this reason, Kelly found it easier to use premium images from Canva in my infographics. This was especially helpful for the second infographic, which required black images, because she was able to change the color of a premium image. Another possibility is to license images from a source that allows you to edit photos, using a paid program such as Adobe PhotoShop, or vectors, using a program such as Adobe Illustrator. If Adobe Illustrator is too expensive for editing vectors, a friend of mine suggested Inkscape, a free program. However, she doesn’t have much experience with the program. My virtual assistant says that, like Illustrator, Inkscape looks like it’s aimed at design professionals, rather than regular folks.

Make sure that you don’t infringe copyright with your image use. Use images from reputable sources. Pay for and credit them, if necessary.

4. You may need to let go of some preferences

I have a bias against light text on dark backgrounds, which is known as reversed type. I don’t like it because it’s typically harder to read, especially if your readers have eyes that are starting to weaken.

Many infographic templates feature blocks of alternating colors, some of which use reversed type. While I managed to avoid reversed type in my two infographics, I lost some color appeal as a result.

5. Check design as well as proofreading

When you review an infographic, you need to look for mistakes in the design or layout, as well as typos and other errors typically targeted in proofreading

For example, line spacing may be off, a line may not extend evenly across the page, or colors may be misplaced.  It may help you to find a design-savvy person to check your final product.

6. Remember that JPG files can’t have links

I was keen to insert clickable “share” icons in my first infographic for my blog. Oops, clickable links aren’t possible in the JPG image file format. While they’re possible in a PDF, I can’t display a PDF on my blog.

Again, clickable links are an area where having a big-company budget can probably help you.

YOUR tips?

I’m still finding my way with infographics. I’d like to learn more. Please share your tips.

Image courtesy of seaskylab/

6 ways financial advisors can differentiate themselves

It’s difficult for financial advisors to differentiate themselves. Whether you’re a financial planner, wealth manager, or investment advisor, what you offer has a lot in common with your peers’ offerings. Saying that your service and offerings are exceptional won’t convince prospects of that fact. Advantages that might have set you apart 10 years ago, no longer work. You must dig deeper.

How can you stand out? Ask yourself the questions below to start your research.

1. Process

financial advisers differentiateWhat is your process for bringing on and helping new clients? Does it aim to fit clients into a standard set of products, or are offerings tailored to the clients after you learn about their needs?

Differentiation questions:

  • What is your process? How do you assess clients’ needs and desires?
  • In your process, do you ask questions that drive home how you help clients? For example, you may ask an unconventional question about clients’ values, goals, or worries.
  • What concern for clients drives your process? Are you passionate about something specific?
  • How does your process allow you to deliver what your clients need?
  • What results has this process achieved for your clients? In other words, what problems does your process solve for clients?
  • Do you manage money yourself, use a third-party asset management firm, or avoid dealing with investments? If you invest, do you use funds, standard portfolios, or do you customize?
  • Do you have access to products or services that are difficult to access?

2. Target clients

You can’t serve all types of clients equally well. Also, an advisor who tries to attract all clients, connects deeply with none. Specialization is essential.

Advisors slice their target audiences in many ways. For example, level of wealth, age, financial goal, industry, or employer. When you’re focused, your prospects will feel more comfort that they’re with the right advisor.

If you’ve been in business awhile, consider conducting a survey about why your clients like doing business with you. You could do this informally, by asking questions in meetings. You might get more honest answers if you ask in an impersonal way. For example, you could run an anonymous online survey using a tool such as SurveyMonkey or you could hire a marketing firm to interview your clients.

Differentiation questions:

  • What kind of clients do you focus on? Who do you avoid?
  • Why do you feel passionately about your target group?
  • What client problems are you most successful in solving? The answer to this question matters a lot to your clients and prospects.
  • What kind of successes have you achieved with clients in your target audience? By the way, consider sharing case studies to illustrate successes, if your compliance officers allow them.

3. Service

You can’t simply say “We offer great service.” Back up your statement with specifics.

Differentiation questions:

  • How accessible are you to clients? Must they wait a week or longer for a response from you, or are you more accessible?
  • Do you spell out your commitment to clients in a service-level agreement?
  • Do you make it easy for your clients to hold up their end of the relationship by providing a written summary of key decisions and their next steps after your meetings?

4. Client communications

How do you communicate with your clients? At one extreme, do you figure that your clients’ statements from their custodians give them all the information they need? That’s not enough for many clients. Plus, it gives you no chance to show your expertise and concern for your clients.

At another extreme, do you call clients whenever the market is volatile, post updates on your blog, send regular newsletters, and schedule quarterly face-to-face meetings? If you focus on your individual clients’ concerns, tailoring your content to their needs, they will feel your concern and see your expertise. On the other hand, some clients may feel suffocated. When I worked on staff for an asset management firm, we had clients who essentially said, “Don’t bother me for more than an annual meeting.”

Differentiation questions:

  • What communications do you provide?
  • Are your communications segmented to appeal to your clients’ needs and personalities?
  • How frequent are your communications?
  • What media do you use to communicate—print, email, online, phone, text, social media?
  • What’s your communication style? For example, do you present yourself as an authority who must be obeyed or are you more of a collaborator?
  • Are your communications written in a way that’s compelling, clear, and concise—or will your clients struggle to figure out what the heck you mean?

5. Credentials and training

Your education counts. Academic and on-the-job training enable you to help clients make progress on their financial goals. Of course, as others have said, basic training is the price of admission to this industry.

Differentiation questions:

  • What’s your academic training?
  • What credentials do you hold? What do they mean for your clients? The average person on the street has no idea, for example, what the CFA credential stands for.
  • Do you invest in ongoing professional development?
  • What are your specialties, if any?

6. Personal history and personality

Nobody has the same personality or history as you. Capitalize on this by being yourself as you market your firm. I like what advisor Tim Maurer says about selling his golf clubs in “Financial Advisors: Differentiate Yourself By Being Yourself“:

It signaled an official decision to permit myself to be something other than what I had come to believe the financial industry wanted me to be. I was officially granting myself permission to be myself.

Since making that decisions, Maurer has followed his instincts in other ways. It seems to have worked well for him.

Differentiation questions:

  • Why are you in this business? Did a personal experience inspire you?
  • What are you passionate about?
  • What are your hobbies, and what do they say about you?
  • What are your strongly held values?
  • Are you active in your community?

Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong/

Do I need to use the (r) mark with my CFP designation?

“Do I need to use the ® mark with my CFP designation”? This question spurred me to do some research on whether one must always write “CFP®.”

When I was active as a reporter, I never used the ® mark. In fact, I rarely included an interviewee’s CFP designation because space was tight.

Upon doing research, I discovered that the rules for me as a reporter and blogger differ from the rules for you as a CFP certificant.

If you’re using your CFP designation in sales or advertising

Here’s what The Chicago Manual of Style says on its website:

Q. Is it proper or necessary to use the circled R each and every time the registered trademark name is used in a document? What is the correct usage for the symbol?

A. In publications that are not advertising or sales materials, all that is necessary is to use the proper spelling and capitalization of the name of the product. A trademark attorney can tell you when the use of the symbol is required.

From a legal standpoint, the key seems to be whether you’re using your designation in something that might be considered advertising.

The CFP Board’s stance on “CFP®

It appears that the CFP Board would like the circled R to appear with every use of the CFP mark, with the exception of “CFP Board.” As it says in its guidelines, Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc. (CFP Board) is a company name or trade name, not a trademark, and therefore is not required to be displayed with the ® or ™ symbols.”

You can read general guidelines—and download detailed instructions—on the CFP Board’s website.

Will you land in trouble if you don’t abide by the guidelines? Maybe not, but do you want to annoy the body that issues a credential that’s important to you? Here’s the CFP Board’s response to my tweet on the topic.

CFP Board on using R with CFP designation

By the way, the CFP Board also has rules about what words you bundle together with “CFP®.” They ask you to use:

…one of CFP Board’s approved nouns (“certificant,” “professional,” “practitioner,” “certification,” “mark” or “exam”) unless directly following the name of the individual certified by CFP Board.

CFP practices at some big firms

For the heck of it, I searched “CFP” on the Merrill Lynch website. It yielded a sea of “CFP®” references. I didn’t see any CFPs without the mark.

The CFP certificants who popped up in a search on the Ameriprise Financial website also used the registered mark.

What about the CFA?

Doing this research made me worry about whether I’m supposed to use a mark when I write “Susan Weiner, CFA.” I learned that my current usage is fine, but there are cases where the CFA Institute would like me to use  the mark.

Here are some examples of proper usage from the CFA Institute’s web page about trademark usage:

  • John Smith is a CFA® charterholder.
  • Amy Jones, CFA, is a portfolio manager.
  • John Smith is a holder of the right to use the Chartered Financial Analyst® designation.

For more on the proper use of this designation, visit the CFA Institute’s page about trademark usage.

Your firm’s biographies

Doing this research made me realize that you should research the trademark status of the designations held by your financial firm’s employees. With research, you can make sure your firm’s bios conform with the rules.

Who’s writing the great investment content?

Content is king. Asset managers increasingly agree with this statement. But many lack the resources to write great investment content.great investment content

My gut feeling about this was reinforced by the results of a survey conducted by the Mutual Fund Education Alliance and Back Bay Communications. One finding, according to the press release:

Less than a quarter (23%) of survey respondents have built dedicated content creation teams in house, and less than one in five (18%) use external agencies or freelancers.

The survey suggests that 57 percent of asset managers are trying to write great investment content without the necessary resources in place. Of course, the survey’s sample was limited—including only 26 respondents from among members of the MFEA’s Product and Marketing councils—so its results are not conclusive. Also, I’m not sure how “dedicated content creation team” is defined. Does it refer to all employees involved in writing and editing or only some of them?

I see investment firms tackling the need to produce content in three ways, only two of which are covered by the MFEA-Back Bay survey results. What’s the missing method? It looks to me as if some rely on their investment professionals.

Option 1. Rely on investment professionals

Having investment professionals do the writing is great in the sense that investment professionals know the markets and their products. It’s not great in the sense that investment professionals:

  • Are busy—they may not have time to write on top of their core responsibilities.
  • May not be good writers—after all, they were hired for their investment skills.

As asset managers continue to rely on investment professionals, some are training them to write better. Others are seeking out help on their own, which is why, I believe, my presentations to societies of the CFA Institute on “How to Write Investment Commentary People Will Read” have attracted great attendance. I’m offering “How to Write Investment Commentary People Will Read” as a webinar on June 23. I also offer customized corporate workshops and coaching.

Option 2. Outsource to freelance writers

When firms struggle to meet their writing needs internally, they may outsource. Even firms that have writers on staff may outsource at peak times, such as during the production of quarterly client reports or semiannual mutual fund reports. For ideas about how to outsource, read “Investment commentary–5 ways to outsource.”

By the way, the outsourcing may not go solely to people with traditional editorial skills. Videos and podcasts have become increasingly popular. According to the survey, “White papers and videos (82%) are the most utilized tactics, with white papers cited as the most effective medium for content marketing (59%).”

Option 3. Hire writers and editors into staff positions

Some investment management firms have had writers and editors on staff for years. Others are recent converts.

Editorial staff falls into different parts of the organizational structure, which may influence the scope of the employees’ roles—and their effectiveness. I’ve known people who work under the marketing, product management, or marketing operations department. When I worked in staff jobs, I reported to the company head or chief operating officer, probably reflecting the fact that I was the company’s first writer.

I mention organizational structure because it makes a difference to the editorial staff’s mandate. When the organizational structure communicates that writing is an important function, the quality of a firm’s writing can benefit. That’s especially true if senior management stands behind its writers in disagreements with the investment professionals. If the editorial staff is viewed as an operations function, with the goal of pumping out content as quickly as possible, quality may suffer.

Looking ahead: Writing great investment content rises in importance

I see investment managers paying more attention to creating and managing content. They’re increasingly looking to provide content that’s tailored to the needs of audience members as they move from being prospects to clients.

I can’t wait to see how things evolve.

Investment Commentary Webinar 4_15_16


Style guidelines for financial services firms

Style guidelines for financial services firms can help you to make your written communications more consistent and thus easier to read.

Why create style guidelines for your financial services firm?

writing guidelinesIt can be distracting if writing styles are inconsistent within and across documents published by your firm. For example, is it “counterparty” in the first paragraph and “counter party” in paragraphs two and three? Do headings randomly mix sentence case and title case? Is your company name abbreviated in different ways?

It’s a good idea to pick a major style guide, such as the AP Stylebook, to use as your reference for common questions. However, style guides often don’t cover challenges specific to financial services firms. They certainly don’t tackle company-specific branding issues.

Creating style guidelines tailored to your company can help your writers and editors fill in the blanks left by the major style guides.

How I create style guidelines for my clients

For my editing clients, I create style guidelines for my own reference. They help me to be consistent. Also, I share the guidelines with my proofreader, when I use one.

As issues arise, I record the preferred style in an Excel spreadsheet. In the first column, I record the word, phrase, or other issue. In another column, I record the preferred practice.

Here’s an excerpt from the Capitalization section of one style sheet.

Capitalization style guidelines sample







Section headings that I’ve used include the following:

  • Abbreviations/acronyms—for example, BRL→Brazilian real, 50 bps→50 basis points (0.50%)
  • Capitalization
  • Headings—for example, use sentence case and bold
  • Numbers—for example, SPELL OUT numbers 1 to 9, even in five-year Treasury
  • Punctuation—for example, use serial comma; DO hyphenate first-quarter & worst-performing WHEN used as ADJECTIVE; use a consistent number of decimal places
  • Spelling—for example, health care, NOT healthcare
  • Word replacements—for example, cap rate→capitalization rate

How long should your style guidelines be?

My client style sheets would typically fit on one page, if printed out.

I like the philosophy of Intelligent Editing, which recommends that your style sheet run no longer than four pages. The firm says in “Writing a Style Guide: What You Need to Know“:

…bear in mind that the goal is just to focus on points of style where there is no right answer but where one usage is preferred by the organization. A style guide is not the place to teach your colleagues things that they should already know.

The longer your style sheet, the harder it will be for you and your colleagues to apply it consistently. It’s harder for users to keep all of the issues in their heads, even if they scan the style sheet repeatedly.

If you already have style guidelines

If you already have style guidelines, please share them with writers and editors whom you hire, in addition to your company’s employees.

You may struggle with getting your financial firm’s writers to follow them. I’ve addressed your challenge in “Reader question: How to get writers to follow style guidelines?

Image courtesy of adamr/

Stop saying “Click here”!

Stop putting links on your web pages that say “Click here”! They’re not doing you or your readers any good.

That’s the message I took away from “Writing Hyperlinks: Salient, Descriptive, Start with Keyword” on the Nielsen Norman Group (NNG) website. NNG is an expert on website usability. I highly recommend that you subscribe to NNG’s weekly newsletter, if you care about online communications.

Why “click here” falls short

Your readers’ eyes are drawn to hyperlinks. That’s according to NNG’s eyetracking research that studies where eyes go when people look at websites.

To get the most out of their attention, the text in your hyperlink should give readers a good idea of what they’ll learn after clicking. As NNG puts it, “Links should have good information scent: that is, they must clearly explain where they will take users.” Also, it helps if the links are informative even out of context. Does “Click here” achieve that? NO!

Even worse is if your web page has more than one “click here” link, with those links leading to different pages. Your reader is unlikely to grasp at a quick glance that there are different destinations. You can see the problem in the image below.

"Click here" text

This “click here” sentence is an example of what NOT to do when you hyperlink. It would be better to hyperlink “my article” and “our services” in a revised sentence.



Your next step: Scan your website

Have you been using “click here” on your website? I know I was guilty of this when I first started writing for the web. Today, instead of writing “click here to read about my services,” I’d write “learn about my writing and editing services.” Get the idea?

It’s time to upgrade your hyperlink text! You’ll get better results if you do.