I’m not a businessman. I’m a business, man. – Jay-Z
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that you never woke up one morning as a kid and said, “I want to be a ghostwriter when I grow up.”
More than likely you said, “I want to be a writer.”
The reality is that most of us stumble into ghostwriting because the ultimate goal is to be a writer…an author. At some point in our writing journey we picked up a client or two, made some good money, and realized that there was this whole industry of people who write for other people, as other people, in the shadows of the literary world. Word got out, clients referred other clients, and before we knew it, we were ghostwriters.
So let me cut to the chase: When you’re a ghostwriter, you’re not a writer. You’re a business.
And that’s important to understand because there is a lot that comes with being a business. You have to manage clients, time, finances, taxes, legal and more. As such you have a lot of responsibility and a lot of liability. Here are some essential things you must do to be a successful ghostwriter.
Consult a lawyer
No one likes lawyers. But we need them. A lawyer is an important part of your success as a ghostwriter. A good lawyer can help you set up a legal structure that will both protect you and your clients through contracts, as well as take advantage of the tax system to minimize your tax burden through some sort of legal business structure.
I’m personally set up as a US S-Corporation. When I’m engaged by a client, he or she isn’t technically aren’t engaging me. He or she is engaging my company, Elevate. As such, there are a number of legal protections for me. If a client decides to sue me (and that does happen), they can only sue my company and can only have access to my company’s assets, not my personal assets.
Additionally, my clients feel secure knowing that their work is protected legally through a rock-solid contract drawn up by my lawyer.
Finally, I save significant money each year in taxes by running my expenses through my company and by taking advantage of the US tax code set up to benefit small businesses.
Get an accountant
I can’t stress enough the importance of having a good CPA. First, I hate doing my taxes anyway. Second, when you do operate as a business, the tax code is complicated, and it’s a full-time job to keep up with all the changes to the rules. But here’s the secret most people don’t know—the tax code exists to save you money…if you’re a business.
A good CPA can save you literally thousands of dollars in both time-value and actually tax burden. Trying to go it alone in your taxes is not only inefficient, it’s also bullheaded. There’s no way you can be an expert on writing and ghostwriting, and be an expert on taxes. So just like our clients hire us to provide an expert service, shell out some cash to a tax expert take care of your finances and your taxes.
Now, having a good CPA doesn’t mean you don’t keep accurate books. Get a good quality software product like Quickbooks, and be diligent about keeping track of your expenses. Your CPA will be able to consult you on how to maximize your daily accounting.
Learn to market
The first lesson you learn as a fledgeling ghostwriter is that you can’t grow your client base like you’d wish with just word of mouth from your clients. You must learn to market. That might look like a number of different things for you. Maybe you start a blog like this one. Or maybe you find some success doing AdWords through Google. But whatever way you find it works, you must market.
Here’s some essentials that you’ve probably already guessed: Have a website, print some business cards, and network like crazy.
Operate like a business
Businesses don’t work three hours and then crack a beer at 11:15 a.m and call it a day—at least most don’t. That’s how writers operate. As a ghostwriter, an essential element of success is operating like a business. That means you’re diligent and work a lot. If you’re not on a project, you should be out there building a name and a platform through social media, trolling job boards and Google for leads, and attending as many networking events as you can.
Some things that help me operate like a business: Standard hours (i.e., 9 to 5), a dedicated workspace free of clutter, getting dressed before work, keeping good files, and a great collateral package (website, business cards, etc.).
Be a pro
This website is called GhostwritePro for a reason. Ed, Joey, and I are professionals. We operate at a high level of expertise, make a good living, and we shoot straight with our clients about our business. We treat our clients with respect, and we value them highly because they’re paying us for a service—and most importantly, they are trusting us with their words, their message, and their story.
When you think about it, it’s a humbling thing to be the caretaker of someone’s story.
As such, you’re job is to not only write the best possible work you can, but to also make sure your clients are confident in you and your abilities by making it apparent that they are valuable to you. Return phone calls. Answer emails—promptly. Don’t bad mouth your them behind their backs. Meet your deadlines. Play fair.
Be a pro.
Don’t think expensive
Some of the suggestions I’ve mentioned will cost you some money. And that’s why a lot of people don’t do them. They cling to their cash. But here’s the deal, saving a little now can cost you a lot later. Start thinking bigger picture. Why wouldn’t you pay an account $600 if they were going to save you thousands? Why wouldn’t you pay a lawyer $500 to set you up legally when you can save thousands and look like a pro?
Small expenses like these can add up to big time opportunity and savings down the road. But you have to think like a business, not a writer.
[Photo by Eneas]