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The compelling investment white paper that wasn’t

If you’re like me, you don’t achieve all of your goals. What can stop you from achieving your goal of writing a compelling investment white paper? I see three main problems that derail people.

1. You don’t start your white paper

Everybody is busy. Most people procrastinate about something. This is especially true for white papers when they’re not part of your daily responsibilities. Most subject-matter experts have other, time-consuming responsibilities, such as client work, travel, and face-to-face meetings.

Solutions

  1. Outsource your white paper. Unload some of the responsibility by hiring a writer to write your white paper. You’ll minimize your load if you choose a writer who does the research, in addition to the writing. However, you run the risk that the writer’s views won’t reflect those held by you or your company. As a writer, I prefer working on white papers where you provide the views—through interviews and background materials—and the writer sticks to writing. That’s reflected in the writing process that I follow. I suggest that you avoid Financial white paper writers who say ‘yes.’”  Here are some tips for “How to get a white paper written on a budget.”
  2. Break your white paper writing into small steps. Smaller steps are less intimidating and easier to start. Ask yourself, “What’s the one step that will advance my white paper?” Start there, without worrying about the rest of the process.
  3. Find an accountability buddy. Sometimes making a commitment to a colleague or friend makes you more likely to act. I’ve written about this in “How a blogging buddy can help your financial planning or investment blog.”

2. It doesn’t attract readers’ attention

Compelling investment white papers should be objective, yet opinionated. This is the bottom line from an investment white paper survey that I conducted and wrote about some years ago. If you fail to pose a problem that readers care about, or if you fail to offer a solution, you won’t have a compelling investment white paper.

Solutions

  1. Learn what your readers care about. You can do this through talking with them or conducting surveys or other research. I’ve discussed some research techniques in “Financial content: Ask questions of your readers.” It’s important to appeal to your readers’ interests. Pay attention to WIIFM, which I discuss in “Focus on benefits, not features, in your marketing.”
  2. Share robust research. If you work for a large financial firm, you probably have robust resources. You can conduct your own research, use research done by others at your firm, or use outside research. When you use outside research, make sure you don’t violate the researchers’ copyright, a risk I’ve discussed in “Legal danger for financial bloggers: Two misconceptions, three resources, one suggestion.” If you’re at a small firm, you may need to get creative. Perhaps you can write a compelling investment white paper that draws on survey research that you’ve conducted among members of your target audience. Or perhaps you can find and cite academic research that isn’t broadly known. Start a file of background information as soon as you identify a compelling investment white paper topic.
  3. Spread the word about your white paper. People who don’t find your white paper don’t get a chance to judge whether it’s compelling or not. Spread the word about your white paper. Include it in your regular client and prospect communications, such as newsletters. Write teaser copy that incorporates keywords to catch people’s attention when they search online. Write tweets and status updates that will intrigue people who follow you on social media.

3. It’s not clear or concise

Like you, members of your target audience are busy. They lack the time to slog through white papers that are unclear or wordy. Also, they question your credibility if your paper is riddled with typos and other mistakes. A professional writer should be able to avoid these problems. But sometimes even professionals fall short.

Solutions

  1. Edit and proofread the white paper yourself. Not sure where to start? Try techniques discussed on my blog, including my first-sentence check, Hemingway.com, or the Writer’s Diet. In my financial blogging class, I discuss how to use mind mapping to analyze a poorly structured piece of writing. To catch typos, use the read out loud feature of Adobe Acrobat or other software. To avoid data errors, follow my tips in “Investment commentary numbers: How to get them right.”
  2. Hire an editor or proofreader. An editor who knows investments will do the best job, especially if your piece is aimed at institutional investors. However, even a recent college grad with a good command of the English language can catch blatant typos. Your choice depends on your budget.
  3. Get a colleague, friend, or client to read your white paper. They’ll probably read and comment for free. The perspective of an outsider—especially one who knows you well enough to point out weak writing or mistakes—can be valuable. This is true even if you’re not on a tight budget.

YOUR tips for writing compelling investment white papers?

Do you have tips for how to write compelling investment white papers? Please comment.

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Why I’m lucky clients didn’t flock to me

I reluctantly launched my career as a freelancer after getting laid off from a wonderful investment communications job at an investment management firm. After I decided to freelance, my phone didn’t ring with eager prospects. On the other hand, as an introvert, I didn’t do much to market myself. Cold calls? Heaven forbid.

Blessing in disguise

So, how was this a blessing in disguise? Because I developed a style of communicating that fits social media.

I wish I could say I foresaw social media. It might be nice to be a guru. But, I simply acted like myself.

I started an email list to stay in touch with the nice people at my old company. Rather than make my emails all about myself, I started writing up the presentations I attended at the Boston Security Analysts Society, where I networked regularly. I wrote about the bits that interested me, similar to the way I wrote up “How Merrill Lynch and US Trust stay relevant to clients, according to Justine Metz.”

When former colleague Tom Manning emailed me that he looked forward to my emails, I’d realized I’d stumbled onto something good. I turned my emails into a monthly e-newsletter, and I invited my networking contacts to subscribe. Those newsletter articles evolved into blog posts.

Back then, I looked jealously at writers who immediately landed steady work with earlier employers or their vast pool of contacts. But, if I’d done that, I wouldn’t have developed my newsletter, which has become the foundation of my success.

Lessons

I learned a style of marketing that works for an introvert like me, especially in the age of social media. Its components include the following:

  1. Give away useful content.
  2. Send mass emails only to people who agree to receive them.
  3. Keep your name in front of prospects on a regular basis. You can’t sell them until they’re ready to buy.

A veteran of the cold calling, hard sell school of marketing once told me, “You’re lucky you know how to write without always asking for the sale.”

I think I’m lucky the world has swung my way. I’m also grateful for the wonderful readers who have supported my e-newsletter and blog.