One Google search for “white paper writer” produces 895 million results. Everything from how-to guides and templates, to professional (and not-so-professional) writers advertising their services, show up. For companies considering white papers in their marketing, the path from idea to publishing can be overwhelming.
This article gives an overview of key ideas to move you further, faster, on your white paper projects. In it, I answer:
- What is a white paper?
- Do white papers matter?
- How to hire a white paper writer.
- Why hiring a writer with industry expertise (like a technology white paper) is a smart investment.
- What planning steps are important before writing a white paper.
What Is a White Paper?
White papers are not the boring, highly technical, 50 page academic documents that many believe! Today’s white papers use color, graphics, modern page design and SEO to highlight a business problem and showcase a solution in an easy to read and engaging way.
In general, white papers deliver educational content, namely for B2B product and service companies, and provide an in-depth explanation of a particular issue, problem or idea. You can think of them as “advanced problem solving guides” and the attraction is that they are written as fact-based and non-promotional.
A white paper is more than a sales pitch for a product or service. The web is already a mess of agenda-filled, sales-y, puff content. Rather, an effective white paper “sells” a company’s solution by providing recommendations in an authentic, educational and useful way. A good white paper remains one of the few places where actual information and fact-based discussions occur. Through this, the authoring company is seen as an expert and credible, simply because they aren’t trying to sell!.
White paper readers read because they don’t need more “noise” or bite sized, blog style, perspective. They have tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in budget to spend and need professional answers before they get on the phone with a sales person. This is why white papers are so in-demand in B2B contexts where companies sell new and complex products.
A mentor of mind calls white papers the “king of content.” He says this because few other content types are as useful, practical and educational as white papers. They are a “one stop shop” of background information (e.g., features, functions, benefits). They may also provide a factual problem and solution discussion, or roundup of key points around a hot category or issue.
Are White Papers Still Relevant?
Some marketers wonder if white papers are really worth it. “People don’t read long form content anymore,’‘ they say. And if you’re not making a hard sales pitch, what’s the purpose in sharing information, right?
Thousands of modern organizations in big data, analytics, SaaS, fintech and AI are finding white papers to be a valuable marketing tool. Right now, there are prospects looking for an answer to a problem that your company is positioned to solve. They have bosses to inform, budgets to plan and projects to organize. And all of these steps require outside information. A white paper exploring these themes will be a certain landing spot on their research journey.
According to HubSpot’s State of Inbound 2018 Global Report, 61% of marketers say their top challenge is generating traffic and good leads. That’s why many marketers are turning to white papers. And they work! More than 50% of respondents in one Business.com survey said that white papers are a “valuable” or “extremely valuable” source of leads
Further, white papers lend credibility to your mission. By offering in-depth perspective about prospects’ problems and touring potential solutions you can build your brand and prove that you’re a viable potential vendor.
And finally, a white paper is the gift that keeps on giving. For the busy marketer they can easily be broken up into other content pieces, including blog posts, social media content, sales one-pagers and even podcast and video scripts. This one piece can fill up the content calendar.
So you’re seeing the value of producing a white paper? Good. Now it’s time to get writing, right? Not so fast.
Why Hire a Freelance White Paper Writer?
When a technology company or startup wants a white paper, here’s how it usually begins: An eager sales manager pings marketing asking for better content to share with prospects. The marketing director is keen to drive leads and agrees. They give the project to a marketing manager and ask for an update in four weeks. That marketing manager leaves the meeting in a daze and begins a frantic search for how to plan a white paper.
Before hoisting this on an unsuspecting employee, it’s important to consider the benefits of hiring an outside content writer. While some marketers may balk at the upfront investment of a white paper, professional writers are a smart investment. This is because white papers require more than just an ability to write.
Benefits of a writer for hire.
With dozens of successful projects under my belt, I’ve found three main benefits in hiring a freelance writer.
- They are contractually and financially committed to your project. They won’t abandon the project or let day-to-day tasks crowd out the work.
- They have industry expertise and bring fresh eyes and perspective to your project.
- They are excellent writers, trained specifically for this type of writing. (Newsflash: not all writing projects are created equal!)
Benefit #1 – a writer that is solely focused on your project
A professional writer will save you time and money throughout the entire writing, research and planning process. With an outside writer, you have a greater chance of actually producing your paper too. Project abandonment rates are much higher with teams that assign writing internally as day job demands squeeze out writing, research and editing work.
A great freelance paper writer knows that publishing requires more than just writing – there are project and people management elements too! One of the most helpful things I do as a technology copywriter is guide my clients on how to plan, outline and organize a white paper.
Content writers begin with a plan. With my clients, I define key outcomes, ideas and themes. We discuss what messages will appeal to prospects at each funnel stage. Then we identify research targets to interview and key secondary research sources. From there, we write an outline that becomes our “northstar.” This aligns all stakeholders and keeps the writing tight.
An accomplished freelancer knows how to plan and manage the project – without hand-holding. They know the questions to ask, they are able to work within deadlines and oversee the entire process from start to finish. Often, projects will include text, graphics, page design, and SEO. All of these require a skilled project manager to oversee.
A professional writer will also be able to apply best practices from past projects. They will have worked on many more projects than in-house staff. This translates into an ability to bring your white paper to market faster.
Benefit #2 – a writer with industry expertise
A writer in a specific niche has their finger on the pulse of the market. The most competent technical writers have worked with similar companies or competitors and have nuanced understanding of who your prospects are and what they need to know. But they are a healthy distance from your product or solution. They know what to talk about but aren’t so close to your company that they can’t relate to outsiders.
They will approach the writing process asking the same questions as a prospect and will understand both the writing process as well as the reader.
With every writer and new project there is a learning curve. But the best writers have the background to quickly speak with your company voice and represent you like a seasoned employee.
When they’re not writing, these freelancers spend their days reading and writing about your market. They have the 30,000-foot view of changes, updates, trends and innovations. These fresh eyes, combined with strong research capabilities, means that a professional writer can connect the dots between your white paper and what’s going on in the rest of the world. This lends credibility and gravity to your white paper.
Benefit #3 – white paper writers have specific writing skills
Companies unwisely assume that good communicators are good writers. They neglect the unique skill of behind a professional white paper. Whether you’re article writing, case study writing or white paper writing, not all writers are created equal!
Companies tend to use an in-house technical expert or a marketer to write a first draft of a white paper. However, having technical staff write a draft may make it hard for the average reader to understand. Think about it: your technical employee sleeps, eats and breathes a product and perspective. It’s impossible to ask them to lay aside biases and those bits of tribal knowledge that a reader simply can’t connect with.
Conversely, a marketer won’t likely hit the discussion with enough technical depth and is more likely to try and “sell” within the white paper. Readers will quickly sniff out those thinly-veiled sales pieces. Your company will instantly lose credibility.
Through a process described as “thinking like a lawyer, writing like a journalist,” freelance white paper writers gather evidence, build a case, interview and present the full picture in clear, crisp, and convincing terms. They expertly thread both rigorous and lighter points.
In other words, a professional writer has skills to explain a situation clearly and neutrally, while displaying your product or service within a broader solution discussion. They’ll do this using a blend of facts, quotes, figures, anecdotes and rhetorical devices.
Tips for Hiring a Freelance Writer
This dilemma raises some important questions:
- Can in-house staff deliver exactly what you need?
- Should you take them away from their jobs for weeks on end?
- Can you justify a 1-2 months of work from a salaried employee? (Think about the opportunity cost of salary, benefits and other compensation.)
There’s a better option: hiring an outside content writer.
As with most needs, the Internet offers a wide variety of resources – some good, many bad. I’ve heard some clients find success through LinkedIn searches or by getting referrals from colleagues.
Some enterprising folks have found white papers they like from competitors and sleuth around to find the writer responsible for their creation.
Others are occasionally successful on job boards and communities like Upwork, Freelancer or LinkedIn’s ProFinder. Be cautious though, most in-demand writers avoid these platforms. They scoff at giving someone a 20% fee on project work.
As a vendor, you’ll find yourself inundated with proposals from low rate copywriters trying to cut their teeth in the space. You definitely don’t want to be someone’s guinea pig. You may also end up hiring a writer that has proposed on dozens of projects and is juggling five, six or seven gigs to make ends meet. The cost, time and quality tradeoff isn’t worth it.
[Disclosure: I keep a presence on Upwork, but am very discerning in who I work with. I’ve landed a few GREAT clients through the platform. These clients had clear project vision and healthy budgets, but didn’t know where to find a technology writer! It’s because of these diamonds in the rough that I stay on the platform.]
Definitely stay away from content mills. These are agencies – often located in cheap, international markets – that advertise super low rates and fast turnaround times. Rarely will you receive personalized work and your content will certainly be generic and likely plagiarized. You’ll know these companies by the volume of Google Ads they pump on your web search.
Some clients figure they’ll pay $500 for a couple of pages and then just “build off that.” This is a disastrous strategy that always ends in full rewrites and wasted weeks. You simply can’t improve bad, directionless copy.
Hiring a Freelance Writer
Hiring a freelance writer is not like hiring any other employee. Resume and references matter, absolutely, but you must also ask for writing samples. If you like the writing style, have a follow up conversation to discuss their writing process. A competent writer will be able to take you systematically from idea to project kickoff and publishing. As I’ve said, writing is an important part of what makes a great hire, but it’s not the only thing.
After you land on a freelancer, it’s important to onboard them just like you would for any other employee. They need to understand the company culture and have the information they need to do their job well. Expect a call to go over company voice, branding, keywords, off-limits research or competitor references and other messaging must-dos.
Since you and your freelancer will likely be working long-distance, it is important to establish an open communication plan or schedule check-ins. You need to be able to contact them to discuss ideas, revisions, and receive updates, and they need to be able to contact you with questions.
Free Checklist – Keys to Planning and Publishing a White Paper
As a professional writer with more than ten years of experience working with top technology, fintech, financial services and consulting clients, I’ve learned what it takes to produce a white paper that drives sales.
So whether you take your next white paper project in-house, or bring on a writer, keep in mind these best practices before you put fingers to keyboard!
- Keep your white paper focused. These projects are big investments and marketers will want to get the most “bang for their buck” by combining multiple ideas in one piece. This hurts a paper’s logical flow with an awkward mix of styles. Problem/solution should be one style. Provocative view could be another. Feature and benefits might be a third. But a paper approach should stay distinct, with one issue convincingly delivered.
- Target a specific funnel stage. Your white paper should focus on prospects at a particular stage in your funnel. For example, some will need background information for nurturing, others will need product comparisons to close. In may seem counterintuitive, but you’re better served with a narrow paper to a specific segment of readers than a general paper that doesn’t meet anyone’s exact needs.
- Start with a plan. Don’t just start writing! Outlining, planning, and having a process matter. Every project should kick off with a discussion covering the paper’s purpose, target audience and key research sources. Ideas should be refined into an outline to prepare a writer. A few hours of basic preparation can save weeks of wasted time and resources.
- Repurpose your white paper. There are highly shareable bits of content inside your white paper. Be creative. Carve it up into social media posts, create a blog series, summarize in an industry cheat sheet, use for a sales webinar or announce the paper’s publishing with a press release. There are endless ways to drive interest with your white paper.
- Avoid the desire to sell. White papers have a long shelf life because they are not overly promotional. A study from Eccolo Media shows that 49% of technology buyers have used a white paper to evaluate a tech purchase in the last six months. Readers need real research and unbiased evidence. If you can provide this, you’re seen as a genuine industry resource. Ask any salesperson, this type of impression is priceless.
White papers are a must have for any B2B company selling a complex product or service. Technology companies in particular should make sure they are a regular part of the sales and marketing experience.
With the insights from this article, marketers understand what makes a white paper unique, what goes into white paper planning and how to source a writer to make a project successful. Of course, these papers aren’t cheap. But when you consider the return of a paper that adds credibility, leads and sales conversations over and over, the value is sky high. Can you afford not to create one?
Who writes white papers?The best white paper content writers are industry familiar; often business strategists or communicators that have worked with B2B audiences, marketers and product teams. Most commodity content writers or freelance copywriters simply don’t have the industry experience to write this sophisticated. They must be able to grapple with complex themes, while maintaining editorial crispness. As well, they must have worked in corporate or startup environments to learn project and people management. There are many tasks that a good writer handles – from research, interviewing, outlining, strategizing, writing, editing and revising. They should have experience with each.
How much do white paper writers make?
Top white paper writers in leading industries like software, biotechnology and financial services may earn anywhere from $7,000 to $9,000 or more for a full white paper. An average paper includes 8-12 pages of original content, with an outline, executive summary, quality content, design tips, interviews and organized sources. Rates will vary depending on project scope, research, complexity and target deadline. For many, this is a smart investment given the opportunity to create consistent, high-quality leads, product or service buzz and eventually hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars in sales.
How do you start a white paper?
Every white paper first starts with problem or opportunity identification. Ask yourself, your sales team or even your customers themselves: what do prospects need to know that can help them figure out a key business issue. Of course, it should be an issue that you have unique perspective on!
About Charlie Waldburger
Charlie Waldburger is an executive ghostwriter, writer and communications partner for a variety of startups, venture capitalists, founders and other technology companies. He has crafted white papers, case studies and articles for Fortune 500 companies and scrappy, innovative upstarts. His writing is backed by more than a decade of work in corporate finance, management consulting, and software. He started his career at JPMorgan-Chase and has worked with notable companies including Microsoft and Tableau Software. Meet him at www.charliew.co.
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