In my last article, I provided some tips to help you with client correspondence, content creation, and marketing communications. If you have not already done so, please read "Use Client-Centered Communications to Build Your Business." When you shift your focus as instructed in the article, you will improve your marketing results and build stronger relationships.

This article, I will share my formula for writing compelling content in half the time. Use this system to cut your work effort and sharpen your prose.

The secret to writing well--and quickly--is to draw a blueprint for your copy by giving brief, factual answers to the five questions below. Because most advisors struggle with creating good content for their marketing materials, I'll focus my comments on how to write better prospective client communications; however, the blueprint works for almost any copywriting need.

Create a Writing Blueprint

Open a blank word processing document and copy the questions below into it. Type in your answers and watch your message take shape.

  1. What's the target audience's pain, predicament, or problem? Describe it in two or three sentences.
  2. Why hasn't the problem been solved? Remind prospects of the failed attempts, which leads to the next question.
  3. What's possible? Give a specific answer in two or three sentences. Your answer must make your readers want what's possible.
  4. What's different now? Answer in two or three sentences or in a bulleted list that says what sets your product or service apart and will alleviate the pain, problem, or predicament.
  5. What should the reader do now? This gives your call to action, the part telling your prospects exactly what you want them to do.

Here's an example I created using the formula above:
Are you worried about how to finance college educations while also funding your retirement? You've put away some money in 529 plans, you've funded your 401(k), but you have a nagging feeling that you're still falling behind. Believe it or not, it is possible to sort out your finances and meet your financial goals, with the proper plan. Most people simply don't know where to go or whom to trust.

At XYZ Financial Planning, we've been helping people just like you make better decisions about their money and their lives since 1988.

What makes us unique?

  • In-house investment team. Guided by a proprietary system, our Chartered Financial Analyst and a Chartered Financial Consultant guide asset-allocation and portfolio management decisions.
  • Fee-based investment management. We are an independent Registered Investment Advisory and financial planning firm. There are no third-party agendas or products to push.
  • Comprehensive advice. We embrace the six-step financial-planning process set forth by the CFP Board of Standards. Our investment advisory retainer includes ongoing financial planning and advice.
  • Personal commitment. At XYZ Financial Planning, you're not "just an account"; you're a valued client (and we hope, eventually, a longtime friend). We want to know you as more than "just an investor" and take an interest in all aspects of your personal financial life.

Call today for a free copy of our special report, "Retire in Bermuda and Send them to Yale, too!" Visit www.haveitall.com or call Steve Smith at 800-444-9111.

A Writer's Bag of Tricks

Now you're ready to write the next draft. Having trouble getting started? Many writers and business communicators develop their own rituals--drinking coffee, exercising, listening to music, checking e-mail, etc.—for getting ready to write. Here are a few tactics my colleagues and I have used.

Quarantine Yourself

When you have a writing assignment, do your "getting ready to write" ritual, then quarantine yourself from distractions. Tell yourself that you will not get up from your chair or answer the phone or check e-mail until a set amount of content has been developed, the item is ready to be sent to a team member for feedback, or a certain amount of time has passed.

When you meet the set objective, reward yourself by going out for a walk, sorting the mail, eating lunch, or speaking with your partner or assistant.

Eat Some Frogs

When you are struggling with a task or assignment, try to tackle it first thing in the morning. Brian Tracy in his book, Eat that Frog! 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time, says that tackling our biggest and most unpleasant task first is a business discipline we should all adopt. After eating my own frogs religiously every morning, I can tell you that this discipline is invaluable.

"Frogs"—the big, unpleasant things we keep avoiding—never taste good, but they get bigger and slimier with each passing day, so it's best to catch them when they're small. And, if you eat a frog every morning, you'll know that the rest of your day (and your business overall) will be better because of it.

If you tackle the big tasks that will lend the greatest results (like getting that quarterly newsletter done or writing that client update), you'll develop a habit that makes it easier to accomplish more and with increasingly less effort.

Who knows? You may even acquire a taste for eating frogs.

Make It Fun

We all have to keep our sense of humor and spirits high. Writing can be hard and lonely work, so do what you can to keep it fun. Toss an M&M into your mouth at the end of each page. Talk out loud and tell yourself how well you are doing—“Wow, that was a really good first draft, Amy…keep up the good work!”  Stretch and say, "Almost done. Just one more hour til cheeseburgers in paradise."

When I was writing a book one dark and lonely night, I stopped to compose a rap song for a group of mild-mannered financial planners who needed to do something lively at an evening conference event.  

Use Visual Cues

Another idea is to use props. For instance, try putting on your writer's cap--literally. As long as you have that cap on your head, tell yourself you are dedicated to the task at hand. (I always wear mine backward, so the bill doesn't get in the way.)

Put a photo or memento that motivates you next to your keyboard. A friend of mine puts a stuffed animal she calls Prop next to her computer, and yes, she actually talks to Prop while she composes.

Create a Special Place

Did your parents make you do your homework at a special place in the house? Mine did. You knew, for instance, that when you sat down at that end of the kitchen table, it was time to study. No more avoiding it.

Some of us write better outside of the office. So whether you pull up a chair on the deck, hunker down in the conference room, set up on your boat, or head to Starbucks, find a special place that energizes and keeps you focused.

Sometimes it's not the place but the time of day that makes a difference. When I work on big projects, I often work at night from my home office. One year, the dining room table became a book creation oasis. If I'm collaborating with someone, they may be up late, too. Because housemates are usually asleep, we use Instant Messenger to exchange notes, check details, and keep the energy up.

Sound odd? One of these tactics might just work for you. If you have a creative and focusing ritual, e-mail me at marieswift@impactcommunications.org. I'd like to hear from you. In my next installment, I’ll talk tell you how to break up writer’s block.

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