Posts

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.

Do your blog posts have laugh lines?

A fashion magazine article praising laugh lines surprised me. What about all those years of magazines slamming “laugh lines” as “crow’s feet”? And, what can this reversal tell you about your blog posts?

Here’s part of a crow’s feet apology in “For the love of laugh lines” in Allure (sorry, it’s not freely available online).

We shouldn’t have called them “scary crevices.” But we did, in 2006, and then we doubled down with: “The most evil eye skin problems can be combated–without voodoo.” So bonus points for being creepy and weird! Then we just got personal (in the same story): “You don’t have to be a chronic squinter like George W. to end up with crow’s-feet.”

Oh my! It wasn’t very nice what they said in 2006, was it?

In 2018, Allure has seen the light. The author quotes dermatologist Ranella Hirsch saying, “More than any other wrinkle, crow’s-feet are expressive. I often say, ‘Trying to emote without facial expressions is like trying to text without emojis.'”

Later, the article quotes psychologist Alexander Todorov “…we tend to believe genuine smiles are accompanied by crow’s-feet.”

What does this have to do with blogging? I believe that, just as an imperfect facial surface can make your smile seem more genuine, less-than-totally-polished writing can make you seem more real and approachable. That’s an asset. A few imperfections act as “laugh lines.” Showing personality in your blog posts helps as I discussed in How to add personality and warmth to your financial writing–Part one.

Do your blog posts have laugh lines?

Audio slideshow: What can bloggers learn from a vacation stroll?

You can learn blogging lessons in some of the strangest places. Hit the arrow on the image below to play the slides and hear the audio.

Some of you know that I’m not a big fan of audiocasts and video. However, I’m doing my best to learn how to accommodate the members of my audience who enjoy those forms.

 

 

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.

Use a wacky days list when you run out of blog ideas

If you ever run low on blog post ideas, a wacky days list may solve your problem. You can use the list as the basis for brainstorming exercises. Whether it’s weekly calendarEmployee Appreciation Day or Be Nasty Day, it’s amazing how a holiday calendar can spark ideas for your financial blog.

Days with obvious relevance

The titles of some days may lead directly to blog post ideas. For example, Employee Appreciation Day made me think of:

  1. How you can help your employees by offering a better 401(k) plan
  2. How your firm appreciates its employees’ continued learning as they try to better serve clients
  3. Three budget-friendly ways to show your appreciation for your employees

Days that trigger personal stories

Some of the calendar days may trigger personal memories that you can use to make a point for your readers. Let’s take National Frozen Food Day. You have a blog post if you remember the great “deal” on frozen food that went bad when you didn’t have enough room in your freezer. There’s a lesson about false economies.

Days that serve as metaphors

Plant a Flower Day could serve as a metaphor. You can suggest steps that your clients can take that will brighten their financial lives as a flower might brighten their gardens.

How about YOU?

How do you use holidays or named days to inspire your blog’s editorial calendar? I’d like to hear from you.

 

Image courtesy of MR LIGHTMAN at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Blogging Q&A with advisor Lazetta Rainey Braxton

Lazetta Rainey Braxton’s plainspoken style makes her writing very appealing. She notes that writing about basic financial planning topics has “attracted DIY clients who are ready to deepen their financial planning efforts.” Her blogging experience also shows the value of sharing your content in different places, including distribution through the CNBC Digital Financial Advisor Council and an e-newsletter. Lazetta is the founder and CEO of Financial Fountains in Baltimore, Maryland. I’m delighted to share her insights in this Q&A, the latest in a series on this blog that started with Michael Kitces.

Q. When did you start your blog?

A. Your Financial Haven was launched December 2010 to encourage individuals to build their own financial haven in the midst of changing economic conditions. The blog’s mission is to offer a safe space for individuals to read, reflect, and respond in their own way to financial issues affecting their lives. The content focuses on enhancing knowledge and providing reassurance as individuals strengthen their financial position and move closer to reaching their goals.

Q. How long have you been publishing with CNBC as part of their Digital FA Council? I saw one of your posts on NBR.com. Does everything from CNBC.com get republished on NBR.com?

A. The CNBC Digital Financial Advisor Council is the brainchild of CNBC Digital’s senior editor at large Jim Pavia (former editorial director at Investment News). In October 2013, Jim invited 20 financial advisors to assist with providing CNBC Digital content related to long-term financial planning. Blogs written by Council members are posted on CNBC.com’s Financial Advisor Hub. CNBC Digital recently launched a digital newsletter, Your Wealth, that will also feature the Council’s blogs. As a member of the Council, I have been granted permission to share my CNBC postings in our firm’s newsletters, noting permission granted by CNBC Digital.

CNBC’s cross-platform initiative encourages content sharing among CNBC’s media partners. NBR.com elected to post my blog “Financial Planning: Not just for Uber-Rich” on its website. On a related note, Andrew Osterland’s CNBC Digital interview with me, which discussed budgeting, was republished by USAToday.com. Postings in various media outlets are certainly a great bonus!

Q. How has your blog brought you new business or improved your existing client relationships?

A. I started using MailChimp in November 2013 to increase the readership of my firm’s blog among prospective and current clients. The CNBC.com budgeting article was published in my firm’s January 2014 Your Financial Haven newsletter. This newsletter generated great excitement among my clients and friends. The partnership with CNBC Digital enhanced my credibility as a financial planner and gave my clients and friends bragging rights in a new way. I did experience new referrals from clients and friends since my first CNBC.com newsletter posting.

NBR.com shows the number of times an article is shared via social media channels. At this time, CNBC.com does not have this feature. The Council does not receive data regarding how many readers viewed the site.

Given CNBC Digital’s viewership, this opportunity rekindled my commitment to blog more frequently. Prior to this invitation, my blog postings were quite sporadic. Now, my goal is to write a monthly post to garner new and nourish the existing interest and referral momentum of readers.

Q. What blogging techniques or topics have most helped your business?

A. Writing about topics that are on the minds of my target clients has been a good strategy. I often direct prospective and new clients to blog postings to support the framework for their financial planning concerns. Core financial planning topics such as budgeting and saving, combining household finances, preparing for college expenses, retirement planning, small business planning, and working with a financial planner have attracted DIY clients who are ready to deepen their financial planning efforts. On several occasions, my firm represents a client’s first experience with working with a financial planner.

Q. What are three of your favorite—or most effective—blog posts? Provide the titles, URLs and a comment about why you included them.

I have a great appreciation for blogs with technical content written in layman’s terms. I am most excited about financial planning blogs which combine the heart and mind from a practical perspective.

Financial Advisors: Differentiate Yourself By Being Yourself: This is a post by Tim Maurer. His overall approach to financial planning is very refreshing. He defies industry norms. This particular blog post helps me stay true to my holistic view of financial planning.

Financial planning: Not just for uber-rich: This blog posting gave me an opportunity to express in a subtle way why I became a financial planner. Coming from a very modest background, my life’s desire is to help elevate financial wellness and literacy among underserved and underrepresented populations. These overlooked and misunderstood populations often have favorable income and access to significant resources. I truly believe that “Everyone should have confidence in their finances and a financial plan that can help them live a comfortable life. So I ask: Why not you?”

What is Your Relationship with Your Investments?: Zaneilia Harris’ blog, Finance ‘N Stilettos, does a great job with reaching her target audience. This posting clearly defines the benefits of long-term investing in a very practical way.

Q. What’s your best tip for advisors who blog?

A. Know your writing style and be consistent. I find writing to be a slow birthing process; it takes a few days for me to formulate a good draft and a final version. I designate time each morning during a planned week for writing and editing. My blogger colleagues suggest having an editorial calendar and inviting other guest bloggers. These are great concepts that I intend to implement.

Blogging requires a consistent rhythm as expected by blog followers. It also requires creative spins on content that is easily accessible in a digital world. It is a task that does not necessarily offer immediate gratification in the form of viewer responses, particularly if you close comments due to compliance concerns. The process is easier if you truly enjoy the personal satisfaction that comes from the writing experience. This elevates the likelihood of consistent, thoughtful writing.

Format your guest bloggers’ posts for maximum impact

When you go to the effort of snaring a guest writer for your blog, especially when the person is an influential “catch,” please follow some simple formatting tips. These tips will improve your readers’ experience and boost your guest’s visibility. This will reflect well on you.

Tip 1: Introduce your guest

Don’t plunge directly into your guests’ posts without introducing them. Your readers won’t always recognize the name or expertise of your guest blogger, so explain it. If you have a personal connection with the blogger or a reason why you care about the topic, consider mentioning that too. This helps to put your brand on the post. As a courtesy, I usually run my introduction by my guest prior to publication to avoid inadvertently offending them or writing something inaccurate.

Tip 2: Set off your introduction

Visual cues make it easy for your readers to know where your introduction ends and the guest post starts. I use two techniques.Guest post format example

  • Italicizing my introduction as you can see in the example to the right
  • Inserting a title and the author’s name in the centered type above the guest post

Tip 3: Add a headshot photo and brief bio

Displaying a guest author’s headshot photo on your blog sends a powerful visual message. It’s quickly evident that someone other than the blog’s host is taking center stage. I suggest a headshot photo because that’s what your guests are most likely to have taken by a professional. A polished appearance will enhance the credibility of their information.

A brief bio also helps your readers to appreciate the value offered by your guest author. I usually limit bios to two sentences, with up to two links to the expert’s website, blog or social media sites.

When you are the guest

Read “Simple tip for boosting your guest posts’ effectiveness” to get my take on the issue when you’re the guest.

May 13, 2014 update: I updated this post by adding another thought to Tip 1.

Blogging Q&A with Carolyn McClanahan

Carolyn McClanahan’s fearless sharing of her opinions across social media, including on her blog, spurred me to ask her to participate in my Q&A series with financial advisors who blog. She’s a great example of an advisor who communicates her passion about her topics, which include the intersection of medical and financial planning issues. Carolyn, who began her career as a doctor, is with Life Planning Partners in Jacksonville, Fla.

 

Q. When did you start The Quest for Simplicity, your blog for Forbes?

A. November 2011.

Q. How has your blog brought you new business or improved your existing client relationships? Please explain and quantify, if possible.

A. Unlike most financial planners, whom I assume blog for business development, I’m blogging for my colleagues in the industry and opinion makers. The purpose of the blog is to educate other financial planners and the public about an area in which our firm, Life Planning Partners, excels—incorporating health conversations into all aspects of financial planning. The firm’s goal is to be an innovative financial life planning practice that is nationally recognized as doing great things for our clients and the profession, demonstrates a model other financial planners want to emulate, and serves as a base for us to make great change in the world.

Has my blog brought us new business? Probably not directly. Do our clients love my blog? Yes, they are very proud of the work we are doing to improve the financial planning profession. They participate in all our “experiments,” love when I share their stories (with permission of course), and refer clients to us readily. I think the referrals are not due to the blog alone – it is a combination of our great service and our ideals. Our business is so good that we had to close to new business for now. Our waiting list had grown to eight months long. I think we are doing something right. New business comes from a confluence of factors.

Q. How else does the blog affect your relationships with clients and prospects?

A. We actually share our business plan with our clients. By doing this, we’ve created a “tribe” of people who get what we do and are very supportive of the change we are trying to make in the financial planning profession. The blog is part of how we implement this change.

Most of the new clients who come to us have read the blog. My unbridled openness about some very controversial topics actually attracts clients to us. And the really good news—people who are uncomfortable with us do not come to us. Therefore, we have only ideal clients and our client retention is off the charts. We have authentic, deep, and difficult conversations with ease.

Q. How will you know if you’ve succeeded as a model for other advisors?

A. Our metrics are:

1. The number of people who read my blog.

2. The number of speaking engagements and type of topics I’m asked to provide.

3. The number of planners who ask about our business model so they can incorporate it in their practice. I will watch with interest how many firms move to retainers and hourly work over time.

Q. What blogging techniques or topics have most helped your business?

A. I think our authenticity and unbridled approach in discussing real problems goes a long way. Storytelling is the most effective way to get a point across.

Q. What are three of your favorite—or most effective—blog posts? Provide the titles, URLs and a comment about why you included them.

A. My most popular post is “Five Quick And Important Facts On Health Insurance Through Obamacare.” I think this was popular because it was practical.

Cliffs Notes Version of the Affordable Care Act — Again, a practical explanation of the law.

Gun Owner Rights and Obamacare – Yes It Is In The Law — Although I received a lot of flak about this article from the gun lobby, clients were overall very proud of this article. It was written right after the Aurora massacre, and was the first article pointing out the National Rifle Association’s hand in Obamacare. A reporter from Politico told me this article was the start of President Obama’s executive order protecting health care worker’s rights to ask about firearms in patient care settings. It shows how powerful words and calling out the truth can be.

Q. What’s your best tip for advisors who blog?

A. Writing a weekly blog is a lot of work, especially when you are running a small business. Over the past couple of months, I’ve run into a number of challenges. We are still reeling from the huge growth of our business, we are trying to hire additional help, and I spent some time taking care of loved ones.

A tip I read somewhere that I wish I would have followed? Have pre-written posts in place in case you run into a tight spot and have nothing to post.

Otherwise, only write about topics that you care about – your passion will come through.

If you enjoyed this post, check out this blog’s Q&As with Michael Kitces and Jim Blankenship. If you have a great blogging success story worthy of being featured in a future Q&A, please contact me. I’d like to hear from you.

Q&A with Michael Kitces of Nerd’s Eye View

Blogging can help advisors attract and retain clients. I’ve decided to collect stories from advisors that illustrate this.

I’m starting a Q&A series with a contribution by Michael Kitces author of the Nerd’s Eye View blog and Pinnacle Advisory Group. Blogging has brought him more visibility, which has “helped to bring clients and cement relationships with centers of influence,” as he explains below.

 

1. When did you start your blog, Nerd’s Eye View?

The Nerd’s Eye View blog first launched in March of 2008, at the same time that I launched my advanced educational newsletter for financial planners. My vision at the time was that the newsletter would be where I provided content eligible for CFP CE credit – which has a certain length requirement – while the blog was where I would publish “shorter” discussions of technical topics (that didn’t merit a full newsletter issue) and cover practice management ideas (ineligible for CFP CE credit) that I wanted to share.

However, the reality at the time was that the blog had no visibility and generated no traffic, and I generally found it very unrewarding! As a result, I actually stopped writing for the blog altogether after just a few months, and it lay dormant on the site for about two full years.

In the fall of 2010, I “revived” the blog again. The light bulb that had gone off in my head at the time was the rise of social media; in point of fact, Facebook and LinkedIn had been out several years already, and Twitter was almost two years old, so social media wasn’t exactly “new” even at that time. But I realized that, while the challenge of writing a blog is that it’s hard to build an audience, social media provides an opportunity to get the word out about the content. So at the suggestion of advisor tech guru Bill Winterberg, I started up on Twitter (and invigorated a LinkedIn profile which up to that point had been little more than an online resume), and the synergy of the blog and social media has just grown exponentially from there!

 

2. How has your blog brought you new business or improved your existing client relationships? Please explain and quantify, if possible.

The combination of the blog and social media presence has been absolutely incredible for business, though I will confess that one-to-one situations – “this tweet got me this client” – are almost impossible to track.

It’s important to bear in mind that the blog (and social media) started as something that was attached to my newsletter and then-nascent (in 2008) and growing (in 2010) speaking business, so I measure my business results first and foremost in that context.

My net newsletter subscriber count (plus growth, minus some natural attrition) has grown steadily at a pace of about 15%-20% per year for the past five years, and the only means I have for making the newsletter known is my website (which people visit via the blog and social media).

The speaking business has grown even more dramatically, and there I can often track new business/conferences directly to engagement via social media. I have been invited to speak at conferences through relationships I formed online, and have even been hired to keynote a conference through a series of a half-dozen Twitter direct messages (DMs)! Overall, I have more-than-doubled my speaking fees since I re-launched the blog and started on social media, and despite those price increases my speaking engagements are up 60% from 3 years ago.

Notwithstanding what was originally a focus on the newsletter and speaking engagements, my blog and social media presence has started to significantly “spill over” into marketing for Pinnacle Advisory Group, the financial planning firm where I am a partner. The blogging and social media activity has generated an incredible flurry of media activity; I’m typically fielding three to five media inquiries per week from industry and major consumer publications (and a handful of smaller publications), and my visibility on social media has helped cement several highly visible consumer media opportunities, including becoming a Marketwatch RetireMentor, one of the WSJ Wealth Management Experts, and a member of the CNBC Digital Advisory Council. In the end, we could have hired a media/PR firm for tens of thousands of dollars every year and still not gotten the firm the visibility that I’ve been able to generate “for free” through blogging and social media.

And ultimately all that PR visibility has helped to bring clients and cement relationships with centers of influence. It also bolsters referrals from existing clients; it’s one thing when a client says “work with my advisor, he’s great,” but it’s another when the client says “work with my advisor; did you see the article about his research in the New York Times yesterday?”

 

3. What blogging techniques or topics have most helped your business —either at Kitces.com or Pinnacle Advisory Group?

This varies a bit by which business I’m using to measure results. In terms of my core writing and speaking business, my technical articles on advanced planning techniques have been most effective at demonstrating and cementing my brand as a financial planning expert. This has helped generate newsletter subscriptions and speaking engagements.

Notably, though, my technical articles have also helped me to build a following of reporters who want to keep up on the latest material I’m studying, researching, and writing about. As a result, the technical articles also lead to a great deal of consumer media exposure.

The content I write on practice management and industry trends has been most effective for reaching our industry press, which indirectly helps to support my brand as a speaker. It has actually been so successful in building my credibility on these issues, though, that it now helps to support several related businesses, including our recruiting firms New Planner Recruiting and Experienced Advisors Recruiting, our investment outsourcing business for other advisors (Pinnacle Advisor Solutions), and what is now a growing series of technology firms I work with on a consulting basis about how to understand and reach advisors.

Overall, I’ve found that the key to success with blogging and social media is sheer consistency. Good articles come and go; I try to make every one a winner, but the data are very clear that… some are better received than others. Balancing content that I create with content that I share has also been key. On social media channels, less than 20% of the content that I share is my own, and I’ve grown a significant following with my “Weekend Reading For Financial Planners” series, where I highlight the best dozen articles I read for the week, with summaries of each and links to click on to view the full article.

Ultimately, the key is to be a resource. Yes, I hope that my content is a resource, but it can’t be the only resource. So I share as much as I can to be helpful to everyone in every way possible; and I hope it’s appreciated that some of it is content I created myself!

 

4. What are three of your favorite—or most effective—blog posts? Provide the titles, URLs and a comment about why you included them.

Whew, this is a tough question; I’d like to think that everyone I try to create is effective, and I hate to pick favorites!

In terms of overall results and impact, I’d say my top three are:

1) Financial Planning Implications Of HR8 – The Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012. This article was a summary of the fiscal cliff legislation that passed at the very end of 2012. The Senate passed the final version of the legislation a few hours before midnight on New Year’s Eve, the House took it up on New Year’s Day, and the president signed it into law on January 2nd. Anticipating that the House was to pass the legislation and not push us off the fiscal cliff, I actually spent New Year’s morning reading up on the legislation and posting my own “first look” commentary. Despite the fact that article didn’t even post until the early afternoon, and it was a holiday, the post was so widely shared that January 1st of 2013 was the biggest traffic day the site has ever had; and the second biggest day ever was the follow-on traffic on January 2nd! It’s pretty amazing what happens when you publish timely content on an important issue!

2) Should Equity Exposure Decrease In Retirement, Or Is A Rising Equity Glidepath Actually Better? – This article was actually a write-up of some recent new retirement research I did with Wade Pfau. The article received such a strong reception that the blog post alone, and the buzz it created, resulted in coverage in several national publications, including the New York Times, Kiplinger, and AARP. Not only was this great general publicity for the firm, but I’ve been able to track several new business opportunities directly to the publication of this single blog post!

3) Weekend Reading For Financial Planners. About a year after the blog had launched and my social media activity was increasing, I started getting questions from other advisors, basically along the lines of “what do you read to keep up on information the way you do?” I got the question so much, I decided that perhaps I should just start making a list of the best articles I’d read each week. Modeled after the “linkfests” popular in the finance/econ/investment world – but recognizing that there just isn’t nearly as much “news” in financial planning every week – I launched my weekend reading column. Over two years and 100 weekly-reading-summaries later, this continues to be my most popular ongoing content on the blog.

 

5. What’s your best tip for advisors who blog? Personally, I would love to know the secret of how you manage to spark so many conversations.

I’ve got to give two tips here, as the answer to your question has two key components.

The first tip is that if you want to succeed with blogging and social media it requires consistency, and the only way consistency happens is if you make it habit, and the only way you can create a habit is to make a commitment to a schedule of how often you’re write, with deadlines, and hold yourself accountable to meeting it. I’ve varied my publishing schedule a few times over the years; for a while I was posting once a week, then twice a week, then three times a week, eventually five times a week, but then backed off to three times a week and have stayed there. I now have a pretty consistent routine to manage that consistent publishing schedule; I capture topics I want to write about in a never-ending Evernote list so I will always have lots of ideas when I sit down to write, and I’ve got a process for carving out the time to do it. Granted, I don’t think most advisors “need” to blog as often as I do, but the principle is the same whether you’re trying to write three times a week or just once or twice a month. Have a schedule, set deadlines for yourself, commit to keeping them, and make it a habit.

My second tip is that to be able to create a steady stream of compelling content, focus, focus, focus on your target audience. Think about what their issues are. Read the publications they’re reading. Talk to them constantly (they’re your clients, so hopefully you are, but make sure you’re taking the time to listen to what’s on their minds). Virtually all of the content I write is inspired by a conversation I have at a conference, a question someone emails me, or a question/issue that a client raises. The trap I see most advisors fall into in this area is either that they don’t keep a focus at all – they’re sharing everything from things that matter to their clients, to things that matter to them (which is not always the same thing!), to things that are just plain irrelevant – or they don’t have a clear focus on who their reader is supposed to be and how they can differentiate. Ultimately, this is why having a niche is so important; as financial advisors, few will be capable of differentiating themselves and creating unique content by publishing the same generalized financial information that can be found via Kiplinger, MarketWatch, CNBC, Money, etc. There are lots of generalized consumer financial sites out there, not to mention an already crowded personal finance blogosphere. But with a niche, you can truly specialize; you might be the only one blogging about the latest issues for executives at a particular technology or pharmaceutical company making options decisions, or about a new strategy to manage malpractice insurance costs for OB/GYNs, or about the latest tip for young upwardly mobile female entrepreneurs. Having a focus – having a niche – is a way to stand out from the rest; your audience might be smaller than “everyone” but you can be highly differentiated and clearly stand out as an expert for all the people in that niche. And given that most financial advisors “top out” somewhere around 100-150 active and engaged clients (if not fewer), the reality is that virtually any niche is capable of working when those are all the clients you need for a wildly successful practice!

If you have a great blogging success story worthy of being featured in a future Q&A, please contact me. I’d like to hear from you. If you’d like to write better blog posts, you’ll find step-by-step instructions in my book, Financial Blogging: How to Write Powerful Posts That Attract Clients.

Content marketing: Why the heck am I doing this?

I don’t need a blog or social media to earn my living as a financial writer. Heck, I don’t even need a website. I have friends who earn nice incomes through one-on-one networking and other traditional marketing. I see how I could have achieved something similar. Yet, here I am, spending hours on unpaid content marketing that won’t lead directly to work. This includes a blog, social media outposts (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ profile and Google+ page), mini e-books, and my book, Financial Blogging: How to Write Powerful Posts That Attract Clients.

Sometimes I wonder why I subject myself to the endless “to do” list that this marketing imposes. There are several reasons.

1. Self-expression that influences people

Writing helps me to process information. I can figure out what I think through the process of writing. This is particularly true of pieces like “Q&A format for articles: Good or bad?” which I wrote to figure out why I dislike Q&As.

However, I wouldn’t write as much as I do if I lacked an audience. I’m pleased that my readers enjoy my writing and say that I help them to improve their writing and marketing. True confession: this boosts my ego. However, I also like to think that I’m contributing to raising the quality of financial communications. I was especially pleased when one person said, “I hope this goes viral,” after reading my guest post, “Seven Ways to Talk Your Financial Execs Out of Jargon and Bad Writing,” which appeared on the MarketingProfs blog.

2. “Water cooler”

As a solopreneur, I don’t have many conversations during a typical business day. Comments on my blog posts and other social media exchanges fill a gap. As an introverted writer, I’m more comfortable mulling over my responses and typing them out instead of talking.

It’s surprising how much of a connection I can feel as a result of online exchanges. There are folks whom I think of as friends whom I have never met in person.

3. Business development

Blogging and social media haven’t delivered tons of business to me. I’ve picked up a few clients here and there.

However, the role of social media is increasing. One new client found me after I retweeted his company’s Twitter feed. He then started following my blog. Although I met another new client at a conference, I discovered that he already knew me through my newsletter and social media activity. Both individuals quickly became clients after we started discussing specific projects. I believe they were pre-sold on me, thanks to my content that they’d discovered online.

Even if clients find me through traditional networking, my blog and social media activity help me. I believe that most prospects will do an online Google search on Susan Weinersearch for my name before hiring me. They’ll find plenty of content as a result of that search.

In addition, I believe that my blog and social media play a greater role in selling Financial Blogging: How to Write Powerful Posts That Attract Clients, when compared with their role in reeling in corporate clients for white papers and articles.

What does this mean for you?

I see two lessons for you:

  • You don’t need to pick up clients directly from blogging or social media for those activities to be worthwhile.
  • You shouldn’t discount the role of social media in sealing a sale, even if prospects find you using other means.

What do you think? Do you agree with my conclusions? I’m interested in your thoughts.