A guest post by Ivan Walsh, the Ireland based writer who blogs at Business Writing Tips + Tools.
White paper writing can be a very lucrative field for self-motivated freelance writers. I got into white paper writing by accident. Here’s what happened.
In 1997, I was working as a freelance Technical Writer in Sacramento. We’d just completed the user guides and other technical documents.
The plan was finish the project by helping the Marketing team with their white papers and other marketing collateral. They’d hired a white paper writer… but, as luck would have it, he never showed up.
They asked me if I’d write them instead! And that’s how I got started. There was no plan to be a white paper writer but, looking back, it was a very lucky break.
Since then, I’ve written white papers for Intel, IBM and Agilewords among others. If you’re thinking about moving into this field, the following tips may help.
How To Start As a Freelance White Paper Writer
Getting Started. Most companies don’t go out looking for white paper writers. This task is usually delegated to one of the engineering team (if it’s technical) or the marketing group (if they want to put a sales angle on it).
What this means is that you may need to contact both departments to land your first white paper contract. Another tactic that works is to look for ways to help the Technical Writing department and then suggest you can help with marketing documents. When they say, “How would that work…,” have your pitch ready.
Find an angle. White papers are sales documents written with a technical slant. To write them effectively you need good (though not expert) technical skills but, more importantly, an appreciation of where they fit into the sales cycle.
White papers are pre-sales documents. You write them to generate leads and establish credibility. So, when pitching, make sure to highlight these points. “If we can generate ten qualified leads with one white paper, then…”
Develop a portfolio. Most clients will want to see sample work before hiring you. If you’ve never written a white paper before, this creates a Catch 22.
One way to get around this is to contact non-profits or small IT companies and offer your writing services for free. The only condition is that you’re given credit as the author. It’s also a nice way to learn the art of white paper writing before landing a high-profile client. You don’t want to be learning on the job.
Get recommendations. Social proof is very important; ask everyone you’ve worked with for recommendations, endorsements, and other quotes that ‘big you up’.
Endorsements reduce anxiety in prospective customers and make them feel more comfortable about hiring you. Look at how best-selling authors use endorsements and apply these concepts to your blog and marketing kit.
Make friends in Marketing. Even though your white paper is technically-orientated, it’s the Marketing Dept that will hire you, not Software Development. So, make friends here, cultivate relationships, share white paper samples from competitors and make yourself available.
Network. Until you’re established, you’ll have to find leads and then build up a regular list client. Getting started is the hard part for most freelancers. If you struggle to do promote yourself offline (most writers do), then use Social Media networks, such as LinkedIn to demonstrate your expertise.
Find LinkedIn groups where you can ask – and then answer – questions about white papers. Your goal is to make it known that you’re the white paper guy. It won’t happen over-night, but after a while you’ll get your first project!
Practice. Writing white papers requires a different mindset than, for example, technical documents or direct mail. You need to grasp: who’s your target reader; why they’ve downloaded your document; what action you want them to take next. Bob Bly and Michael Stelzner have both published excellent books that are worth the investment.
There are several advantages to becoming a white paper writer.
The field is relatively under-served, especially at a local level. The rates are significantly higher than for most technical writers and, trends suggest, that the demand for white papers is still growing.
Over to you.
About the Author: Ivan Walsh is a freelance white paper writer based in Ireland. If you’d like to learn more, please read his article 10 Ways to Write B2B White Papers That Generate Leads