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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.

Blogging Q&A with advisor Richard Rosso

Richard Rosso, senior financial adviser for Clarity Financial in Houston, Texas, communicates with an enthusiasm that’s infectious. I tapped him as a guest blogger last year to discuss The Fee Value Proposition.” When he mentioned his writing for MarketWatch Retirement when we met at my presentation in Houston in March 2014, I got the idea of asking him to share his thoughts about the benefits of that writing, as well as his blog. In the Q&A below, he says that he can attribute roughly $2 million in new client relationships to blogging.”

By the way, although Richard suggests that I’d tell him to shorten his blog posts. I think the right length is different for everyone. For folks who struggle to write, shorter is better. There are also people like me who just prefer to keep things short. Then, there are bloggers, such as Michael Kitces of Nerd’s Eye View, who regularly attract readers with very long posts.

Q. When did you start your Random Thoughts of a Money Muse blog and when did you start guest-blogging for MarketWatch Retirement?

A. I started Random Thoughts as a labor of love in 2010. Blogging felt like a natural extension of the writing I was doing on a daily basis for my book that was published in 2012, Random Thoughts Of A Money Muse. Blogging became a method to share voices and experiences, both from myself and others, especially those experiencing troubled relationships with money. The blog is purposely off the traditional path—I call it “the fringe of money”—when compared to bloggers and blogs I respect and read religiously, like Josh Brown’s www.thereformedbroker.com and Michael Kitces’ Nerd’s Eye View at www.kitces.com. Friend, mentor, and best-selling author James Altucher told me that financial topics are boring. People tune out quickly. So I sought to add personal stories (sometimes painful), pop culture, a bit of the spiritual; and then bridge over to salient money lessons. To me, creating a story, painting a picture, makes financial topics easier to digest, and broadens the appeal.

As for MarketWatch Retirement, I am a financial geek at heart and retirement planning as a topic of study is a passion. I’ve been working with Robert Powell at MarketWatch for years. He’s featured as a “money muse” in my book because he is [one of the most studied journalists on the topic of retirement. I began submitting article ideas to him. Since January 2014, I’ve become a regular contributor.

Retirement planning is a formidable challenge, especially post-financial crisis. I seek to share relevant experiences of pre-retirees and new retirees with subscribers to Retirement Weekly and MarketWatch. Life stories are important. They provide Main Street context and valuable lessons for readers.

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

A. The blog has improved my client relationships because it opens up a part of me that’s personal. Clients feel connected. Several have tough life stories they are no longer hesitant to share with me and others.

My client relationships are deeper and robust due to the writing. Several posts have generated calls and greater discussion with client families, especially the kids. The blog makes me a real person—I make mistakes. This vulnerability exposes me as human and approachable. People often hesitate to ask questions of—or feel intimidated by—advisors. My clients and prospects feel comfortable asking me anything because I expose pieces of myself and they know they’ll receive straight answers. My material is in depth enough to showcase my knowledge, but I don’t overdo it. Subtle is best.

On occasion, I’m surprised at the responses. Recently, I had two clients come forward and tell me how much they look forward to my posts and share my commentary on a regular basis.

Another benefit is that posting my blog segments to social media occasionally generates story ideas for media. I’m honored to help reporters blend the money and human side. As a result, their stories are robust and memorable.

The writings for MarketWatch Retirement Weekly allow me to “report” what people are thinking and how they’re living in retirement. I’ve received an increased number of hits to my blog since I began contributing regularly to Retirement Weekly. More importantly, the blog assists my marketing efforts. Blogging is such an inexpensive way to share knowledge. Combined with social media, blogging has resulted in prospects and clients. I can attribute roughly $2 million in new client relationships to blogging. It’s a lot of work—you need to stick with it—but the rewards are worth it.

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

A. I have trained myself, along with lessons in your book on financial blogging, to keep my technique simple and straight. It’s challenging for advisors to take their ego out of their work. I make sure my writing is not about me, it’s about the readers. It’s designed to stimulate responses, emotions and then ostensibly, connections to money lessons. I rarely go longer than 1,500 words, although I know from your guidance that I should cut the word count by half. I’m a work in progress!

It enhances readership when I add pictures or photos to blog posts. People sometimes remember the photos with a smile long after the words are forgotten. It’s a challenge to find just the right visual or mix of photos as to not overwhelm the reader; I think I’ve gotten it down purely by trial and error. There’s no doubt that well-placed visuals add impact.

Topics that have worked for me include how to cut down on debt, the psychology or emotional biases of money, how to raise money-smart kids, and how to increase return on life. These definitely resonate. I purposely stay away from short-term market commentary. There’s plenty of it out there. I seek to have readers examine themselves or their financial situation from 30,000 feet looking down. Focusing on one stock or how the Chinese PMI came in is best left with economists and financial journalists. I can converse about these topics with the best of them. The focus for my blog posts is to inspire the heart, not the head.

Q. What are three of your favorite—or most effective—blog posts?

A. The three blog posts that are the most effective or that have generated the most conversations are the following:

Five Questions To Ask A Financial Adviser. Today. I Mean Right Now.

I consistently come across people who tell me they feel they’re bothering their financial advisors if they ask questions.

The Tolle Of The Governor: 6 Steps To Rebirth.

I will tie in to story lines of popular television shows as attention grabbers. Here, the money lesson focused on replenishment of savings and the act of saving money.

When Organs Go Wrong – 5 Ways To Get Them Right Again.

When I went through a stress-induced illness I openly shared the experience with readers. The money advice? How good financial habits create less stress.

Readers tell me that blog posts like this evoke emotional responses. Well, isn’t money emotional? If I can evoke a feeling or incite passion then slip in a money lesson without anybody noticing, then mission accomplished!

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

A. For advisors who blog my best tip is to check yourself. People don’t care how smart you are until they know how caring you are. Reveal your vulnerable or human sides, take ego out of your work, keep readers emotionally involved, be entertaining, keep it simple (no math, just words.) Remember—you’re selling yourself to clients and prospects. There are ways to surgically showcase your financial knowledge without overdoing it.

How Merrill Lynch and US Trust stay relevant to clients, according to Justine Metz

Justine Metz presenting On Merrill Lynch and US Trust to Financial Communications Society

Justine Metz presenting to FCS in Boston

Bank of America’s business units, Merrill Lynch and US Trust, needed to rebuild their reputations following the financial crisis. Justine Metz, marketing and sales support executive for global wealth management & investment at Bank of America, outlined the business units’ approach in her September 18 presentation to the Financial Communications Society (FCS) in Boston. Metz titled her presentation “Marketing’s Imperative at Merrill Lynch and U.S. Trust: Staying relevant to clients during times of financial crisis.”

Reverse psychology as key

“I wanted us to fight more.” This was Metz’s initial reaction to the need to boost her business units’ reputations following the financial crisis. After all, banks’ reputations had hit all-time lows, and no one was giving Merrill Lynch and US Trust credit for doing anything good.

However, Metz went with “reverse psychology” in her unit’s response. While they continued to push back on inaccuracies, the focus was on advisors and their clients, she said. “We had to shut up because no one wanted to hear us.”

Key role for uber-brains of the advisory business

“Advisors shielded the brand throughout the crisis,” said Metz. Merrill Lynch advisors continued to receive high ratings from clients even as the industry suffered declining ratings. Merrill Lynch also got credit for having great information produced by smart people. Metz calls them “uber-brains.”

The rise of social media gave the firm non-traditional ways to highlight its smarts, so it @MerrillLynch on Twittercould spur clients and influencers to talk about it. It introduced a Twitter account (@MerrillLynch, which has almost 25,000 followers), a YouTube channel, and iTunes apps, including MyMerrill and BofAML Research Library.

Why social media? “Our main strategy is to empower our clients to talk to one another,” said Metz. That fits in with today’s emphasis on communications by people rather than institutions.

Return to TV

TV ads were on hold for three years while the firm focused on social media. When it rolled out a new commercial, it didn’t throw out its strategy of getting its clients talking. Instead, the new Merrill Lynch and US Trust ads about “The Power of the Right Advisor” and “What is Worth,” respectively, are designed to complement that strategy.

FCS chapter forming in Boston

The presentation by Metz was the second Boston event put on by the New York-based FCS. A steering committee is developing a Boston chapter. To learn more—and to volunteer—contact FCS President Kevin Windorf at 212-413-6044. I’m a volunteer. I enjoyed meeting new people at this event.