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How to Write Like Someone Might Actually Read Your Work

One of the tips I hear most frequently for those just stepping into the world of content generation is to start by creating content for yourself. While I agree with the general sentiment (some of my favorite pieces have been written primarily for my own amusement) and think it can be a valuable jumping-off point, many of us are tasked in the course of our work to create content that gets someone to do something. In other words, we are attempting to, at the very least, get people to read, view or discuss our work.

Content that falls into this category could be designed to get someone to buy something, attend an event or become a member of an organization, and it could also mean content meant to get people to think we’re smart and/or knowledgeable. Oh, you mean like “thought leadership?” No, I don’t. That term has lost all its value due to abuse and overuse. In my experience, most content labeling itself as thought leadership is a sad copy of something better that has already been produced, and as such, is actually “thought following,” and a waste of everyone’s time.

Anyhoo, getting people to consume your work can be even more difficult than creating it in the first place, and there are few things more frustrating than spending a lot of time on a piece that nobody reads (thanks for reading this, by the way). If this has happened to you, it can be tempting to either just stop creating content at all or, if you are forced to keep creating it, to start phoning it in (i.e., “Well, we need a market commentary to send to clients. I’ll slap it together in five minutes and send it out as a Word Doc.”). While understandable, if you get into this funk, you start thinking of creating content as a chore and a box that requires checking, and my guess is that your work reflects it.

To help you avoid the strange unspoken agreement that we as content creators can sometimes make with our hypothetical readers (“This won’t be very good, but I know you won’t read it anyway”), I wanted to share three tips that I use to help myself write content that includes the assumption that someone might read it—bonus points if they get something out of it—and have a good time doing it.

1.) Write Like You Speak

How you distribute content matters quite a bit in terms of making sure your audience sees the content. Creating content that engages, however, starts with the writing and editing process. If your content is dry, boring, aloof or cookie-cutter, it doesn’t matter how great your distribution plan is—your readers will look elsewhere for what they need.

One thing that sets content that I enjoy reading apart from the rest of the noise is when I can feel like I know or have met the writer or creator upon finishing the piece. The tone and personality of content is an area that still seems to get short shrift behind sexier topics like SEO and headline writing (don’t judge me—I love this stuff), but it could not be more important. Your readers need the information you’re providing, but they also need to engage with the person offering it. For this reason, drawing your reader in often requires letting them know you on a more intimate level, which can mean:

  • introducing vulnerability (i.e., “Here’s a mistake I made and what I learned from it”)
  • tying personal stories to your main points
  • adding jokes, sarcasm or other quirks of your personality throughout
  • taking a stance and/or including your opinion and analysis of facts and data provided

Or, all of the above if it works for you. I’ve found that interspersing these more personal items into my pieces helps me write more effective content (through the lens of satisfying objectives), and perhaps more importantly, that they make it more fun to write. I’m a firm believer that, if you’re not having fun writing or creating content, your audience will have even less fun consuming it.

I think that some of the best compliments you can receive as a writer are that you “write like you talk/speak,” or that something you wrote “sounds like you.” Finding your style and committing to using the same core tone and personality in everything you write takes practice and a lot of repetition, but it’s well worth your time.

2.) Read It Out Loud

You’ve likely heard this one before—the reason I’m bringing it up again is that it truly does work. One of the most common questions I receive from content creators, especially those tasked with writing about or for the financial services industry, is how to maintain any level of personality or unique tone when the topics themselves are overly technically complex or just plain dull. This industry and profession present a great challenge in this respect, and while injecting some vitality into the desiccated husks of certain pieces of content is far from easy, I do think it is possible.

One way to check your work on this is, when you have a draft ready, to read it out loud first to yourself, then to someone else. The act of verbalizing your work can be useful in a variety of ways:

  • First, it can help you practice and ultimately, master Tip #1 (writing like you speak).
  • Second, it can help you identify the areas where you need to add some qualifiers to simplify and clarify certain thoughts. While I overuse it in my own writing, I am partial to using “in other words” in these instances, as it sounds more conversational and primes the reader for a simple way to understand a complex concept. ASIDE: I’ve had well-meaning people try to tell me that if I’d just explained myself more effectively in the prior sentence, I wouldn’t need to use “in other words.” I’ve found this to be false in many scenarios in financial services, as it’s often important to use the language of the industry in the first thought, as that’s what the reader is most likely to see in other materials. Your qualifying sentence is to help them understand the language in a different way.
  • Third, it’s the best way I’ve found to ensure that content is conversational enough for your audience, and for the objective of the piece. If you’re writing an academic research paper or an instruction manual, you may not want or need to be very conversational, but if you’re writing a blog post, your audience is often expecting you to be talking directly to them. Reading aloud will help you identify the areas of your work that really lend themselves to a conversational style (i.e., something that you, or at least some human being, might actually say), and those that need some adjusting.

While you will likely be your own most valuable critic, finding someone who will be honest with you during a read-aloud session can be extremely useful as well. Sometimes, things sound better in our heads and coming out of our own mouths than they do to others, and you can avoid tripping yourself up by sharing it verbally with someone else before publishing.

3.) Edit, Don’t Sterilize

My last piece of advice on engaging writing is to remember that the small imperfections and quirks in your writing style are not necessarily bad things. I think some of these quirks make up an important part of anyone’s writing style, and not all of them should be eradicated through the editing process.

For example, guidelines like AP Style that provide excellent constructs to help us to be better and more consistent writers can also be limiting in certain cases. This is especially true when it comes to keeping pieces conversational, and I almost always err on the side of making pieces more readable over a take-no-prisoners adherence to style guidelines. Note: This is borderline unforgivable heresy to some people I know—Melissa, I hope you’re not reading this.

One of my favorite instances of this comes from the book Delivering Happiness, an autobiography by Zappos Founder Tony Hsieh. In the introduction to the book, Hsieh lets the reader know that he doesn’t consider himself a great writer, and that they might find his style jarring, but it was important to him that he delivered his thoughts in his own words.

True to his disclaimer, the book is not a work of classic literature by any stretch of the imagination. It is, however, my favorite autobiography, and the endearingly slapdash style of his writing is one of the main reasons why. I also love that he took a crack at writing the book himself instead of farming it out to a ghostwriter, as so many others have done.

You really feel that you know Tony Hsieh as you finish the book, and it’s primarily because he put pen to paper (or hands to keys) himself, sharing his unfiltered thoughts and failures so that the reader may learn some important lessons. It’s likely the same reason we sometimes like seeing shaky iPhone videos instead of studio-quality interviews—authenticity matters to all of us.

I’m not telling you to fire out a draft, then publish it immediately without any editing support. In general, the more smart people who look at your content before you publish it, the better your content will be. That said, don’t be afraid to gently push back on edits that change a thought in the way you wanted it delivered, remove a piece of your content that you think represents you and your style or sterilize a sentence that was meant to be more conversational. If you have the same people look at your work, over time, these discussions can help both you and those who are editing your work find that unique style that says, “Hey World, I’ve got something to say, and I’ve got a unique way in which to say it.”

Speaking of making content consumable, this piece is pretty long, so those who made it this far, I ‘preciate you. These tips have helped me, and I hope they help you wherever you may be on your content creation journey.

Dan_Martin_Headshot

Dan Martin is the Director of Marketing for the Financial Planning Association, the principal professional membership organization for CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNERTM professionals, educators, financial services professionals and students who seek advancement in a growing, dynamic profession. You can follow Dan on Twitter at @DanW_Martin and on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/danmartinmarketing.

 

Disclaimer: Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc. (“CFP Board”), a 501(c)(3) organization that is independent of the Financial Planning Association, grants the CFP® certification to CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professionals in the United States.CFP Board owns the trademarks CFP® and CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™.”


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3 Steps to Captivating Content

You know captivating content when you see it. It’s something that causes an emotional response and resonates with you. It creates a connection, and makes you say, “I want to be part of that, and share with everyone I know!”

Captivating content is the mass email you get and look forward to. It’s the Super Bowl commercial everyone re-watches at work the next day. It’s the tagline you repeat. It’s the picture you print out. It’s the product you buy because of the package. Though it’s easy to identify, captivating content is generally not easy to create, but here are three things you can do to help get you there:

1.) Know Your Objective

What is the purpose of your content, and what do you hope to achieve with it? Obviously, you’re trying to generate more income, but how? Are you targeting current clients to invest more assets, or refer someone to you, or build a relationship with their family? Are you targeting prospects you’ve met or prospects you haven’t encountered? Are you trying to bring more people to your website or attain more email addresses?

List out each goal you’re trying to accomplish with each piece of content. It not only helps you create a clear message, but will also create a benchmark to track your success. Without an objective, how will you know if your message is working?

2.) Know Your Demographic

Who are you trying to reach with your content? Stay-at-home moms? Busy CEOs? Retired veterans? Married couples with grandchildren?

Figure out exactly who it is you want to see your content and make sure you’ve written and designed it to their preferences. For example, if you’re targeting an audience in their 60s, you’ll want to make sure the font you are using is large and clearly legible.

Knowing who you are targeting also helps you know where to place your content. Let’s say you were trying to reach the employees at the Nissan factory in your city. You could advertise on the billboard near the Nissan factory that they drive past every morning.

3.) Run It Past Someone Else

When you’re trying to come up with content ideas, it always helps to brainstorm with someone else with an outside perspective. It’s easy to get lost in the jargon and to take for granted the financial terms and knowledge you have. Financial concepts that seem juvenile to you may be foreign to someone outside of your field. That’s why it’s always important to get a second set of eyes on your work from someone who isn’t familiar with the ins and outs of your job.

To bring it all together, here’s an example of what it looks like:

Objective: Schedule meetings with prospective clients who need help managing their finances as they go through a divorce.

Demographic: Women going through a divorce or just recently divorced.

Content: An educational piece provided to local “divorce care” classes about the common financial mistakes that get overlooked after a divorce and how to avoid them with an invitation to reach out to your team for further help or to review their current plan.

Review and refine: Ask a client or spouse to review what you have for anything that doesn’t make sense then redesign or rewrite accordingly.

While we can’t promise that following these steps will guarantee you will be a viral sensation, we can promise that you’ll be closer to your goal than when you started.

For more tips on creating content and marketing visit KalliCollective.com, which is part of the FPA Member Discount Program.

Kalli Lipke

With nearly a decade of experience in the financial industry, along with securities licenses 7 & 63, Kalli Lipke not only understands the way your clients think, but how the financial industry operates. She helps financial planners bring their business to the next level through marketing and branding.


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You Need a Story to Succeed in Marketing. Here’s How to Find Yours and Tell It

“The best businesses are the best stories.”

This was one of my favorite quotes from a marketing conference I attended last year because it gets to the heart of what it takes to be successful as a marketer and entrepreneur. You need to develop a story—and then share that story with others.

Stories are compelling because they trigger our emotions. They align (or don’t) with our existing beliefs and values. The ones we like confirm our worldviews and our biases.

All these things play into our decision-making process. As much as we’d like to think we’re perfectly rational when we make choices, we’re simply not. And you need to keep that in mind if you want to convince more prospects to become paying clients of your firm.

This being said, finding success—developing your story and then sharing it well with others—isn’t easy to do, which is why most people (and planning firms) don’t market themselves well. Good storytelling is an art, and even if you can spin a yarn that resonates with others, you need to find a good one to share first.

Here are some of my best tips to be able to both find your story and tell it well.

Make Sure You Have the Raw Materials for Building a Story

I would not describe most of the financial advisers I know as “thrill-seekers.” And that’s not a bad thing. Most people get into this profession because they’re naturally inclined to protect and nurture valuable assets, both for themselves and others. If you’re stampeding through life, taking unnecessary risks and making stupid mistakes, you likely won’t make a great financial planner.

But a little adventure, a little risk and a little discomfort are good things that so often we become averse to seeking out on our own. The problem with that? If you’re comfortable, you’re not doing anything new. You’re not pushing yourself; not exploring or challenging anything; and not gaining useful experiences that you can use as the raw materials for good stories.

Finding a good story is not about dreaming up something more imaginative or innovative than the next guy. It’s more about being able to think creatively to piece together seemingly random, disparate ideas to come up with something new, interesting and original.

Living life and seeking out things that push you just a little outside your comfort zone each time is a wonderful method of developing great stories—as well as getting new insights, finding ways to think differently and giving yourself the opportunity to consider new perspectives.

I’m not suggesting that you be in a constant state of anxiety or discomfort in order to grow or form new ideas. But you have to be willing to step into a situation you know will be uncomfortable for you in order to give yourself the chance to grow, see things in a new light and develop the experiences necessary for a good story.

Talk About Where You Divert from the Mainstream

Ever get that feeling that the crowd is moving in one direction—and you’re doing a 180 in the complete opposite direction? Treat that feeling as an indicator that you might be sitting on a good story to tell.

We try to do this often at Beyond Your Hammock, in both blog posts and on podcasts. We’ve challenged the idea of homeownership as “always good,” specifically pointing out that there’s a lot of pressure for high-achieving 30-somethings to want to buy a home…but a lot of us don’t want that at all.

We’ve pushed against the FIRE movement’s idea that there’s only one way to “financial independence,” and it’s through extreme measures. We’ve been willing to say, you know what? Being good with money is not all about how much you can save. It’s how well you can use your money as a tool to live well today and still plan responsibly for tomorrow.

It takes some vulnerability to stand up, raise your hand and say “I don’t seem to feel the same way as everyone else. I’m thinking differently about this and here’s why.” But these are great places to find a unique story that others will appreciate, because what happens is you give a voice to the things your audience already thinks but might not feel brave enough to say.

Think About What Matters Most to You

What gets you fired up? What do you feel passionately about? What do you believe in with such conviction that you’re willing to take a stand for it without being moved or dissuaded?

These areas of your life make good hunting grounds for stories. What can you share about how you came up with your beliefs? If you have a philosophy or a mantra you live (or do planning) by, what is it and what led you to develop it?

Telling Your Story: How to Share It Once You Find It

Developing your story is only the first step. You also need to hone your communication skills so you can share it with a receptive audience. Keep these quick tips in mind:

Polish your story first:

If you follow the advice above, you might dig up a really awesome story you want to tell—but that doesn’t mean just word vomit somewhere and people will enjoy it. You may need to trim bits and pieces, or just tell us a snippet of the story. You might need to lop off a lengthy intro and get to the point. Knowing what to share and what you can cut out is a critical component of good storytelling.

Aim to form connections, not prove points:

Stories are not lectures or sermons. A story should serve as a channel for connecting with other people—so don’t be afraid to dive into things that feel a little squishy or intangible or not even directly related to financial planning. People want to connect with other people. Be vulnerable, be human and share openly about what makes you, you, and how you came to form your views on how you do business, the advice you give and the people you want to help.

Use the right medium:

Is your story best told with visual aids? Then a podcast might not be the best way to tell it. On the other hand, do you want to tackle something controversial? Video or podcast might be better than a blog because people tend to be more receptive to new ideas when they hear them rather than just reading them. Consider the context and choose an appropriate medium for your story.

Give context to information:

A story is not a recitation of facts. None of us needs more information; if we need data or stats or info, we can ask Google. The value you can provide with storytelling is to put that information and the data and the facts into context. Information is widely available more than ever thanks to the internet. And context has never been in shorter supply.

Finally, I’ll leave you with this piece of advice for developing your story and the content to tell it with (a favorite tip from fellow writer and blogger Chris Guillebeau): When it comes to sharing your story, communicating your message or publishing your content, strive to be educational, entertaining or inspirational—but preferably all three.

KaliHawlk
 Kali Roberge is the founder of Creative Advisor Marketing, an inbound marketing firm that helps financial advisers grow their businesses by creating compelling content to attract prospects and convert leads. She started CAM to give financial pros the right tools to build trust and connections with their audiences, and loves helping advisers find authentic ways to communicate in a way that resonates with the right people.