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.

6 ways advisors can differentiate themselves infographic

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/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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.

What about the CPA?

I researched the CPA credential when copyediting bios for a client. The AICPA seems to allow either Certified Public Accountant or CPA.

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






potential topics to cover in your financial firm's style guidelines infographic

Section headings that I’ve used include the following:

  • Abbreviations/acronyms—for example, BRL→Brazilian real, 50 bps→50 basis points (0.50%)
  • Capitalization
  • Company names—identify your source for the preferred spelling of company names
  • Credentials—for example, use the ® mark with the CFP designation
  • Headings—for example, use sentence case and bold
  • Numbers—for example, SPELL OUT numbers 1 to 9, even in five-year Treasury
  • Punctuation/grammar/style—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/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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.


How to edit your financial firm’s bios

Your employees are one of your financial firm’s greatest assets. But poorly written biographies make it difficult for your audience to understand the breadth and depth of your firm’s expertise. When you streamline and standardize your financial firm’s bios, your bios’ readers will benefit. Happy readers mean happier clients and prospects.

I’m writing this article for financial marketers, whether you’re a member of a marketing department or a member of a small investment, wealth management, or financial planning firm who wears a marketing hat in addition to offering your financial expertise. These are my best suggestions for a process you can follow.

How to edit your financial firm's bios infographic

Step 1. Identify why you want to edit your financial firm’s bios

edit financial firm biosYou can edit better when you know the purpose of your work. At one extreme, are you merely proofreading for big errors so you’re not embarrassed by someone’s title being spelled as “manger” instead of “manager” or are you looking to change the tone and content of your bios?

Here’s a list of some other goals you may pursue. You can pick from this list to give better guidance to your editor when you hire someone to work on bios.

  1. Make your bios more focused on clients by describing how clients benefit from the employee’s work, instead of emphasizing the employee’s skills and credentials. This kind of bio draws in clients and prospects because it’s more than a dry recitation of credentials. However, credentials are an important part of establishing credibility.
  2. Shift from last names to first names or vice versa. Today bios tend toward greater informality. If I were a corporate employee, my bio might call me “Susan” instead of “Ms. Weiner.” On a similar note, more bios are written in the first person. When I redid my website in 2015, I changed my biographical references to say “I” instead of “Weiner.”
  3. Add more personality. Bios are changing as “authenticity,” or trying to show that there’s a real person behind the marketing, becomes more important. You’ll find more folksy or quirky language and more mention of the employees’ passions and interests. This is particularly helpful if the employees have good stories about why they chose a career in financial services. However, it can become labored and phony if the stories are weak.
  4. Make your biographical format more consistent. If your bios have been written by different people over time, they may cover different information and use different writing styles. This inconsistency makes it harder for readers to find the information they need or to compare your employees’ roles and backgrounds. For example, some bios may start with how the employees help clients vs. others that emphasize the employees’ credentials vs. others that start with the employees’ prior experience. Others may be written in a flowery style, while some adopt a lean style. Some may consist of a few bullet points vs. others that use long paragraphs. Another form of consistency is to balance personal branding vs. the firm’s marketing goal, as writer and professional service marketer Meg Charendoff reminded me when I discussed this post with her. You want to support and promote your financial professionals, but you also need consistent messaging about people in specific roles and groups.
  5. Fix bad writing. Mistakes sneak into bios. Eliminate typos, bad grammar, and other weaknesses with thorough editing.

Depending on your goals, you may take a more or less radical approach to editing your financial firm’s bios. For example, if you pick goal #1, you’ll need to create new templates for your bios. If goal #5 is your top priority, you’ll edit with a lighter hand.

Step 2. Review a few bios to get a sense of your challenges

The first step for you—or your writer, if you delegate the work of editing your financial firm’s bios—is to review several bios. What are their strengths and weaknesses? What are common components that repeat so you’ll want to standardize how you treat them?

If you outsource this step to a writer, ask the writer for his or her assessment of what needs to be changed.

Step 3. Create templates—or at least a style sheet

If you plan to make major changes to your financial firm’s bios, you’ll benefit from creating templates for each distinct type of position in your firm. Your template will be written like a model bio, specifying what’s included and in what detail.

Although there should be some consistency across all bios, there will be differences. For example, you may go into details about previous positions held by senior executives. Such experience is less relevant or available for entry-level employees.

No matter what approach you take to editing your firm’s bios, you need a style sheet. If your firm already has a style sheet for its communications, you’re ahead of the game. Share your style sheet with your writer, if you outsource.

In addition to matters of grammar, punctuation, and spelling, you should consider what content to include (and omit). Here are some of the issues (in alphabetical order) that you’ll need to decide:

  • Bullet points vs. narrative—when will you use bullet points instead of narrative to break up the flow of information in the bios? For example, when I edited bios that appeared as PowerPoint pages in a client’s pitch books, I converted their educational experience from narrative to bullet points that started with the name of the college or university. This trimmed the word count and made it easy for readers to see if they recognized the name of the employee’s alma mater.
  • Capitalization—when will you capitalize titles and other words? Technically speaking, you should only capitalize titles when they precede the holder’s name. You should write “President Weiner,” but “Weiner, the president.” This rule is broken more often than not in financial services. However, you must draw the line somewhere. Avoid using capitals simply to make a word look important. Don’t write that “We offer Investment Management and Financial Planning.”
  • Commas—will you use the serial comma or not? I’m personally a fan of the serial comma. However, the main thing is to pick a style and stick with it.
  • Details on employeesthere’s a long list of questions you’ll need to answer to make your bios consistent in terms of details. You may not identify all of the issues until you’ve made one pass at editing all of the bios. Where do you draw the line between considering something relevant or not? Will you include any of the items listed below? Remember, there’s a limit to how much your clients, prospects, and referral sources are willing to read.
    • College majors and honors
    • Previous employment—how much detail will you go into? Will it vary according to seniority or relevance to the current job?
    • Outside affiliations, such as board memberships or volunteer work—must they be current to be included? Which organizations are worthy of mention, especially when the employee is not in a leadership role? On the other hand, employees’ outside affiliations give insights into who they are as people.
    • Awards—must they be relevant to the job or to your local community to be included?
    • Publications—what makes the cut for inclusion? Does it have to be a national publication or a publication in your field? Or can a personal blog qualify?
    • Social media profiles—will you link to your employees’ social media profiles? Connecting with clients and prospects, especially on LinkedIn, could pay off.
    • Speeches—speeches can help to establish an employee’s authority.
  • Job descriptions—is it possible to standardize descriptions by title? If so, it will be clear to your readers when two employees perform comparable jobs.
  • Names—will you include nicknames? What about middle initials, which are often important in distinguishing between people who share common names?
  • Non-degree education—certificate programs abound in financial services so you need policies on whether to include them and on how to write about them. I’ve found it particularly hard to figure out how to refer to non-degree programs that no longer exist. Also, employees may not be consistent in what they call the programs in their resumes or bios.
  • Professional designations—which professional designations will you highlight by having them appear after the employee’s name? Which designations will you omit as irrelevant? Will you include designations or licenses that are no longer current or that haven’t been formally awarded? In some cases, the professional organization that awards the designation may have rules against its use if the credential hasn’t been formally awarded.
  • Spelling—how will you spell words that have variants? For example, will you write “financial modeling” or “financial modelling”? Will you show bachelor’s degrees as “BA,” “B.A.,” or “bachelor’s degree”?
  • States—will you spell out the names of states, such as Massachusetts, in full? Or, will you use U.S. post office abbreviations (MA) or traditional abbreviations (Mass.)?
  • Word count limits—you can’t write a book about each employee. Plus, you may have word count limits imposed by the layout of your website, pitch book, or other place where you showcase your employees’ expertise.
  • Years of experience—listing years of experience, such as “five years with XYZ Financial” or “10 years of investment management experience,” means you’ll need to update bios annually. That can be a royal pain. At best, it’s annual busywork. Consider referring to “experience since 2010” or whatever the year might be so your bios will always be current. Another issue: Will you omit years of experience if the number is too low or will you abbreviate to “more than 20 years of experience” if you don’t want your employees to seem too old?

Step 4. Edit a few bios and get them reviewed

You or your writer should edit a few bios and run them by your decision makers. This will allow you to see if you’re on the right track. It’s easier to adjust early in the process than to rewrite many bios later.

Before you begin editing your financial firm’s bios you should figure out who needs to approve their approach and content. If you’re lucky, you won’t have a huge committee with conflicting opinions. The big picture questions about your approach to bios should be decided by a select few.

For tips on managing the review process with a large group, see “7 ways to manage writing by committee.”

Step 5. Refine your templates or style guidelines

Use the information you learned in Step 4 to refine your templates or style guidelines.

Step 6. Finish editing your financial firm’s bios

Use your updated templates or style guidelines to finish editing your financial firm’s bios. Then you can start the approval process.

At a minimum, you should run each employee’s bio by her or him to check for accuracy, before getting a compliance review of the bios. Give employees firm deadlines to avoid procrastinators.

Step 7. Keep bios consistent and up-to-date with a process

Bios should be reviewed annually for accuracy and to reflect changes to your templates.

To keep bios accurate and consistent, it’s best to have one official source where users retrieve them. You’ll also benefit from a well-defined process for making changes when the bio changes between annual reviews. Give employees the name of someone to contact with updates. Give the contact person a process to follow for the review, approval, and implementation of changes. Otherwise, you’ll end up with different versions in different places. For example, an individual’s bio in a pitch book may not be consistent with that person’s bio on the website. Later, in your annual review, you may unwittingly start with a bio that doesn’t reflect the latest information.

It may be necessary to tailor bios for specific purposes, such as a short bio accompanying an article. However, those specialized bios should be drawn from the official bio. If you have multiple “official” bios, you run the risk that someone will use a bio that doesn’t conform with your templates and style guidelines.

As Charendoff says, “The review and revision project is not the end, but the beginning of the process of maintaining effective bios.”

Good luck!

Image courtesy of digitalart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Tips for crowdsourcing self-published book covers

When you’re not a publishing or design professional, it’s hard to make decisions about covers for your self-published books. I’ve turned to my connections for feedback on the design and text on many of my book covers. Crowdsourcing your self-published book covers may help you to make valuable refinements.

My crowdsourcing experiment started with the very first cover for Investment Writing Top Tips. When I decided in 2011 to add a professionally designed cover, I needed help choosing an image from the library of image offered by my designer. Back then, I relied on the members of my mastermind group to help me decide. These days, I’m more likely to put out a call on social media.

Questions to ask when crowdsourcing your self-published book covers

Some questions work better than others. Don’t ask a big, open-ended question, such as “What should my book cover look like and what exactly should it say?” Well, you could ask that. You might even get some useful answers, even though you’re asking a lot of your readers. However, you’re more likely to get useful answers if you ask narrower questions (accompanied by images), such as

  • Which of these three images do you like best for my book cover?

    crowdsourcing book cover post on social media

    My Facebook post asking for help with the call to action for the 2013 edition of Investment Writing Top Tips

  • Which of these three cover designs do you like best?
  • Do you see anything I should improve on in my first version of the cover?
  • Can you suggest any tweaks to the text on my book cover?

To the right you’ll see what I posted on social media when seeking help with the call to action for a past edition of my Investment Writing Top Tips.

Beware: You’ll get contradictory advice

It’s hard to please everybody with your cover design and text. When I worked on the cover of Financial Blogging: How to Write Powerful Posts That Attract Clients, some people loved the image of a fishhook through a piece of paper saying “client.” Others hated it. They felt that the fishhook was too violent.

The crowd also expressed dissatisfaction with my original book title, Simply Irresistible: Writing Financial Blog Posts People Will Read, because it failed to highlight my topic. This was especially true with the way the text fit onto my cover. You can see the initial design below.

Ultimately, the decisions are up to you. I changed my book title to feature “Financial Blogging.” I also went with the fishhook image, but asked my designer to soften its point, which now blends into the black area at the top of my cover. That’s a refinement I wouldn’t have thought of, if I hadn’t crowdsourced feedback on my self-published book cover.

small book image

An early version of my self-published book cover

small book image

The final version of the cover for Financial Blogging

Reminder: Your title text should be big enough

You can save your crowd from the need to correct you if you make your title big enough on the cover of your self-published book. Your book cover is an important part of your book’s marketing. People won’t buy if your title isn’t big enough when they see it as a thumbnail image on a web page.

More tips for self-publishers and book authors

Here are posts about other lessons I’ve learned from publishing:

Mistakes to avoid in your first live webinar

Planning to run your first live webinar? It’s a great way to attract prospects and deepen relationships with clients of your investment, wealth management, or financial planning firm. I watched a bunch of live webinars as I planned to relaunch my financial blogging class. Some of them were painful to watch. These webinars got me thinking about what distinguishes the best from those that seem less professional. I compiled a list of mistakes to avoid in your first live webinar.

Live webinar mistake 1. Not practicing before you deliver the real thing

You know the saying, “Practice makes perfect”? It may not make perfect, but it helps you to avoid problems that you could have anticipated. I participated in a live webinar where the host was surprised to discover “Oops, the webinar software won’t let me do that.”

If you practice enough times in advance, you’ll get a sense of what can go wrong. For example, during a live presentation of my investment commentary webinar, I accidentally touched the cursor to the wrong spot and popped out of slide presentation mode. This had happened during my practice sessions so I knew exactly how to get back to the right place. Of course, it’s impossible to anticipate everything. Your viewers will forgive you if you’re reasonably good at using your software.

Live webinar mistake 2. Not logging in or acknowledging participants by the official start time

Imagine that you’re a participant who shows up on time for a webinar. The designated start time comes and goes without any word from the presenter. You start to wonder if you’re there on the right day. You feel anxious and maybe a little angry at the organizer’s lack of respect for your time.

When you’re the presenter, you should log in early. You don’t need to start your call early, but it’s nice if you make people aware that you’re there and that you will start at the designated time. On my webinars, my facilitator starts checking in with participants as much as 30 minutes early. This courtesy is particularly important when people pay to participate in your webinar.

Live webinar mistake 3. Not having an agenda

When you don’t manage people’s expectations, they’re often disappointed. Sharing an agenda at the beginning of your presentation helps. People look at the agenda and can decide, “Yes, this is what I want” or “No, this webinar isn’t for me.” Turning away people who aren’t a good fit can be valuable.

Touch upon your agenda in your webinar’s marketing materials. This could include your online sales page, emails, and other communications.

An agenda will also help to keep you on track by providing a road map for meeting the commitments you’ve made to your audience.

Consider offering a handout that includes your agenda and other aids to note-taking. I don’t believe in sharing slides—especially not ahead of time—because they’ll distract people from your presentation. My handouts include headings for each major section of my presentation. I often include the text of the “before” versions of my many before-and-after writing samples.

Live webinar mistake 4. Not having a helper

When you present a live webinar, you need to devote 100 percent of your attention to the presentation. You can’t stop to respond to participant questions about technical problems that are unrelated to your content. That’s not fair to your other participants.

Even answering questions about your content can be a problem, detracting from your ability to connect with participants. Have you ever heard the sound of overwhelmed presenters as they try to scroll through a long list of participant questions, comments, and chitchat entered into a webinar’s chat box? They start talking fast and in a tentative tone of voice. It’s not easy to sort out the legitimate questions from the noise. When you’re anxious about doing that, it’s even harder to answer questions well.

You can make the technical problems and Q&A process easier by recruiting a tech-savvy helper. Your helper can field technical questions behind the scenes. When Q&A starts, ask your helper to sort through the questions and then read them out loud to you. In addition to relieving your stress, the change in voice—from you to your helper—will make it easier for your audience to understand where the question ends and your answer starts. It may even wake up listeners whose attention has wandered.

I wish more webinar presenters hired helpers. My main helper has delivered many webinars herself, which means she understands the technology. She has also seen what can go wrong. Before I present, we run through the entire presentation, including my logging in from a separate computer as a viewer to lob questions at my helper.

Live webinar mistake 5. Expecting people to multi-task for your webinar

I participated in a webinar where the well-meaning speaker expected us to open a second window on our computers and follow her instructions as she spoke. It was a great idea. People absorb lessons better when they apply things as they learn. However, it didn’t work. Instead, participants seemed to get frustrated by the difficulty of understanding and implementing her instructions.

Here are some reasons why expecting participants to work along with you may fail:

  1. They may not have enough computer power to open a second window on their computers. Webinar software can be a big drain on resources.
  2. Your content may be too complex for them to absorb and implement based solely on hearing your instructions orally, with no instructions in front of them. This might work better if you send step-by-step instructions in advance for participants’ reference. But if you do that, why should they watch your webinar?
  3. Your participants may be at different levels of ability to understand and implement your instructions. It’s hard to give instructions that satisfy people at multiple levels.
  4. Inviting people to do other activities on their computers may make it more likely that they get distracted by other opportunities on their computers, such as checking email or social media. When you tell them to take time away from watching your presentation, you communicate that they won’t miss valuable content from you while they’re not focused on your presentation.

If you want people to take actions during your webinar, keep them simple. Consider providing a handout to make it easier for participants to absorb important instructions. Your handout can incorporate worksheets to help participants plan for later actions.

Live webinar mistake 6. Not providing step-by-step instructions in writing

People have different learning styles, but most will benefit from written instructions when learning a complex process. I felt frustrated when I attended a webinar that attempted to teach me a complex process. It was great that the instructor demonstrated the process. However, I had trouble keeping track of the many variables that went into doing the process correctly for my situation. I’m still confused after watching the webinar replay multiple times. I wish that the instructor had provided written instructions, instead of relying on the live presentation and participants’ ability to access the webinar recording later.

Your written instructions could appear on-screen during the presentation. You can also put them in an outline-style handout or a separate step-by-step instructional handout. Another idea: Have your helper type the instructions into the chat box.

Live webinar mistake 7. Not testing the recording quality in advance

“The words are too small in the recording.” If you don’t test the quality of your recording ahead of time, you could be caught by surprise with a comment like this. It happened to one webinar presenter whom I know. What you see as the presenter (or as a live viewer) isn’t always what comes through in the recording. I don’t know how to explain the technical problem, but in this instance it seemed to be related to the webinar provider’s technology, rather than anything the presenter did.

Do a test recording in advance so you’re not surprised by things that you could have anticipated. Of course, most webinar software is glitchy—at least in my experience—so you may still encounter problems that you couldn’t have foreseen. That has happened to me.

Live webinar mistake 8. Not telling people about replay availability

Some webinar participants like to watch replays. Others start craving a recording when something happens during the webinar to make them miss some of your content. In either case, they’ll approach your webinar in a happier state of mind if it’s clear up front that a replay will be available.

If you’re not sharing a replay—or if the replay will be available for only a limited period of time—announce that, too. It’ll inspire your participants to pay more attention to your live webinar.

Live webinar mistake 9. Not engaging your participants

Ignoring input from your participants means that you miss out on opportunities to boost their satisfaction or to learn from them.

Most webinar software has some sort of Q&A or chat function. Use it.

As I suggested in my discussion of Mistake 4, interaction will go more smoothly when you have a helper to assist in soliciting and responding to participants’ input. But sometimes the participants can do perfectly fine on their own. I’ve participated in a webinar where the chat was visible to all participants. I picked up some great tips from other chat-room participants. They answered some of my questions before the speaker.

When I’ve delivered my webinar on “How to Write Investment Commentary People Will Read,” I’ve learned from the answers people gave to my live polls and when I asked them to type answers to my question into the chat box.

What next?

Avoid these nine live webinar mistakes and you can enjoy more success as you educate your clients, prospects, and referral sources.

I don’t know everything there is to know about live webinars. Please share your tips and suggestions. For more of my webinar-related tips, see “Tech tips for your educational webinar–Learn from my experience.”


Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Selling PDF e-books online: Tips from my E-junkie experience

If you’re a financial professional interested in selling PDF e-books online, you may learn from my experience with E-junkie, an online shopping cart. In fact, this post was inspired by questions I received from a colleague preparing to sell a PDF e-book online. He wanted to make sure he found a reasonably priced shopping cart provider that would provide all of the functions he desired.

e-junkie online shopping cartPDF e-book sales tip 1. Figure out what you want from your provider

Figure out what you want from your online shopping cart provider. Do you want the following characteristics?

  1. Low cost—this is a concern for me and many of my colleagues
  2. Ability to securely host your PDF on the shopping cart’s website
  3. Ability to set up a sales page on the shopping cart’s website
  4. Ability to accept credit card sales
  5. Ability to offer coupon codes and incentives for affiliates to sell your book
  6. Ability to stamp your PDF with the buyer’s identifying details to cut down on piracy
  7. Ease of programming your sales page, confirmation emails, and other aspects of your sales
  8. Good support when you run into problems

E-junkie offers seven out of the eight characteristics listed above. I haven’t used its PDF stamping ability.

Number 8 is the one area where E-junkie is a bit shaky in my eyes. E-junkie’s support is okay. There’s no telephone support. The folks who offer support via email are pleasant, but their instructions sometimes difficult for non-technical people like me.

PDF e-book sales tip 2. Figure out if you’re up to dealing with DIY sites

I shifted to E-junkie after selling my first PDF e-book on SmashWords. SmashWords was easy to set up, but it charged me a percentage of each sale that I made. I believe it takes 15% of your sales price as compensation. The rest flows to you.

After two fellow writers enthused about E-junkie’s $5 per month fee for the basic level, I jumped at the opportunity to use it for my $39 PDF book, Financial Blogging: How to Write Powerful Posts That Attract Clients. I saved a bundle selling through E-junkie instead of SmashWords when the PDF sold like crazy upon my book’s launch in August 2013. (Well, “like crazy” is an exaggeration, but sales relieved my nightmarish fears that nobody would buy my book.)

The downside of E-junkie? Little of the set-up is intuitive, at least for me. Things may have improved since my initial encounters in 2013. On the other hand, when my virtual assistant (VA) and I tried to tweak the confirmation pages and emails for my products in late 2015, my VA had to go back and forth with E-junkie’s support.

If you’re not good at dealing with HTML website coding or cryptic instructions aimed at people who understand the workings of websites, you have two options. First, find another shopping cart. Second, hire someone who can do it for you. I’ve been lucky to have two VAs who understand websites enough to plod through the work for me.

PDF e-book sales tip 3. Decide where to host your sales page

If you want to drive traffic to your website, you’re better off putting your book sales page on your website instead of on E-junkie. Then you can send potential buyers to your website instead of to E-junkie, where buyers may get distracted by exploring other items for sale on the site.

It took me awhile to figure this out. I initially set up a sales page for my book on E-junkie. The “Buy PDF” link from my website went there. After I wised up, I made the “Buy PDF” link go directly to a page where buyers can enter their PayPal information. The fewer distractions between your buyer and their purchase, the better off you’ll be.

However, if you’re selling a non-specialized, general-interest book, you may benefit from creating a sales page on E-junkie. After all, someone may stumble on it when entering a common search term into E-junkie’s search box.

PDF e-book sales tip 4. Realize that your book won’t sell itself

Remember that famous movie line, “If you build it, they will come”? It typically doesn’t work like that for books. One exception might be my friend selling a PDF textbook. Students must buy the book if they want to pass the class.

For book marketing tips, see my post on “How to market your self-published book: Lessons from my experience.”

E-junkie Q&A

Here are the answers to E-junkie questions I received from my colleague preparing to sell a PDF e-book about a financial topic. I imagine he’s not the only person with these questions.

Q. Have your customers experienced any issues using E-junkie and making payments via PayPal?
A. Only one person has contacted me with a PayPal issue. She wondered if she could make a payment via PayPal using her credit card, even though she lacked a PayPal account. Yes, that was possible.

Q. Have the watermarks been effective to prevent illegal versions of your book from appearing online?
A. I haven’t used the watermarks. I sometimes see my book advertised for free on illegitimate sites. When that happens, I send a DMCA takedown request. I send it first to the offending website. If that doesn’t work, I contact the website host. Here is a template for a DMCA takedown request that I found through the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA), one of my professional affiliations. So far, this has always succeeded, although I’ve often had to go to the hosting company. Here’s a link to help you report content that appears via Google. For an overview of your copyright rights, see “Copyright Infringement: What to Do?” on the ASJA’s Grievance Self-Help page.

Q. If you were to do it again, will you again choose E-junkie to publish your books?
A. Yes, unless I found an easier-to-use vendor in the same price range.

Q. How did you hear about E-junkie?
A. I learned about it from two writer friends who sold their self-published books and other products through E-junkie. I trusted them because we both belonged to the same professional associations.

Q. What is the worst experience that you have had working with E-junkie?
A. E-junkie’s customer service is responsive, but they can’t always explain things in terms that non-technical people like me understand. That’s why I delegate my E-junkie work to my VA.

Q. Have you and/or your customers experienced any issues with unsolicited marketing/spam mail through E-junkie?
A. No, not at all.

Q. Is there anything else that you would like us to know about E-junkie before we publish our book on there?
A. I believe you can do a free trial of E-junkie. I suggest you do a trial, set up your product, and make some sales to yourself to see how the process works. You can create a coupon code to obtain your book for free so you don’t have to spend money on the transactions. This kind of test should give you a sense of whether E-junkie works for you.

If you end up selling items or services other than e-books, remember that you can use E-junkie for those sales, too. I’ve set up sales of my coaching services via E-junkie. I’ve thought about selling my financial blogging class or my investment commentary webinar through E-junkie, but I like the nicer landing page and class registration process offered by EventBrite. Update: since I originally wrote this post, I’ve begun selling self-paced, pre-recorded versions of my classes through E-junkie.

Financial ads and we vs. you

“We are great. Hire us.” That’s the gist of many financial ads that I see. They could be for a small financial planning firm, a wealth manager, or even an institutional money manager.

Emphasizing “we” and “us” isn’t the way to go. If you’ve attended any of my writing presentations, you know I’m a big believer in the power of “you.”

However, using “we” isn’t always bad in financial ads.

I like how Bessemer Trust combined “we” with “your money” in the ad excerpt you see below. The firm puts the ad’s emphasis on the reader, not the firm.

Financial ad example from Bessemer Trust

Also, this wording is more persuasive than the gazillion financial ads and websites that simply say, “We are fiduciaries so we put your interests first.” A fiduciary blurb requires me to trust you. The Bessemer ad gives me a reason to believe.

There’s text in smaller print that supports the headline that I’ve reproduced above. For example, “Have you ever wondered if your investment advisers would behave differently if it were their own money they were investing?”

I also like Bessemer’s use of plain language in this ad. It has no jargon.

I wish I could show you the full text of this ad, which I tore out of The Wall Street Journal. But I can’t find it online. However, you can read another post, “’Smart people’: A good ad by Bessemer Trust.”