Create Standout Personal Finance Content with Sharon Epperson

It doesn’t matter what kind of content you create. We all want the same thing–to create standout personal finance content that gets noticed and makes a difference to our audiences. It isn’t always easy, and a lot of that learning comes from experience.

Fortunately, we sat down with someone who is a pro at personal finance storytelling.

#FinCon19 keynote speaker and CNBC Senior Personal Finance Correspondent Sharon Epperson is well-versed in finance. A longtime journalist and media content creator, Epperson has bylines in everything from The Washington Post and TIME to Ebony and Essence. What sets Epperson apart from other content creators is her ability to share stories along with her financial acumen.

In this episode, Epperson shares ways to make your personal finance content standout with storytelling. Take a listen to learn more about improving your own content and get to know one of the #FinCon19 keynote speakers.

Looking Through a Personal Lens

One of the first things Epperson does to start this interview is to begin with a story. Specifically, she shares the story of her 2016 brain aneurysm.

She emphasizes that a health scare can happen anywhere and to anyone. In fact, she had a spinach smoothie and attended an exercise class the morning her life changed. In the middle of her exercise class, she felt an unimaginable pain. Eventually, she learned that she suffered an aneurysm.

Epperson is quick to point out that she’s trying to slow down the 10 to 14 hour days she always worked. Instead of going nonstop, she takes small breaks. Epperson also use manta “be mindful, be present, be grateful”.

Listening to Epperson share her own story reveals that she is indeed a natural storyteller. It also underscores the big takeaway that she has for all content creators. Personal finance is about the story, not just the numbers.

For more strategies on how to stand out in personal finance, explore these blogging case studies.

A History of Building Relationships

At the age of 18, Epperson started working at the Pittsburgh Press Library Department, otherwise known as The Morgue. There, she handled newspaper clippings and saw what different departments did. Though she was young, she quickly got an understanding of the bureaucracy behind a media organization.

She also learned an invaluable lesson: talk to everyone and be nice to everyone. At The Morgue, she watched people treat the workers like they were paper pushers instead of experts on topics. That stayed with her, helping her understand the importance of fostering relationships with people.

Learning to Love Journalism

While she landed a job related to journalism at 18, her love affair with it started earlier. Her passion for journalism started sophomore year of high school. In an elective course, she and her classmates could work a radio show and create an advertising campaign. They also had the chance to be featured in the school paper. She and her classmates loved the course and their teacher. Looking back, she realizes that many of her classmates also went into media careers.

What really made the class special for Epperson was the fact that she had the chance to meet and learn from so many professional journalists. Her teacher gave her the chance to attend sessions from the Pittsburgh Black Media Federation at a local community college on Saturdays. There, she learned from people whose bylines she read in newspapers and who she watched on TV.

Related: The Top Personal Finance Reporters, Journalists, and Editors

Catching the Personal Finance Bug

Harvard educated, Epperson also has a degree from Columbia University and an honorary doctorate from Carlow University. No where in her educational experience did she explicitly study finance. Instead, she says it took getting married to get bitten by the personal finance bug.

As a single woman, she felt like she had a solid strategy for her finances. However, when she coupled up with her soon-to-be husband after landing her first full-time job, she realized that couple’s finances can be complex.

Her co-workers were quick to give her lots to think about. They shared advice about stocks, 401ks, and mutual funds. Encouraging her to learn as much as she could about money in her 20s, her colleagues played a role in getting her started with investing.

Of course, it took some time to undo and unlearn certain habits. She calls these behavioral finance lessons. For instance, as much as she wanted to believe it was a smart money move to buy dinner every night and bring leftovers to work for lunch, she realized it wasn’t. Keeping track of all of her receipts each week helped her realize how much she was spending. After that, she was able to really start saving.

As she got her own financial affairs in order, she penned a powerhouse piece for TIME. Though she was a general assignment correspondent, she knew she wanted to craft a story with a financial bent. She put together a story about a woman who left a multi-million dollar fortune to a local university despite earning a meager government salary. The woman’s goal was to give other young women the educational opportunities she never had, so she created a scholarship fund with her fortune. This story put Epperson on the personal finance map.

How to Create Standout Personal Finance Content

Personal finance is about people more than finance. Epperson can’t stress that enough. Standout personal finance content does a variety of things:

  • It weaves together a fabric of how different people do things;
  • It talks about challenges and how to overcome them; and
  • It emphasizes that there’s no shame in mistakes, especially since we all make them.

Approaching money content from this perspective keeps the lessons personal, applicable, and meaningful. Epperson says you can try three techniques to create personal finance content that hooks your audience.

Find Interesting Stories

The first step in creating standout personal finance content is to uncover good stories. Epperson says there is no substitute for talking to people. In fact, she recalls her internship at The Washington Post.

In college, she felt that she had to work all the time. That meant working through her lunch break. One day, someone approached her with a simple question: “Why are you still here at lunchtime?” They probed further, asking, “How are you learning anything if you’re always in the newsroom?”

That’s when Epperson realized a key part of reporting is getting out into the world and meeting people.

Break the Ice

Money is taboo. It might not feel that way to you and other fellow money nerds, but a lot of society still struggles with opening up about numbers. That means that you have to expect people to be uncomfortable.

Epperson shares these strategies for getting people to open up when they are feeling uncomfortable:

  • Share what you’ve done well
  • Talk about your struggles
  • Remember that no one wants to feel alone
  • Connect their story to other stories that you know

She also suggests weaving money into the conversation casually. People might not want to share exact numbers directly, but they are often inclined to talk about what is bothering them with money or why they like managing it.

Let People Talk About What They Love

Everyone wants to share their passions. That’s why you’re a personal finance writer, right? You care about money. It’s important to remember that not everyone shares that same excitement about finance.

But Epperson says everyone is excited about something. If a person is really hesitant to talk about money, Epperson reframes the story. She asks them to speak about their interests. She says everyone has “a thing” they want to discuss and promote. It might be a civil organization they’re a part of, a nonprofit they dream of creating, or even their kids. Letting people talk about what they love also gives them a chance to share what they know. A lot of good stories can unfold around that.

Taking Standout Personal Finance Content to the Video Screen

Throughout Epperson’s long media career, she’s honed her understanding of what makes exceptional video content. With more and more personal finance content creators taking to video, she shares some advice.

The first thing that anyone using video needs to remember is not to expect perfection. In fact, she says technical issues always happen. What’s important is to learn to smile through them. Her mother once advised, “If the chandelier falls, you keep smiling.” Epperson takes that idea to heart.

She also says that people want you to be genuine, and they know problems happen. Instead of waiting until you’ve created a slick and maybe even overly polished video, be sincere.

Audio and video quality matter, but what matters most is making people care. Viewers need to learn and they need to feel invested in what they’re learning. Epperson offers her own experience to prove her point here. She spent years covering the oil market on the trading floor. Day in and day out, she found herself talking about oil, gold, and gas prices. No matter how she felt about the content, she knew she had to smile through it and make it a story.

That means video content creators need to sell their ideas and convey their passion. Above all, Epperson says that content is king. Part of that content should always have to do with people–people’s stories and people’s journeys.

For more video content creation tips, don’t miss Chelsea Fagan’s advice on creating unique YouTube content.

Final Thoughts on Content Takeaways from Sharon Epperson

It’s easy to get lost in the numbers, but what your audience really wants to see is the person behind the personal finance. Epperson stresses different ways to connect with audiences by telling stories, being authentic, and smiling through the difficult parts of creating content. Catch her on the main stage at #FinCon19 to learn more about how to craft stellar personal finance content.

If you’re not excited enough for #FinCon19, check out these 5 fresh things to expect at #FinCon19.

How do you make your personal finance content standout?

To hear the full interview with Epperson, tune into episode 88 of the Money & Media podcast.

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About Our Host

Joe Saul-Sehy is the co-host of the Stacking Benjamins personal finance podcast and operates the Stacking Benjamins blog.

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