So you want to become a ghostwriter. Well — if you’re reading this, you’re on the right track.
Wouldn’t it be great to work from home or in a coffee shop, collaborate with fascinating clients, and write for a paycheck? Knowing how to become a ghostwriter isn’t hard. However, if you want to make this type of freelance writing into your full-time business, be ready to check off a few to-dos.
In the world of ghostwriting, the author’s name on a book cover isn’t always the person who wrote the book. Articles, essays, think pieces, short stories, white papers, novels, and non-fiction books are all fodder for a new ghostwriting business. Behind the scenes around the world, ghostwriters are the unsung professionals paid to turn concepts into content — and give the byline to someone else.
Benefits of Starting a Ghostwriter Business
As of 2015, the public internet was estimated to contain 47 billion webpages. That’s about 305.5 billion printed pages. By the end of October 2020, over 2.2 million books were published worldwide that year alone.
Ghostwriting is part of a large and lucrative global market. As long as people have more ideas than time, ghostwriters will stay in high demand.
As a trade, you can ghostwrite from anywhere in the world. From celebrities to businesspeople and anyone in between, you can build relationships and fulfill projects for a variety of clients, all while setting your own prices and profit margins.
Even better? Startup costs are low, and the opportunity is vast.
Your Step-by-Step Checklist for How to Start Your Own Ghostwriting Business
As you plan and begin your business, think about where you want to specialize. From knowing how to start an LLC to figuring out income and expenses, use the writing business checklist below to see how to become a ghostwriter.
1: Create a Business Plan
Writing a business plan gives you focus and helps you think through your idea. And a business plan doesn’t have to be as long as your next book. Depending on your aspirations, a few pages may be all you need.
Create a ghostwriting business plan where you examine:
- What business idea are you resolving?
- What writing niche can you specialize in? Nonfiction? Fiction? Corporate work?
- What business taxes and structuring should you expect?
- What types of content can you produce in a professional (and profitable) way?
- How can your network help you land ghostwriting projects and build relationships with clients?
- Do you currently have clips or other freelance writing credits you can use to reinforce your reputation and professionalism?
- What goals are you working toward? Make these goals SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely.
Also, draw a bead on who you’ll be competing against as well as trends or industry changes that could threaten your income.
Above all, try to understand the type of client you’ll work with. Examine their profession, budget for your services, and how you’ll work with them. From there, you can develop your pricing and services and start earning your ghostwriting gigs.
2: LLC vs Sole Proprietorship: Choosing a Business Structure
It’s easy to start your business as a sole prop, and many small businesses begin this way. Sole proprietor ghostwriters can hire employees like virtual assistants or work with independent contractors/freelancers as necessary. However, without the limited liability an LLC offers, your personal assets may be at risk if the writing business ends up owing money. Another common downside of a sole prop? All business revenue is personal income, which can mean bigger tax bills.
Forming an LLC is slightly more involved, but it’s faster to set up an LLC than you may think. Ghostwriting income and assets have more separation from personal assets, which may be shielded from liability (check state laws though, as protections vary).
Starting your LLC will carry fees of up to $500 depending on the state. However, forming an LLC can enhance your professionalism, which may help you navigate business relationships or smooth the road if seeking investment or loans.
✔ Need more information about business entity types? Check out this guide that compares the pros and cons of different business structures →
3: Determine Your Business Costs
Here’s a great thing about starting your ghostwriting career: Your startup costs and ongoing overhead can be low. No massive staff or fancy headquarters required.
As little as a few hundred dollars may be enough to start, but be sure you think through unexpected writing business costs, such as:
- Equipment: Computer, tablet, smartphone
- Services: Cell phone with data plan, internet service
- Productivity apps and subscriptions: Services such as Slack, Trello, G Suite, and Evernote can help you manage projects and project assets; some services have free tiers in addition to monthly or annual plans
- Location: Ghostwriters can run their business from their kitchen table or lease work space as needed
- Wages: Don’t forget to pay yourself
- Taxes: Budget for quarterly and annual taxes, and track expenses for allowable deductions. For instance, you can deduct your home office space, laptop, and other costs like web hosting and internet use. Microsoft has a great list of writer tax breaks.
Think through professionals you’ll work with, too, such as an assistant, copy editor, graphic designer, or bookkeeper. Don’t neglect your marketing assets either. At a minimum, business cards and a basic website explain who you are, what ghostwriting services you provide, writing clips, testimonials, and how people can get in touch.
✔ Business costs may seem overwhelming to calculate. Learn how to calculate your small business costs in this guide →
How will you fund your ghostwriting business’s startup costs?
Federal and private loans are available, but they’re probably unnecessary for your ghostwriting startup.
A credit card may be enough. Some ghostwriters use business-focused reward credit cards with perks like airline miles, cash-back bonuses, or 0% interest periods. Don’t fall into a high-interest debt trap though, and pay off your balance monthly when you can.
Another option? Consider approaching friends and family for a loan or micro-loans. Misunderstandings or missed payments can cause bad blood, so sign a written contract to keep things friendly, maintain communication, and pay regularly.
✔ What funding options do you have as a business owner? Learn how to fund your business in this guide →
4: Create a Ghostwriting Business Name
You’ll want your ghostwriting business to have a unique name. Wondering how to name an LLC? Create an original handle that reflects the values and target market of your ghostwriting business:
- Is the name currently being used by another business?
- Are domains for your business available to register for your website and email?
- Can you set up social media accounts using your business name?
- Is it easy to pronounce and spell the name of your ghostwriting business?
5: Register the Ghostwriting Business and Open Financial Accounts
Keeping business accounts separate from personal accounts is crucial to tracking income and expenses, and for staying safe from creditors or from the IRS.
To go by the book, register your ghostwriting business name with state and federal agencies. If your business is a sole prop, you can use your Social Security number as your employer identification number (EIN). Any business entity can register for a separate tax identification number (TIN). You’ll need to create one for your LLC. Your tax number makes your business official and trackable with the IRS.
✔ Learn what you need to obtain and Employer Identification Number and get one here →
Before opening business financial accounts, check to see what state business licenses you’ll need. Once you have those, you can open a business checking account at your bank or credit union.
✔ Learn all you need to know to set up a business checking account in this guide →
Insurance requirements can vary for a ghostwriting business. Lawsuits can pop up if a client introduces plagiarism or libellous material to your work. Have a standard contract with each client, but also consider general business insurance or dedicated writing insurance. Talk with a local insurance agent about the right coverage for your ghostwriting business.
6: Marketing Your Ghostwriting Business
Today’s online world expands a ghostwriter’s opportunity to build their business, connect with people, and take on projects and clients.
When you first start out, finding ghostwriting clients will be challenging. Newcomers to freelancing often set rates low for the first project, just to get a credit and a foot in the door. Professional associations like the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) can create an almost instant network and connections to clients. Get involved and volunteer to make your network sizzle.
Establish social media presences, too. At the minimum, set up a professional LinkedIn profile to showcase your expertise. From there, build profiles and post to social media groups where influencers and your target market meet.
Use content to help your brand rank in search engines. Blogging search-optimized articles, white papers, and other original content on your website can get attention. Above all, grow referrals. Many successful ghostwriters gain clients through word of mouth.
✔ Learn what you can do to effectively market your business here →
What kind of niche ghostwriter businesses could you start?
When building a business as a professional freelance writer, it can help to specialize. Ghostwriters work to capture their client’s voice and writing style in long-form content, short-form content, books, screenplays, subject matter specialties, and far, far more. Here are a few niches to consider for potential clients:
- Memoir ghostwriting
- Non-fiction books ghostwriting
- Fiction ghostwriting
- Blogger ghostwriting
- Business book ghostwriting
- Article writing
- Celebrity writing
- SEO writing
Start Your Ghostwriting Business
Learning how to become a ghostwriter isn’t rocket science, and it doesn’t have to come with a high startup price tag. Writing can be a low-risk, high-reward business opportunity with a vast market. You can scale your business from a side hustle to a successful enterprise at the workload you want for your life.
Create your business plan, set up your business, establish your marketing, and start making contacts. Before you know it, you could be on your way to running your own exciting ghostwriting business.
FAQ: How to Become a Ghostwriter
- How much should I capitalize my business with at the beginning?
You may already have the tools you need, like a computer and a phone. As little as a few hundred dollars can be all you need to capitalize your business and start landing ghostwriting jobs.
- What are the biggest challenges to starting a ghostwriter business?
Making contacts with decision makers can be hard work. Focus on building trust, expertise, and a reliable word-of-mouth network.
- What kind of books and records do I need to keep for my business?
Have written and agreed scopes of work, interview releases, invoices, and documentation for all projects.
- What type of ghostwriting business or business theme should I have?
Consider what you want to write about. Then evaluate your expertise and examine the market’s unmet needs.
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