You may be the savviest financial advisor in your community, but can you command attention through an effectively written email or blog post?
Investment writing consultant Susan Weiner (left) hopes to help communications-challenged advisors escape a fate condemned to obscurity at a presentation next week at the Financial Planning Association’s annual gathering in San Antonio.
Besides being a writer and editor, Weiner is also a CFA charterholder who has worked in the financial services industry, so she understands both the challenges and the solutions advisors face in the workaday problems of email communications.
Weiner, speaking with AdvisorOne a week ahead of her FPA session, said the biggest of those challenges—not just for advisors but for anyone who is not a professional writer—is to keep the reader’s perspective in mind.
“That means knowing who your reader is, pushing your readers’ hot buttons so they pay attention, structuring so it’s easier for your reader to understand what you’re saying,” Weiner says.
Weiner, based in West Newton, Mass., says the principle of “What’s in it for me?”, or WIIFM for short, should guide you to more reader-friendly communications.
“When someone looks at their email inbox, they’re going to judge things by WIIFM,” she says.
Since your clients and prospects are generally overburdened with email, Weiner says they must perceive a clear benefit to reading yours. “In order to target with WIIFM, you have to really know who they are,” she adds.
Weiner proposes a four-step process to write effective emails and letters to clients. The first step is knowing your readers.
“Why are they in the relationship with you? What are they going to get out of working with you as a financial advisor?” A powerful question Weiner suggests as a way of aligning your perspective with that of the reader is to ask what is keeping them awake at night.
“As an advisor, if you understand that, then you’re better able to appeal to them.
“You can have an article called ‘401k Plan Rules’ or [the same article titled] ‘Get Free Money by Taking Advantage of Your Employer’s Match.’ ” The topic is the same, but one may have no appeal to your clients while the other may very much resonate with them, she says.
Weiner’s second step is to structure clearly: “I think the email subject line is the most important line you’ll write. Make your point really clear in the subject line and carry it through into the body as well,” she says.
In general, Weiner advocates getting to the “meat of the matter” right away. “Everyone’s busy; they don’t want to scan through an entire email to figure out what you want,” she says. But she acknowledges that the nature of your relationship with the client may allow for polite preliminaries. Still, advisors should “put right near the top what it is you’re looking for,” she says.
In working with advisors—Weiner teaches a five-lesson virtual class on “how to write blog posts people will read”—she frequently ends up taking items buried at the bottom of an advisor’s communication and pulling it to the top where it belongs.
The third step to more effective email communications is to simplify sentences.
“Make them shorter. People don’t have long attention spans,” she says, adding that “advisors have some pretty long sentences out there.”
One exercise she asks of advisors is to write something and then cut it by 10%. Eliminating superfluous information allows you to convey essential information, she says. Emphasizing active verbs yields further improvement, she adds.
Weiner’s fourth step is using plain language. “Especially when dealing with individual investors, it’s important not to use jargon, or you’ll lose them.”
She cites “mitigate” as a word “compliance people love,” though “ease,” “manage” or “cut” would do.
Other examples of verbosity include “‘exogenous’ or ‘secular,’ even ‘headwinds’—if you’re not a sailor, do you even know what headwinds are?”
After taking these four steps into account in their emails, advisors should reread their note before pushing the send button. “Go back and read it from the reader’s perspective. Would I know what the reader wants me to do? How would I respond?” In other words, if you’re looking for a document to be signed or inviting a prospect to a free seminar, make sure that that is immediately clear from your message.
As for blog posts, while the same four steps are paramount there as well, there’s a key difference:
“Personality comes into play more." Weiner says. "It’s so hard to distinguish yourself on the basis of products and services, yet you’re the only one with your personality. So I encourage people to take up blogging for that reason. It’s a good way to reflect your personality and interests.”