You know proper grammar and punctuation and you can string together your thoughts, but are you really communicating your key messages effectively?  Are people reading your e-mail messages, newsletters, postcards, and letters or are they scanning, tossing, or deleting? 

Worse yet, are you alienating or confusing readers without realizing it?

Professional copywriters spend years studying, honing, and perfecting their skills. But all business writers, even busy financial planners, can improve written communications and increase the odds that readers will take action.

Here are some tips to help you with client correspondence, content creation, and marketing communications:

1. Write in the "You Voice"

Take a look at your brochure, Web site, newsletter, or piece of correspondence. How many times did you use the words I, me, or we? How many times did you use the words you and your? If the I, me, and we words outnumber the you and your words, it may seem you are more interested in yourself than in the reader.

No one likes a self-centered person. Make sure you are not coming off that way in your written communications. It is almost always possible to write in the "you voice."  Once you get in the habit, you'll find it becomes quite natural.

2. Take a Mind Trip

While the "you voice" does have a bold feeling to it, you want to take care not to be perceived as being bossy. Until you get the hang of it, ask your spouse or a trusted friend to read what you've written; they'll tell you if something could be misinterpreted or seem unprofessional, too colloquial, or abrupt.

Project yourself into the readers' mind. Reflect on what they need to learn or want to hear from you. Address their needs. Ask yourself: What are the readers' problems? What keeps these people up at night? How can I be of service? State the problem in one to three sentences (in the "you voice," of course). Then offer a solution (typically, the many ways you can help), using the you/your words as much as possible. Talk in terms of their problems, and your solutions. 

3. Appeal to Their Emotions

No need to get maudlin, but do tug at the heartstrings when you write. People are motivated by feelings, primarily fear and desire. Remind people of what they've been avoiding and state in compelling terms how you can help them avoid a series of problems or a painful situation.

You can also align yourself with their goals and dreams and state how you can help them accomplish the things they desire. It's okay to do both in a communication, just make sure you are on-purpose. Avoid clichés and mixed messages.

4. Communicate Benefits, Not Features

People don't want a financial plan; they want the benefits that come from the financial-planning process. Instead of promoting a long list of products and services (mutual funds, stocks, bonds, college-funding strategies, retirement planning, etc.), put the focus on the benefits derived from working with you.

This list of benefits like this might appeal to your prospective clients:

  • Save money on taxes
  • Get out of debt
  • Make your money work as hard as you do
  • Provide a safety net for your family
  • Align your investments with your values
  • Build a solid foundation for the future
  • Simplify your life
  • Reduce stressful decision-making
  • Ease record-keeping burdens
  • Create and preserve wealth
  • Generate a steady stream of retirement income
  • Enjoy happy, golden years
  • Leave a legacy for loved ones

5. Save the Big Words for Your Peers

Avoid using jargon and highfalutin words. People don't walk around thinking "I need to optimize my investments, maximize my retirement plan, minimize my taxes, capitalize on opportunities and supersize my future." Terms like Modern Portfolio Theory and price/earnings-ratio make people's heads spin. Keep it simple. Don't make people work too hard to understand the value you provide. Try not to sound like a big-shot attorney, investment banker, or institutional money manager and you should be okay.

6. Provide a Call to Action

At the end of the article, postcard, flier, ad, or letter, tell readers exactly what you want them to do—call, write, e-mail, etc. Offer a choice or two so you get them to do something, now.

In a future installment, I'll share my formula for writing compelling copy in half the time.

To see an example of something that was originally written in the "I/me/we voice" and how it changes in tone and focus when rewritten in the "you/your voice," click here.

Marie Swift is a nationally recognized consultant who has for over twenty years worked exclusively with some of the industry’s top financial institutions, training organizations, investment advisory and financial planning firms. Her “Best Practices in the Financial Services Industry” blog provides additional insights and advice. Find it at www.marieswift.com. Get breaking news at www.twitter.com/marieswift