The $1,000 Per Page Writing Project
Writing white papers is a hidden gem of an opportunity for freelance copywriters.
There’s a reason white paper writers get paid more to write a couple of seven-page documents than most authors earn from a 300-page book …
White papers are used in nearly all industries and by all sorts of companies, especially those that sell business-to-business (B2B).
They’re in high demand because they play an important role in companies’ marketing campaigns. And businesses are willing to pay a premium for these specialized projects.
In this article, you’ll discover how these authoritative reports — written to provide readers with a detailed understanding of how a specific product, technology, or method solves a big need — are one of the top lead-generation tools for companies.
We’ll cover what a white paper is, secrets for writing effective white papers, and how to get started as a white paper writer.
What Is a White Paper?
White papers are meant to be informative and enlightening — they are NOT written as a sales pitch.
And the length of a white paper is typically between five and 10 pages.
They’re most commonly used as part of a larger marketing campaign that includes copy and content.
For example, Conair is a business that provides project management services and solutions to the plastics processing industry. They offer clients manufacturing equipment and parts, plus technical support, as well as help solve issues their clients are experiencing with general production.
To better connect and engage with potential prospects, Conair provides various resources on a wide range of topics related to the plastics processing industry, including articles, brochures, case studies, webinars, videos, and — you guessed it — white papers.
This is Conair’s page listing their white papers:
If the manager of a plastics processing plant was searching online for information on any one of these topics, they might find this listing and then read one of these white papers.
If the white paper is helpful and well written, the manager might decide to watch one of their webinars, sign up for Conair’s email list, or even schedule a call with one of their consultants.
That manager may eventually become a Conair customer.
In this way, white papers are a big aid in marketing a company’s products or services without doing any direct, hard selling.
As a freelance writer, you can specialize in writing white papers as a stand-alone project. Or you can choose to include writing white papers as part of your existing freelance writing services.
Either way, white papers are a vital and in-demand part of many companies’ marketing campaigns.
Who Publishes White Papers?
Any company that offers a product or service that is a bit more challenging to sell or requires more in-depth information uses white papers as part of their marketing efforts.
These are some of the factors that make a product or service more difficult to sell:
- It’s new and hard to research because little information is available about it.
- It’s complicated and needs explanation.
- It’s expensive, and the buyer needs to justify the cost of buying it.
- It's a major change for the buyer's organization … such as adjusting their entire operations by switching to new software
White papers are ideal for complex sales that typically involve a team of people deciding what product to buy, not just one or two decision-makers.
For example, if a medical clinic wants to buy a new software system to keep patient records, a team will most likely be assigned to decide which one to buy. The reason a team is put together is that the purchase decision affects many aspects of how the clinic operates, such as how they process billing or record patient notes.
The purchasing team will most likely consist of an accountant, administrative staff, health care staff, computer technical support, and potentially other staff who can share their expertise on the best software option for the clinic.
They’ll look at many different software systems that are available and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each one.
And this is why they need information about those systems. Lots of information … which is where white papers come in.
White papers are specifically designed to answer all the questions that people may have about a product or service. Whether it’s an accountant looking at justifying the cost or an eventual user trying to figure out how it will work, a white paper can provide all the information they’ll need to make an informed choice.
Why Companies Need White Papers
As we’ve touched on already, white papers are only one part of a company’s overall marketing efforts.
But white papers can serve many purposes:
1. Influence Decision-Makers
An important purpose of a white paper is to influence the people who will ultimately decide whether to buy a company’s products or services.
As white papers are often used to promote specific products, each white paper is also meant for a specific target market.
For white papers, the types of decision-makers that businesses want to target are as follows:
a) Business Buyers (B2B)
These are buyers within the business-to-business (B2B) industry, which includes any businesses that sell their products or services directly to other businesses.
A few examples of B2B businesses are
- software companies that develop B2B applications, such as human resource management software;
- forklift manufacturers who sell their equipment to warehouses and other businesses; and
- companies that provide in-house training for employees, such as for workplace safety or leadership skills.
Because B2B purchases all occur “behind the scenes,” many writers don’t know that this industry even exists.
But the B2B industry is huge. In fact, it’s estimated that the B2B industry makes up 30 to 50 percent of the entire economy of the United States.
And by far, B2B businesses produce the majority of white papers. Approximately 85 percent of all white papers are produced by B2B companies. And these are written to target specific business buyers within each company’s industry.
b) Policymakers (B2G, NGO2G)
Policymakers include people who work at any level of government, from federal to local. They can be decision-makers for large, national projects or smaller, local initiatives.
Either way, policymakers are another target market for certain businesses. In general, two main types of businesses typically sell to policymakers.
The first type is companies that sell business-to-government (B2G). These would be any private businesses that specialize in selling products or services directly to any level of government.
The second type of businesses are non-governmental organizations (NGOs). These are organizations that operate independently from government but may receive government funding in some form.
This industry is sometimes called non-governmental-organization-to-government (NGO2G).
Businesses in the B2G and NGO2G industries are the second most common to use white papers as part of their marketing assets—although it’s estimated they make up only around 10 percent of the white paper market, which is significantly less than the B2B industry.
c) Consumers (B2C)
Companies that sell business-to-consumer (B2C) are the least likely to use white papers, making up around 5 percent of the white paper market.
One reason for this is that many regular consumer products and services are fairly easy to sell. Products that are sold directly to consumers — like clothing, kitchen supplies, or computer repair services — don’t need a lot of explanation or cost justification.
But some B2C companies use white papers for more complex products or services. And they’ll need freelance writers to create them.
2. Generate Leads
This is another important purpose for writing white papers.
All types of businesses need an ongoing supply of new leads that can potentially become customers. And publishing white papers is a great strategy for lead generation.
Many companies will offer a white paper as a lead magnet, where a website visitor will give their email address in exchange for the white paper. This helps the company grow their email list and potential customer base.
3. Support a Product Launch
A white paper can be a useful part of a product launch.
If it’s a new product, there’s likely not a lot of information available about it yet. So a well-researched white paper can provide all the details that a potential buyer might want to know about the product or service.
This will give a new product more credibility and perceived value.
4. Stand Out from Competitors
Including white papers in a company’s marketing campaigns will also make them stand out from the competition.
Imagine if you were the manager of a new golf course trying to choose an irrigation system to install. And of the installation companies you approach, one provides you with lots of helpful white papers about irrigation systems, and the other ones don’t.
It’s clear which one you’d choose. A company that’s made the effort to create white papers and other useful resources for their customers is clearly one worth doing business with.
5. Re-engage Prospects
The products and services that white papers tend to be used with often have a fairly long sales cycle or customer journey.
They aren’t bought on a whim — customers typically take their time weighing their options and making the final decision to buy or not.
And white papers can be a good way to keep a prospect engaged on that journey.
We’ve put together what we call our Copywriting Content Continuum to show the different types of content used at each stage of a customer’s journey:
White papers might attract a new prospect to the company’s website. They could also be sent out to a company’s existing email list to keep them engaged. Or a sales representative could share a white paper with a prospect who’s getting closer to buying.
A white paper can help support the buyer’s journey at nearly any stage.
6. Support a Detailed Evaluation
As we mentioned previously, a purchasing team is often assigned to buy big-ticket items for a company or organization.
And as the team evaluates each product or service on their list, white papers provide detailed information about each one. This allows the team to effectively compare their options and make an informed decision.
What White Papers Look Like
White papers can consist of a variety of different features, depending on the white paper’s topic and target audience.
But successful white papers typically include the following five elements.
Element 1: Minimum 2,500 Words of Text
A white paper is meant to provide a detailed explanation of a topic. To do this well, a white paper is usually at least 2,500 words, usually more.
White papers can be considerably longer if needed. But anything less than 2,500 words likely won’t be able to cover a topic in enough detail to be considered a white paper.
Element 2: Informative Content
The main point of a white paper is to provide informative, factual, and — above all — highly useful and enlightening content.
White papers are not opinion pieces. They need to be something that your target audience can easily use or apply, with information that helps your prospect understand an issue, make a decision, or solve a problem.
Element 3: Sources with Footnotes
Like essays or formal research papers, white papers include footnotes, also known as endnotes, that list all the sources and references you used to write the white paper.
In fact, white papers are one of the few pieces of content used in marketing that have detailed footnotes. And this is another reason they’re such a highly valued and respected form of writing.
Element 4: Call to Action at the End
Although white papers are not sales pieces, you do want to include a call to action at the end.
The call to action is typically short and can add value to the white paper. For example, you can ask the reader to fill out a survey to see how their company rates compared with others in their field. And then you would provide the survey link.
You could also ask for the reader’s email to send them further information or to schedule a call with a customer service representative.
It doesn’t have to be pushy, but it’s good practice to let your reader know what steps they can take next if they’re interested (because they will be when the white paper provides a great way to solve a frustrating problem.)
Element 5: PDF in Portrait Format
White papers are almost always formatted as a PDF document in portrait format.
This is one of the easiest formats to download and read, so it makes your white paper accessible to most readers. It also gives it a very professional appearance.
4 Secrets to Writing White Papers
White papers can be written on a huge range of topics for many different audiences. And because of this, each white paper will naturally be a unique creation.
But consistently using the following principles will always make your white paper the best it can be.
Secret 1: Think Like a Lawyer
Your goal as a white paper writer is to gather a mountain of evidence to support the argument you’re presenting in the white paper.
Here is some of the evidence you’ll want to gather:
- Graphs showing trends over time
- Expert opinions
- Research studies
- Firsthand accounts and quotes
Data elements like these will help you develop and support a good case for whatever you’re presenting in your white paper.
Make sure you use only credible sources and keep your white paper factual. You want to build a clear, logical case that any reasonable person would be able to understand and get behind.
Secret 2: Argue Like Aristotle
Aristotle was an ancient Greek philosopher who lived more than 2,300 years ago. He was the first person ever known to write about the elements of persuasion.
He identified the following ways to build an irrefutable case or argument:
- If you have proof use it.
- If you have no proof use logic.
- If you have no proof and no logic appeal to values.
For example, if you have proof, you could make a statement like, “87 percent of all chief financial officers surveyed agree that this is the best cloud solution available on the market.”
That’s an impressive statistic that clearly supports your argument.
On the other hand, if you don’t have any clear proof to back up a point, you can simply present a logical argument that most people would agree with. For example, “To reduce the amount of plastic waste in the world, we need to reduce the amount of plastic that we use.”
And in the absence of proof or logic, you can appeal to your reader’s emotions and values, or the sense of what’s right. For instance, saying that action should be taken “for the children” or “to help reduce the suffering of others” makes sense and can’t really be argued against.
As you’re crafting your white paper, keep asking yourself where a reader might get lost, or where they might poke a hole in your argument. You need to make sure your case is clearly explained and supported throughout the white paper.
It’s also important to point out why the white paper is relevant to the reader. What’s in it for them? And what practical things can they get out of the paper?
Secret 3: Write Like a Journalist
White papers need to be direct and to the point. Your readers are typically busy businesspeople, and 90 percent of all white papers are read on a screen.
So, a white paper should be easy to read and comprehend as quickly as possible. If it’s too long-winded, your reader will likely click away and move on to other things.
Here are a few suggestions for streamlining your copy:
- Use short words, sentences, and paragraphs.
- Include smooth transitions between ideas.
- Weave your sources in gracefully throughout.
- Use a clear, unadorned writing style.
Remember that a white paper is not leisure reading. It’s best to provide the information you need to provide, then let your reader get on with their day.
Secret 4: Don’t Make a Sales Pitch!
As we mentioned before, white papers are meant to provide useful information to your target audience.
A white paper is one part of a larger marketing campaign, but it’s not the part that directly sells a product to a potential customer. That’s typically in later stages of the content continuum.
Your readers have downloaded your white paper to get the information you’re offering. They want trustworthy advice on a practical topic … The last thing they want is a sales pitch.
In fact, you could hurt your final sales if your white paper is done poorly and puts off potential customers. So keep your white paper useful, and avoid any blatantly sales-y language.
Why White Papers Are Awesome and Pay SO WELL
White papers are fun and interesting projects.
As a freelance writer, you have many reasons to consider specializing in writing white papers.
Reason 1: Fascinating Topics
Countless industries use white papers, and they’re written on nearly any topic you can imagine.
If you enjoy diving deep into a topic and learning new things, there’s a good chance you’d enjoy writing white papers.
Take these examples of white papers published by the Rodale Institute, a nonprofit organization that focuses on advancing organic agriculture through research and education:
As you can see, this single organization publishes white papers on a wide range of topics. The papers all relate to the Rodale Institute’s main focus — organic agriculture — but each one is unique.
This also shows that you don’t need an extensive background in any particular subject to be able to write a white paper about it. Even if you wrote for the Rodale Institute, it’s unlikely you would be knowledgeable about all the different white paper topics they need to create.
That’s where research comes in. For example, Gordon Graham (That White Paper Guy) has been writing white papers for over 25 years — he even wrote the book White Papers for Dummies. And Gordon has written over 300 white papers on a variety of different topics.
Many of those topics were fairly new to him. But he knows the process for writing high-quality white papers, so he could take those projects on with confidence. Like Gordon, you can research nearly any topic and craft a solid white paper based on the principles we described above.
Reason 2: Lots of Clients
A lot of different companies use white papers, particularly in the B2B industry. In fact, approximately 71 percent of B2B businesses use white papers in their content marketing.
And as we touched on previously, the B2B industry makes up 30 to 50 percent of the entire US economy. That represents a massive number of potential clients.
Another opportunity for white paper writers lies with marketing agencies that provide services to B2B companies. Marketing agencies often have in-house writers who handle writing regular content, like blog posts or emails. But white papers are more specialized and challenging to write.
Agencies will often contract out white paper projects to freelancers who have more experience writing them. Freelancers may charge them a hefty fee, but the agency will have a much-higher-quality white paper in the end.
If you’re interested in finding work with agencies, check out our free webinar How to Land Freelance Writing Projects with Agencies and Other Firms.
Reason 3: Little Competition
Not many writers specialize in writing white papers, compared with most other areas of copywriting.
And this is an immediate advantage for those who do.
You’ll set yourself apart from other writers by promoting yourself as a white paper writer. If a company is looking for someone to write a white paper, you’ll be the clear choice over a more general copywriter.
Reason 4: No Hype, No Selling
If writing direct sales copy doesn’t appeal to you, writing white papers is a great — and high-paying — alternative.
As long as you understand how white papers fit into a company’s overall marketing strategy, you don’t need to know the details of the actual sales process or how to write direct sales materials.
Reason 5: Good Money
White papers are very specific, detailed projects. This naturally makes them more valuable to companies compared with everyday content.
But how much can you actually make writing white papers?
Gordon Graham recently heard from someone at IBM that they expect to pay writers $1,000 per page for a white paper. Now, IBM is a larger company, but white papers typically command high fees regardless of the client.
In our Copywriting Pricing Guide, we’ve found the average fee for writing white papers is between $2,000 and $10,000, depending on the project and your experience level. Considering that an average white paper is approximately 2,500 to 3,000 words long, you can see how lucrative this opportunity can be.
How to Get Started Writing White Papers
You might be surprised by how easy it is to get started writing white papers.
If you’re already an established writer, you can add white papers to your existing services. Or if you’re a new writer, you can specialize in writing white papers from day one.
Either way, the following steps will help you get set up as a professional white paper writer.
1. Learn All You Can
Start by reading lots of different white papers to get a feel for the types of content they include and how they’re written.
Take a look at job postings on various online job sites — such as LinkedIn or Indeed — to see what types of companies are looking for white paper writers and what they want in a candidate.
You can focus on one industry you might want to write for, such as B2B companies in the manufacturing, accounting, or pet services industries. Or you can research a variety of industries.
Visit our AWAI Article Archives, type the words "white paper" into our search bar, and voila — you'll find articles on the subject.
Another great option for learning the foundations is to take a formal course, such as AWAI's How to Become a Professional White Paper Writer. It walks you through the entire process of writing effective white papers along with insider tips of finding white paper clients.
Whichever approach you choose, it’s also important to learn and practice the skill of writing white papers. You can do this on your own or as part of a critique group with other writers.
2. Promote Your Services
Once you understand the essentials of white papers, it’s time to start promoting your services.
And a word of advice — you don’t need to be an expert in white papers before you start looking for paid assignments. A basic understanding is all you need at first. You can learn all the finer points through experience.
A helpful first step is to decide whether you want to specialize in writing for a certain niche or industry. In general, choosing a niche as a writer will help you stand out from the competition.
When it comes to writing white papers, this isn’t as big of a deal because there’s already so little competition. But if you have a strong interest or professional background in a certain field, you may want to choose a niche as a white paper writer.
For example, white paper writer Christina Haviland has a background as a life scientist, so she decided to specialize in writing white papers for biotechnology and other science-based companies, as you can see in her LinkedIn profile below:
Whether or not you specialize in a certain niche, make sure you clearly state that you’re a white paper writer in all your promotional material, like Christina has done in her LinkedIn byline above.
Include a similar byline on your writer’s website, business card, email signature line, or anywhere else people will see it.
Tell everyone you know that you’re a white paper writer. Even if they don’t own a business or need a writer, they may know someone who does.
Also consider joining one or more business groups, either in person or online. You’ll likely have the most success finding potential white paper clients through B2B-related groups. Check if there are any B2B associations in your local area, or join online B2B groups through platforms such as LinkedIn.
LinkedIn is used fairly extensively in the B2B industry, which makes it a great place to connect with potential clients. For more ideas on finding clients through LinkedIn, watch our free webinar LinkedIn Now: Best Practices for Getting Great Writing Clients.
3. Remember the Lack of Competition
The majority of B2B marketers don’t know anyone who specializes in writing white papers … We hear this all the time from our members and business associates.
This is because so few writers choose to specialize in white papers. And why is that? Mostly because writers don’t even know about this opportunity!
If you promote yourself as a white paper writer and start finding clients, your future as a well-paid writer is nearly guaranteed.
Once a business knows you and the quality of your work, they’ll keep coming back to you for their next white paper projects. They might refer you to other companies as well.
And don’t think that white papers are always stand-alone projects. Many companies publish white papers on an ongoing basis, such as one per month or four per year. This means you can have consistent, repeating work from one client, without needing to constantly search for new clients.
Writing white papers may be THE highest-paying writing project on a per-page basis.
And hardly any writers know about them …
White papers are used by a huge range of businesses, and companies struggle to find skilled white paper writers. If you prefer writing more fact-based, objective copy, white papers may be perfect for you.
If you’re interested in learning about writing white papers in more depth, you may want to consider taking our AWAI Verified™ program White Paper Mastery & Certification. Over four weeks, four white paper mentors will personally takes you through all the steps necessary to write outstanding white papers and start finding paying clients. Plus you'll take a test and turn in a white paper assignment for a real client … for professional feedback. Your first polished white paper sample!
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