When it comes to creating effective quarterly investor letters, telling a compelling story in the body of the email and knowing how to make the piece easy to consume visually are two essential components. The third, and final, component in this blog series about investor letter writing may be less obvious than the first two, but it’s every bit as important.
If you’re like most portfolio managers, financial advisors, or other investment professionals, creating and finalizing your quarterly investor letters can be a time-consuming, painful process. Given all of the other core responsibilities you have on your plate, carving out the time to write the copy and gather the data can feel overwhelming. This is especially true if writing isn’t something that comes naturally to you. But having to edit and push the letter through the review, design, and compliance processes can be a major headache as well.
Fortunately, the solution to this problem is rooted in principles that you already rely on heavily as an investment professional: creating a simple, repeatable, and efficient process.
Why does having a process matter so much when it comes to your investor letters? Put simply, creating an established process for letter writing–from outline, to first draft writing, to editing, to review–takes the big task of writing an investor letter and breaks it down into smaller, and therefore more manageable, steps. Suddenly, having to write a quarterly investor letter doesn’t seem so monumental.
As with any process, the more you do it, the more efficient you will get at it. The first time you implement your process, it might take, say, 15 total man-hours across your team to create the letter. But after a few quarters of repeating the same process, people get faster at their roles, and that time may decrease by up to 50%.
Based on our experience having helped companies across the institutional asset management, private wealth management, investment banking, and private equity industries create quarterly investor letters, we’ve identified three core things that investment professionals should do to make their letter-writing process more efficient.
Start with a Template
Even for professional writers, staring at a blank screen is daunting. Creating a simple template for your investor letters helps you overcome writer’s block and get started.
Creating a template doesn’t need to be a complicated endeavor. Just create a Word document that blocks out the sections that are included in the letter each quarter.
The template should also include placeholders and suggested word-counts for each section, including headlines and section headers.
Each template should have:
- Placeholders for each section
- Suggested word counts for headlines, section headers, and body copy
- Firm word limits for the entire document
- Sample formats for charts, including headlines and captions
Rely on a Style Guide
In the world of corporate writing, “style” refers to a brand’s rules for handling things related to punctuation, capitalization, formatting, word usage, number usage, and other decisions that writers have to make.
While these issues may seem minor, it’s amazing how frequently debates over these things can derail the editing process and suck people away from more important tasks.
Every firm should have an official style guide that defines the rules for these issues. Rather than debating the merits of the serial comma, team members can refer to the style guide and get back to managing investments.
Common questions that your style guide should answer include:
- Do you use punctuation at the end of bullet points?
- Do you talk about “the Fund,” “the fund,” or “we/us?”
- How many decimal places do you include in numbers?
- Which acronyms are common enough that they don’t need to be spelled out?
- It is “U.S.,” or “United States?”
- Do you use a serial comma?
Create a Standard Operating Procedure
Asset managers love to brag about having disciplined, repeatable processes for their portfolio management. They should have one for their writing as well.
A standard operating procedure (SOP) documents all the steps involved in creating the letter, including getting it laid out by the design team, approved by compliance, and distributed by marketing.
Most importantly, the SOP should define the point person for each step and establish time frames for completing each step.
Elements to include in a standard operating procedure include:
- Steps of the brainstorming, drafting, editing, compliance, and design process
- Point person responsible for each step
- Location of the templates
- Timeline for meeting publication deadlines
- Protocol for version control, meaning a process for tracking changes in documents and naming files
In my first blog in this series on writing investor letters, I explained why telling a compelling story is so important. In my second post, I wrote about why making your writing visually appealing can make a huge difference in its effectiveness. And here we talked about why establishing a streamlined process can make the task of any writing more manageable.
To see some concrete examples of these principles at work, you can click here to receive the complete e-book on how investment professionals can improve their quarterly letters.
About the Author
Scott Wentworth is the founder and head financial writer at Wentworth Financial Communications. Scott and the team of writers and editors at WFC help professionals across the financial services industry build their brands by creating investment-grade white papers, bylined articles, newsletters, blogs, social media posts, and other forms of content marketing.