Reader question: How do we get people to read to the end?

“How do we get people to read to the end of our newsletter articles and blog posts?” This question came up in one of my writing workshops.

I share some ideas in this article. I also suggest that you complement your initial question by asking “How can we ensure that people who don’t read to the end—or who don’t read every paragraph—still grasp our main points?”

1. Write in a reader-friendly way

To attract and retain your readers throughout your articles, write in a reader-friendly way.

This starts with clearly identifying your topic and how it’ll help your reader. Do this in your introduction to snare readers.

Next, write headings that guide your reader through your article. These should show how your article will deliver on the promises made in your introduction.

Observe other good writing practices, such as strong topic sentences and clear, concise writing. Clunky writing discourages readers.

2. Use “gold coins”

Readers tend to bail out of reading online after less than two minutes. That’s the point where Poynter’s Eyetrack research suggests “establishing a ‘gold coin’ like a simple pullout quote or visual element that keeps the reader engaged about halfway through a long story.” This could be a provocative quote, graph, or photograph. Or it could be “a telling detail, a bit of description, an apt phrase, a moving anecdote,” as Dr. Ink says in “Dr. Ink Discovers the Sixth ‘W’.” As Dr. Ink says, “If these are spaced strategically in the story, the logic goes, the reader will have incentive to move down the path. As soon as the gold coins run out, the reader leaves the forest.”

Bonus: Capture readers who skim

It’s not realistic to get every reader to finish each of your articles. However, if you observe the tips listed above, you’ll get more mileage out of your articles. This is because you’ll communicate well with those who only skim. They can still grasp the gist of your articles.

Image courtesy of foto76 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

My big newsletter mistake’s lesson for you

When’s the best day and time to send your e-newsletters? My January mistake upset my beliefs about this topic.

My usual routine and its rationale

I usually send out my monthly newsletter around 8:15 a.m. on the first non-holiday Tuesday of the month. I send it early in the day because my Constant Contact statistics indicate that many people open it before 9 a.m. I figure they get to work early. I’m happy to make it easy for them to read before they’re distracted by work.

I picked Tuesday because I’ve read that people are distracted on Mondays and Fridays as they start and end their workweeks.

I publish on a consistent schedule because I’ve read that your audience values consistency. They want to rely on receiving your content regularly.

However, I skip holiday Tuesdays because I figure my audience reads me at work. I hope you’re not checking email on holidays.

My mistake: Sunday delivery

I made my mistake in haste after proofreading my letter the Sunday before my usual Tuesday in January 2013. I forgot to schedule my newsletter instead of letting it default to sending immediately.

Oh horror! I imagined my newsletter languishing unopened in hundreds of email inboxes. I was extra mad at myself because this newsletter was most of my subscribers’ last reminder about registering for my blogging class. I probably cursed out loud that afternoon.

The surprising results

But lo and behold! Over the following days, my newsletter hit its usual level of subscribers opening it. I didn’t suffer at all for sending it at the “wrong” time.

What a relief! I don’t need to freak out the next time my newsletter deviates from its usual schedule. However, I plan to return to my usual schedule because it’s good discipline for me.

What’s the point?

My experience convinced me that Scott Stratten, who tweets as @unmarketing, was right when he said in “The best time never to send email” that “The best time to never send email is when someone else told you to” because what matters is what recipients do when they receive your emails.

On the other hand, Michael Katz of Blue Penguin Development may be right that there are bad times, but no best times to send your emails, as he suggested in “Why Today is a Bad Day to Publish Your Newsletter.”

What works for you?

I’m curious about your results from sending e-newsletters at different times. Do some times work better than others for you?

Newsletters: Can you offer too much good stuff?

A newsletter can work with as little as one good article. While more articles may boost the number of clicks, my experience suggests that most people only sample longer newsletters. The bottom line? Don’t feel you need to push out a multi-article newsletter.

Highest ROI for one-article newsletters

You get the biggest bang for your buck by simply sending some sort of newsletter, even something with just a few lines of text. Why? Because the mere act of appearing in your subscribers’ inboxes is a powerful reminder of your existence.

The longer your newsletter, the more readership drops toward the bottom of the page

I find that the first article in my monthly newsletter typically gets the most clicks. Clicks drop dramatically as readers scan down the page. Still, overall, my newsletter has received way more clicks than average, even after I introduced a streamlined format in May.

What’s YOUR newsletter strategy?

I’m curious to learn about what number of newsletter articles works best for you. Please comment.

Should you go bold?

Bold type, which is thicker than regular type, can make it easier for readers to grasp your meaning. This happens only if you bold wisely. Go overboard with bold, and you may lose readers.

When to bold

Here are three ways I’d use bold in a blog post:

1.  Bold your headings or the first part of your numbered lists. I’m a big fan of headings as visual indicators of your main points as well as your shifts from one point to another. This goes for bolding new points on your list, but only when the bolded text is followed by plain text. A whole block of bold text is hard to read.

2.  Bold the key sentence in one or more paragraphs. Michael Katz of Blue Penguin does this well in his newsletter.

3.  Use bold for one key sentence. It could be the eye-catching content that draws readers to your blog post. Or the “call to action” that invites your readers to contact you.

Bold vs. heading format

Your choice of how to highlight your text may affect how well it is picked up by online search engines.

Some folks have told me that any bolded words are given more weight by search engines. On the other hand, Beth Graddon-Hodgson of WriteSourcing told me this only applies to text that is emphasized by a heading tag, so the text is treated as a title. However, this “subject is highly debated,” said Graddon-Hodgson. “Some people believe that ANY changes to text make a difference with SEO since they incorporate different coding.” Check with your SEO expert for the latest opinions on this debate.

Used wisely, bold can boost the impact of your writing. Give it a try!

Poll: Which high-impact prospecting technique works best for you?

Some marketing techniques work better than others for financial advisors.

The five most effective techniques for freelancers (who share key characteristics with financial advisors) include the following, as described in The Wealthy Freelancer:

 

  1. Tapping your network
  2. Getting more out of existing clients
  3. Investing in smart local networking
  4. Leveraging social media as a networking tool
  5. Employing direct mail

My network has always worked best for me, but the other four techniques help, too.

My referrals come mostly from current and past clients, many of whom subscribe to my monthly e-newsletter, another big contributor to my marketing successes. Although my clients typically work for large companies that aren’t big on social media, they seem impressed by my social media visibility. Social media has expanded my network to include some great professional colleagues, referral sources, and an occasional client.

Smart local networking inspired me to launch my business. Many Bostonians have been generous with their time, advice, and connections. The Boston Security Analysts Society became one of my first clients and its timely presentations have provided the topics for many of my blog posts.

Direct mail has been the least effective technique for me. But I probably haven’t given the U.S. mail a fair chance because I’ve been so lucky with referrals from my network.

Thank you, all of my colleagues and referral sources, who have encouraged me! Every little bit helps.

What works best for you? Please answer the poll in the right-hand column of this blog. Feel free to leave a comment, too. I’ll report on the results in my January 2011 e-newsletter.

Guest post: “What’s a tomato got to do with getting your fund discovered?”

Mutual fund marketing is the focus of this week’s guest post by Dan Sondhelm. His post originally appeared on SunStar Strategic’s FundFactor blog.

What’s a tomato got to do with getting your fund discovered?

by Dan Sondhelm

Have you ever grown a tomato? If so, you know it’s not as simple as just putting a seed in the ground. In fact, passionate tomato farmers often start their seedlings indoors several weeks before planting season. Once outside, they need a good dose of sunshine and the right amount of water, not to mention great soil, shelter from chill winds and a strong trellis. You get the idea.
Growing a fund requires similar specialized knowledge and attention. According to Morningstar, in the open-end mutual fund industry of over $7 trillion assets, the top 10 fund firms hold 58%. That’s one big tomato! The next 40 hold 28%, while you and the remaining 600 plus firms compete for the remaining 14%. And, fund flows follow a similar pattern.
In the past few weeks, I’ve been privileged to speak on panels addressing distribution for smaller funds. I’ve met dozens of smaller fund managers there. Some are managers with unique investment processes. Others are experts in their asset classes, still others have amazing performance. Yet, they’re frustrated by lack of fund flows, anxious about mounting expenses and hungry for ideas about how to get the recognition they deserve in this crowded market place. So, how do you differentiate your fund from the others and get discovered?

Like growing tomatoes, gaining visibility – and resultant sales – requires commitment. As a small firm, you’re competing for attention with firms who spend significant dollars on their marketing activities, both in the advisor market and at the retail level. They spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for TV commercials, glossy magazine style annual reports and sponsorships with major distribution platforms and public venues.

Making the Commitment to Grow.
Distribution is at the heart of the potential for success. But just getting on platforms is the equivalent of tossing your tomato seed in the dirt and hoping for the best. Successful distribution lies in nurturing the effort. Like adding water and light, protecting from the frost and spraying for bugs, growing your fund requires consistent attention. You have to ensure you’re in the right channels, and that advisors and investors know you, know your people and know your products.

We understand smaller firms are often made up of a handful of people. Not all firms can afford a wholesaling staff or have resources to sustain a significant marketing presence. So, how do you make it work?

Design a Distribution Strategy.
Write it down. Make someone accountable for each step. We all know that what gets measured gets done. Traditional marketing wisdom says you must address the four P’s: Product, Price, Place (Platforms), Promotion. This applies to fund distribution, too. But what about a fifth P, Performance? It’s true, not many investors will flock to a poor performing fund, but relying solely on performance is risky business. While performance may get you your 15 minutes of fame, performance chasers will drop your fund for the next hot item if they don’t really understand your investment philosophy and process or know the fund manager well.

Cover all the bases
Product

• Build a story around your investment process that highlights the opportunities of your asset class and process and differentiates you from your competition.
• Add personality by discussing your current sector strategy and top investment selections. Let investors know about the good decisions you’ve made in the past and the fund’s current positioning.
• And of course, commit to excellent performance.
Price
• Set competitive pricing – You’ll notice I didn’t say lower than average. Many managers think this is important, but many funds with lower-than-average expenses don’t sell. What does matter is how your fund compares overall to other funds that are selling.
• Set your share classes so that you are priced appropriately for the advisor types you are targeting. The preponderance of flows are going to no-load and load-waived shares. For smaller firms without existing relationships or sales teams, no load may be the way to go.
Place (Platforms)
• Select the distribution channels and share classes that make sense for your fund.
• Get on Schwab, TD Ameritrade, Fidelity, and Pershing – these are the most appropriate for smaller firms with limited distribution. Then, establish a relationship with your account manager, who can guide you through the maze of opportunities available to reach platform advisors.
• Be realistic in your expectations. If you have no prior relationships with wirehouse firms, you are too small to meet their criteria and/or there is no demand from their representatives, it’s unlikely they will add you to their platform in the short term.
Promotion
• Establish relationships with advisor firm research teams to get and stay on their radar. Where applicable, find out and work toward meeting criteria to be placed on preferred/recommended lists.
• Take advantage of marketing opportunities offered by some platforms. Develop a strong relationship with your account manager so you are alerted to and aware of opportunities for proprietary mailings or sponsorship opportunities at local and national events.
• Consider Virtual Wholesaling – use third party endorsements and technology to communicate with advisors in a structured and timely way to attract and retain investors, while building your brand.
o Proactively engage the media. Let the financial press sell you; third-party endorsed news coverage in national and local business publications adds credibility.
o Leverage third-party endorsed reprints in your other sales and marketing efforts, in print, through social networks and on your website.
o Keep your website up to date with timely commentary and news coverage. Regularly post themes about your fund and the good decisions you made. If your site doesn’t allow you to add timely information, upgrade it. Advisors won’t come back if there is nothing new.
o Communicate. Regular communication with advisors is critical in order to keep your story top of mind. Consistently offering useful, meaningful information will position you in their minds as the expert on certain topics.
o Use monthly email newsletters to drive advisors to new content and fresh ideas on your website such as recent commentaries, Webinar promotions and media coverage.
o Host Webinars or conference calls for advisors on a quarterly basis.
o Take advantage of platform outreach programs to stay in front of their advisors; many of these are free.
o Develop a social media strategy to distribute timely information in the networks investors frequent. Social media allows you to listen to shareholder concerns and become part of the conversation.
Growth will happen if you take the right steps. Like a tomato, the more care and attention you provide, the greater the likelihood for success. Healthy growth depends a great deal on creating relationships. With today’s email, internet and social media opportunities, expanding your reach is easier than ever before. Make a commitment to building strong relationships where advisors and investors can learn to trust and respect your firm and its expertise.
Dan Sondhelm provides personalized services to money management firms and service providers, REITs, public companies and pre-IPO companies seeking to attract and retain investors. Dan is also the executive editor of the company’s online blog, Fund Factor.

Poll: Would you like to change my e-newsletter?

As a reader of my e-newsletters, you’ve probably got an opinion about what you like and where I could improve. One reader said, “I’m frustrated because I can’t read all of your articles in one sitting. Could you re-send your newsletter later in the month, so I get a second chance?” She made me wonder if I should shorten or change my newsletter.

Please answer the poll in the right-hand column of my blog, asking what I should do with my newsletter. Your choices include the following:

  • Don’t change it
  • Offer a monthly reminder with link to complete newsletter
  • Offer a monthly subscription to top 3 articles
  • Shorten it
  • None of the above

I’ll report on the results in my next newsletter.

no, No, NO: My business card shouldn’t add me to your e-newsletter list

“When people give you their business cards, you’re in a relationship, so you can add them to your e-newsletter list.”

Photo by Almoko


I disagree with the statement above. But I’ve heard it from many people.

Technically speaking, you may not violate the CAN-SPAM Act if you email everyone who gives you their card. But, in my opinion, you’re violating the spirit of the law. You’re also making me unhappy.

I use two techniques to keep my conscience clean.

When I meet people, I ask if I can add them to my e-newsletter distribution. I tell them they may enjoy the newsletter’s tips for client communications and articles on investment and wealth managers. For prospective clients, the newsletter is a gentle reminder of my availability, so they can find me once they need a writer.

If I obtain an email address, but forget to discuss my newsletter, I send an email asking if they’d like to subscribe. I include a link to a sample issue.

Rather than force people to sign themselves up, I offer to do it for them. “Just hit ‘reply’ to this message and send me an empty email. I’ll add you to my distribution.” This is a technique I learned from Andrea Novakowski, a coach. Interestingly, most people write a brief message in reply to my newsletter subscription offer.

Maybe I’m too conservative. I don’t automatically add my clients to my newsletter distribution. I treat them as I’d like to be treated.

Guide to e-newsletters

If you have questions about e-newsletters, mosey on over to “The freelancer’s guide to e-newsletters” on Michelle Rafter’s WordCount blog. I’m quoted extensively in answers to questions including

  • What’s so great about e-newsletters?
  • How long should it be?
  • What kind of software can I use?
  • How can I get subscribers?

If you’re a financial blogger, you can recycle your blog posts in your newsletter, perhaps adding one unique bit of content for your subscribers.

It takes time to build an e-newsletter email list. Even if you don’t think you need one yet, start building your newsletter now.

Great blog posts don’t matter…

…if people don’t read them. As the saying goes, “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

Don’t count on readers for your financial advice or investment services blog posts to come to your blog. Grow your audience by making your content available the way your readers prefer.

A client recently reinforced this lesson for me. She said, “Susan, I love those links you post on LinkedIn!” I was surprised. This client had declined my offer to send her my e-newsletter, which is the main way my clients read my blog posts. However, my content developed greater appeal when delivered via LinkedIn, a way that suits her style. Linking to my blog posts in my LinkedIn status updates is a bigger success than I’d realized.

Here are some ways you can make your blog posts available to satisfy your readers’ preferences.

1. LinkedIn status updates. I explain how to post links in “Reader question: How can I share my investment commentary on LinkedIn?”

2. LinkedIn groups. Once you’ve shared your link as a status update, it’s easy to share it with your LinkedIn groups. First, go to the status update in which you shared your link and click “Share.” Second, check the box that says “Post to groups.”

Start typing the names of the relevant groups in the box to the right. The group names will auto-fill. Finally, hit the Share button in the lower left.

3. E-newsletter. An e-newsletter is a great way to package your blog posts for readers who’ll never visit a blog or use an RSS feed. My blog post, “E-newsletters: Great marketing tool for financial advisors and writers,” discusses this option in greater detail.

4. Other social media: Twitter, Facebook, and more. You can post links to your blog posts on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites much as you would on LinkedIn. Of course, link-posting will reach a point of diminishing returns. Figure out which sites yield your best results, and then focus on them.

You may find that more of your prospects are on Facebook than Twitter or other social media sites. I think this is especially true of parents who get online to monitor their children. I recently started a Facebook business page because I felt I needed to make content available in more ways to my audience.

5. Guest posts. Appearing as a guest on someone else’s blog is another way to get your content seen. While many blogs want original content for their guest spots, some don’t. You can learn more in “Audiocast: How to Guest-Blog on Personal Finance or Investments.”

If you’re not using any of these methods, it’s time to re-think your approach to blogging.