My wife and I had just closed on our future dream home. It was a real fixer-upper, but we ran the numbers; our current book of business would cover the multiple six figures’ worth of repairs, renovations, and moving expenses, making our little domestic paradise a reality.
We’d already hired the contractors and work was well underway when the lockdowns struck. Week after week I got email after email . . . I’m so sorry, Joshua, but we have to pause working with you because the state literally won’t let us open our doors.
OK. Well. At least we could count on incoming payments from clients for services already rendered.
So we thought.
One client with the largest outstanding invoice (which would have paid our mortgage for almost a year) sent me an “update,” the gist of which was: Due to global instability amid the novel coronavirus epidemic, we are suspending all pay to all contractors effective immediately.
That, of course, is illegal.
She, of course, didn’t care.
But I was not about to pull the same integrity-free stunt on all the people hired to work on our new home. So I had to come up with an income solution that worked, and fast—or we were so screwed.
For a few months, I scraped by with clients who begged for steep discounts on my writing services. But the most common inquiry during the spring and summer months was for advice, not “write this for me, please.” By advice, I mean, how to do it themselves. One such company, a consulting startup, worried I was too expensive to hire outright. They’d had a problem with hired ghostwriters in the past—they were terrible. The founders had spent more time rewriting drafts than it would have taken to just write the damn things themselves.
These guys asked me if I could record a video course for their team of contractors, maybe give them some sort of checklist to improve their writing and cut down time needed to edit.
And I answered by creating my first persuasive writing course, The Best Way to Say It, subtitled, Write Anything Effectively in 500 Words or Less (later changed that for obvious reasons).
So I sent the consulting guys the course link, and they bought it for $99. Then, a few days later, they hired me outright for $6,000 a month (!) because even though they believed the course could train their team, it was just faster to work with the person who could do it all for them.
An undeniable demonstration of proficiency will do that.
As the Bible says, “What has been will be again,” and the course-customer-to-full-service-writing-client pipeline has stayed open since those consulting guys. Within the last calendar year as of this writing, two different six-figure ghostwriting clients told me, “I bought The Best Way to Say It to watch how you work to make sure you’re not full of s—.”
Yes, they both cussed. Be so good they swear at you!
The true story of The Best Way to Say It is more than the upsells it generates; I expanded and deepened the original subject matter of the course into “sequels,” spinoffs, and masterclasses, from self-editing workshop Write This, Not That to the aforementioned hypnowriting program The Best Way to Copywrite It. The original Best Way was a perennial bestseller on online course platform Gumroad, and more than 2,800 people have purchased a Best Way product to date. Most of them have wanted to be students, not clients, and about half of them bought two or more courses from my e-library.
Can you break down the keys to this business model for us? What makes it work? And What do outsiders typically not understand about your industry?
What makes Lisec Ghostwriting work is that we are not an agency. We do not pass off books from the founder to an unknown freelancer. That’s a great way to scale a business (or to scale a business right out of business, wink-wink). But the best don’t hire unknowns; the best way to hire the best. So our promise is a 99th percentile book for leaders who are used to that in all areas of their lives and businesses.
This means ghostwriting has, for me, an excellent margin, as the prime cost of goods sold is . . . me, Joshua Lisec the Ghostwriter! However, the fixed costs associated with Ghostpublishing are such that we do not offer it as a standalone service to most authors who already have a completed book. We prefer to work exclusively with authors who need a book and need it published. No Ghostpublishing without Ghostwriting, otherwise it’s not worth my time. And the reason is simple—we don’t publish the gutter. We have had authors come to us with “finished” books and a budget for publishing, and I said not no but hell no and never speak to me again your book is that bad.
OK, that’s a wee extreme, but you get the idea. If you have to argue with me that your book is “good, actually,” it’s not. You know it. I know it. Everybody knows it. Or they will, if you publish it yourself. Which we will not help you do.
As for the business of ghostwriting, many assume it’s interviews, transcripts, followed by a culling of uh’s and um’s. That’s no book. That may be how “scribes” do it, but that the end result is not a masterpiece that will drive results for your business. We turn persuasive books into unstoppable business-builders. So we do interview authors, but I, Joshua the Ghostwriter, shape clients’ ideas from good to better to The Best Way to Say It™.
You might imagine that a business with results so good needs little advertising, and you’re right. Roughly 50% of new business comes from past client referrals. And what’s notable about the referrals is how public they are. It’s rare and even unheard of for authors to “out” that they had a ghostwriter, even rarer to name their ghost and tell the world to hire them, too. And yet is exactly what Lisec Ghostwriting does—our results are so good you have to tell everyone you hired us!
The downside of such a remarkable high-touch services business is the lack of scalability to a point. That’s why we are transitioning from 90% of revenue deriving from services, to closer to a 50/50 balance between products and services, with the premier product being a monthly premium newsletter with live Q&A with me.
Each month’s topic is an advanced persuasion technique that is both ungoogleable and unChatGPTable. We already have 82 subscribers but plan to 10X that by Summer 2024.
What platform/tools are absolutely crucial for your business?
Our favorite project management tool is ClickUp. Our go-to for Team Lisec communication is Slack. For bookkeeping we use QuickBooks Online. All information products are hosted on Gumroad. And our email service provider is ConvertKit. But a little-known essential market research tool for our Lisec Ghostwriting clients is Publisher Rocket.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
The two books that changed my life for the better forever were Getting Everything You Can out of All You’ve Got by Jay Abraham and The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau. The former taught me to think like a marketer in every aspect of my services business, and the latter taught me to keep expenses low as long as possible and thus profits high to make this thing “worth it” to keep at through the ups and the downs.
Where do you see untapped opportunity in the market? What business do you wish someone else would build that would make your job easier?
At least 75% of our authors have a podcast. That multiplies their reach and ultimately their success. If you have a book, you also need a podcast. And if you hired a ghostwriter for your book, you might consider hiring a “ghostproducer” for your podcast as well.
What are some strong opinions you have about leadership, and how do you actually put those into practice in your company?
I’ve ghostwritten for more vacuous executives and entrepreneurs than most business people have ever had the displeasure of meeting. That’s why I am pickier about who I let hire me now. It’s also why I focus on zones of competence and incompetence. What I know I know, I “call the shots” with gusto and frequency. But where I recognize I do not know something or suspect I may not know what I don’t know, I vocalize that early and often to my team.
Daily back-and-forth updates with key staff, weekly calls with the project manager, and quarterly CFO-led meetings all facilitate that.
Where can we go to learn more?
- Joshua Lisec’s New Book So Good They Call You a Fake
- Joshua's Free Email List
- Lisec Ghostwriting
- Joshua's Twitter
- Joshua's Youtube
- Joshua's Instagram
- Joshua's Courses
- Joshua's LinkedIn