Here at Barefoot Writer Magazine, we often talk about the value of choosing a marketplace or industry to focus your writing projects on—a niche, if you will.
That value is tremendous, because it makes you a specialist who commands higher fees than the average writer.
But there’s another way to become a specialist who earns a sizeable income. That route includes becoming an expert at a specific type of writing service, rather than a specific niche.
In this article, I want to talk about a specific service-based niche opportunity: Writing white papers. You’re about to see why it’s a writing specialty that’s extremely profitable, fulfilling, and even fun …
The “Edu-Marketing” Opportunity that Pays in Spades
If you’re not familiar with them, a white paper is a document that both educates and persuades. It identifies a problem and then offers a solution. And, it’s a marketing tool used exclusively in the Business-to-Business (B2B) marketplace.
B2B companies use white papers to introduce new products and systems, such as technology innovations. But beyond simply informing, white papers are designed to help key decision-makers and influencers reach a decision about implementing a particular solution. And they do so with zero hype.
Companies that publish white papers use them in a variety of marketing approaches. For example, they help companies:
- Create leads
- Drive sales
- Generate awareness about products and services
- Introduce a company to new prospects
- Build credibility
- Establish leadership in specific fields
White papers typically run between five and 10 pages long. On average, white paper projects take anywhere from 30 to 50 hours to write, depending on how complicated the project is and how much research you need to do.
So, it’s an ideal opportunity if you like medium-size writing projects that wrap up in a short time. But it’s the money you can make in this industry that makes white paper writing a viable long-term career …
How to Build a Lucrative Business Writing White Papers
I’ll give it to you straight: The starting fee for a white paper is about $2,500. Once you build up a list of satisfied clients, that number only goes up. Let’s say you get three successful white papers under your belt. By the time you take on your fourth project, you could bump your asking price up to $4,000 per white paper. Get a little more experience under your belt—let’s say about a year—and you can bump it up again to $5,000. I even know a handful of white paper writers who charge as much as $6,500.
This is why white papers can become extremely lucrative as a specialty. Assume that after a year, it takes you a week to write a white paper and you charge $5,000 per job. In a year’s time, and even with four weeks of vacation thrown in … you could be making $240,000!
But, for the sake of argument, let’s assume you spend at least every other week working on your self-marketing plan and connecting with clients to line up those projects. Writing a white paper every other week for a year, and still counting four weeks of vacation, still puts you over six figures—at $120,000 to be exact.
As you can see, it can be very profitable …
6 Steps to Writing a White Paper That Works
If you choose to focus on white papers as your writing specialty, your objective will be to get prospects thinking about the problem and the solution featured in your white paper. The next goal is to introduce one of your client’s products or services as the best choice for that solution.
To give you a feel for whether writing white papers is a career you might want to check out, here’s an overview of the six main components that make up each project. They are:
- Initial problem. Most white papers open with an introduction of the problem your reader is facing.
- Proof of the problem. Next, you want to show your reader proof that the problem exists, and that if left unchecked, that problem will cause other pain points or complications.
- Additional problems. This is where you’d go into additional problems your reader may not be aware of. The more problems you present, the more likely your reader is to want to find a solution.
- The solution. This section provides a general explanation of how to fix the problem.
- Your client’s solution. This is where you’d talk about your client’s specific solution, and you explain why it’s better and has more benefits than any other solution out there.
- Call-to-action. You’ll close the white paper by telling your reader what to do next.
That final step might include inviting the client to download a demo version of a software package, or call a toll-free number to answer questions, or even go to a website to look at case studies.
Demand Continues to Snowball
As you can tell, this is an excellent specialty if you like to follow a process and focus on medium-sized projects. Most of these projects will require your attention for anywhere from one week to a month at a time.
It’s a perfect fit if you’re looking to build a long-term, profitable writing business. But that begs the question: Is there enough demand? The answer to that is a resounding Yes.
Just last spring, the Content Marketing Institute published their 2015 report on Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends. That report shows 86% of B2B companies use content marketing in their sales process. And white papers are content marketing gold, especially for B2B companies that sell new, complex, or expensive products or services.
That same study, which included a survey of over 5,000 B2B marketers from around the world, showed that a whopping 68% use white papers as part of their content marketing. And with over 240,000 B2B companies in the United States alone… it doesn’t take a math whiz to figure out demand is huge.
Of course, that begs the next question—why is demand for white papers so huge?
The Content Marketing Institute report showed 58% of companies using white papers rated them as effective content marketing tactics. But on a more basic level, the simple explanation is that people use them because they work.
White papers are a low-pressure method of sales communication. They’re not hypey, and they’re designed to give the reader useful information that informs and teaches. So white papers don’t necessarily persuade, but they do provide the reader with enough information to make an educated decision.
And that’s where it snowballs. According to a study by Eccolo Media, 84% of businesses find white papers either extremely or moderately influential in their purchasing decisions. The study also found that 77% of business decision-makers said they read one or more white papers last year.
On top of that, they found that white papers are the most viral piece of marketing collateral with 89% saying they pass them along to others. One in three said they shared them with three or more people.
Incredible Writing Opportunity — But Is It Right for You?
While you can make great money writing white papers, it’s not for everyone.
For starters, research plays a major role in the white paper process. You’ll spend part of your time acting much like an investigative reporter, digging up facts and scanning data. Any time you write a white paper it is essential that you back up your claims with examples and information from third-party sources. When appropriate, you can even include charts, diagrams, or graphs to drive your point home.
You’ll also need to interview business experts in whatever industry you write for. Sometimes they’ll be part of your client’s company, sometimes they’ll be experts in the field you write about. So, you’ll want to be able to ask targeted questions that uncover facts you can then draw from in your white paper.
To be sure, the writing itself should be on the informal side. Just keep in mind your white papers need to be written in an objective voice — there’s no room for sales talk in a well-written white paper.
It’s also a very good idea to have a working knowledge of B2B copywriting. Not only will this make it easier to connect with your audience, it also opens the door for you to work on other B2B projects. That could include any combination of white papers plus the following:
- Case studies
- Special reports and free reports
- Technical manuals
- Newsletters and e-newsletters
- Tip sheets
- How-to guides
- Educational programs
- Instructional videos
Also, note that the B2B world is a 6-trillion industry. According to the Direct Marketing Association, Business-to-Business companies spend over $55 billion per year on B2B marketing.
When most people start out to make their living as writers, many focus on copywriting and Business-to-Consumer (B2C) copy. So, there tends not to be as much competition among copywriters in the B2B arena. That leaves the door wide open for anyone looking to get established in a field like B2B and a specialty like white papers.
The No-Hype Writing Field You’ve Been Waiting For
The bottom line is that scores of companies have a definite need for white papers. And, the demand for well-written white papers far outweighs the number of freelance copywriters who’ve chosen to specialize in writing white papers.
Plus, it’s hard to beat the reality of making $2,500 to $6,500 for one week’s work writing five to seven pages of copy.
If you decide to take on the world of white papers, take some time to learn as much as you can about the process. Download and read white papers from the industries you’re most interested in writing for.
Then, start looking for potential clients. Pay attention to what a company is already publishing. If it’s in an industry you would enjoy writing about and researching, approach them and ask if they need any freelance writing services. Better yet, suggest a new project idea they might be interested in.
So, if you’re excited by the idea of a wide variety of projects written in a no-hype, journalistic style, the white paper industry could be the writing opportunity you’ve been waiting for.
Editor’s Note: If you’re interested in learning more about writing white papers, check out AWAI’s program How to Write White Papers that Command Top Fees. It’s written by B2B writing experts Steve Slaunwhite and Ed Gandia, who break down every step you need to know to start writing professional white papers and how to earn top fees for each and every one.