A live stamp can get your marketing letter opened

One holiday season I was in a long line at a California post office. An elderly woman was in line in front of me. When she finally got to the counter, she ordered a book of stamps. After asking for the book, she qualified her statement by saying with a great deal of irritation, “And none of those darn Elvis stamps, either!” Everyone within earshot tried not to laugh out loud.

Should you use a live stamp or bulk mail for your next promotional piece? While bulk mail may save a few pennies, I always use a real stamp. In fact, I often get creative and use stamps with themes or beautiful pictures just to draw the letter opener’s eye to them. Last month it was a Wonder Woman series and that sure got some remarks.

A live stamp makes the recipient pause to ask themselves if this letter is something important. They rarely ditch a stamped letter. Would you?

We write marketing content, including pitch letters, for agents, brokers, insurers and insurance vendors throughout the nation. If you want content marketing that will produce sales, call us at 602.870.3230 for a chat.

Weasel words can weaken your writing

Do you use “weasel words”? I don’t mean a furry critter that goes through your garbage in the late hours of the night. Weasel words are terms and phrases that are deliberately fuzzy. Rather than providing clarity, weasel words obscure your message.

Weasel words get their name from the crafty weasel, which sucks eggs without breaking the shell. Similarly, weasel words suck the meaning out of your message. If you communicate with phrases like “highest quality,” “prompt service,” or “highly qualified,” you may be weaseling, even if inadvertently.

Before you write, ask yourself, “What exactly do I offer?” If you believe your product is of the highest quality, explain why. For example, tell your clients that you represent only A-rated insurance carriers and briefly explain the importance of that rating. This offers much clearer information to your potential customer.

If you offer prompt service, you might say “We return all phone calls within 24 hours and you will have my cell number.” This clear message informs people that “We are so committed to excellent service that we offer you this promise.” No matter what product they buy, everyone wants to be a priority customer.

No matter what product they are buying, everyone wants to be a priority customer.

“Highly qualified” doesn’t explain the depth of your expertise. “Meeting the insurance needs of the Phoenix contractor’s community for over a decade” gives potential clients a better understanding of the depth of your knowledge.

Another way to weasel is with vague introductory phrases, like writing, “With all due respect”? If you disagree with someone’s opinion, don’t bother telling them that you respect them. State your case and then offer to discuss their concerns with them personally. This leaves the door open for more communication.

Weasel words can destroy communication. No matter well you write it is easy to slip into fuzziness. Weasel words weaken your writing and don’t educate the reader to the benefits of doing business with you.Ferret

White Papers keep your business in your prospects’ minds

More and more insurance industry organizations turn to White Papers to spread their message.

What is a white paper? A white paper is usually a “thought leadership” paper of about five-to-12 pages that highlights one or more of the benefits of your business. Insurance organizations use white papers to educate the public by delineating a problem or a challenge then posing a solution, usually highlighting your services.

Here are some of the key elements of a white paper:

  • Cover page
  • Executive summary
  • Description of the problem or issue the paper addresses
  • A solution to the problem
  • An action step (how readers can take action utilizing your product to solve their dilemma)
  • Charts and graphs, if needed
  • Footnotes, if needed
  • A conclusion
  • Information about your company

Once written, organizations distribute their papers either electronically to sites your potential clients visit, to sites that warehouse business data, or to their customer list. They are also great to hand out at a trade show booth or a local networking event.

One of the best uses of a White Paper is to announce its publication with a press release distributed through Business Wire or some other news service agency. A White Paper may simply serve as a reminder to clients who haven’t used your services in a long while or to those who’ve considered you in the past. It’s one way of saying, “We’re still eager to work with you.”

White papers generate short-term “buzz” and create a long-lasting testimonial that builds your brand.

Insurance white papers abound. Some insurance-related white papers we’ve written include “Computer Modeling Tames Super-Cat Hurricane Risk,” “Growing Wildland Urban Interface Increases Wildfire Risk,” and “Supply Chain Risk: Hidden Exposures for Your Company.

To non-insurance readers, these topics sound pretty dull. Okay, to insurance geeks, they still sound kind of dull. That’s why, if you’re considering a white paper to promote your business or technology, finding a writer with knowledge of the insurance industry and enthusiasm for the project is imperative. I can help.

Feel free to contact me at via my website at www.insurancewriter.com for more information or call me (602) 870-3230.

How Do I Write a Professional Bio?

Every insurance professional should develop several professional biographies. Why a bio? Because despite our increasing reliance on electronic communications, people still want to know a little about you before they contact you. Your bio is a marketing tool that helps to build your brand. Your brand is your name and the name of your company. When people consider insurance, you want your name to be the one that comes into their minds. This can only come through repeated branding of your name, or the name of your agency, with insurance.

Here are the top reasons to write your professional bio.

There are thousands of insurance agents and other insurance professionals for people to choose from, plus growing competition from direct writers. Therefore, it is imperative that you set yourself apart from the crowd. A professional bio quickly showcases your experience and sets you apart from the crowd.

A bio is the quickest way to say, “Insurance is not just a job; insurance is my career and I am proud to be an agent.”

A bio will introduce you to new clients and potential strategic partners. Your bio can open doors to many new opportunities.

You can use your bio to obtain speaking engagements and media appearances. Perhaps you might author an article for a local newspaper on some aspect of insurance. Maybe you could be a guest on a local radio talk show. Perhaps you may give a talk at a local service organization. The bio opens the door to all this and more to help you build your brand.

Your bio can provide a dash of personal information that helps people relate to you in some way. This builds bridges and encourages people to contact you.

Have at least two bios on hand. One should be short, so pick the key points in your personal life and your career that provide the best flavor of who you are. A longer one can take a deeper dive into your background and you can use it for speaking engagements and in responses to requests for proposals. Once you write your bio, you can use it again and again, or revise it as your career deepens and your expertise grows.

If you or your team need help creating a bio that works for you, feel free to contact us at Insurance Writer.

Avoid a Copyright Infringement Allegation by Using Only Purchased or Creative Commons Graphics

Every artist is entitled to make a fair profit on his or her work. You may consider that image you grabbed off the web “just a picture.” In fact, the artist may have worked hours on that image or graphic. Not only is it cheaper in the long run in you avoid litigation, it’s the ethical thing to do.

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I visited a local social media networking group in Phoenix the other night. The [mis]information provided by the “expert” regarding the use of images in social media posts was scary. The group coordinator assured these fledgling bloggers and posters that as long as they don’t have a call to action in their post, they can use any image they find on the internet. After all, they were “educating” the public. Wrong!

According to Ruth Carter, owner of Carter Law Firm in Phoenix and the author of The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to Get Sued, Fired, Arrested or Killed, “A lot of people think you can use any image you find online as long as you provide an attribution and a link back to the original, but that’s not true,” Carter said. “What you might be doing is committing copyright infringement and making it easy for the artist to discover that you stole his or her work.

“When a person takes a photo or creates a graphic, they own the copyright in it. This means they have the exclusive right to control where others can copy and distribute that image. If you use their work without their permission, you could be committing copyright infringement. If you get caught, if you’re lucky you might get a cease-and-desist letter or a DMCA takedown notice. However,” Carter continued, “they could send you a bill for using their work or they could sue you. In the worst-case scenario, you could be sued for up to $150,000 per image plus the artist’s attorneys’ fees. And it doesn’t matter than you didn’t know that you were committing copyright infringement when you did it.

“If you need images for your blog or website, use images that come with a Creative Commons license, preferably one that allows you to modify and commercialize the image,” Carter recommends.

To prevent needing a $300-plus an hour lawyer to defend yourself against a copyright infringement allegation, use images with creative commons attribution or purchase images from legitimate vendors.

Every artist is entitled to make a fair profit on his or her work. You may consider an image “just a picture.” In fact, the artist may have worked hours on that image or graphic. Not only is it cheaper in the long run if you avoid litigation, it’s the ethical thing to do.

More WordPress training to help you optimize your insurance marketing results!

Did you know that about 20 percent of today’s websites and blogs are developed on WordPress?

I’m taking more WordPress training today so I can continue to help you deliver stellar social media results. Small changes to the way you handle your social media tasks can really help improve search engine results for your business.

We will cover some tips for WordPress users in the near future.

How Long Should Sentences and Paragraphs Be in Business Writing?

As agents, consultants and claims people, we should write in top form before we send that letter or publish the final draft of our blog. Here are a few tips on sentence and paragraph length.

There is a lot of poor writing out there on the web. Even in professionally written White Papers and blog entries, there is lots of room for improvement. As agents, consultants and claims people, we should write in top form before we send that letter or publish the final draft of our blog. Here are a few tips on sentence and paragraph length.

The “eye likes white space.” If you mail a letter or publish a blog without adequate paragraph breaks, readers will quickly lose interest. Creative use of white space encourages the reader to dig in and begin reading, then refuses to intimidate the reader along the way.

How long is a sentence?

Most writing experts agree – use concise sentences in business writing. Strive for an average of 15-to-20 words in even the most technical documents. However, good writing uses varied sentence length. If you write all 10-word sentences, your work would be choppy. If you use all 20- or 25-word sentences, the reader will soon lose interest. Vary sentence length and strive for an average of not more than 20 words per sentence. Briefer is better. A four-word sentence that is informative is perfectly acceptable. “Risk management maximizes profits” speaks volumes in four words.

How long is a paragraph?

A paragraph is a relatively short block of text that opens with a statement—a topic sentence—which describes what the paragraph contains. Many writers, even experienced ones, tend to stray toward lengthy paragraphs. This is a mistake. Strive to average less than 100 words per paragraph. Also keep formatting in mind, because if you format using more than one column per page, your paragraphs should be even shorter.

Remember these three rules for better business writing:

1.       The eye likes white space

2.       Sentence length average: 15-to-20 words maximum

3.       Paragraph length average: Less than 100 words

Writing an Executive Summary in an Insurance Publication

A well-written executive summary also allows your reader to decide: “Is this worth reading further?”

Whether you’re writing a proposal or preparing a white paper, an executive summary is an integral part of any lengthy or complex report. An executive summary allows the reader to quickly understand the scope of the report, your major finding and your conclusions. It is a succinct wrap-up of the report or proposal’s contents. Because time is such a precious commodity, people who should read an entire report may only skim it. The executive summary allows the readers to know, in one or two paragraphs, what to expect in the report. A well-written executive summary also allows your reader to decide: “Is this worth reading further?”

The executive summary should be very near the beginning of your document and set out by a heading and unique formatting. If you know your presentation will be read by many employees, for example if you’re responding to a Request for Proposal (RFP) for broker services, write the executive summary to the highest ranking person who will read your report.

In the executive summary, avoid the nuts and bolts of how to implement a project, but provide an overview of the problems being addressed, what action to take, and what the benefits of taking that action are.

Your executive summary should be a call to action. Use action phrases such as “We recommend” or “The problems you have faced in prior data conversations can be avoided by utilizing our project management experts.”

Broadly speaking, an executive summary should do the following:

1. Tell your readers what your report contains or what it evaluates.
2. Explain any method of analysis you used.
3. Summarize your findings.
4. Succinctly state your recommendations.
5. Briefly state any limitations you encountered that might have impacted the results of your report.

It may be a good idea to write your executive summary after you have written your report. When you have completed your report or proposal, use a voice recorder and summarize each section of your report. For example, in a white paper, you may have headings such as “problems of integrating technology,” “what to look for in a claims management system,” and “what to expect during data conversion.” Briefly describe the findings of each major section in your white paper, with a strong emphasis in your executive summary of the conclusions that your company, of course, is best positioned to solve. Keep your summary brief — an executive summary should probably be fewer than 1,000 words.

If you’re pitching your product or service to a large organization in your document, the executive summary may be the only part of the presentation that the decision makers read. From there, your report may be passed to lower-level managers to determine whether your proposal has merit. You may only get one shot at convincing a senior executive that your company or product is worth further exploration. A strong executive summary can mean the difference between winning that new account or losing it to your competitor. The extra efforts you apply to develop this summary can reap huge rewards.

We provide editorial services to some of the nation’s finest carriers, agents and risk management consultants. If we can help you, please contact us at 602.870.3230 to discuss your writing and editing needs.

Four Steps to Giving a Great Speech

These four tips will help you painlessly prepare your presentation and deliver a talk that audiences will remember.

 

As insurance professionals, we often deliver speeches or talks in meetings. Finding the time to prepare adequately for the talk is challenging. Often, the hardest part is getting starting — writing that first sentence or paragraph. Even after we prepare our talk, many of us still dread public speaking. These four tips will help you painlessly prepare your presentation and deliver a talk that audiences will remember.

  1. What is the theme of my talk? Always begin and end with a clear theme. If you are discussing premium increases at a Rotary Club, for example, your theme may be this: Premiums are increasing worldwide. The only way to control your premiums is through a more structured, loss-sensitive insurance program or through tighter risk management controls. Punch that theme repeatedly in your talk.
  2. Know your audience. If you are addressing your colleagues, your tone will be much different than when addressing CEOs of competing businesses, for example. Just because you feel comfortable with your audience, do not let your guard down too far. Remember that every word you utter could later appear on social media or in some blogger’s post, either in or out of context.
  3. What steps can the audience perform when they leave that can help them take action based on your theme? Maybe they should meet with their current broker or hire a risk management consultant. Perhaps business owners should explore higher deductibles or other premium cost-saving measures. Anyone can regurgitate statistics and dry, “Yes, rates are expected to increase six percent in the commercial property sector in 2013.” Provide action steps for your audience as a takeaway from your talk and watch their interest grow.
  4. How do you want your audience to feel after your talk? In a sputtering economy, it may be hard not to sound negative. No matter how bad the news is, open your talk with humor to grab attention and close with a little levity, as well. Never let your audience walk away feeling gloomy. Audiences rarely remember content — they remember how you made them feel.

By taking these four steps each time you prepare a speech or even informal talks to your staff members, insurance professionals will find preparation easier and your talk much more effective.

White Papers Position You as an Expert!

Tired of competing against the crowd? A well-crafted White Paper positions you as an expert. A cross between a full-length article and a marketing brochure, the White Paper offers free information and helps solve your clients’ problems. When you provide knowledge, you gain unique access to your target market.

With years of experience writing White Papers and advertising collateral for the insurance industry, we know how to position you in your unique industry niche. Contact us for more information about how a White Paper can help you stand out in a crowd.

Stop Struggling with Insurance Writing Tasks

Whether you want to develop a White Paper to hand out at your next sales event or write an article for a national trade journal, Insurance Writer can help.

Are you tired of struggling with writing tasks that are better outsourced?

Let’s face it, if you are a rainmaker agent or a consultant struggling to find enough hours in the day, writing may not be your best use of time. I work with insurance professionals all over the nation to hone and perfect their written communications. Whether you want to develop a White Paper to distribute at your next sales event or write an article for a national trade journal, Insurance Writer can help.

Writing that piece of sales collateral or a report may take you hours. We can assist and quickly turn your bullet points or a short interview into a collateral piece of advertising you will use for years.

Call us today at 602.870.3230 for a free consultation.

Why Wait to Publish or Advertise?

Why wait until the economy is in full swing to publish or advertise?

This has been a busy year for me. While I don’t think the recession is over yet as the financial pundits trumpet, most of the human resources directors I speak with indicate they are hiring more.  Since the first of 2011, I received more agent and carrier phone calls and emails asking about advertising collateral and training.

As the recession lifts, well-crafted and carefully placed publications keep your organization in the public eye now and help you stay ahead of the competition. I would love to help.

Here are just a few of the projects I’ve either completed or have in process right now.

  1. Website rewrite for a Arizona-based tax accounting firm.
  2. White paper “ghostwriting” for an agent and a consultant. In addition to ghosting, I recommend placement targets for your articles to expand your reach.
  3. Worked for the CPCU Institutes on two projects. I am always proud of my affiliation with them whether I am teaching the Associate in Claims classes  or writing.
  4. Completed a webinar for Insurance Journal Academy on the management of social media in the workforce.
  5. Wrote a lengthy article for IRMI on the basics of workers’ compensation claims management.
  6. Continued to write newsletter copy for one of my favorite clients. Call me for more details if your insurance agency needs an inexpensive but high quality newsletter to keep your name in your clients’ and potential clients’ minds. Or, contact Easy Insurance Newsletters directly and tell them I sent you.

Why wait until the economy is in full swing to publish or advertise? If I can help, please contact me at 602.870.3230. It costs nothing to call.

Weasel Words Weaken Your Message

Weasel words are ambiguous terms and phrases, like “popular opinion,” “dynamic,” or “completely satisfied.” These words and phrases, rather than providing clarity, complicate and cloud your message.

Do you use weasel words? I don’t mean furry critters that go through your garbage “of a night,” as they say in Missouri. Weasel words are ambiguous terms and phrases, like “popular opinion,” “dynamic,” or “completely satisfied.” These words and phrases, rather than providing clarity, complicate and cloud your message.

Weasel words get their name from the crafty weasel, reported to suck eggs without breaking the shell. Similarly, weasel words suck the meaning out of your messages, making them much less effective. If you communicate with phrases like “highest quality,” “prompt service,” or “highly qualified,” you may be weaseling.

Before you write, ask yourself, “What exactly am I offering?” If you believe your product is “the highest quality,” don’t use that cliché, detail the service you provide. Tell your customers that you represent only A-rated carriers and briefly explain a rating. Or describe the customized insurance profile you offer your potential clients. This offers much clearer information than using an empty phrase.

If you offer prompt service, you could say “We return all phone calls within 24 hours.” Everyone, no matter what product they are buying, wants to be a priority purchaser. This clear message tells them, “We are so committed to excellent service that we offer you this promise.”

“Highly qualified” doesn’t explain the depth of your expertise. “Over a decade meeting the insurance needs of my community” gives potential clients a clearer look at your knowledge.

What about “with all due respect”? (You know you’re about to get hammered when you hear this one, don’t you?) If you disagree with someone’s opinion, don’t bother telling them that you respect them. State your case and then offer, in a final paragraph, to discuss their concerns with them personally. This leaves the door open for more communication.

Weasel words weaken your communications. Although you may be an excellent writer, a professional writer offers you an objective edge. She can take your raw copy and help you develop communications that are specific and tailored to your audience.