If you’ve got good writing skills and have in-depth subject matter expertise, you should be able to generate additional income by writing white papers.
I started writing them by accident when the in-house white paper writer fell ill and someone had to write it. Looking back, it wasn’t the greatest document I’ve written but the client accepted it and the customer response was positive.
Since then, I’ve managed to carve out a niche as a white paper writer, which has been very helpful when other avenues dried up. I thought I’d share a few tips on how I got started, how to build up a client list, and how much you should charge.
To get started in white paper writing, you’ll need some (but not all) of the following:
- Writing skills – the ability to learn quickly and distill information from diverse sources. Technical writers make this transition rather well.
- Subject Matter Expertise - if you have a degree (or Masters) that gives you deep knowledge of a specific area, then you’ve got a head start over rival writers.
- Determination – One of my friends (who earns more than me right now) is not a native english speaker, doesn’t have a degree, but does very well writing white papers about SaaS. His secret. Persistence! He kept plugging away until he got a few under his belt, then word got around; today he has a steady client list.
What are white papers?
White papers are slightly different than most types of marketing documents in that they’re ‘post sales’.
What I mean in that press releases, product specs and so on are created BEFORE the product is launched.
White papers (and case studies) are created afterwards. Why is this important?
To write these sales documents well, you need a blend of different skills. For instance, you need to:
- Identify how the white paper fits into the overall marketing strategy. Sometimes my clients ‘need a white paper yesterday’ and we have to work out very quickly where this fits into the marketing mix and avoid any conflicting messages.
- Interview customers, subject matter experts, or executives to get the raw data and quotes you need.
- Extract the relevant information from them to support the core topic.
- Present the findings in a format that makes it easy to read, simple to understand, and includes different call to actions, for instance, sign up to a free trial.
Why Authority is important
Authority plays a key role in landing these types of contracts. To find work as a white paper writer, you need to look at look at this area through the lens of prospective customers.
- Why would they hire you?
- What proof do you offer that your work is better than other writers?
- How have you demonstrated that you’re an expert in this field?
- Do you offer value for money?
One way to address all of these areas is to position yourself as an ‘authority’. While this is a not a straightforward task, it’s by no means impossible.
How do you position yourself as a white paper expert?
Take a multi-faceted approach:
- Social Proof - if others refer to you as the expert, then others will believe it.
- Guest Posts – if you’re writing guest posts, especially in print magazines and trade journals, then you’re also seen an the expert.
- Cheat Sheets – if you offer cheat sheets, checklists and other tools, then you’re demonstrating your knowledge of this area.
- Interviews – if you can persuade others to interview you, then the perception is that you must be an authority.
- Media Quotes – along the same lines, if newspapers, journals, and other publications quote you when discussing white papers, then you must be the ‘go-to’ person for white papers.
- Endorsements – and when others recommend your work, you further reduce any anxieties that potential clients may have.
In other words, becoming an expert is a series of tactics. Focus on where you’re strongest first and then close the gaps.
Create a Hire Me Page
Of course, you still need a way to find (and land) leads. The simplest way to do this is to create a Hire Me page.
You can title this page as you wish, for instance, others use Services, Work With Me, or Coaching. Essentially, it serves the same purpose.
It tells prospective customers that you offer white paper writing services. Here what you need to include in your Hire Me page.
- Summary – outline in less than two hundred words your writing services. Make sure to highlight White Papers in the first sentence.
- Biography – include a short pen portrait, add a nice picture, and then link to the About Us page where they can learn more. A picture really helps.
- Skills – list your writing and highlight the BENEFITs these offer to clients. For example, don’t say you offer case study writing skills, explain how you write case studies that increase funding or generate more leads.
- Clients – list some of the companies you’ve worked with.
- Samples – if possible, include screenshots of white papers you’ve written (with your customers permission, of course)
- Contact – include your email, Skype, and telephone number. Don’t make them have to go to a new page to contact you. Include all the details here. Make sure your phone has an answering service setup that confirms that this is your business number.
Rates for writing white papers
How much can you make writing white papers? It depends on the following:
- Track Record
- Word Count
- Complimentary services
“Ok, but give me a ballpark figure?”
Most white papers take 2-4 days to deliver. This involves gathering requirements, interviewing users, customers or experts, developing the content, getting it reviewed and any additional graphic work.
Remember this when giving a quote. It’s more than just writing.
Most white paper writers I know charge between $2,000 and $5,000 for a five-eight page document.
Action Plan to Find Work
So, where do you find work as a white paper writers?
- Blog – this is mandatory. Setup a blog and discuss the benefits of writing white papers. The more specific you can be, the better. Focus on verticals, such as Finance, Energy and Healthcare and you’ll attract more qualified leads.
- Guest Posts – build your network by writing guest posts for marketing blogs. While no one wants a guest post about white papers, many will accept a post about how white papers increase leads, get more sales, or generate publicity. Write the guest post with this in mind.
- Direct Mail – while it might sound old-fashioned, send direct mails (i.e. snail mail) to local companies. If you can target the Marketing Manager (and have her name) you’ll increase the uptake considerably.
- Network – go to as many conferences, events, trade shows and seminars as you can. Share your business card and make sure White Paper writer appears on it. If you say Marketing Writer, you’ll bundling yourself with other marcoms writers. Make sure you stand out.
One of the attractions for me when writing white papers is that I can do it from home, at different hours, and work with clients over the Internet. It’s also something that, while not easy to break into, has worked out and pays better than other types of writing.
One last thing: for reasons I don’t understand, if you say you’re a white paper writer, you seem to get more respect than other types of writers. I assume this is because white papers have a slightly exclusive element to them and there’s a trickle down effect.
What do you think?
Have you tried to find work as a white paper writer? What worked and what didn’t?