Category Archives: Education

Be a better financial writer: 4 ways to sharpen your financial game

financial writing educationWhether you’re a seasoned financial writer who wants to navigate nuanced topics or a general copy writer who wants to improve your depth of knowledge, continuing financial education is essential. If you want to land complex assignments and assure clients that you’re fluent in their language, check out these four ways to sharpen your game:

  1. Get in the news flow: Subscribe to several relevant financial publications. The Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times and The Economist are a good start for mainstream news. Specialized publications feature interpretation and analysis of market moves and industry trends. Some popular choices include Barron’s, Grant’s Interest Rate Observer, Breakfast with Dave, Investor’s Business Daily and Institutional Investor.

Niche publications can help you stay current on a specific corner of the financial world – for example, The Deal specializes in intelligence on financial transactions, including mergers and acquisitions, and private equity exits.

While you won’t add “avid newspaper reader” to your resume, the habit will build your financial vocabulary and help you write better, more topical pitches and pieces than you would if you didn’t keep up to date.

  1. New York Institute of Finance certificate: You can put this one on your resume. Attend classes online or on-site to obtain a professional certificate. Programs range from introductory (Capital Markets Professional Certificate) to specific (Advanced Derivatives Professional Certificate). Completing a course earns you a certificate of completion, and if you score 70 percent or above on the final exam, you’ll receive a certificate of mastery.
  1. CFA Institute Investment Foundations™ certificate: Designed for anyone who works in the investment world – from information technology teams to marketing folks – the program is built to give a clear understanding of how the investment management industry works. Its modules cover investment instruments, ethics and regulations. You’ll study with an e-book and use the online learning platform, then take the exam at a local testing center.
  1. University certificate programs: Most universities offer finance courses through their continuing and professional studies departments. For example, the NYU School of Professional Studies offers several self-paced online classes, including focused topics, such as real estate capital markets. Many universities also offer robust curricula, like Georgetown University’s corporate finance certificate program, which requires completion of seven in-person courses.

Writers who work exclusively in finance may also consider obtaining a FINRA Series 7 license or earning the Chartered Financial Analyst® credential. Both have stringent eligibility and registration requirements.

How do you continually build your financial knowledge? Let us know in the comments below.

The copy editor: Content’s superhero?

editorial oversightTo get started, let’s review some key items that you need to accomplish as you create content for your business.

Content checklist:

  • Tap into experts and thought leaders when creating content for your company (easy if you know who they are).
  • Produce a variety of content that speaks to your audience in various stages of your sales lifecycle (easy if you have a formal content plan).
  • All content that is created should have editorial oversight (not easy unless you really know what you’re doing).

Let’s focus on the “not easy” part of this equation — editorial oversight.

What is editorial oversight?

Briefly, it’s ensuring that all the content pieces that are created for your company have a consistent voice and tone while also satisfying your marketing goals. This is no easy feat, so you need a content editor (aka content superhero) to fearlessly lead the way.

A content editor’s most impressive superpowers follow:

Power: Omniscience

A content team that has a strong editor at the wheel can fine-tune your company’s voice and help you reach your long-term communication goals. This do or die world of SEO, where content is king, demands that you adopt a dependable and trustworthy voice.

Your copy editor’s key role is to know everything there is to know — from voice and tone to audience makeup and Associated Press style rules. With the power of omniscience, copy editors make sure that all content contributors understand the rules and follow them. They ensure writers adhere to the unique voice that defines a company. They’re the final eyes that make sure all content produced is consistent, understandable and relevant.

Power: Invisibility

As you can imagine, managing an editorial workflow requires significant thought and time. Most of the effort occurs behind the scenes. It all starts with defining your content objectives (voice, tone and style guidelines) and finishes with a final editing and proofing pass to ensure that your readers are not being subjected to typos, missing punctuation and redundant information.

Copy editors also encourage content creators to push further and answer unasked questions. They ensure that all content is well-produced and showcases your credibility in understated and authoritative ways. The goal is to have the team produce content that educates and demonstrates thought leadership. They want you to stay engaged and read each piece from start to finish because it’s constructed well and guides you to a place of learning.

Do you admire any editors?  What superpowers do they possess? Let us know in the comments below.

Sales training will only take you so far


Conventional wisdom says that you need to brush up regularly to stay on top of your game, so I attend webinars once or twice a month in hopes of gaining or, at least, polishing a skill set. My most recent event had three speakers with expertise in various forms of increasing response rates. Two of the speakers were very concise, but only because the first speaker rambled on for twice his allotted time about lead generation – and how his family could only stand him for an hour a day. This was sales education.

When does technique become a crutch?

Lots of sales training, including the webinar I attended recently, focuses on improving technique, such as “make sure you sound excited” and “know the best times to call.” Of course, it is important to know enough technique to be efficient, but perfect technique doesn’t make up for the grunt work of making a lot of calls or knocking on a lot of doors.

Technique becomes a crutch when salespeople start to think of it as something that will do their jobs for them. The function of the salesperson is not to convince a prospect to become a client, but to find a willing prospect and to show them the avenue towards client-hood.

Safety in numbers

The experts have a lot of pretty looking graphs and visuals to illustrate how you can get somebody to talk to you and why email and phone calls are better than texting. But even the best response rates are still incredibly low, which can leave lead generation teams scratching their heads.

The fact is that most people are perfectly content with whatever they are doing, so they aren’t interested in what you’re selling. Nothing short of mind control can change that.

To counteract indifference, we recommend large pipelines. If you get in touch with fifty people and that ends up translating into two sales, getting in touch with a hundred people should give you four. Once you find your averages and know what to expect, you’ll be able to tell when tweaking your technique has an effect.

What sales techniques have you tried and tossed? Let us know in the comments below.





Becoming an e-reader: What you want to know

Reading, books, e-readersIn the years since they’ve been available, I’ve heard some pretty heated debates over the advantages and disadvantages of e-readers. It became such a divisive issue that I quickly placed it after politics and religion on the list of taboo party topics. For the most part, I favored the traditional format, citing the free marketplace and familiar feeling of a printed book. As more of my friends (and strangers on the bus) seemed to be embracing digital formats, however, I considered tearing away from my trusted paper friends.

Fast-forward a few years, and there I sit on the bus totally lost in an e-book. Friends on the fence have grilled me about whether e-readers are worth the money, so I thought I would share the considerations that turned me from a bound-book traditionalist into an avid e-reader.


  • A 1,000-page book that goes places. Perhaps the most obvious perk of e-readers is their compact size. Of course, not every book is 1,000 pages, but I’m no stranger to deciding between whether I pack my lunch for the day or carry my reading material. No longer are my mornings plagued by what I can fit in my bag.
  • Books on demand. Although I miss going to bookstores to browse the fancy art books, I don’t miss trying to hunt down a specific title. Now, as long as I’m willing to buy an available book, I can go from browsing to reading in less than a minute.
  • Easy on the eyes. I have uncooperative eyes. Even though I wear glasses, my prescription changes drastically with fatigue. Being able to change the lighting and size of the text on my screen keeps me comfortable reading at any time of day.
  • Vocabulary builder. Growing up, my parents refused to tell me the meaning of any word that was beyond my comprehension. “Go look it up,” was the standard response. E-readers cut out the middleman by providing a definition with one click. Better yet, all words that I “look up” are recorded on a list that I can reference and quiz myself on later.


  • Book budget? What’s that? I’ve always been a binge reader. As soon as I get my hands on a book or series that I’ve wanted to read, it doesn’t last me more than two days. In the past, however, my reading was limited to what I – or a friend – had on hand. Now, for the sake of my bank account, I try to make books last at least a week.
  • E-book free to a good home. Not being able to give books away is my least favorite part of being a member of the e-book club. I’ve never liked overloading my shelves, so I’m thrilled when I can send a good book home with a well-matched reader. Some e-book programs let you loan books to friends, but they have enough restrictions that I haven’t found them useful. I’m hoping that the e-book marketplace will open up soon to compensate for these less-than-tangible purchases.
  • Libraries need to catch up. My reading wish list may not jive well with the Chicago Public Library, but it seems that every book I want to check out is 30 people deep in the hold list. I once tried placing a book on hold, and, when the book became available to me two months later, I received error messages with every download attempt. I have successfully checked out one other book, but the software seems to have a long way to go before I’d call it user-friendly.

Do you use an e-reader? Let us know why – or why not – in the comments below.

Adventures in the wild, wild West (Side)

young scared woman in bed

Have you taken a risk and were surprised by the outcome?

Not anything crazy, but definitely an outside-your-wheelhouse moment?

It takes a lot of nerve to be vulnerable and put yourself out there. Who knows what could happen? It feels scary, but even if something goes haywire, you will still wake up tomorrow. The sun will still rise and the Earth will continue to spin.

But you’re afraid.

You’re afraid of the unknown, so you imagine a million what-if scenarios that may never come to pass. You’re afraid of failure and that relentless voice inside that says, “I told you so.” You’re afraid of giving up the devil you know for the one you don’t.

And staying in your safe zone has its benefits. You get a predictable (often boring) outcome. You’re reasonably safe from failure. You don’t have to deal with naysayers. So you hunker down and tell yourself you’re doing the right thing.

Not so fast.

It turns out that smart risks can be richly rewarding. You never know what you’ll discover along the way.

When people find out I bike to work through the city’s Big Bad West Side, they look at me like I have three feet sticking out of my head. Although my route is the road less traveled, drivers who bypass the city’s West Side every day are missing an eye-opening experience.

Take “K-Town,” for example. The 16-block area of North Lawndale is known for its streets that start with “K,” and it gets a bad rap for crime. But the flip side is that part of K-Town is on the National Register of Historic Places. The historic district features hidden treasures, including stunning commercial and residential architecture.

If flying buttresses, towering greystones and gleaming gargoyles aren’t your thing, maybe you’d prefer exquisite flowers, rare tropical plants and awe-inspiring trees. You’ll find this eye candy at the Garfield Park Conservatory, one of the largest and most impressive conservatories in the United States. It’s open year-round, and while admission is free, you won’t leave without putting something in the till.

Chicago Blackhawks fans probably know about Johnny’s IceHouse West, because it’s the team’s state-of-the-art practice venue. Adult and children’s leagues play there, too. The rink also offers ice skating lessons. I used to think the rink was a beer distributor, thanks to Icehouse from Miller Brewing Co. Tommy Hawk on the side of the building should have been a dead giveaway, but I didn’t notice that on my early commutes to work.

Two weeks ago, the kindness of strangers in the Not So Great part of town totally saved my rump. Leaving work, I faced such a nasty headwind, I felt like one of those cartoon characters running in place. It was mind-blowingly exhausting. Halfway home, I gave up and jumped on a bus.

The only problem was I couldn’t figure out how to work the contraption you’re supposed to place your bike into on the front of the bus. The impatient driver was yelling and pointing, but I couldn’t hear a word he said or understand his confusing hand signals. Maybe it had something to do with the wind roaring in my ears or the honking, cursing motorists stuck behind the diesel-belching beast.

A man waiting for another bus saw me struggling and took pity on me. He lifted my bike up onto the front rack, secured the measly looking tire-holder and sent me on my way. I thanked him profusely, but it felt inadequate. I’m not sure what I would have done had he not been there. The same thing happened when I got off the bus. I tried to wrestle my 50-pound steel Schwinn free without success. Yet another stranger came up and helped me.

See, there’s more to the West Side than you thought, so why not try it? Isn’t it better to go through life enjoying the ride rather than having a so-so experience and regretting what you didn’t do?

It’s not easy to conquer your fears. But envision what could happen if you let go and bust out of your rut every now and then. You might experience life. You might realize your dreams. You might even have fun along the way.

Now, if I could only overcome the terror of singing on open-mic night …

Have you taken a smart risk and done something that scared you? What convinced you to take the plunge? Were you successful? Share your story in the comments below.


The value of free knowledge

Sharing KnowledgeRecently (see: last weekend), while attempting to dry my clothes, my dryer decided that it no longer wanted to turn its drum, but rather sit idly and taunt me with a humming noise for a few seconds, then proceed to blink its control panel indicator lights.

To get the error codes from my dryer, one must use a similar process to access the highest secured areas – you know, pressing multiple buttons at the same time, then turning a dial counterclockwise, then promptly pressing another combination of buttons. After getting into the diagnostics area of the dryer’s software, I found it was an E52 error. Having had some issues with the dryer in the past, I knew that this was indeed a motor error – as if the non-rotating drum wasn’t evidence enough.

The last time my dryer had a motor error, I called the company for a list of authorized repair techs in my neighborhood. I chose the one that was closest to my house. The repair tech asked me for the symptoms over the phone. He thought the dryer had just gotten too hot and to avoid damage, shut off. He told me to give it about 30 minutes and try it again. I hung up, waited 30 minutes, and sure enough, it started working promptly.

This time, I waited the 30 minutes. Nothing. Still producing the same result. Next, I tried a couple things I found on the Internet – reset the internal computer and then cut power at the breaker for about an hour. No dice. So, I did what I did last time, calling the same company. The tech got back to me within 15 minutes (it was a Saturday). He gave me a suggestion to try on my own and asked me to call him back if it didn’t work, as his availability was very limited.

I went to my dryer and gave the fix a try. Success! He had me open the dryer door, trick the dryer into thinking the door had been closed, start the dryer, and manually turn the drum by hand until the motor caught and began turning the drum itself.

This is the second time the tech helped me without collecting a single penny from me. He could have easily come to my house, charged me for a service call, did the little fixes and went on his way. He essentially lost about $160.

What he gained was a customer for life.

Because he was willing to share his knowledge for an easy fix for a very simple problem, he earned my trust and respect. He didn’t guard this information. He helped make a consumer informed. From now on, if I have any problems with my appliances, I will always call him and when the day comes that he actually has to come out and fix something, I won’t hesitate to write that check.

At The Simons Group, we do the same thing. We don’t hide information. We find that being knowledge providers builds a solid reputation that our clients talk about with their clients.

Personally, when I figure out a solution to a coding conundrum, I will post it on this blog in the “Chris’ Coding Corner” section. People who find this information may not necessarily become clients, but what we’re gaining as a company is a good reputation.

There is high value in reputation.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on knowledge-sharing. If you have any examples where you were seeking information or shared information that led to a new or strengthened relationship, let us know.

Blogosphere: The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated

post-it maniaBlogging appears to be on the upswing among leading businesses in the United States, a new report from The Center for Marketing Research (CMR) at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and Inc. magazine shows.

According to the new “Social Media and the 2012 Inc. 500” study, 44 percent of companies in the Inc. 500 had a corporate blog, up from 37 percent the previous year. Leading the charge? Corporate brass increasingly are getting in on the blogging fun, the new CMR report shows.

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The art of the meal

Art of the mealIs there a correlation between food and successful deal making?

Lakshmi Balachandra, assistant professor of entrepreneurship at Babson College in Massachusetts, recently conducted a series of experiments in which MBA students were provided identical business deals that required additional negotiations. The participants, who were instructed to maximize profits, were divided into even groups and asked to conduct these negotiations either in a restaurant, in a boardroom with food, in a boardroom without food, or while cooperating to complete a jigsaw puzzle – also without food.

The results of the study suggest that eating during the negotiation process increases a deal’s final value by almost 9 percent.

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B2B trendspotting: What we learned in 2012

TSG 139 - cell talkerAs 2012 draws to a close, it is worth reflecting on a number of milestones and trend lines in the world of B2B marketing and advertising that emerged this year, developments that may make a big splash in how businesses interact with their current and potential customers in the coming years.

Mobile tipping point?

More than two years ago, Wired set off an existential crisis for tech types and marketing/advertising executives with the article “The Web Is Dead. Long Live the Internet.” In it, the magazine speculated that the then-recent advent of smartphones, tablets and other portable, app-based devices would soon send Web browsing, Googling and other 1990-era Internet trappings the way of the Dodo.

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A personal accomplishment

ScrollAs some of our esteemed readers may know, I have been pursuing a second bachelor’s degree in sound engineering at Columbia College Chicago. Well, I have finally graduated. As of this past May, I had officially put in enough time (and money) to earn my new degree. 

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