Our blogger this week is David Merkel.
David Merkel is the Principal and Founder of Aleph Investments, as well as the author of a leading financial commentary blog: The Aleph Blog. His previous experience includes: Chief Economist and Director of Research for Finacorp Securities, Senior Investment Analyst at Hovde Captial, and Leading Commentator at Realmoney.com.
I got to chat with David to hear his insights on how he got started blogging, the value it has had to his career, and his tips to other financial advisors thinking of starting their own blog.
How long have you worked in the financial services industry?
I have worked in the financial services for 31 years, but it wasn’t a very linear path.
I worked six years as an actuary, six years as an investment actuary, six years in fixed income management, five years as an equity analyst for a hedge fund, and ten years in asset management.
Working in almost every part of the financial industry gives me the ability to draw analogies between different disciplines and try to explain things in a different way.
When did you first start blogging?
I started blogging in February 2007, so it’s been ten years now! To be honest, I never thought it would go on this long.
Why did you start blogging?
I was a Leading Commentator at Realmoney.com for about 3.5 years with some success, and it dawned on me while interacting with some readers at RealMoney that there would be a real interest for me to write about that which I felt most strongly.
Real money started creating ‘mini-blogs’ for its main authors. Occasionally, I would look at the comment threads for one of the main authors, Jim Cramer, and try to explain to people what he was trying to say.
I'd tell people give him a chance and explain that he writes for entertainment purposes, he’s smarter than he looks when he manages money. People came back to me saying why defend him? Why not start your own blog where we can just get you?
I resisted up to that point, I considered Realmoney to be my blog. But eventually I gave in and started The Aleph Blog!
How has blogging impacted your professional career?
At the moment, almost all of my clients have come to me indirectly through my writing. The great thing about blogging is that it builds trust with people, and as a result, helps my business.
When I first started blogging with Realmoney, the firm I was working for saw it as slightly negative, and I eventually ended up leaving there. The next firm I worked for actually liked the fact that I was writing a blog! They thought this was great.
In addition, blogging advertises me, David Merkel, not my business, so it also gives me greater editorial freedom to write on any topic.
How often do you post a blog?
It’s been less often in the last year, but I have averaged 1 post per day, 6 days a week, over a period of 10 years.
At the moment however it’s been more around two or three times a week because I’m working more with my business. The best thing to do is to establish a schedule and try to be as regular as possible.
What is the best way for coming up with blog topics?
It’s actually easier than you think; my wife is still surprised I haven’t run out of things to write about! Right now I have a list of about 40 topics I could write, but I’ll also purge the list every so often.
How do I actually come up with blog topics? I read and read. I‘ll read other bloggers, journalists, columnists at the Wall Street Journal, etc. There’s always something new out there that I can write about.
Learn your material well. Read widely, and write what you feel the strongest about. My favourite type of blogs are discovery-type work where I have to dig in and read a lot.
One of my most famous posts on the AIG took about two weeks of researching, but it was eventually cited by the New York Times and read by Warren Buffett!
How do you find the time to be a financial advisor and a blogger?
I’m an advisor by day and a blogger by night.
I believe that my clients deserve my best effort, so I devote the daytime to my clients as fully as I can by not blogging during business hours. However, I will tweet as I go through the news.
That being said, I also create exclusive content just for my clients. I try to create fresh content for my clients that doesn’t always go to my readers for free.
Did you make any mistakes when you first started blogging?
I spent a lot of time researching blogging before I started my own blog, so no, there weren’t really any mistakes initially.
However, there have been more than enough mistakes after I first started blogging! The reason why I didn’t really make any mistakes initially was because I listened to a lot of friends that were blogging. They told me to go get my own domain name, experiment doing a test post, things like that.
I was already writing a lot with Realmoney, which has an unedited comment section, so I had a pretty good understanding of what I needed to do to produce value.
Out of about 2900 blogs since I’ve started, there have been only two that after reading people’s comments, I just took down.
I had one funny situation however where after reading the comments on a blog I wanted to take it down. But it had already been published on Real Clear Markets, so it’s out there forever!
Remember: once your blog goes on the internet, you don’t know what’s going to happen to it. That being said, let it be free and don’t enforce a copyright. Some of my blogs get published on 15 different websites apart from my own. So be extra careful when you publish content!
What is the best way to promote your blog?
Write good stuff, that’s the fuel. You ignite it by sending links to your best stuff to popular bloggers, journalists, and aggregators, and asking them to mention you if they like it.
At the beginning, I went mostly to friends from thestreet.com/realmoney.com and asked them, if you like my stuff, can you mention it once or twice?
On top of that, I was pretty lucky with the current financial situation. The market dropped in China three or four days after I started writing. News media outlets grabbed my article and published it as a ‘post of the day,’ and people just started showing up.
If you could give one tip to an advisor out there thinking of starting a blog, what would it be?
Develop a discipline and write regularly. You will get better with time. Also, keep a list of topics and ideas for future writing. Your list will be critical for the dry times. By dry times I mean when there isn’t much in terms of current events.
If you could give your younger blogger-self one piece of advice, what would it be?
Remember that the greatest amount of growth comes when you start. After that it tends to grow during crises, and shrink when they end. Aside from that, growth in readers will be slow, and that’s okay!
I thought the blog would grow and grow, and after 6 months, it stopped growing. I was disappointed, I questioned what could have happened, and I concluded that the blog had matured, and had gotten all of its easy initial audience.
My second growth sprint was during the financial crisis. I was one of the first bloggers invited to a blogging convention with the Obama administration. I didn’t even realize that Capitol Hill was reading my work everyday!
So I’d tell my younger-self: don’t worry about the growth, it comes and goes. Oh and also tweet more!
What Key Performance Indicators do you look at to measure success?
If I read old pieces that I have forgotten about and I realize that they are well written and still relevant, I am happy. I like to get featured in top lists of bloggers, but that comes more with time.
So I guess the KPI I look at isn’t really a KPI, but more producing good quality content. I write about a wider variety of issues. I don’t just write about the stock market, I write about market structure, trading issues, etc.
I have a large email list, and the most common reason for leaving the email list is that content is no longer relevant to that particular person. This is something I’ve had to get used to, and I’m okay with.
People will start following me during a crisis, and when the crisis leaves, they leave.
How long did it take you to start seeing positive results from blogging?
It was pretty instant. I started during a mini-crisis, and Seeking Alpha and Cody Willard promoted what I wrote in that short window heavily, so the readers poured in.
After that, it was progressive, with journalists and other bloggers occasionally quoting me. That’s when I thought, hey, I’ve succeeded because I’ve really changed the conversation.