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What is a White Paper… and Why You’ll Want to Write Them

Congratulations for choosing to learn how to write white papers — a high-paying, valuable skill that will support your six-figure writing business.

You’re about to learn what they’re used for, how to write them, and who hires you to write them.

You’ll even learn how to help your clients promote them through other writing projects you can provide.

By the time you complete this program, you’ll know:

  • What a white paper is and is not
  • What’s included in a white paper
  • The most important part of effective white papers … and how to use this secret to make every white paper a winner
  • How to write every section of a white paper
  • The kinds of companies/industries that need white papers (more than 1!)
  • How clients use white papers in their marketing strategy
  • How to manage a white paper project
  • How to get clients for your white paper services
  • And how to get more work from those clients to support each white paper

Oh, and one more thing ─ you’ll create a white paper sample for your portfolio to show off your new skills.

At rates of between $500 and $1,000 per page, you can earn great money providing white papers as your freelance specialty or as one of your many services.

And the more you write, the more quickly you’ll be able to turn them out. This will increase your profits and give you great industry insights for writing other marketing pieces more quickly as well.

White Papers are Content… Extremely Effective Content

According to Content Marketing Institute’s Insights for 2022 report1, the “sleeping giant has awoken.” Content marketing is now recognized by most B2B companies as necessary to their success.

  • 62% of successful B2B companies have a documented B2B Content Marketing Strategy.
  • 57% of successful B2B companies use outsourced resources to create and update that content.
  • 75% expect their content marketing budget to be higher in 2022 than it was in 2021.

Many of those marketers say they now recognize their content marketing needs to show more empathy for their prospects’ problems and less hard selling … less about what they want to talk about and more writing content that provides value to their customers and prospects.

There are few pieces of marketing content more valuable than a well-researched and well-written white paper.

In fact, B2B marketers report they are some of the most effective content in their content marketing strategy.

And then there’s the supporting content created around that white paper, such as blog posts, articles, videos, emails, case studies, etc. as indicated below. Yes, white papers are #6 down the list … but each white paper needs support from the other assets noted in the graphic.2

Bar graph of Content Assets B2B Marketers created or used in last 12 months - highest short articles with 3,000 words

This is a HUGE opportunity we’ll go into in later in this course. Your work will not end with the white paper — the sky’s the limit!

Let’s start at the beginning, though.

What Is a White Paper, Exactly?

A white paper is a term for a marketing document that uses research, facts, and data to persuade the reader.

Persuade them how?

By showcasing a new solution that’s the best one to fix the reader’s problem … a new technology, tool, or system that’s faster, cheaper, and more effective for their needs. Or maybe it explains how a new product solves a common problem faced in the industry, but without the negative side effects of previous product solutions.

White papers help readers solve problems, understand complex topics, and/or make expensive purchasing decisions for their companies.

Here’s how it works.

Imagine you’re a corporate Information Technology (IT) manager and you’re looking for ways to close any holes in your company’s cybersecurity solution. The risks are very high for a company that doesn’t have ironclad protection for its data and systems.

What’s one of the earliest steps you might take to determine the best solution to recommend to your boss and perhaps senior management team?

You’ll probably do an Internet search such as, “best ways to improve cybersecurity.”

Here’s a screen shot showing one of the results of that search:

Image of web search results for Cybersecurity strategy

And when you click on the top link, you get this download page3:

Screenshot of Mimecast web  page with download now form

This is a landing page Mimecast created for IT professionals looking to protect their companies from cyberattacks.

If you were an IT professional, the information in this “report” sounds exactly like something you’ll want to know, right? You’ll find out how to reduce risks from your own employees, from ransomware, and other common mistakes that make your company vulnerable.

Mimecast sells cybersecurity solutions to help their customers protect their email and their data. And this report outlines risk after risk to companies who don’t protect themselves.

What are the chances Mimecast gets a number of leads (potential prospects) or even customers as a result of finding this report filled with warnings and proof of the risk … as well as potential solutions … with Mimecast?

Click here to view the entire Mimecast white paper.

This is the potential of a white paper. This is why companies pay you big bucks to write them. And this is why I’m so excited to show you how to add this valuable skill to your toolbox.

Let’s get back to the Mimecast white paper strategy.

Their “State of the Industry” report, which is another name for a white paper, talks about the increased threats and resulting risks from a sub-standard cybersecurity approach. These threats are always changing, and company IT managers need to stay on top of all these changes and figure out how to implement updated solutions.

Mimecast’s report lets the reader know there are solutions available, but it’s their responsibility to put the right one in … and obviously hoping the reader will choose their solution.

White Paper Basics

White papers tend to be five, 10, or even 15 pages or longer. The Mimecast report is 18 pages (or 16 with a cover and back page).

They’re long-form copy … some of the longest in the B2B space.

Most white papers contain an executive summary or some kind of overview of the contents of the document.

They also discuss a problem or problems and solutions to those problems.

White papers are full of evidence … facts, studies, quotes and input from subject matter experts … just like in any copy you write, you back up your claims with proof elements. White papers just require more proof elements than the average piece of copy.

You’ll also include the results or transformation in a white paper … if the reader does what you recommend, what should they expect to get? How will their (work) life be transformed as a result of implementing what you’ve persuaded them to purchase?

Most white papers end with a summary and next steps for the reader.

At the very end of the white paper, you will usually include information about your client and your client’s product or solution … overtly or more subtly. In this Mimecast white paper, there’s no overt sales language. They want IT professionals to trust the information in the report, so they’re very subtle … you will find small references to their research throughout the report but it’s very focused on the data and analysis … and then the last page talks about them and their expertise … in small print … on a separate page from the rest of the report.

Other names you might hear for white papers

There are no hard and fast rules for white papers, so you may hear things called white papers that aren’t … and you may hear other names for things that are really white papers. That’s perfectly OK!

What else might your client hire you to write that really is a white paper?

What you always need to keep in mind about your client’s request is …

What are they trying to do with this marketing piece and which format best accomplishes their goals? Who is the intended audience? What do they want their audience to do after they’ve read the document?

You’ll learn how to “sniff out” a white paper in this program, even if that’s not what your client calls it.

And yes, if it fits the white paper definition and format, you should charge white paper rates for the work you do! More on rates in a moment.

What might a client call a white paper that isn’t?

There are, in general, two main types of documents clients often refer to as a white paper that really aren’t.

One is an e-book. According to Steve Slaunwhite, longtime B2B copywriter and AWAI trainer, anything that seeks to educate (as opposed to persuade) is really an e-book.

So, let’s take that cybersecurity question we started the lesson with.

If the IT professional had put in a search term like “how to improve our company’s cybersecurity,” he’d have been looking for educational material, not purchasing solutions. At least, at this point, he’s looking more for education than a purchase.

E-books are still lead-generation pieces, like white papers, but they’re not necessarily trying to persuade you that a new technology or system or solution is the best one to solve your problem.

They’re trying to give you information that helps you understand something better … and in doing so, they’re establishing their expertise.

E-books are also “lighter” ─ more images, less text, less fact-heavy.

The other type of document a client might refer to as a white paper is a technical guide of any kind that’s more applicable after the sale … things like application guides, product guides, cheat sheets, etc.

White papers are definitely pre-sale documents. Clients hire you to write them so you can persuade the reader to purchase your client’s product or service.

So, Just Where Do White Papers Fit Into a Marketing Strategy?

White papers are used for lead generation … in fact, they’re often the centerpiece of a lead-generation campaign.

Gordon Graham, a writer who has positioned himself as, “That White Paper Guy,” calls white papers the “king of content.”

A well-written white paper can help a company be found (like we did with Mimecast), establish authority and credibility, or nurture a relationship.

Let’s take a quick look at each of these.

  • As a cold lead-generation piece, a white paper that answers a very specific question or problem puts your client right at the top of any search for answers to that question.
  • As a way to establish authority and credibility, a well-researched, well-written white paper gives your client a way to demonstrate their knowledge of the subject matter.

    Someone searching for team sales training may have a list of potential companies they’ve heard are good, and they start researching them.

    They come across your client’s site, which has a downloadable white paper describing a new training method backed by research on more effective words and phrases that persuade others. And that method results in a 33% higher positive response rate. That makes your client’s solution look both beneficial and credible.

    We know most B2B buyers do a lot of their own research before they ever reach out to a company or even often respond to a company’s sales team. Especially in today’s information environment. Your client could actually hurt their chances of getting a sale if they’re selling a complex or expensive product or solution and they don’t have a white paper (or two).

  • As a way to nurture a relationship, salespeople will often send white papers and other marketing content pieces to a prospect to help them make their purchase decision. White papers can help the salesperson back up the information they’re sharing with a prospect about the effectiveness of their solution.

Who Uses White Papers in Their Marketing Strategy?

Essentially, any company who sells a complex and/or expensive product or solution.

  • Any kind of technical product or service can probably benefit from a white paper.
  • Complex financial industries like insurance, crypto, options trading services, REIs …
  • Equipment makers and/or technologies in manufacturing, healthcare, electronics, environmental or “green” industries …
  • Sciences, laboratories, chemicals and materials, B2B components that make anything “better” can use the research (or white) paper to prove their solution.
  • Trainers, consultants, educators ─ any new process or methodology that gets better results is a candidate for a white paper.

If it’s not immediately obvious or simple, often a white paper can help your client demonstrate, through research, proof, and data, the superiority of their product, solution, or service.

Let’s continue with our Mimecast white paper example

Here’s the first and last page of the Mimecast white paper above and one of the “proof” pages in the report, which is being used to help them generate leads for their cybersecurity services.

The last page is the only “sales” part of the white paper, where you can read about who Mimecast is and how they help their customers.

Cover for Mimecast report - Confronting the NEW WAVES OF CYBERATTACK- The state of email security 2022

Mimecast report- timeline graphic of Key findings showing percentages

Final cover of mimecast report

Exercise #1

Start building your white paper “swipe file”

Now it’s time for you to build your own collection of white paper samples — your swipe file.

You’ll want to build a file of different types of white papers so you can see how they’re formatted and used across industries. As you start taking on white paper clients, you can refer back to your swipe file to piggyback off formats or ideas and strengthen yours … or see what works in different situations.

To start building your white paper swipe file:

Step 1: Set up an email address, preferably on your copywriting website, to start downloading white papers. Unfortunately, most companies do not allow you to use Gmail or other “non-work” email addresses to download white papers … but your copywriting website’s email address does count as a work email address. Or you can simply search out white papers that don’t require downloads or don’t gate the content to work-only email addresses.

Step 2: When you’re building your swipe file, keep a tracking document or spreadsheet to help you see what search term you used, what the download page looks like (I took screenshots of them), and then the name of the white paper, so you can find it and tie it back to how you got to the white paper.

Step 3: On your tracking sheet, make a note of what “kind” of white paper it is (we’ll talk about the different types in a later class), how many pages, and anything unique or special you noticed about it.

Step 4: Set up a separate folder to hold these (generally) pdfs and your tracking sheet.

Step 5: Start paying attention to any B2B websites you visit … does it look like the company’s product or service would be a good candidate for a white paper? Do they have one on their site? How do they position it? What is its purpose?

Devote some time each day to either adding to your swipe file or exploring B2B websites to find where they might stash their white papers … become a detective and get curious about who’s using white papers and how they’re being used.

If you’re not sure how to start finding white papers … try these :

In Conclusion

The Content Marketing Institute says, “The sleeping giant has awoken,” meaning B2B companies are finally recognizing the absolute necessity of valuable content such as white papers to meet their customers’ and prospects’ needs.

  • White papers serve a pivotal role in any company’s content marketing strategy when their product is complex, expensive, or is something new and improved. Gordon Graham calls them the “king of content.”
  • When you write a white paper for a client, you open the door to helping them with all kinds of other copy projects that support that white paper.
  • Most companies only publish a handful of white papers (though that depends on the company’s product line), but the supporting content around that centerpiece can be substantial.

    As a copywriter or content writer who has white papers as part of their portfolio of services, you can easily create a six-figure copywriting business for yourself. You can earn between $3,000 and $10,000, or sometimes more, for each white paper you write. And the more you write, the quicker you get, and the higher your income potential.

  • By collecting and studying different white paper swipes, you’ll also give yourself ideas and starting points to format and scope out your own white paper projects.

Exciting, right? White papers are truly one of the BEST projects out there! Now let’s take a look at what’s next.

In the next Lesson, we’ll go over different types of white papers, what purpose each type serves, and what each type looks like. We’ll also talk a little more about what makes them different from e-books and an easy way to choose which type of white paper you should write based on your client’s mission.

See you in Lesson 2!