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Manage comments on your financial blog

Some investment and wealth management firms don’t allow comments on their blogs. They think the compliance risks are too high, or the process is too time-consuming. However, it is possible to manage comments on your financial blog without too much work or expense.

The most important investments in managing your financial blog’s comments happen before your blog goes live. You must decide on your comment policy and set up your technology.

1. Decide what kind of comments to allow or delete

Some comments are sure to land your blog in hot water with the regulators and your firm’s compliance. For example, you shouldn’t allow comments that are obscene, racist, or defamatory. For compliance reasons, you probably won’t allow comments flogging a specific investment fund.

Other comments are borderline. For example, how would you respond to a post that discusses a type of asset—for example, bitcoin or other blockchain investments—that you don’t like? What about a post that vehemently disagrees with you? It’s good to anticipate these issues ahead of time. Discuss them with others at your firm, including your compliance officer.

When you develop your comment policy before opening your blog to comments, it speeds up your response. It’ll also ease your compliance officer’s concern about allowing comments. As new situations develop, it’s easy to expand your comment policy to accommodate them. I imagine that the regulators will be pleased to see a written policy.

2. Decide whether to moderate comments

The upside of moderating comments, which means that you must approve comments before they appear on your site, is that comments that you wouldn’t approve won’t ever be published.

The downside of moderating comments is that the people who write them are denied the immediate satisfaction of seeing their comments on your post. That may discourage them from commenting again.

Whether or not you moderate comments, it’s good to get comments emailed to you as soon as commenters submit them. If you’re moderating comments, this will allow you to minimize the wait that people experience before their comments appear. If you’re not moderating comments, this will let you quickly delete questionable comments.

3. Consider posting your comment guidelines for the public

Posting comment guidelines for the public can be useful. This is especially true if you think you’ll receive comments that aren’t outright spam, but that you may not wish to allow on your blog.

For example, the SEC’s rules against client testimonials mean that you will probably delete any comments that could be viewed as testimonials. A client who praises you in a comment may be puzzled, or even feel hurt, when you delete such a comment. If you share your guidelines, clients will realize that your deletion isn’t directed against them. Similarly, a person who recommends an investment with the best intentions, may feel better after reading your comment guidelines.

In “Blog comment guidelines for financial advisors: Russell Investments example,” I share one large asset manager’s guidelines.

4. Set up your technology to minimize and manage spam

If you’re a small business blogger like me, you may use WordPress as your blogging platform. There are some WordPress settings that can help. For example, look at the “Discussion” section under “Settings” on your WordPress dashboard.

There you can:

  • Require that commenters give their name and email
  • Automatically send to moderation any comment that has a number of links that you specify
  • Automatically turn off commenting after a set number of days (spammers tend to target older posts that have attracted lots of traffic)—I reluctantly implemented this change earlier this year.
  • Create a blacklist that will automatically send comments containing those words to spam (see image)
WordPress spam comment blacklist

Create a spam comment blacklist using WordPress

You can learn about more settings you may use in “10+ Best Anti-Spam Plugins for WordPress 2018.” I’d like to thank Bruce Miller of SlashYourPhoneBill.com, my colleague in the American Society of Journalists and Authors, for this link.

You should also consider installing a plug-in to fight comment spam. I use Akismet. You can find alternatives in “10+ Best Anti-Spam Plugins for WordPress 2018.” If you find one you like, please let me know.

Why the fuss about spam comments?

You may wonder why I’m making a fuss about spam comments. If you’re an investment, wealth management, or financial planning professional, you need to be concerned about compliance.

However, even people like me should seek to minimize spammy comments. Links from disreputable websites will damage the reputation of your website. Here are some posts that explain why:

Shakespeare lesson for bloggers

Shakespeare said, “There is nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” I read this in The Happiness Hypothesis, which cites it to emphasize the importance of your mental filters.

The quote made me think about how what seems bad can ultimately turn out to be good for your blog.

1. You’re a lousy writer—and an even worse proofreader

If you recognize that writing and proofreader aren’t your strong suits, you can work around those weaknesses.

The obvious solution is to hire a writer or proofreader who can make up for your weaknesses.

A less obvious solution is to communicate in formats other than written blog posts. Play to your strengths. Consider sharing videos or starting a podcast.

If you’re not a good communicator in any format, perhaps blogging isn’t for you. If you’re in a multi-person firm, turning the blog over to other members of your firm could energize your firm’s blog. If you go this route, check out my post on “How to manage a group blog.”

2. You lack ideas

Your lack of ideas could spur you to aggressively research what members of your target audience want to read about. You could do this by asking them in your meetings, keeping a running list of the questions they ask, and doing research online and elsewhere. You could even have someone survey your clients.

If you lack direct access to your firm’s clients, try these techniques to learn about their interests.

Asking questions of your readers is also a great way to generate content.

Another approach is to blog about the mistakes your clients make.

The research you do to make up for your lack of ideas could result in blog posts that speak more powerfully to your the hopes, fears, and dreams of your ideal clients.

3. You’re a financial professional who has made financial mistakes

Financial mistakes don’t disqualify you from blogging. In fact, sharing your personal story can boost the impact of what you write.

Carl Richards’ article, “How a Financial Pro Lost His House” sticks in my mind more than seven years after it appeared in The New York Times.

4. Your blog doesn’t get responses

It’s hard to find a silver lining in this one. However, if your blog isn’t generating responses, then perhaps there’s a bigger problem in your approach to your business. For example, perhaps you’re targeting too narrow a niche, or the wrong niche, for you.

Another problem might be that you’re not spreading the word about your blog aggressively enough.

Look at the statistics generated by your blog. If they’re bad, then let that spur you to examine what you could do better.

5. Your blog attracts too many unqualified prospects

It’s disappointing—and potentially time-consuming—if your blog attracts too many unqualified prospects.

You may be able to fix this by:

  • Changing the topics you address (or how you address them) on your blog
  • Making it easier for readers to identify whether they are one of your ideal clients
  • Creating a better process for screening clients who contact you (and having referrals or products for those who don’t qualify to work with you)

Other negatives that can be positives?

I’ve  discussed several negatives that can become positives. Can you add others to this list?

Why I’m lucky clients didn’t flock to me “describes how something I initially saw as negative helped to push me in a positive direction.

Financial blog post test–do YOU pass?

Do your posts pass the financial blog post test? If they do, you raise your odds of attracting clients and prospects. Aim to put “yes” in the check-boxes below.

TOPIC

___ Does your post solve a problem for the reader? Most people who search online are looking for a solution to a problem.

___ Is your topic narrow enough? The people who are searching for solutions want answers specific to their circumstances. If you tackle budgeting tips for everybody, you’ll satisfy nobody. Instead, target people who share characteristics such as age, income, and other characteristics that are important to the challenges they face.

___ Are you addressing a topic that your target audience cares about? Of course, you have to identify your target audience before you can answer this question. Here’s an example of what not to do. Don’t write a blog post about Social Security claiming strategies for an audience of twenty-something teachers who work in a state where teachers aren’t covered by Social Security. It’s wrong in two ways because of your audience’s age and lack of Social Security coverage.

TITLE

___ Does your title attract readers by appealing to their WIIFM (or by intriguing them in some other way)?

WRITING

___ After reading your first paragraph, will the reader know the main point that you’re making?

___ Is your post well organized? For example, does it pass the first-sentence-check test?

___ Have you avoided jargon? When you’re writing for professionals, a little jargon may help. If you’re not targeting institutional investors, check my list in “Words to avoid in your investment communications with regular folks.”

___ Have you avoided common grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors? Mistakes undermine your credibility. Style guidelines can help you avoid some mistakes, as I explain in “Style guidelines for financial services firms.

___ Is your writing reader-friendly? Your writing should be compelling, clear, and concise. You’ll find tips for achieving this in my financial blogging class.

FORMATTING

___ Does your post use headings? Headings help to break up your post into manageable chunks. Another way to break up your text and introduce more white space is to keep your paragraphs short. White space makes your posts easier to read, especially for people using mobile devices.

___ Does your post use images, as appropriate? Especially when you share your posts via social media, images help to attract more views.

PROMOTION

___ Do you have a plan for promoting your blog post? If you write a great blog post that nobody sees, it does you no good. Plan to promote your blog posts via email, social media, and more.

 

If your writing passes this financial blog post test, you’re in good shape. Congratulations!

If you think you could improve your financial blogging skills, check out my book, Financial Blogging: How to Write Powerful Posts That Attract Clients, and my financial blogging class, available on-demand.

Does your article pass these writing tests?

Are you thinking of writing an article or blog post, but feel insecure about your skill as a writer? I’ve developed some tests that can help you attract readers in a way that’s easy to read. Give your article the tests that I describe below. These writing tests can also help your other communications aimed at clients, prospects, and referral sources.

WIIFM test

How can you cut through the clutter of the gazillion articles competing for your readers’ attention?

When your article appeals to your readers’ WIIFM, you command their attention. WIIFM is short for “What’s In It For Me?” You need to describe how readers will benefit from the content in your article. Ideally, you’ll help them to solve a problem.

It’s best if you introduce your readers’ problem – and your solution – in words that they would use. Drop the jargon unless it’s part of your readers’ daily vocabulary. To help you achieve this, fill in the blanks in the following sentence: “I’m worried about … and you can help me by …”

You pass the WIIFM test when your readers see that you can fill in the blanks in my sentence.

First-sentence check

When your articles are easy to skim, your message will reach more readers than if your articles require careful attention.

To perform the first-sentence check, read your headings and the first sentence of every paragraph in your article. In combination, do they give the reader a good idea of your main points? If so, you’ve written something that’s easy to skim. It’s also more likely to draw in readers interested in your topic.

This first-sentence check works because strong business writing typically starts each paragraph with a topic sentence that summarizes the paragraph’s main point or topic. When I’ve done writing workshops, participants tell me this is one of the biggest ideas they’ve picked up.

When an article fails the first-sentence check, it’s time to rearrange your paragraphs, rewrite your topic sentences, or rethink how you approach your topic. For more on this approach, read “Quick check for writers, with an economic commentary example.”

Rule of 42-14-2

Wordy writing is difficult to read. Direct marketers’ research suggest that your readership starts to drop once your articles average more than 42 words per paragraph, 14 words per sentence, or two syllables per word. This is according to research cited in workshops by Ann Wylie of Wylie Communications.

Microsoft Word’s readability statistics will give you an idea of how your writing fares in terms of these statistics. The analytical tool at HemingwayApp.com (discussed in “Free help for wordy writers!“) can also help you identify text that’s too long-winded and give you ideas about how to simplify.

You don’t necessarily have to pare your averages down to 42, 14, and two. But becoming more aware of wordiness, and shortening your sentences and paragraphs, will make your writing more effective.

Too busy to test your writing?

If you’re too busy to test your writing, ask for outside editorial help. Perhaps you have a colleague or a client who can give you feedback. You can also hire an editor.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Financial blog topic: write a letter

A letter can be a great format for your financial blog. Writing a letter can help you tackle difficult topics or get a new perspective on an old topic.

I’m not thinking about the kinds of letter you usually write. I don’t mean prospecting letters, quarterly reports, or requests for documentation.

Instead, I am thinking about letters that tackle topics that you feel strongly about. Sure, you can write about those topics in a regular blog post. However, there’s something about a letter that makes it more personal.

Different letter recipients, different content

Imagine, for example, that you write a letter to one of the following people:

  • Your mom, whom you are grateful to for teaching you the value of saving and investing
  • Your son, who just started his first job with a 401(k) plan
  • Your client who holds no stocks in her retirement plan
  • Ted Benna, father of the 401(k) plan

Each of these letters might discuss retirement. However, your choice of recipient will affect the opinions you express, your tone, and the details you use to make your point.

Letter-writing benefits

The details that you use in a letter—especially a letter to your mom or son—are likely to deepen the reader’s sense of who you are. Are you a person like them? A person they can relate to? Your letter to a client will show if you can empathize, or you’re coldly logical. Your letter to Ted Benna may display your technical expertise.

I think that showing your personality, which I’ve written about in “How to add personality and warmth to your financial writing—part one”  is one of the strengths of a letter.

Another reason to use the letter format is to make your language more reader-friendly. I remember struggling with a topic in my essay-writing class at Radcliffe Seminars many years ago. To end my stilted language, my teacher suggested I write a letter to a classmate, telling her what I wanted to say. He hoped that would pull more conversational language out of me. Visualizing your ultimate reader always helps, as I discussed in “Your mother and the ‘fiscal cliff.’

Have YOU ever written a blog post in the form of a letter? If so, please share a link in the comments.

By the way, this post was inspired by a book, Karen Tei Yamashita’s Letters to Memory, which takes the form of letters to historical figures and other people. It’s a provocative read about Japanese-American history that brings in Greek and Indian mythology and other diverse topics, thanks to her choice of letter recipients.

Early Bird registration for financial blogging class

Learn more about my financial blogging class!

7 tips to help you write more and be a better person

Are you looking for tips to help you write or blog more frequently? Some of the tips from the “Work Well” chapter of Kate Hanley’s How to Be a Better Person may help.

1. Mono-task one thing a day

This is one of my favorite tips. Hanley says:

Multitasking is a fact of life and can sometimes be useful, but it’s not always the best choice. When you work on the most important thing on your daily to-do list, invite your best thinking by closing your email program, putting your phone on airplane mode, blocking yourself from social media, and doing one thing. You’ll get it done more effectively and efficiently when you do.

This works well for me. I’ve cranked out many of my blog posts writing on a steno pad on vacation, as I’ve discussed in “No batteries required: My favorite blogging technique.”

2. Make a learning plan

“If you want your career to continue to grow, you need your skills and interests to keep evolving too. Ensure your growth by making a plan to keep learning,” says Hanley.

I offer some learning tips for writers in “Confessions of a lousy writer—and 6 tips for you.” Also, I offer a financial blogging class.

3. Delegate better

You don’t need to prepare every part of your blog post, article, or white paper yourself. Outsource the parts that aren’t the best use of your time.  That’w what I do with the images and tricky formatting of my blog posts.

When you do outsource, don’t micromanage the person who’s doing the work for you. Hanley says to tell the person to “ask for help if the person gets stuck, but otherwise, let them at it. People who are doing something for the first time may make mistakes—focus on appreciating the effort more than the results at first and give positive feedback they can hear.”

4. Take on uncomfortable tasks

Are you scared to write a kind of article or other publication for the first time? Give it it a go.

Hanley says, “Accept your missteps and view them as ways to refine your skills. Growth can be uncomfortable, but so is staying in the same place for too long.”

5. Get better at prioritizing

You can’t do everything. You’ll just drive yourself crazy if you try to do it all.

Hanley says,

Here are some guidelines for setting priorities in a way that helps you focus on the important instead of merely the urgent: Think about the things on your list that make the biggest impact and that mean the most to you—those are your highest priorities. Next come the things that have a big impact, even though you may not love them. For things that don’t move the needle and that you don’t enjoy, either delegate them or bang them out in one concentrated burst.

6. Work smarter, not harder

Identifying your priorities, as suggested in Tip #5, will help you to work smarter instead of harder.

Hanley says,

The eighty/twenty rule—otherwise known as the Pareto principle for the late nineteenth-century economist Vilfredo Pareto who noticed that 80 percent of the land in Italy was owned by 20 percent of the people—says that 80 percent of your results comes from 20 percent of your efforts. Spend some time thinking about the simple actions that, when done consistently, result in big strides toward your goals—strengthening relationships with the 20 percent of your clients who generate 80 percent of revenue, for example, or making sure you get ninety minutes (approximately 20 percent of an eight-hour day) of focused time to produce your best work (no meetings or Facebooking allowed). Now make sure you prioritize those needle movers when planning what you’ll get done in a day or a week. Small, meaningful steps taken with consistency can take you everywhere you want to go.

7. Make time for your soul work

Hanley says,

Every job comes with a long list of responsibilities, but you have an obligation to do the work that speaks to your soul too, even if it doesn’t show up anywhere on that list. When you plan your week, make sure to block out a chunk or two of time that you can devote to the work that’s speculative—the proposal for the new project, or even the art you create on the side that keeps you a passionate and engaged person—because that energy will spill over into the narrower confines of your “job,” too.

Blogging is soul work for me. I do it because I enjoy it more than I do it for an ROI measured in dollars and cents.

 

Disclosure: If you click on an Amazon link in this post and then buy something, I will receive a small commission. I provide links to books only when I believe they have value for my readers.

Early Bird registration for financial blogging class

Learn more about my financial blogging class!

Bloggers, honor your influencers

Totally original content doesn’t exist. Everyone is influenced by others. Your work is not diminished by giving credit to them.

As Jeff Goins says in Real Artists Don’t Starve:

…cite your sources, giving credit where credit is due. This won’t discredit you. It will likely endear you to your influences and your audience.

What might citing your sources mean for a financial blogger? It could mean naming and linking to the website of a person, article, or blog that inspired you. Or, linking to a resource for further information. One advantage of sharing your sources is that it gives insight into you as a person. It shows what you read and the resources that you trust. It also shows that you are ethical, in terms of giving credit where credit is due.

Goins also stressed the need to bring something original to what you take from others. He says, “When you steal, don’t just copy and paste the work of your predecessors,…bring those influences together in a new way.”

If Goins doesn’t convince you to credit others, remember that violating copyright can land you in legal trouble. I’ve written about copyright in “Financial bloggers’ posts may violate copyright law.”

Is Real Artists a good resource for writers?

Goins attracted my attention after I read something he wrote about building his career as a writer and blogger.

If you’re in the early stages of building a career as a writer, you may find inspiration and practical tips in this book.

Disclosure:  If you click on an Amazon link in this post and then buy something, I will receive a small commission. I link only to books in which I find some value for my blog’s readers.

Early Bird registration for financial blogging class

Learn more about my financial blogging class!

4 financial blog post ideas from a writing teacher

Writing teacher Roger Rosenblatt’s essay assignments inspired me with ideas for your blog posts. He has had students write essays in each of the formats listed below, as he wrote in Unless It Moves the Human Heart: The Craft and Art of Writing.

1. Menu

How could you adopt a menu to a blog post? For starters, you could riff on the idea of “pick one from column A and two from column B” to discuss essentials portfolios.

Or, you might discuss your financial planning process in terms of appetizer, main course, and dessert.

2. School song

I never learned the school songs for my high school, college, or grad school. I don’t know if Oberlin College even had a school song. That makes this assignment hard for me.

But I think of school songs as very “rah rah.” Is there a topic that makes you excited in a rah-rah way? If so, then perhaps you can write a song about it. Look at the structure of your own school’s song to give your writing the feeling of a song.

 

Or, perhaps you can broaden your scope beyond school songs. Is there another type of song that better suits your personality? Start there.

Another idea is to start with the opening line of a famous song, and then go wild from there.

3. Stand-up comic routine

I can’t crack a joke so I admire the gifts of you comedians.

You can tackle what’s truly funny about your financial field. That could help break down your readers’ fears about tackling their finances. It could also help them to relate to you as a person.

Many comedy routines have an edge to them. You can use comedy to address topics that disturb you, such as inadequate retirement savings or fraudulent investments.

4. Kiss off letter

Have you ever told anyone to “kiss off”? The emotion associated with such letters can be powerful. I can see the advantage of sharing your passions with your readers.

On the other hand, you don’t want to scare readers into viewing you as volatile. Tread carefully.

I can imagine an effective letter that rails against bad financial products or services. Or, maybe you’d take on bad decisions.

If you try one…

If you try one of these approaches, please share your work in the comments. I’d love to see it.

If you liked this post, you may also like “20 topics for your financial blog.”

 

 

Disclosure: If you click on an Amazon link in this post and then buy something, I will receive a small commission. I only link to books in which I find some value for my blog’s readers.

Blog post headings vs. no headings for your financial blog

Should you use blog post headings when you write? One of my readers asked me this recently as he worked on his financial firm’s blog.

Reasons to use blog post headings

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ve probably guessed that I like headings.

For starters, headings make blog posts easier to scan by dividing your content into distinct blocks. When the headings capture the focus of each of your blog post’s sections, they make it easy for your reader to decide if your blog post is worth reading. They also add visual appeal.

Here’s what one of readers told me about why he likes headings:

Blog post headings help me to:

  • Quickly scan the content of an article – beyond just reading the title
  • Zero in on the action steps that the writer is recommending.

Headings may also improve the SEO (search engine optimization) of your blog post. According to “Headings and why you should use them” on the Yoast blog:

…headings still help Google to grasp the main topics of a long post. …Google might scan your post…and why not make that as easy as possible?

When to skip blog post headings

Skip headings when your blog posts are too short or unfocused.

How short is too short? This post has fewer than 300 words, but I still think the headings are helpful. If I didn’t use headings, could you grasp at a quick glance that I discuss when to skip headings?

On the other hand, I don’t think headings would have added anything to my post, “Writers, do you know when something’s wrong?” There wasn’t enough content there.

YOUR thoughts

I’m curious to know how you use headings in your blog posts. Please comment.

Don’t give up on being different

Do you worry that nothing can make your writing stand out from the rest of the pack?

Here’s some inspiration for you from Roger Rosenblatt’s Unless It Moves the Human Heart: The Craft and Art of Writing:

Eventually, we all tell the same stories, yet none of our stories sound like anyone else’s. Think of your dullest family member, the pixilated uncle who tells the same family anecdote over and over every Thanksgiving. Even he never tells his story the same way twice.

Rosenblatt’s statement reminds us that everyone expresses things differently—and their own way of expressing themselves varies over time. As a result, the way that you express yourself is inherently different.

But, you may say, I don’t want to be a boring uncle. Of course not. That’s why you should build on your differences.

Ways to differentiate your writing

Consider using the techniques I discuss in “How to add personality and warmth to your financial writing, part one” and “Part two.” (The two posts are summarized in “Infographic: 5 ways to add personality to your financial writing.”)

Also, strive to make your writing achieve the three C’s of being compelling, clear, and concise.

Another way to differentiate yourself is to speak to a narrowly defined audience. Show that you understand your audience’s unique characteristics.

Do these things, and you’ll achieve a difference that attracts readers.

Disclosure: If you click on an Amazon link in this post and then buy something, I will receive a small commission. I only link to books in which I find some value for my blog’s readers.