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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 organization for CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNERTM (CFP®) 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.


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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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Don’t Like Marketing? Try Building Community Instead

There’s one thing I’ve noticed almost all financial advisers have in common: they don’t like marketing. They don’t enjoy it. They don’t think it’s fun. Some tell me they just don’t get it.

I’d argue that last point, because marketing is simply communication. If you communicate your value to the audience you want to serve, congratulations—you “get” marketing and should be able to do it successfully.

But still, I understand the first two points: if you don’t like marketing, or don’t enjoy it, it’s tough to make yourself sit down and do it (or even think about it).

And unfortunately, most of us need to do some marketing tasks—especially if we’re trying to build and grow businesses. Choosing not to think about it isn’t really an option, either, even if you outsource. You’re likely responsible for setting the vision and the strategy for your team or your contractors so they can execute on your ideas.

So what can you do if you hate thinking about marketing and you definitely don’t want to do it—but recognize that it’s a necessary evil?

Here’s what I’d suggest: Don’t try to market yourself. Focus on building an audience and a community instead.

Build a Community Instead of a Marketing Machine

If the idea of marketing leaves you feeling less than enthusiastic, consider how you can build up an audience, a network or a community.

If you can build these connections and nurture those relationships, you could leverage a very powerful way to build your business: word of mouth. Word of mouth takes some of the burden off you because your customers or clients begin doing the work of marketing for you.

Community could be anything, from online groups or followings centered on a particular brand or product, to in-person meet-ups, events or organizations’ events. There is no one right way to go about it—you just want to bring people with shared interests, needs or problems together.

The best community for you to focus on building will largely depend on who you want to serve. What kind of format best meets their needs? What kind of community are they most likely to show up to and participate in?

Your Community Doesn’t Need to Be All About You

As you think through questions like these, remember that you don’t necessarily need to build a community that’s based specifically on your brand. Your community doesn’t have to be brought together by your services or your industry, either.

Perhaps there’s something you’re passionate about or a problem you know you could solve instead. This might make a great starting point to think about how you can put yourself at the center of the solution.

For example, when I moved to Boston from Atlanta, I found it very hard to make new friends. I knew one person—my significant other—and that was it.

Boston is a hard city. People tend to be very transient, moving frequently for work (which means people may live in Boston one year and be gone the next). And the people who are native to the area have very established social circles that date back to their grade school days.

Those factors, among others, make it very difficult to make friends (especially when you don’t have an office full of coworkers, which I didn’t because I work for myself!). As I tried networking and slowly met a few people, I realized we all had the same problem: It was hard to move to Boston from outside the state and make friends as an adult.

So I started a community for these like-minded women who faced the same struggle. I organized happy hour events once a month, and the group grew from our first gathering of 10 women at a local restaurant to nearly 50 women at the last event I hosted.

I also started a Facebook group that grew to hundreds of members—and every single member was a woman in her 20s or 30s, most of whom were self-employed or did some kind of freelance work on the side of their day jobs.

In other words, they were a niche. They were a ready-made target audience. They became a tribe who knew me as the founder, the heart of this community, and every single one of them understood who I was, what I did and the type of client my business could serve.

Give to Your Community, and They Just Might Give to You

Through that group, I expanded my professional circles and gained influence in my local area. It was a powerful way to give my career and business a boost—and it didn’t require me to market in the traditional sense.

That’s what the community did for me, on my behalf. This is just one example of how your community can benefit you; you could easily take this and replicate the model in your local area and make it specific to a niche you want to connect with.

Can you serve a group of people in your town? Could you create an online community to bring together people of specific interests or needs from various locations around the U.S.? Could you build a brand that seeks to give rather than constantly sell?

Marketing might not be your thing, and that’s okay. You don’t necessarily need to build out a powerful marketing machine if you can instead focus your efforts on connecting directly with people and fostering a community that offers mutual benefits for everyone involved.

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.