Having a Ghostwriter Isn’t Cheating. Here’s How to Make it Work

Startup founders have a lot of good ideas – and sharing them can work wonders for the bottom line. Whether you want to comment on industry news or share your personal founder story, publishing your ideas is one of the best ways to build credibility, expand your audience, and grow brand awareness.

The problem: few founders have enough time to capture their ideas by writing blog posts, Twitter threads, or contributed articles.

That’s where professional ghostwriters come in. They take your ideas and shape them into powerful writing that connects with your audience.

If you’ve never worked with a ghostwriter before, ghostwriting might seem dishonest. But great ghostwriters center your ideas and voice at every stage. The result is fully your own – but with an expert’s guidance to make sure every nuance comes through.

Never outsourced writing before? Here's what you need to know to make sure you're doing it right. But first, some background on why quality written work matters for your brand.

Background: Why Quality Thought Leadership Matters

There’s a reason we talk a lot about thought leadership:

  • 60 percent of B2B buyers agree that thought leadership helps brands build credibility in new markets.
  • Nearly half note that thought leadership has helped them discover and buy products and services from a non-leading brand.

But there’s a catch: not all thought leadership is good thought leadership. Fully 71 percent of B2B decision makers say most thought leadership they consume just isn’t valuable. And if a piece doesn’t hook them within one minute, 55 percent will move on.

One reason why? A lot of so-called “thought leadership” falls into two camps:

  1. Great ideas, but not-so-great writing. This often happens when thought leaders who aren't professional writers write their own pieces. As a result, these pieces may ramble, be confusing, or bore readers.
  2. Great writing, but not a ton of substance. This usually happens when professional writers draft pieces with only cursory industry research and the most basic input from actual thought leaders.

Crafting quality thought leadership pieces takes time and skill. That’s why many founders delegate writing the same way they delegate IT and sales. In other words, they work with a ghostwriter. Let’s look at three ways to create an ethical ghostwriting partnership that consistently drives value.

1. Determine the Opportunity Cost of Writing vs. Leading

To get the most out of your thought leadership, how often should you publish?

In our experience, you should aim for at least two pieces a month, whether they’re blog posts, media-focused opinion pieces, or long-form LinkedIn musings.

How long might it take you to write those two monthly pieces? According to a recent survey, about four hours each, which means eight hours a month – for the pros.

If you’re not a writing pro, writing will likely take you longer. You might get stumped by your introduction or struggle with organizing your body sections. And the longer it takes to write, the more time you spend away from your most essential startup duties.

Some questions to ask yourself as you consider whether to do your own writing:

  1. Can I dedicate three to four hours to writing per week? Assuming you’re not a professional writer, this is likely the bare minimum to produce two pieces a month.
  2. Does it make sense to dedicate that time to writing? Would it be better spent selling, fundraising, recruiting, networking, etc.?
  3. How sharp are my writing skills? If writing isn’t your forte, you may struggle to effectively position yourself among audiences you care about.

While you might be able to draft a piece or two to kick off your thought leadership efforts – in the same way you might make your startup’s first few sales – you’ll likely need to hand things off to a professional as your startup grows.

That kind of hand-off isn’t just okay – it’s often expected. There’s a good chance your audience understands the pressures and responsibilities that come with being a founder. They don’t expect you to write all your pieces, just as they don’t expect you to personally build your own product or handle customer service calls. What they’re looking for are interesting, well-crafted ideas. And sometimes you need an expert to translate those ideas into writing.

2. Nurture a Relationship with Your Ghostwriter

It’s your ideas – kept front and center – that separate impactful thought leadership from beautifully written fluff. But to maximize impact, you have to develop an ethical, idea-driven partnership.

As a starting point, it’s important to think about what you want to communicate with each piece – even if it’s just a loose outline or a few key points. Then, relay those thoughts to your ghostwriter. 

Don’t have everything fleshed out? A talented ghostwriter will ask the right questions to tease out nuances and develop powerful narratives. They’ll help you communicate your ideas and vision via writing in a way that speaks to potential investors, customers, employees, and partners.

Once your ghostwriter has your ideas in hand, maintain your relationship via ongoing collaboration. Collaboration is core to an ethical writing process – and it ensures that your ideas make their way to the page.

Think about working with a ghostwriter like the way you work with your sales head. You start by telling them your vision: what your target demographics are and how your product delivers value. Your head of sales will work with you to build out a sales strategy, grow a team, and test ways to reach potential customers. Their job is to turn your vision into a functioning sales program that moves product and to continually adjust based on your input and feedback.

Ghostwriting works in a similar way. Ghostwriters don’t dictate what you say. Instead, they work with you to translate your vision into the medium they know best.

As your relationship deepens, your ghostwriter may start to predict the framing you’ll want and the news you’d love to comment on. It’s like presidential speechwriting: the good ghostwriters will make each piece sound exactly like you – only more so.

3. Be Transparent About Your Partnership

There’s a reason people don’t mind that presidents use speechwriters: the partnership is usually transparent.

President John F. Kennedy, for example, was open about working with a speechwriter. For ethicist David Gruder, that partnership was ethical because Kennedy was honest about a) having a speechwriter and b) collaborating with him throughout the writing process. People knew that the ideas were JFK’s – and they knew he had a partner to help him nail the phrasing.

For founders, a transparent ghostwriting partnership doesn’t mean adding your ghostwriter’s name onto your pieces. But if someone asks you whether you do all your own writing, it’s important to be honest. Explain that the ideas are all yours. And you worked with an expert to effectively communicate those ideas via the written word.

Get the Most out of Thought Leadership with a Ghostwriter

With an ethical ghostwriting partnership, whether with an individual freelancer or a firm like Propllr, you can harness an expert to shape your ideas into writing that resonates with your audience. The benefit: more credibility, more customers, and more time back in your day.

Looking for an experienced ghostwriter? We’ve got a whole team. Our writers specialize in content for B2B startup leaders. Whether your startup focuses on inclusive software design or cutting-edge battery tech, we can help you turn your ideas into compelling words.

Want to learn more? Shoot us a note – we’d love to chat.