Ghostwriting for a corporate executive’s blog can be lucrative and dependable work for freelancers. But, it takes a certain finesse to create blog posts that are topical, industry-specific, professional, and still indicative of a personality. Too dry and you lose readers’ interest. Too casual and you jeopardize the executive’s professional reputation. Too much jargon and you alienate new customers.
In the past 13 years, I’ve learned a few things from ghostwriting blog posts for executives at major financial corporations. Here are my tips for completing this type of assignment in a way that gets you repeat business.
MAKE THEM FEEL COMFORTABLE
You may be working directly with the upper executive you’re writing for, or you may be managed by a marketing or content director. It doesn’t matter, really, because in every case your goal is to make the person you’re dealing with feel comfortable with your knowledge and abilities.
There are three simple rules for making your contact feel comfortable. First, respond promptly and professionally to all forms of communication. This is a Freelancing 101 rule, anyway; but in this case it’s particularly important that you maintain a professional tone. Hold the jokes and pop culture references, unless the executive you’re writing for is the 26-year-old CEO of the latest social media start-up to go public.
SHOW YOUR INDUSTRY KNOWLEDGE
Don’t brag, of course, and don’t be obnoxious about it. As appropriate, here and there, drop an industry term or reference. If you have industry-specific writing clips, share those.
DON’T BE DESPERATE
Desperation smells like insecurity, and insecurity spreads, even through email. Even if you’re $40 short for rent and your favorite cat needs more allergy meds, stay calm. Don’t offer freebies. Don’t flatter. Keep your rates reasonable, meet your deadlines, do your research, and stand your ground. The more security you portray in your skills and value, the more secure your contact will feel about you.
STUDY AND HONOR THE CORPORATE GUIDELINES
Any corporation of more than 25+ employees will have a brand-specific set of content guidelines. Learn the guidelines. Follow the guidelines. Most of the time, they will be overly detailed and filled with awkward, dry language that makes you want to poke your creative eyes out. Learn them and follow them anyway.
Corporate guidelines help maintain brand consistency and protect the brand from legal issues. Even if some of the guidelines seem pointless or painful, do as requested. It’s helpful to maintain a quick checklist you can scan before submitting a ghostwritten blog post.
FIND A PROFESSIONAL BUT FRIENDLY TONE
Executives need to appear, always, as experts in their industry and as professionals. But they also need to convey personality, individuality, and approach-ability. No one wants to read a boring post written by a disconnected business suit. Personality matters in order to engage readers and build customer loyalty.
But the personality you present has to stay professional. Approachable is one thing; overly casual is another. To strike the right tone for your ghostwriting gigs, strive for the kind of friendly tone and language you might hear at a commencement speech. Use jokes occasionally, but never use profanity or approach off-color topics. Use anecdotes to boost personality, but don’t make them the “meat” of the post.
USE CORRECT LANGUAGE AND INDUSTRY TERMINOLOGY
Your language should match both the tone and the intended audience. A B2C blog by an executive will generally use more casual language, whereas a B2B blog will usually stay slightly more formal.
Beyond that major categorization, consider the dynamic of each audience. An academic audience will appreciate a larger vocabulary and more complex phrasing (although you should never use ‘big words’ just to use them). An audience in a service industry, on the other hand, may be more oriented to actionable advice and down-to-earth examples.
Industry terminology, used correctly and sparingly, supports the executive’s places as a leader in their industry. Overuse of terminology, however, can sound pompous and turn readers away. A good general rule is to only use industry terms that relate directly to the topic of the post you’re writing – otherwise, use widely understandable terms unless only an industry-specific term or acronym is adequate.
CHECK FACTS AND USE CREDIBLE SOURCES
Make sure your facts are accurate and up-to-date before including them in a ghostwritten post. Whether it’s an industry statistic or consumer survey, accuracy is paramount. A misquote or misstated fact can damage an executive’s reputation, and, by extension, the reputation of the brand.
Of course, you know better than to use Wikipedia as a source in an executive post, right? Credible sources don’t include publicly edited websites, no matter how popular they are. Look for information from industry publications, government documentation, scholarly journals, research summaries, and studies.
WRITE, EDIT, REST, AND CHECK
You can use a repeatable process to make ghostwriting easier without missing any of the details. The process that works well for me is to do the bulk of the writing in one day, after the initial research and outlining. Then, usually on the same day, edit the piece. Use a checklist to guide you through an editing process that covers the important points of ghostwriting for executive posts, as well as any specific guidelines for the company.
Let the piece rest for a day or more, AND then return to it for a final, thorough check before submitting. The final check is really a complete edit. Use your checklist again to ensure you’re not overlooking anything. Going over the post with fresh eyes will help you catch mistakes or improvements you might have missed on the first edit.
In the end, you’re writing something helpful for one human to share with other humans. That’s something you already know how to do. As with all writing assignments, ghostwriting executive posts gets easier as it becomes more familiar.
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Annie Mueller is a freelance writer and editor, avid coffee drinker and book reader, author of “The Real You,” and generic beach bum. She lives with her husband and four children in Puerto Rico. Her current project is a nonfiction writing course for people who want to write more words, faster.
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