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White papers may very well be the green eggs of the writing world. Foul food or fantastic fortune—which could the white paper be?
If you think "yes," then give the white paper a try.
Whether you are a seasoned journalist, a technical writer, a business communicator, a master of marketing messages or a wanna-be writer, there's something for you in white papers.
Say, What Is a White Paper?
White papers are cross-breeds of magazine articles and corporate brochures.
They blend the informative and authoritative content of an article with the persuasive elements of a company brochure. White papers are used to help educate and influence business prospects. They prevail in the technology world and are rapidly catching on in the financial services, healthcare, insurance and other business-to-business marketplaces.
Why the Fuss About White Papers?
Simply put, white papers are hot and corporations desperately need them.
Consider that in 2001, Google only registered a mere 1 million hits on the term "white papers." By 2006, the number launched beyond 300 million!
Why the growth?
White papers help people make decisions and are actively sought after. Consider that an astonishing 70% of information technology professionals rely on white papers to make purchasing decisions in the U.S. (ITtoolbox, July 19, 2006).
Add the need for quality lead generation. Businesses are struggling to get their message in front of prospects. Research shows there's simply no better tool to attract leads than the white paper. For example, a recent KnowledgeStorm and SiriusDecisions study concluded white papers were most valued by those at an early stage in the sales cycle, more than free trials, analyst reports and webinars (July 6, 2006).
What Are the Opportunities?
As a writer, there are significant advantages to writing white papers. Here are some key reasons writers are jumping at the opportunity:
• Demand exceeds supply: There are not enough writers who know how to write white papers. Businesses are aggressively looking to write more white papers. Master the art and count your dollars.
• White papers bring prestige: White papers can bring significant recognition to the writer. Many writers place their names on the byline of a white paper. If the white paper is well-received in your industry or goes viral, your name will be associated with the excellent ideas presented in your paper.
• You can charge more for a white paper: White papers help businesses generate leads and close sales—thus they are directly tied to revenue. For many businesses, only one or two sales from a white paper return the investment.
• Businesses pay top dollar for white papers: Word for word, nothing beats a white paper. A good white paper writer charges between $3,000 and $10,000 for a 10-page white paper. This is the most lucrative writing business out there.
• White papers can be multi-purposed: A well-written white paper can be converted into a contributed article or used as content on a website. This adds more value to a white paper project.
• Many businesses need multiple white papers: If you prove yourself with an excellent white paper, there is a high likelihood the company will want other white papers written. This can generate a consistent pipeline of work.
Thus, writing white papers can be extremely rewarding.
How to Write White Papers
If you are new to white papers, consider the following tips as a starting place for your projects:
Know Your Audience: Perhaps the biggest mistake white paper writers make involves not properly understanding the disposition of their readers. Instant affinity is key. A white paper must quickly identify problems or concerns faced by its readers and lead them down the path to a solution provided by your product or service. Different types of readers look at the same problems from different perspectives.
For example, an engineer might care about technical nuances, whereas a CIO is more interested in business benefits. In the case of high-level executives or managers, their busy schedules mean they may have extremely short attention spans, an important consideration when writing to this type of audience. If you do not grab the reader's attention in the first paragraph, you will never achieve your objectives.
Focus on Your Reader's Needs: There are really only two ways to write white papers: by focusing on your self-interests or by concentrating on the interests of your readers. The self-interest approach focuses exclusively on a product, service or solution by expounding on its benefits, features and implications. While effective in some circumstances, this approach is best left for something other than a white paper. Alternatively, focusing on your readers can be effectively accomplished by leading with the problems your solution overcomes, rather than the actual solution itself. To many people, this seems counterintuitive, but it really is just the opposite. By focusing on the pain points experienced by the reader and talking about the problems caused by those pains, you are establishing credibility with the reader and simultaneously filtering out unqualified customers.
Add Substance: A white paper must contain informative and persuasive information. The goal of a white paper is to lead the reader toward the conclusion that your product or service will best meet his or her needs. To accomplish this, you must substantially make your case. You can do this by looking at issues such as historical precedents, describing new classes of solutions that address your reader's problems and even identifying what to look for in a solution, while never once mentioning your product name or company until the end of the white paper.
This altruistic approach will score major points with the reader and greatly increase the likelihood he or she will actually read the entire paper.
This article provided a glimpse into the world of white papers. If you want to increase your knowledge on this hot and growing space, be sure to learn more and continue your research into the profitable craft of writing white papers.
:: Editor's note: Here are two ways to learn more...
1. Read Michael's book, Writing White Papers: How to Capture Readers and Keep Them Engaged.
2. Read my review of Michael's 2005 White Paper Writer Industry Survey.
Related learning materials:
Whether you already write white papers, or are thinking of adding this niche to your areas of expertise, this survey will give you a detailed insight into the state of the market. It's a thorough survey and points the way to numerous opportunities for writers who want to make money writing white papers. Read my full review here...
Finally. Now you'll know how much to charge for that next freelance copywriting job - without having to worry about estimating too high or too low. Read my review...
Improve your copywriting skills and enter the very lucrative market for direct marketing copywriters. This is a comprehensive course and my #1 recommendation for anyone who wants to learn how to write copy that drives results. Read my in-depth review
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