How soon do you bring up money with ghostwriting prospects?

How soon do you bring up money with ghostwriting prospects?

Beautiful couple having romantic dinner at restaurant. smiling woman looking at man dinking wine at toast

Business development can be a lot like dating.


Wooing a potential ghostwriting client is a lot like dating. You don’t want to seem too eager, or desperate, nor do you want to seem aloof or disinterested. It’s a careful balance – asking enough questions about the client’s expertise and need for a ghostwriter while weaving in appealing facts about how you work and your interest in their topic.

While many ghostwriters are primarily concerned with being chosen for a lucrative project early on, the truth is that those initial emails and phone calls are as much an opportunity to decide if you want to work with the client as it is for them to decide if you’re the best choice for their articles, blog posts, speeches, or book.

Being so focused on being selected to work with a client often leads writers to invest a fair amount of time up front in talking with the client, reviewing materials the client provides, and perhaps offering suggestions, all at no charge. The time can quickly add up to several hours.

Many ghostwriters invest the time even before having a good idea of what the client’s budget is.

Don’t do that.

“What’s your budget?”

While some clients don’t want to talk money up front – preferring to focus on finding someone who is as interested in their topic as they are – it is in your best interest as a ghostwriter to find out what their budget is as soon as possible. Because no matter how perfect a fit the engagement might be, if they’re only paying a penny a word, or offering to split the profits, you don’t want it.

But until you know what they plan to invest in their project, you can waste a lot of time pursuing it.

We’ve all done it – gotten sucked in. We become so excited about working with a client on their blog, or the series of e-books they want to put together, that we don’t ask that fateful question about budget. We spend far too long talking with them without any kind of agreement or sense of what kind of money is at stake.

It’s not a good use of your time, or theirs.

Ask and wait

As soon as you have a clear idea of what the project parameters are and how much work you are expected to do, ask what their budget is. Try not to throw out a number first because it may be lower than what they had set aside. Or it could be larger, but with some persuading you may be able to convince them of the need to make a more substantial investment. So you ask, and you wait.

They may ask you for a proposal. If they insist, I’d suggest throwing out a ballpark range for the work. You might say, “I don’t have enough detail yet to give you a firm quote, but past projects I’ve worked on like this cost in the neighborhood of $300-500 a blog post. Is that about what you expected to spend?”

I did this early on in discussions with a potential long-term ghostblogging gig who really wanted to schedule a phone call and learned that they intended to spend $25 per 800-word post. Saved myself countless minutes going back and forth about the work to be done.

Throwing out a number tests the water, to find out if what you hope to earn is close to what they hope to pay for your services.

Depending on the reaction you get to your ballpark figure, you can decide whether to invest any more time pursuing the client or agree that you’re not a good fit. But at least then you aren’t investing time pursuing a client you may not actually want.

At what point do you bring up money with prospective clients?

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Marcia Layton Turner

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