4 Tips for Cashing in as a Personal Finance WriterBy Susan Johnston September 22nd, 2014
Money can be a taboo topic, but it’s an important one that impacts almost every decision we make. The most recent recession brought issues like mortgages, investments, and banking to the forefront, and even as the economy recovers, there’s a huge demand for freelancers in this financial niche.
“This is a great time to be a personal finance writer [because] there is so much interest in the topic of money,” explained Emma Johnson, founder of WealthySingleMommy.com and freelance contributor to Forbes and The New York Times. “The financial crash was the start of a new era of talk about money. Suddenly everyone had major woes… sharing with one another the challenges of career, investment, and making hard decisions about lifestyle.”
We asked a few experienced writers for tips on making the money talk when it comes to covering personal finance.
1. Don’t be intimidated
In most cases, you don’t need to be a certified financial planner to write about money. In fact, approaching topics from the layperson’s point of view can be an asset to consumer publications.
Teri Cettina, a Portland-based freelancer who’s written about personal finance for Reader’s Digest, Parents, and Bankrate, asks financial experts how they’d explain complex topics to people who aren’t well-versed in money management. “Oftentimes they will completely simplify their argument,” she added.
That said, it can’t hurt for you to learn the difference between mortgage principal and interest or copayment and coinsurance before breaking it down for readers.
2. Quote “real people” if you can
One way to breathe new life into otherwise tired financial concepts is to include stories from real people readers can relate to. But as most reporters know, finding people willing to open up—especially with details about their finances—isn’t easy. Sometimes Cettina will enlist one of her expert sources to help locate forthcoming folks.
When Cettina is ready to interview, she tries to put sources at ease before asking about salary or net worth. “As with any sensitive subject, I try to ask the easier questions first,” she said. “On occasion, I’ll even reveal money-related challenges of my own to build trust and make the interview feel like a conversation. Sometimes I’ll email a couple of the dicier questions as a follow-up.”
3. Think beyond the usual suspects
Remember, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times aren’t the only publications that publish personal finance articles. Johnson has written about finance for a health magazine (after all, money stress can diminish our well-being), and Cettina has covered family finance for parenting magazines.
Cettina gets the most mileage out of research by writing about the same topic for different demographics, often for a custom publishing company. “It might be for a newlywed audience, a parenting audience, a women’s audience, or a retiree audience,” she explained. “I have clients with publications that hit all of those demographics. I’ll take that one topic and spin it with different interviews.”
4. Nix the jargon
Packing your work with esoteric financial terms could put your readers to sleep faster than an Ambien. Tim Beyers, a freelancer from Colorado who’s written for AOL Daily Finance, The Motley Fool, and Fast Company, said jargon is rarely necessary.
“You don’t have to say, for example, ‘The company has really high returns on equity,'” he explained. “You could say the company ‘does a really good job of making money for its shareholders.’ It’s plainer language and it roughly says the same thing. Financial reporting is only as Byzantine as you want to make it.”Image by Everett Collection