You’d be hard-pressed to find a successful entrepreneur who has the time to be a prolific writer. Most of the time, they employ people to build a brand, presence, and readership for projects and initiatives they believe in using targeted ghostwritten content. After 6 years of ghostwriting for some of the most interesting, driven, and talented people in their industries, I’ve learned how to talk and write like an entrepreneur without being one.
Do Your Research
Entrepreneurs don’t have time for you. If you get them on the phone or in-person (which is preferred), make sure you’ve done your research on them. Not doing so is disrespectful at worst and amateurish at the least. That first onboarding meeting may be your only chance to gain their trust. I’ve seen relationships between an entrepreneur and his or her ghostwriter break down because the trust was never established.
Yes or No Questions Are a No-No
Ask open-ended questions. Let them talk about themselves, usually they’ll be happy to. Some examples of open-ended questions I’ve asked in bio interviews with clients:
- Tell me about your current business role
- Tell me about what you did to get here
- Tell me about what you’re passionate about
- What’s important to you?
- How do you want your customers to see you?
Pull Answers, Not Teeth
The hardest people to interview are ones who aren’t forthcoming about themselves. In these cases, you’ll need to pick very targeted questions off the bat. Three of the questions I ask are:
- Tell me 3 adjectives people at work would use to describe you?
- Tell me 3 adjectives people in your personal life would use to describe you?
- Describe yourself using only 3 adjectives
If that doesn’t work, ask them for a CV and try to finagle the name of his or her assistant. No one knows an exec better than their support staff.
Stay On Topic
Interviewing entrepreneurs who passionately talk about themselves and their companies is a lot easier than interviewing the ones who don’t talk at all. The challenge with the former is to stay on topic. I once interviewed an entrepreneur who talked about cheese for 30 minutes. Unless the blog is about cheese, you’ll need to subtly but firmly get back on target.
Try these tactics:
- Establish a hard out (a specific end time) before you begin the meeting and remind them of it if they’ve gone off topic for too long
- ‘That’s a great anecdote! Is that something you’d like your audience to know about you or is that how you see yourself being branded?’
- Acknowledge their story, then repeat back something they said before: ‘So let’s get back to what you were saying about ___’
- Think of an entrepreneurial story related to whatever they’re saying, then lead them back to task
Most of the time, one of these will help you circle back to the subject at hand. If that doesn’t work, listening to a long tale will still help you get a feel for who the person is. It may be worth it.
What’s Off Limits?
A ghostwriter I once knew (me) wrote a scathing anti-Android OS article for a client who ended up being very pro-Android. Though it was not a deal-breaker, it was embarrassing and preventable.
So, one of the first things I ask in the initial bio interview is: ‘what can’t I talk about?’ Topics like family, acquisitions, competitors, etc. are things some entrepreneurs want to avoid. Even ones who aren’t big talkers are more than willing to tell you what not to write, so be sure to ask up front.
Being a ghostwriter takes a certain amount of clairvoyance. You have to be able to read patterns in language, tone, gestures, emails, and so many other factors to successfully mimic the voice of an entrepreneur. If you ask the right questions and get a feel for them, you’ll be in good shape. Sometimes, the leaps work and sometimes they don’t. In my experience, the entrepreneurs who don’t want you coloring outside the lines will readily provide you with loads of information to work with - no leaps needed.
If you’re not psychic, get better at researching and reading everything everyday related to your client’s industry and I mean everything.
In ghostwriting for entrepreneurs, I’ve honed my research skills and have developed a working knowledge of finance, commercial real estate, and healthcare — which makes me a well-rounded conversationalist come dinner party time. What I don’t get in bylines, I get in learning trade secrets from the top thought leaders in their industries, which carries an invaluable educational value.