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9 ways blogging is like sourdough baking

Like many other Americans, I started baking sourdough bread during the pandemic. I love the process and the taste. As I’ve baked, I’ve also realized that cooking with a sourdough starter has similarities to blogging.

infographic: 9 ways blogging is like sourdough baking

1. It’s scary to start

I wouldn’t have started baking sourdough if I’d had to create a sourdough starter on my own or shell out money to buy a starter. That’s because I figured there was little likelihood that my bread would turn out well. However, I received my sourdough starter—a fermented mix of flour and water—at no cost through my local Buy Nothing group, so I didn’t have anything to lose by trying it.

Similarly, starting to blog involved uncertainty about whether I’d succeed. When I started blogging, I had no idea that I’d eventually write and share well over 1,000 blog posts.

2. Little investment is required to start

Aside from my free sourdough starter, I had everything else I needed to start baking sourdough bread in my kitchen. I had all of the ingredients—flour, water, and salt. I also had two small Dutch ovens.

You can start blogging on a free platform like WordPress.org. As long as you also have a computer, you can start blogging for free.

3. Great instructions help

The woman who gave me my sourdough starter included two pages of feeding instructions with the starter. I read them religiously when I started. I trusted Google to find me a good bread recipe. I feel grateful that it took me to The Clever Carrot’s “Sourdough Bread: A Beginner’s Guide.” The step-by-step instructions turned out to be foolproof.

I wrote Financial Blogging: How to Write Powerful Posts That Attract Clients to provide step-by-step instructions for generating blog post ideas, organizing your ideas before you write, writing your first draft, and doing big-picture edits and line edits.  My readers’ reviews say that I’ve achieved this goal.

4. Starting simply helps

Sourdough baking can get complicated. People buy special baskets called bannetons for shaping the sourdough, they use different techniques for giving structure to the dough, they coat the sourdough surface in rice flour so elaborate patterns that they cut in the bread’s surface will stand out, they create parchment paper slings to drop their dough into preheated Dutch ovens that’ll burn you if accidentally brush against them, and they aim to create an “ear” that makes a slice of the bread look like a side view of a bunny rabbit with a long floppy ear. I haven’t done any of that fancy stuff yet. I might never have started sourdough if I’d thought all of that fuss was necessary.

sourdough bread

Blogging can get complicated, too. You can go for elaborate graphics as illustrations, delve deeply into the best SEO keywords and how to implement them, and much more. Those techniques can pay off eventually, but they’re not necessary to get started.

5. Good tools help

Measuring your sourdough using a scale instead of measuring cups helps because the 500 grams of flour add up to a different number of cups depending on various factors. I quickly upgraded to a digital kitchen scale from my manual scale. I also benefited from buying an instant-read food thermometer to check the inner temperature of my loaves so I can confirm they’re not under- or over-baked.

For blogging—or any kind of writing—I find mind mapping incredibly helpful at the idea generation, organization, and analysis stages of writing and editing. I’m also a fan of automated tools, such as PerfectIt  (subscription required) and Grammarly (free version available). Folks who care a lot about search engine optimization may benefit from tools like Yoast or Wordstream’s free keyword tool.

6. There’s a role for discard

The process of nurturing a sourdough starter means that most bakers generate more starter than they can maintain or bake, so it becomes “discard.” That’s why there’s a whole category of recipes for this flour-water mix, including this great collection of sourdough discard recipes from King Arthur Flour. I’ve regularly been making a double batch of the sourdough pizza crust recipe since I discovered it early this spring. My second favorite recipe is for sourdough popovers.

Discards from your blog posts can also turn into something useful, as I discussed in “Save your trash to feed your blog.”

7. There are many variations on the basic recipe

I’ve experimented with many variations on the basic sourdough recipe. I’ve used different kinds of flour, seeds, dried fruit, herbs, spices, and even vegetables and cheese.

Similarly, there are many different formats for blog posts and different ways to approach a topic.

8. Even failures can be tasty

I have yet to bake an outright failure. However, my friend June tells me that it’s easy to turn a failed bread into croutons or bread crumbs. Bread pudding is another option.

Similarly, an idea that doesn’t turn into a full-blown blog post may still help you somewhere. For example, it might turn into an example that you include in a client email or an item in a FAQ on your website.

9. There’s always more to learn

With less than a year of sourdough baking behind me, I still have a lot to learn. I’ve started keeping a sourdough journal where I record the variations that I try and the problems that I encounter. I hope these notes will help me to improve.

I’m still learning about the craft of writing and blogging. Part of the reason I blog is to help me think through the lessons I’ve learned.

 

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.

Blog like a mangrove

A mangrove thrives because its roots filter out salt from the water it takes in. I learned this at the San Miguelito archeological site that’s part of the Mayan museum in Cancun, Mexico. I suggest that you act as the “mangrove roots” of your blog.

Filter out the “salt”

Think about the misinformation and distractions that confront your clients and your blog readers every day. Your blog can filter out the destructive “salt” of bad information.

When you present only information that’s accurate and relevant, you’re helping your audience to thrive. Blogging like a mangrove’s roots filter salt is a worthy goal.

I recommend the Mayan museum

If you’re ever in Cancun, I highly recommend its Mayan museum at a cost of only about $5 per person.

Here are two photos I took there.

 

Insecure about blogging? Write a letter

Some people feel they shouldn’t blog. They hesitate because they don’t have novel topics, or they feel their writing isn’t good enough.

Letter exercise

If you’re hesitating, you might benefit from an exercise called “Exploring Self-Compassion Through Letter Writing” in Kristin Neff’s Self-Compassion; The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself.

As part of the exercise, Neff suggests you write a letter from the perspective of “an imaginary friend who is unconditionally loving, accepting, kind, and compassionate. Imagine that this friend can see all your strengths and all your weaknesses, including the aspect of yourself you have just been thinking about.”

The next step is to “Write a letter to yourself from the perspective of this imaginary friend—focusing on the perceived inadequacy you tend to judge yourself for.”

Your friend’s response to your letter

What would this friend say about your:

  • Writing skills
  • Blog topics
  • Other weaknesses and strengths

Here are some of the points this friend might make:

  • Writing is a skill that can be improved through study or working with an editor. Your writing doesn’t have to be perfect.
  • It’s okay to discuss topics that others have already discussed. This is because they are perennial concerns of your prospects. You can use your insights and personality, as discussed in “How to add personality and warmth to your writing,” to make an impression on your readers.
  • Blogging can be a great way for advisers to clarify their thoughts on important topics, regardless of whether it brings new clients. It also improves your website’s search engine optimization (SEO) on topics you care about.
  • There may be fixes for other weaknesses that you perceive.

Sure, sometimes your imaginary friend will sometimes tell you to give up on blogging. For example, if you’re an incredibly busy advisor with a steady flow of new clients, and you’re a terrible writer, then that might be a valid reason not to blog.

However, in many cases, your friend will say “Please blog.” Listen to your friend.

 

Disclosure: If you click on the 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.

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?

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.