Here Are 6 Things I learnt after writing 400 blogs

The Numbers

If I get the publishing date right, this should come up as my 400th blog for Clarus. We have a mini “leader board” on our website, and you will see that Amir is (just) ahead of me – not for long!

It takes a surprisingly long time to close a gap as small as 8 blogs….

Looking at my history on the blog:

  • My very first blog was published on 18th June 2014 – ECB June Meeting – Were EUR Swaps Traders at Lunch? Please don’t read it, it is pretty cringe-worthy!
  • It has taken me 3,000 days to write another 399.
  • Let’s be kind and say that is almost exactly one blog a week (one every 7.5 days….).
  • That is one blog a week for 8 years!
  • We aim for each blog to be 750-1,000 words and take between 4 minutes and 8 minutes of reading time.
  • That means I’ve published around 400,000 words, which would take about 1,600 minutes (over a whole day!) to read….
  • For context, War and Peace is over 500,000 words, the Lord of the Rings trilogy is 480,000 words and the Harry Potter series of books is over 1 million.
  • There is therefore well over a book’s worth of Chris Barnes content on the blog. What a scary thought….
  • Somewhere deep within Amir’s google analytics is the total number of views that my blogs have generated. It’s not a particularly relevant metric but we do tend to like big numbers in our industry!

There have been some mistakes along the way, inevitable when writing a blog is only part of my day-to-day role. But there have been successes as well, and all of us at Clarus are grateful for the time invested in our content by our readers.

Clarus were invited to the CFTC MRAC to discuss transparency during the market turmoil of March 2020

On to what I have learnt about writing a blog:

1. There is no correlation between effort and success

I should probably clarify what I mean here! In general;

  • I can spend two weeks on a single blog, with in-depth analysis or research. Or;
  • I can spend two hours on a blog (I cannot write 750 words in any less time).
  • The number of views, whether within the week or as “evergreen” content over time, has almost no correlation with the amount of time I spent actually crafting the blog.
Our “$77bn” blog was widely picked up by the media and was well read. This took a long time to write (even though we knew we could not produce a “right” answer), proving that sometimes you do get out what you put into a blog. It is rare though!

Now, there are some caveats and learnings here that I should point out:

  1. This might just mean my analysis of the readership stats is wrong/too simple! Or that we aren’t very good at blog titles!
  2. For a blog that I spend multiple days on, it is rare that it will exist as a standalone piece. Typically, that research will feed into multiple blogs or form the start of a series. For that reason, it is difficult to accurately apportion the amount of time that is spent on any particular blog.
  3. Blogs that draw on my own career experience are much easier and quicker to write than ones looking at new regulation.
  4. Some blogs can perform well simply because of a good title….
  5. …or because of particularly unique content that isn’t covered elsewhere on the internet.

2. I put my credibility on the line each time I press publish

This is something I did not fully appreciate until I had created a number of blogs. I try to draw parallels between my previous life trading and blogging. A blog is not as important as transacting an Interest Rate Swap, but it can live on for just as long. Therefore, a blog should be accurate, the details should be relevant and it should be comprehensible. Those traits are all shared with a trade as well – the reasons (and reasoning) behind it, the details of the trade all feed into generating the required cash-flows so that it makes sense as a whole. It’s not a direct link….comment below if you disagree.

3. I used to write market commentaries…

…and my blogs are like an extension of those. I wrote weekly Cross Currency Swap market commentaries whilst at HSBC (for our clients and sales people/traders) and daily commentaries at State Street. Why did I change from weekly to daily? Because writing a market commentary is hard. It makes you really think about, and believe, your reasoning behind market dynamics. Readers/market participants can tell whether there is conviction behind your axes or comments. It prevents repetitive views – and this can be both a good thing and a bad thing. No one wants to write the same thing over and over again – so it forces the writer to take a different look at the same market dynamics, or to look at tangential markets – basis, outrights, spreads. That is what makes markets so interesting – there is always something to look at.

An example trade idea that I produced whilst at Gottex

4. Writing makes you read

Even if no one read the blog, I believe that Amir and I would continue to write. There is so much news, content, views, data created every day that it is VERY difficult to digest it all – unless you have a weekly deadline to hit. By forcing ourselves to write a blog a week, we force ourselves to focus on the current events that are relevant to our business. If it’s irrelevant, we don’t have time to read it. If it is relevant, we have to make a judgement call – is it blog worthy? Can we add anything to it? Has this topic proven interesting/popular in the past?

5. Transparency Data is really valuable

We have used our transparency data to cover topics ranging from Brexit, to Trump, to SOFR transition and even to the events in Ukraine this year. I find that our data continues to prove its relevance time and time again across a diverse range of topics.

I haven’t traded for almost 10 years. However, I still find consulting SDR data for Cross Currency swaps insightful. To see what has been trading is still vital information and allows me to keep track of markets even though I am no longer actively taking risk. That increase in transparency means more people are aware of what is going on, and allows more of the market to accurately assess risk.

There are multiple uses of transparency data. SDRView allows me to easily and quickly look at data in new and interesting ways.

6. Regulations are daunting but not difficult

The industry has been fundamentally changed in the past 10 years by a raft of regulations and new capital requirements. It is now part of the job description to understand those regulations, have a handle on capital requirements and look out for any upcoming changes if you work on a trading floor. This was absolutely not a thing when I was trading, and has been a big change for the industry. However, whilst regulations are still written across 100s of pages, it is possible to distill the essence of the regs (and capital requirements) into about 1,000 words for our readers. I doubt I would have found the time (or energy) to go through the regulations myself when on a trading floor, and so it seems natural to offer a summary to our time-constrained readers. They are not my favourite blogs to write, but it means that I have to understand the regs to make a coherent blog. I find understanding the regs useful in a number of different ways, from blog writing, to product development and interpreting our data.

In Summary

It is self-indulgent to write a blog like this, so well done for getting this far! It is not a “how to” guide, but I would highlight that you really have to commit to writing a blog. It cannot be done half-heartedly.

If you start a blog and it gains traction, I am still not sure how/when/if you stop….

Are there another 400 blogs in my future? I hope that markets remain interesting enough for the next 8 years to provide enough (interesting) content to continue. With the current macro backdrop, it looks like markets are certainly going to remain interesting for the immediate future.

So please stay tuned….and we might have some new formats to try out in the coming months!

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