Buckle down to writing with a virtual stranger!

It’s not easy to focus on writing when you’re a busy financial professional with many other demands on your time. That’s why I’ve suggested techniques such as finding a writing buddy, using a 15-minute timer, or following a structured writing process broken into small steps (see my financial blogging book for details) to jump-start your writing.

But what if you know you’d benefit from a buddy and you’re too embarrassed to tell a friend or colleague about your need for co-working support? Or if you have a hard time scheduling work sessions in advance? You may be a good fit for Focusmate, which I learned about in “Success under the eye of a stranger,” a Boston Globe article.

Virtual co-working

Focusmate is a form of virtual co-working—working alongside someone else via video. You decide when you want to work, book a 50-minute session, and start your session. After you introduce yourself and start your goal, there’s no more interaction. A video on the service’s home page touts that “There’s no chitchat and no collaboration.” That means there’s nothing to distract you from your work.

Writer Katie Johnson says of Focusmate in her Boston Globe article, “It’s a little bit Big Brother, a little bit Chatroulette (the website that matches up random strangers for webcam conversations that tends to attract exhibitionists). And it’s definitely a whole lot odd.”

By the way, the service is free, although Focusmate plans to introduce a premium service.

The science behind co-working

On its website, Focusmate shares some of the science behind its approach to ending procrastination.

It relies on five behavioral triggers: pre-commitment, implementation intentions, social pressure, accountability, and specificity in task definition.

Can you create your own version of Focusmate?

If the thought of video co-working with a stranger makes you uncomfortable, you could try creating something similar with people you know. Just pick a time and a goal, and update your co-working buddy.

One of my colleagues in a marketing group came up with the idea of scheduling virtual “marketing sprints” without any video, but with online check-ins. We picked an hour that was convenient to many people in the group, then started an online thread in which participants posted their intentions—for example, “I’m going to write email follow-ups to editors whom I’ve contacted during the last month.” Then, one hour later, each participant posts results. It surprised me how this virtually co-working could focus my attention.

In another variation on this, I’ve done a monthly writing challenge, in which participants set goals for the average weekly word count of their writing. Each of us posted about our progress. I found it helped me keep up on my blog. If you’d like me to run a new, public monthly writing challenge, please tell me.

Your experience?

If you’ve tried Focusmate or something similar, please report on how it has worked for you. It’s probably not for everyone. That’s why I post different solutions for folks who struggle to make time to write.

Lemonade from lemons for your writing

“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” That’s a well-known expression attributed to writer Elbert Hubbard, as well as to writer Dale Carnegie and businessman Julius Rosenwald. As you know, it means that you should make the most of adversity. You can even turn it into an opportunity. You can apply this message to your blogging.

When you experience misfortune or troubles in a field relevant to your blog, write about it! I’ve done this many times, as in “Watch out for WordPress 5, especially if you compose in Word!

For example, did you make a mistake in paying off your student loans, preparing to buy a house, or judging your tolerance for investment risk? Those are topics that your prospects can relate to.

As I said in “Shakespeare lesson for bloggers,” sharing a story of your personal struggle can make your content more powerful.

Must you be inspired to write?

Inspiration may make a difference in your writing. In The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer’s Block, and The Creative Brain, Alice W. Flaherty says:

             Although most psychologists and writing teachers distrust the Romantic notion of an inspiration that is separate from skill or hard work, and doubt the claim that one can write at one’s best only when “in the mood,” so many professional writers take these notions seriously that perhaps we should too. After all, psychologists, as opposed to professional writers, are not known for writing well.

I don’t know that I’m ever truly inspired. After all, I write about mundane topics on my blog, and for my client work, it’s mainly a matter of organizing material logically. However, it’s easier for me to blog when an idea strikes. For example, the Flaherty quote that I share above made me think, “This could be a blog post!” I promptly grabbed the legal pad that’s often at my side when I read. I immediately started scribbling.

Experiences like this are why I agree with Flaherty’s advice that:

Perhaps the most practical implication is not to keep yourself from writing when not inspired, but to be ruthless about writing whenever inspiration hits. This approach requires always having paper or a palmtop computer with you, and above all to avoid answering the door or e-mail when you are in the middle of something good.

As I’ve written in “No batteries required: My favorite blogging technique,” I always have a pen and a pad of paper with me. I’m drafting this post as I work through Flaherty’s book. It’s in the magazine rack by my side, as I write on a yellow legal pad.

Poll: Do YOU Need inspiration to write?

Please vote in my poll. I’m curious to learn about YOUR experience. I’ll report on your answers in my newsletter.


Disclosure:  If you click on an 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.

Change your writing for the better

“Nothing changes if nothing changes,” said my spinning instructor in a class. This spurred some thoughts that may help your writing.

In my instructor’s case, she decided to quit drinking coffee as one small step toward healthier eating. That was less intimidating than revamping all of her eating habits at once. Once she quit drinking coffee, it was easy to make a second change to juicing celery every morning. Who knows what additional changes she’ll make?

Could a similar approach help you to improve your writing?

Your first step

Pick one small thing to improve your writing. Here are some ideas for you.

  • Set a weekly writing goal. Measure your goal in terms of word count, time spent writing, or pieces produced. A daily writing goal also works, but a weekly goal may feel less daunting.
  • Create a checklist of your most common writing mistakes. The more you have to think about what to look for when checking your work, the more likely you are to forget something. Decrease the load on your brain by creating a checklist of the most important items for you to check. Not sure how to structure a checklist? There’s one in Financial Blogging: How to Write Powerful Posts That Attract Clients that you can use as a starting point.
  • Get help from someone else. Ask a colleague or friend with a good editorial eye to mark up a sample of your work. Find a blogging buddy. Sign up for a writing class. Hire an outside proofreader, copyeditor, or writing coach. Help can come in many forms.

YOUR choice?

What’s one thing you will do to boost your writing? For my part, I read books about writing, hoping to find new techniques and inspiration.

Stay the same or evolve?

My spinning instructor inspired this post about writing. If you’ve taken many spinning classes, you’ve probably encountered an instructor who strives to inspire you. The teacher of my 7:30 a.m. spinning class recently said, “You can stay the same or you can evolve.” She was praising us for turning up early on Saturdays to improve our fitness on the gym’s stationary bicycles.

However, I think the need to evolve also applies to writing. Your writing may be good enough. However, you probably have room for improvement. I know I do. My husband reminds me of that almost every time he proofreads my monthly e-newsletter. How can we evolve as writers? I have some ideas.

Enroll in a class

Consider enrolling in a writing class. I used classes to turn myself from a writer of stilted prose in my Ph.D. dissertation to a reasonably competent writer. As I’ve said elsewhere, just about any good writing class will help. As I draft this post, I’m about to take a class about using my phone to produce videos. It’s not exactly writing, but it may help me to think differently about writing. If you’d like a writing class focused on financial content, consider my on-demand online classes about writing blog posts or investment commentary.

Ask for feedback

Enrolling in an interactive class is a great way to get feedback. But, it’s not the only way. Consider asking colleagues, friends, or clients for feedback. Or, join a writing group or hire a writing coach or editor to review your work. Another option is to use automated tools for feedback on your work. I discussed the Hemingway tool in “Free help for wordy writers!” One reader told me that changed his writing enormously.


Reading good writing and books about writing can help. As I write this, I’m enjoying Writing Is My Drink by Theo Pauline Nestor. It’s oriented to memoir and fiction writers, but I’m still benefiting from it.

How will YOU evolve?

If you have ideas about how to evolve as a writer, please share them. I always enjoy learning from you. By the way, if you’re a fan of spinning, you may enjoy “Financial blogging lessons from my spinning class.”


Disclosure:  If you click on an 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.

Feeling blah about your blog?

An article in Mindful, “When Work Is…Meh: How mindfulness helps us deal with on-the-job drudgery,” got me thinking about what to do when you feel blah about writing your blog.

The article says, “It’s understandable how passion even for a career that once felt exciting can fade.” This applies to blogs, as well as to careers.

How to boost your enthusiasm about blogging

The article suggests that you try to engage more with your work. Can you apply the same tactic to your blog? Ask yourself:

  • What’s good about writing your blog?
  • How does your blog serve your clients and your firm?
  • What do others appreciate about your blog?
  • Do you experience “flow” when writing your blog?

The answers to your questions may inspire you to keep writing.

Is it time to stop—or change your approach?

On the other hand, as the article says, “Maybe it’s time to go.” That could mean closing your blog. Or, it could mean giving more responsibility to other members of your firm.

Another alternative is to find ways to make it easier for you to blog. Perhaps that means developing a blogging process, as I describe in “Why you need a blogging process,” or improving your blogging skills using the techniques in my book Financial Blogging: How to Write Powerful Posts That Attract Clients or my blogging class.

Write like an effective lawyer

Lawyers persuade judges when they “communicate clearly and concisely, according to Antonin Scalia and Bryan A. Garner in Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges. I believe the same rule applies to your writing.

Why clear, concise writing matters

Why is this important? Because judges, like your readers, lack the time and patience to decipher unclear, wordy writing. “They are an impatient, unforgiving audience with no desire to spend more time on your case then is necessary to get the right result.” Similarly, the readers of your financial blog posts, white papers, or other communications are looking for information to solve their problems. They want to find it as quickly and efficiently as possible.

“The power of brevity is not to be underestimated,” say Scalia and Garner. “A recent study confirms what we all know from our own experience: people tend not to start reading what they cannot readily finish.” By the way, the source of that research is Susan Bell, Improving Our Writing by Understanding How People Read Personally Addressed Household Mail, 57 Clarity 40 (2007).

I agree with Scalia and Garner that “Every word that is not a help is a hindrance because it distracts.” I also like their editing suggestion that “The final read-through should be exclusively devoted to seeing whether certain points can be put more clearly, more vividly, more crisply.”

Learn more

Want to learn more about writing clearly and concisely? Check out my Financial Blogging book or class, and blog posts like “Does your article pass these writing tests?” and “Writing for financial experts.”

Disclosure:  If you click on an 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.


Do you edit a printed copy of your draft?

“At least one set of edits should be made on the printed page, pen in hand,” say Antonin Scalia and Bryan A. Garner in Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges. They favor working on a hard copy because “some failings–for example, a missing connection in argument or undue length–are more easily spotted in hard copy.”

My approach to editing

While I tend to edit short pieces on my PC, I agree with printing out longer pieces. My white papers usually get printed out at least twice. I think that editing on paper is better for longer pieces because it slows me down and forces me to consider the piece as a whole before I actually enter my changes into the document.

Please answer my one-question poll

What about you? Please answer my one-question poll. Do you do all of your editing on your computer, or do you sometimes edit a hard copy?

Disclosure:  If you click on an 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.

Writing and preventable mistakes

“Does your advice stick?” is the title of an article by Moira Somers in the Journal of Financial Planning (May 2018). Based on her book, Advice That Sticks: How to Give Financial Advice That People Will Follow, it describes why clients fail to follow financial advice, and what advisors can do about it. Somers lists preventable mistakes that advisors make in their personal relationships with clients and prospects.

Some of the mistakes could seep into your writing, making it harder for clients and prospects to feel a connection with you. I highlight two of them below, with comments on how to address them.

Mistake 1. “Using incomprehensible jargon”

If people can’t understand what you’re saying, they can’t follow your advice.

If you’re not sure about the jargon level of your writing, you can run tests using Hemingway, the app I describe in “Free help for wordy writers!” You’ll find more tools in “Does your article pass these writing tests?

Even better, get a member of your target audience to read what you’ve written. Then, don’t just ask them, “Do you understand what I’ve written?” Ask them to summarize it in their own words. That’s the gold-standard test.

Somers suggests that you ask even more from members of your target audience. She says:

Start by taking every piece of written information you might give to a typical client and hand it over to four or five people—either existing clients or people who would be similar to them in major ways. Equip them with a marker and ask them to highlight every sentence whose content they do not fully understand. Compare the results. Redo those documents in client-friendly language.

That seems as if you’re asking a lot of those people. However, it would be a valuable exercise.

When you rewrite your documents, you may find it helpful to use the techniques in “How to make one quarterly letter fit clients at different levels of sophistication” and “Plain language: Let’s get parenthetical.” You can also consult “Glossaries for investment and economic jargon.

Mistake 2. “Allowing disapproval, disappointment, or disdain to taint the relationship”

Somers’ suggestion for this point focuses on in-person meetings. “Do a warmth audit of your team,” looking at “eye contact, nodding, and smiling.” Look at your writing through a similar lens.

Tone matters. Your blog posts and articles can suggest that your readers are making mistakes, but you shouldn’t imply “Oh, you idiot, stop making such stupid moves!”

I struggle with hitting the right tone as I write blog posts. It’s not easy. By saying that many people grapple with similar issues, I hope to avoid shaming people. After, most of my readers aren’t professional writers. It’s not reasonable to expect them to know the ins and outs of grammar, white papers, and the like.

Show empathy. You can do this focusing on the reader, suggests The Search Guru in “Discover how to show empathy in writing and why it’s important.” That means showing that you understand and empathize with the wants and/or needs of a relevant group of people.”

I offer more tips on this in “How to add personality and warmth to your financial writing—”How to add personality and warmth to your financial writing—Part One” and “How to add personality and warmth to your financial writing—Part Two.”


Purge these preventable mistakes from the writing you put in front of your clients and prospects! You’ll like the results.


Disclosure:  If you click on an 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.



4 tips for mutual fund fact sheet templates

“What’s your best advice for someone who’s creating mutual fund fact sheets?” A colleague’s question spurred this list of tips for mutual fund fact sheet templates that you can use repeatedly.

1. Write your fact sheets so they are compelling, clear, and concise

Focus on the information that your readers care about. Replace jargon with plain language. Trim unnecessary words.

Of course, you’ll still need the disclosures that your compliance officers demand. But even those can be clearly written. As I pointed out in “Ammo for your plain-language battle with compliance,” there’s no legal requirement to use jargon in disclosures. In fact, plain language may offer you a better defense, says lawyer Joseph Kimble in Writing for Dollars, Writing to Please: The case for plain language in business, government, and law.

2. Scavenge from your other marketing materials

Assuming that your mutual fund’s other materials are well written, you should borrow content from them for your mutual fund fact sheet templates. You’ll raise the standards for your fact sheets when you recycle compelling, clear, concise language. You’ll also benefit from consistency across your communications.

3. Hire a writer or an editor to improve the fact sheet template that you’ll use repeatedly

It’s hard for you to view your mutual fund fact sheet template through the eyes of an outsider. You’re too immersed in your product. Hire an outside writer or editor to help.

No budget for outside help? Show your draft to members of your target audience. Don’t simply ask them “Do you have any suggestions?” or “Do you understand?” Ask them, “What are the main messages of this fact sheet—and can you sum them up in your own words?”

4. Consult a designer

Effective design, with plenty of white space and a layout that makes it easy for readers to find what they seek, can make a big difference in your fact sheet’s effectiveness.

Some fact sheets present a cacophony of data. Others draw readers’ eyes to the most important information.

YOUR ideas?

If you have suggestions for how to create better mutual fund fact sheet templates, please comment. I enjoy learning from my readers.


Disclosure: I received a free copy of Kimble’s book after mentioning it in another blog post. If you click on the Amazon link in this post and then buy something, I will receive a small commission. I only link to books in which I find some value for my blog’s readers.

Image courtesy of ratch0013 at