How to Impress a Potential Client Before First Contact (Part I)

You’ve just received your first email from a potential ghostwriting client:

” I’m looking for someone to ghostwrite my book. My phone number is xxx-xxx-xxxx. Please call me to discuss your process at your earliest convenience.”

What do you do?

If your first thought is to call ’em back, you’re missing out on a significant opportunity to show your client how awesome you are at your ghostwriting craft. Lining up a ghostwriting client generally takes me anywhere between two and three months. Anything I can do to shorten that time or get a head start on thinking as if I were the potential client is to everyone’s advantage.

Here are five things I do every time I get an email like the one above. It’s “First Contact” because I haven’t contacted the potential client yet. All five steps take me as little as 30 minutes and I rarely spend an hour or more. If you don’t do this already, it may take longer until it becomes a habit and you learn where to find information the fastest. If your first contact from someone is a phone call (less likely), you’ll follow this path and tweak as needed. For the sake of practicality, I’m going to be specific and not wax poetic about something I can’t really do in real life. Rather than grab a name out of a hat, I’ll use someone who I’m sure won’t mind: fellow ghostwriter, Ed Sweet. I’ll pretend I don’t know anything about him.

(1) What does his action history say about him?

In other words, is this a person who does what he says? Does he lean towards talk with less action or action with less verbiage? Is he direct and to the point? Or does he wander around before he gets to his point? Somewhere in the middle? Is he a decider or a contemplative type? The list goes one. Ed’s history of speaking and acting has a pattern. As much as I can, I need to find out what that pattern of behavior looks like.  It will give me a solid idea of how to frame my first return call questions. It will also set me up to expect certain questions from him. Both are worth knowing in advance.

  • Look at the domain of his email. It’s info [at] edwardsweet [dot]com.
  • Head over to his site. What’s the first thing you notice?
  • His flash intro is short, to the point and clever. It implies word craft and precision.
  • Head straight to his ‘about’ page. He says he’s “clear, concise and compelling”. That fits what I saw in the flash intro. At the least, he’s quite aware of the service he offers to his clients. It also says he’s “passionate…about words” and “enjoys helping clients deliver the right messages to the right audiences.”
  • This tells me that if Ed is contacting me about ghostwriting a book for him, he’s got high standards. That excites me, ’cause I do, too. I’ve found something we have in common: the power and passion of words.
  • When I call him, I’ll choose my words with this in mind. He will be my audience. If I’m to pre-sell Ed in my return phone call, I’ll need to deliver the right message, to the right audience, in the best way for Ed.

(2) What do others say about Ed? What does Ed say about himself?

If Ed had a testimonials section on his website – he doesn’t – would I start there? Absolutely not. He’s chosen those himself. I want to find out what people say about Ed when he doesn’t know they’re talking about him. I also want to know what Ed says about himself. There’s a good chance I’ll discover both of these answers in the same quest, so I’ve listed them together.

  • I run his email through Google, looking for anyone that’s responded to a post he made somewhere. He may know the person said whatever they said, but he likely won’t have solicited it.
  • Three potential links come up:, LinkedIn and None of those are any good for this quest. We’re looking for the kind of stuff that’s not sitting around waiting to be dug up on the surface. We only have an hour or less, so we need to move quickly.
  • Into Google,  I punch up something more general, “Ed Sweet Phoenix Writer“. I know Ed is in Phoenix because his website said so. I didn’t type his full first name because there’s a good chance that’s a formality for his business. Writers like to do that. I’m looking for something closer to home, more personal, something that says something about Ed, the person, not Ed, the writer.
  • One of the links on the first page of my Google search (I don’t go deeper than the first page) is for a review of a book about becoming a millionaire in seven steps. Sure enough, his name is listed as ‘Ed’ of ‘Edward Sweet & Associates’. I make a mental note to call him ‘Ed’ when I talk to him on the phone.
  • I read the review he’s written about the book. Granted, we were looking for comments about Ed, but this is almost as good. His review is positive, but we expected that. We’re looking for something we don’t expect. He shares that he and a friend are going through the book together and that they have “really great phone conversations about it every Sunday afternoon.”
  • This says a lot about Ed. Like his website says, he writes clearly, concisely and compellingly. He does this by relating, by sharing something personal and showing that it’s affecting his life in a positive way. The more I find out about this Ed character, the more I like him. I used to go through a book by Robert Kiyosaki, “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” (small world, eh Jake?) with my good friend, Joe (no, seriously). We met every Saturday to talk about what we read. That’s something else I have in common with Ed. I’ll have to remember that when I call Ed, who I’ve just learned is as interested as I am in self-improvement through conversation and comparing notes with a good friend. I’m eager to find out what kind of book he wants to write and why a ghostwriter would hire another ghostwriter to write a book. (I’ve done that. I’ll tell you about it some time.)
  • I go back to my Google search. One of the links mentions “…A friend of his, Ed Sweet, a writer and editor from Phoenix”. Excellent. Just along the lines of what I’m looking for. It’s an excerpt from a book Ed ghosted for Michael Crews, Hard Work: Success Made Easy. Michael describes how Ed followed him around for a day, recorded conversations with Michael and really got into his head and helped him crystallize his ideas. Who’s this Michael guy, anyway? A quick search led me here. Okay, I’m sold. Ed’s a stand-up guy: honorable, passionate, personable and a man of his word – literally. I’m eager to do business with him.

What I need to know now is (3) How will I mimic touches of Ed’s writing voice (or his speaking voice, if I’d have come across some audio or video of him), such that he’ll pick up on it? (4) How will I do this in a phone call? and (5) What will I do the instant I hang up the phone? That’s next week in my part II post on How to Impress a Potential Client Before you Talk to Him/Her.

All this talk about mimicking someone can begin to sound like persuasion off kilter. Just remember the ghostwriting credo (well, mine at least):

“Impressing someone is a lot like flattery: it only works if you mean it.”

[Photo by apesara]