Guerrilla Marketing for Ghostwriters

Guerrilla Marketing for Ghostwriters

Guerrilla marketing (aka grassroots marketing) involves promoting your ghostwriting services using low-cost tactics.

Some of you may recall when the late marketing guru Jay Conrad Levinson debuted his Guerrilla Marketing books in the 1990s. The first title was so popular that it spawned several more, all providing grassroots ideas for marketing and promotion that businesses of all sizes could use to attract more business.

I’ve always been a big fan of his books and even had the privilege of being quoted in a couple after uncovering low-cost marketing tactics that work.

Today, I’m still a big fan. Who wants to overspend on marketing techniques that may or may not work? My preference is to go with the methods that generate a big result for the least amount of money. Although some of Levinson’s advice is outdated, his core recommendation— to stand out—remains a useful message.

Here is a list of marketing tactics, some that are on Levinson’s list and some that are not, that I know can generate results:

Newsletters. Levinson made the case for newsletters, saying, “If your business becomes a source of information as well as a source of products and services, you’ll gain respect and increased loyalty from your customers.” What makes newsletters so effective as promotional tools is that they’re not hard sell, or at least when done well. They should share information of interest to your target audience, who presumably requested to hear from you, that is related to your core writing services. Make it interesting and useful and people will look forward to receiving it, which helps keep you top-of-mind.

Although the majority of newsletters are now delivered electronically, such as through Constant Contact and Mailchimp, a few companies still send out print versions, most likely in an effort to stand out and get read.

Stationery. Levinson makes the case that your letterhead is a reflection of the professionalism of your business. So even if you don’t mail out hardcopy pieces of stationery frequently, consider having one designed in digital form, for correspondence, proposals, and invoices, for example. It should coordinate with or match your business card and any other materials, such as envelopes or mailing labels.

Inserts. I haven’t tried this, but printed materials stuffed in materials sent out by other companies could be an interesting technique; bill stuffers are the first example that comes to mind. If you could identify an established company with a customer base that matches your target clientele, paying a small fee to be able to reach their customers might be well worth it. For example, if you could pay to have your materials inserted in materials sent to holders of the American Express Black card, you could potentially get in front of extremely high net worth individuals.  

To use this tactic, you need both 1) a well-written document that fits the size requirements for the mailer going out and 2) a willingness to pay another company to include your materials.

Trade shows or conferences. Although Levinson recommended attending trade shows for your industry, in the writing and publishing space those events are more often referred to as conferences. Despite the cost for travel and accommodations, on top of the entry fee, meetings like the annual conference for the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA), as one example, are an effective way to meet and bond with fellow writers—writers who may become an important source of leads.

Premiums, or gifts. Generally known as ad specialties, Levinson advocated investing in items related to your products or services that also feature your business name. During COVID-19 lockdowns, I would have said that such investments were not advised, since we weren’t seeing clients in person. But now that in-person events are being scheduled, spending a little money on items to give away may not be a bad idea.

I’ve seen writers and writing organizations give away pens and pencils, notepads, flash drives, small calendars, and candies, for example. I’d probably vote for something that will last longer than candy, because the packaging with your business name on it is likely the first thing discarded.

These small trinkets are not to be confused with gifts you send your best clients, however, which many freelance writers do towards the end of the year. If you decide to send something, whether it’s a fruit basket, chocolates, a favorite book or an Amazon gift card, spend more than a couple of bucks on it, keeping in mind that some companies prohibit the acceptance of gifts valued at more than $25.

Social media. I’m not sure how familiar Levinson was with LinkedIn, but given that it’s a free platform to connect with potential clients, you should be. The most important thing to do on LinkedIn is to have a profile there that describes your services. Make sure to use keywords related to what you offer, and to post articles that would be of interest to your target market. Invest time each week in expanding your network by even a few connections, so that you become visible and better known to an ever-expanding circle of potential clients and referral sources.

Many writers I know use Twitter to connect with potential clients. Find hashtags that are typically used when companies or individuals have need for your services, and then follow them. If there are publications, websites, companies, or individuals you aspire to work with, follow them, too. Twitter is one place where you may learn of the opportunity to pitch ideas to editors, for example, or connect with people who are looking for a ghostwriter to support them. To increase awareness of you and your writing specialties, spend time each week posting on Twitter as well.

I’ve had more luck with Facebook, honestly, by paying attention to what my friends and colleagues share, and by watching for freelance opportunities they pass along. Facebook groups dedicated to sharing job leads are especially useful. I’m in several groups and find the user interface easier to follow there, which is why I invest most of my time on Facebook versus Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, or Pinterest. But you should be wherever your target clients spend their time.

Publicity. What Levinson called “free advertising” is perhaps the most valuable of all marketing tactics, because it involves getting an implied third-party endorsement of your or your services. Not only can you then point clients to the recent article in which you are quoted, but online mentions add up and can positively impact your Google rank, or how close you appear to the top result in searches for your name or service.

The easiest way to pursue publicity is to sign up for a free account at Help a Reporter Out, and then review the three daily emails that arrive in your inbox Monday through Friday. Those emails list requests for sources from journalists and writers. Scan those lists of source needs to find topics for which you’d be a good fit. Then respond, providing helpful insights that go beyond the obvious, and share why you’re qualified, or where your expertise comes from. For example, if you’re a member of a ski patrol when you’re not writing, responding to a request for input on skiing would be a great fit. Although the topic is not writing-related, a link to your website can boost your ranking.

Levinson was a big proponent of direct mail, but I didn’t include it here because I’m not convinced it would be worth your efforts on a large scale. Yes, direct mail works, but designing and producing a direct mail piece to be mailed out is generally a costly effort. So I don’t personally consider it a guerrilla technique.

I’d welcome hearing about guerrilla techniques that have worked for you!

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Marcia Layton Turner

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