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Finding easy-to-follow formulas for your blog posts

WSJ formual“Are there writing formulas I can follow?” This question from one of my blogging class students popped into my head as I read a Wall Street Journal article.

Find formulas in newspapers

If you’re an analytical, formula-loving blogger, then turn your eyes to The Wall Street Journal or another newspaper. You’ll find great models there. I especially like newspapers as models because their articles are short and typically get to the point right away. This is perfect for financial blog posts.

Formula: Summary + examples + explanation

“U.S. Profit Streak Hit by Global Weakness” on the Wall Street Journal‘s front page on July 30, 2012, suggested a formula to me. Start your article with a short summary statement. Follow it with short examples. Then dive into explanation.

Here’s how it looks in the article.

Intro: Bid adieu to growing profits.

Short examples: Slowing economies from the U.S. to China, increasingly wary shoppers, recession in much of Europe and a stronger dollar…

Explanation: Until Friday, the outlook had been for further growth in earnings. But forecasts are now turning negative…

Does this formula work for you?

If you use this formula, I’d like to see examples of your work. Please post them below.

By the way, if you like this post, you might also like “Make your writing easier with my fill-in-the-blanks approach for structuring articles.”

Email writers, boost your effectiveness with this quote

Think about your reader if you want your communications to get results.

When you want the recipient of your email or letter to act on your information, heed the following advice from Lee Wood, as quoted by Kenneth W. Davis in The McGraw-Hill 36-Hour Course: Business Writing and Communication.

 

…give me the information in the order I can use it.

For example, don’t start by talking about the envelope you’ve enclosed with your letter.

Instead, first ask your client to read the form and then sign it in the spots you’ve marked with a big red X. Only then should you ask the client to mail it in the self-addressed, stamped envelope.

Be kind to your readers. It’ll pay off in better results and relationships.

Want to learn more about writing better emails and letters? Check out my presentation, “Writing Effective Emails.”

Monetary policy in plain English–Can you do better?

Monetary policy. If you’re a financial advisor or investment manager, you know exactly what that means. But what about your clients and other readers of your communications? Do they get it?

Sometimes it’s useful to give a brief explanation of technical terms, as I described in “How to make one quarterly letter fit clients at different levels of sophistication.”

Plain English may not come easily to you. If not, look elsewhere for ideas. The Wall Street Journal is a good source for explanations of such terms.

For example, here’s how columnist David Wessel explained monetary policy in “Central Bankers’ Political Conundrum“:

. . . the interest rates the Fed controls and its ability to print money and buy assets.

I like Wessel’s brief explanation. Sure, he could explain more, but writers must strike a balance between clarity and length.

How would YOU explain”monetary policy”?

There are other ways to explain “monetary policy.” If you have an equally good or even better explanation, please share it below.

If you have plain English challenges

Are there financial terms that you struggle to explain in plain English? If you share them below, I’ll consider them as the topic of a future blog post.

Escape your fears: A writing topic for financial advisors

“That guy looks like he wants to escape,” I yelled to my husband. I was joking about the stuffed animal trying to climb over fencestuffed animal climbing up the fence along the Ashuwillticook bicycle trail. However, the sight made me think about how appealing escape is for most people.

You can offer escape in your blog posts. To pick your topic, just fill in the blank for what you can help readers escape. It could be escape from debt, stock market volatility, or anything else that worries your readers.

Put “escape” in your title so it’s clear what you’re offering.

What kind of escape do you offer?

Please share a link to your financial blog post exploring this theme.

For cyclists who escape to western Massachusetts

If you ever get a chance to bicycle in the Berkshire Hills, I recommend the bicycling the Ashuwillticook trailAshuwillticook Rail Trail from Adams to Cheshire where I saw the “escapee” of this blog post. This pleasant trail runs along water most of the way. You may hear spring peeper frogs as my husband and I did. The Daily Grind in Adams makes a good reuben sandwich.

Don’t make this mistake in your email subject lines!

A quirky email subject line made me think my husband was spamming me. He graciously allowed me to use his example to remind you to choose your subject line’s first words carefully.

Bad email subject line

Here’s the email subject line as it appeared on my screen:

Can you see why I was concerned that my husband’s email account had been hacked?

The problem: Your subject lines get cut off

Most people don’t see or absorb your complete subject line. Why?

  • Email software typically shows about 50 characters of your subject line on a PC
  • Mobile devices shorten subject lines even more than computers
  • People pay the most attention to your email subject line’s first words. This is why I suggest that you:
    • Put the most important part of your subject line first
    • Put an action verb near the beginning if you’re asking the recipient to do something for you. For example, “Please tell me if you can attend July 11 meeting.”
    • Start with an informative noun if an action verb isn’t appropriate. For example, “FYI, next committee meeting is August 22.”

A better subject line for my husband

I’ve been mulling over better subject lines for my husband’s email. I think the following would work better:

  • Shredder question: Does yours use oil or lubricant sheets?

YOUR subject line questions

What questions do you have about email subject lines? Your questions will help me prepare for my email presentation at the Financial Planning Association’s conference in San Antonio this fall.

Image courtesy of Kookkai_nak at freedigitalphotos.net.

Photo + Mind Map = Blog Inspiration

It’s not easy generating ideas for a steady flow of blog posts about financial planning, investments, or related topics. When your well runs dry, consider looking through your old photos for inspiration. This blog post was inspired by stumbling on a Barbie on a Rhode Island beach this summer.

Step 1: Pick a photo

Choose a photo to spark your brainstorming. I suggest choosing one that has no obvious connection to your blog’s topic. No dollar bills, piggy banks, or smiling retirees. This will free your mind to go in any direction.

There is no obvious connection between Barbie and writing. At least none that I can think of.

Step 2: Jot down any thoughts that come to mind

Look at your photo. Write down any thoughts that occur to you.

Some of you may come up with fully formed topics. If that’s not true for you, then organize your thoughts into a mind map in the next step.

Step 3: Draw a mind map

Draw a mind map with your photo at the center. As branches, draw potential blog post topics.

I drew the mind map below on the Green Hills Beach in Rhode Island’s South County region. If you find my handwritten map hard to read, look farther down for the same map, recreated using Mindomo.

As you can see, the Barbie on the beach sent my mind in many directions.

mind map

Mind map

Mind map

Barbie mind map created using Mindomo

Your mind map will look different, reflecting your interests and inclinations.

Step 4: Write your blog post

Your next step? Pick the topic that most appeals to you and start writing!

If this idea sparks a new blog post, please link to it below. Some vacation photos inspired one of my most popular blog posts: “Writing tip: Pop the balloon or make it your focus.”

Reader challenge: Can you explain duration better than The New York Times?

The duration of a bond isn’t easy to explain in few wordsTiny Yields Pose Risks for Bond Funds. This is why I was delighted by the brief description I found in The New York Times.

Author Carla Fried wrote, “For the most part, managers seem to agree that it is best to limit a fund’s duration, or sensitivity to changes in interest rates. The longer the duration, the more yield you get today, but with the trade-off of a bigger price decline if rates rise.” This paragraph appeared in “Tiny Yields Pose Risks for Bond Funds” on July 8, 2012.

Can YOU explain duration better?

I’m interested in alternative explanations of duration that an ordinary American can understand. Please leave your suggestions below.

How to add personality and warmth to your financial writing–Part two

Personality and warmth help your readers connect with you. In part one of this post, we discussed using personal stories. In this post, I add four more techniques:

    1. Self-deprecating humor
    2. Analogies
    3. Distinctive language
    4. Quotations

 

1. Self-deprecating humor

Humor can be tricky because it can veer into the offensive. But gently poking fun at yourself is usually in good taste. It can also be disarming, as in the example below.

I like the following line written by Helen Lambiase, a student in my blogging class: “Keeping up consistently with a portfolio of individual stocks for the average individual investor is about as easy as sticking to a Weight Watchers diet (believe me, I can tell you about both.) ” Everyone in our class remarked on how friendly and approachable Helen sounded.

In another example, Bob Rall of Rall Capital Management titled his post “Are You Single?” and then wrote, “Before my wife reads that headline and thinks that I’m up to something that I shouldn’t be, I need to explain. If you are single, you have a different set of financial planning issues to deal with.”

A comedy-writing friend suggests that you use humor in moderation, or your shtick may become your identifying characteristic. If you recognize the name of Rodney Dangerfield, you know his most famous line is “I don’t get no respect.”

2. Analogies

Like flashlights, analogies illuminate murky areas. The analogies that you choose reflect your identity. For example, I’m unlikely to use sports, military, or science images. Gardening, travel, and books are more my speed.

3. Distinctive language

Write the way you speak, especially when you write blog posts. Everyday language makes you more approachable. (By the way, I originally wrote “colloquial language.”)

I’d love to see my client in Texas write blog posts that sound like his conversations. His colorful phrases, such as “drinking from a fire hose,” delight me.

I also like the following translation from a Chinese newspaper article, which I found in a Wall Street Journal article: “When the weasel pays a New Year’s visit to the chickens, nothing good will come of it.”

4. Quotations

If techniques 1-4 fail you, then find an evocative quotation to give a spark to an otherwise dry piece. The kind of person whom you quote can also reveal something about your personality. You’ll find plenty of quotation sources online, including the following:

As you do your daily reading, jot down great quotes in a notebook or electronic file. They may come in handy later.

How do YOU add personality and warmth?

I’m sure I’ve skipped some great techniques. Please share YOUR great ideas for adding personality and warmth to your writing.

 

Note: I updated this article on July 8 because I found my notes about that great weasel quote from “Chinese Media Open Cannon at U.S.” in The Wall Street Journal. Updated again on July 7 to correct a typo.

How to add personality and warmth to your financial writing–Part one

Independent financial advisors find personality is a powerful marketing tool. It’s one thing that’s unique to you. However, it is not always easy to infuse your writing with personality.

In this two-part post, I address five tools you can use to address a personality gap in your writing, starting with personal stories.

1. Personal stories

Telling personal stories is an obvious way to give a flavor of your identity. It’s simplest if you’re an advisor who has grappled with many of the same financial issues as your clients. For example, you may have struggled with how much allowance to give your children. A story about how you reached your decision–or how you communicated it to your children–is a great kernel for a blog post, if you’re comfortable sharing.

Your personal story need not be directly related to a financial decision. I like how Jude Boudreaux of Upperline Financial writes about life lessons learned from his baby in “Baby Steps Aren’t Just for Babies.” Even non-parents like me can relate to a baby learning to walk. Jude takes pains to translate his little girl’s first steps into lessons for you, the reader, rather than focusing solely on himself and his family. He concludes by asking, “What baby steps can you take today to continue your growth as a person?”

Looking for inspiration?

Here are more examples of financial planners who share personal stories:

Still stumped? Father’s Day is coming up on June 17. Consider writing a post about “Lessons I learned from my father.” Be sure to include the implications for your readers. Give them a reason to care. If you write a Father’s Day post, please post a link in the Comments section. Thank you!

 

For more on this topic, please read the second part of this article.

 

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

 

NAPFA Genesis email example and top lessons

Click to compare the two versions side-by-side

NAPFA Genesis members and friends, thank you for participating in my recent webinar about writing effective emails! I have two things for you in this post.

  1. An example, with practical tips, of how to rewrite an email contributed by one of your NAPFA colleagues.
  2. A listing of the top lessons that you and your colleagues learned from my webinar. Scroll to the bottom of this post, if this is what you want to read.

Email critique: The original, unedited version

Here is the original email. Names have been changed to protect privacy.

Hello George and Caitlin,

I truly enjoyed catching up and talking with you both at the girls softball game on Wednesday.  Kristen was excited to see Amy and Sophia and Melissa was excited to see Jason!  I’m going to have to keep an eye on my youngest one.

We talked about many things related to your financial well being and truly only scratched the surface.  All the items we touched on from estate planning and trusts to your age differences, college education funding to retirement or financial independence as well as taxes and investments are all interconnected when it comes to building a comprehensive financial plan.  By design, it is a holistic approach that combines the disciplines of investment management, financial planning, and consulting into a personalized solution for you and your family.  Another thing I think would be prudent for us to consider now is re-financing your mortgages given that we’ve hit nearly 40 year lows on longer term mortgages and all time lows on short term mortgages.  A 1% reduction in your mortgage rate could free up significant cash flow for other goals and save an enormous sum over the life of the mortgage.

Please find attached an initial meeting questionnaire that can assist in stimulating thought about things you want and need to address and help set the stage for our initial discussions.  If you have questions about the questionnaire, please do not hesitate to email or call and I’ll be glad to clarify.  The only other items you need to gather for our meeting would be your last two years of tax returns, most recent portfolio and retirement statements and your estate documents if you can easily put your hands on them but if you can not we can touch on that subject later.

My schedule opens up around the second and third weeks of October on Wednesday the 12th or Thursday the 13th  or Tuesday the 18th or Thursday the 20th in either the morning or afternoon on any of those days.  I can only imagine George that your schedule is probably tight, so I am open to meeting whenever might be more convenient for you even on a Saturday or Sunday morning over coffee at your home and I’ll bring the bagels. I look forward to hearing from you soon.  Take care.

Email critique: Revised email

Hello George and Caitlin,

It was great to catch up with you at the girls’ softball game on Wednesday! My girls enjoyed seeing your Amy, Sophia, and Jason, too.

You mentioned some concerns about your finances. Would you like to schedule a mid-October meeting to discuss how we could relieve your worries? It’s difficult for individuals to sort out complex issues—such as age differences, college education funding, and retirement—on their own. This is why many people like you turn to financial advisors who combine the disciplines of investment management, financial planning, and consulting into a personalized solution for you and your family. You may also find unexpected savings. For example, we could look at refinancing your mortgages now that rates are at or near all‑time lows. A 1% reduction in your mortgage rate could save an enormous sum over the life of your mortgage.

Below are some dates when we could meet during the business day. However, I am also open to meeting whenever it might be more convenient for you, even on a weekend morning at your home. I can bring bagels.

  • Wednesday, Oct. 12
  • Thursday, Oct. 13
  • Tuesday, Oct. 18
  • Thursday, Oct. 20

I will call you next week to follow up.

Take care.

My comments on the original and revised emails

STRENGTHS OF THE DRAFT EMAIL

I like that the email writer

  1. Emphasized where he knows the recipients from and showed that he knows their children’s names
  2. Showed knowledge of the recipients’ specific challenges
  3. Suggested how he might save money for the recipients
  4. Suggested specific dates for a meeting
  5. Showed flexibility about when to meet with the recipients

SUGGESTIONS

  • Streamline the polite social chat, so you can hit the action item quickly. For example, naming the recipients’ children is more important than naming your own.
  • Put the action item at the top of your email, immediately after your streamlined social chat.
  • Emphasize the WIIFM—What’s In It For Me—for your email recipient.
  • Shorten sentences.
  • Don’t overwhelm the reader with information. I fear the readers may feel overwhelmed by receiving the new client questionnaire. Send it after they make an appointment.
  • You’ll have a higher success rate over the long haul if you call to follow up than if you wait for your readers to call you.
  • Keep your emails as short as possible. My changes cut the email from 388 words to only 211.

 

Your top lessons from my email webinar

In response to my question, “What’s the most important lesson you learned today?” you typed the following lines into the GoToMeeting question box or in your email to me.

Consider inputting this link into your calendar, with a reminder to check one month from now to see if you’ve improved your emails.

  • The best item I learned was how to simplify what I am writing.  As a detail-oriented person it is not easy to leave out details, but they may be unnecessary!  This is something I will work to improve on.
  • What I learned – Use fewer words per sentence and write shorter paragraphs.  Use simple language.
  • get rid of the “to be” verbs!
  • Firm name in subject line and email signatures. Thanks!
  • Good tip on self-editing to be more concise.
  • What I learned: keep it simple, straightforward, and focused on the reader’s interests
  • Importance of short and direct emails
  • What I learned – you start losing your audience at 42 words per paragraph, 14 words per sentence and 2 syllables per word.
  • Do not assume what is important to you, as the advisor, is the same thing that is important to the reader.  Narrow your importance and simplify the message.
  • WIIFM, 14 14 2
  • Lessons learned: Thinking about WIIFM is an important lesson to consider. I usually understand what I want out of the client, but typically fail to think of how the request will be received and perceived. I also like the idea of [Sorry, this answer was cut off]
  • Learned great tips about simplifying sentences
  • My best take away was keeping Paragraphs and Sentences short.  Also the words not to use.