One of the biggest moves a freelance writer can make to earn more is to move into better-paying types of gigs, like white paper writing jobs.
When you go from, say, writing $20 blog posts to writing white papers that can pay $1,500-$10,000, it’s a big leap.
But just how do you may that leap? How exactly do you get into writing white papers? Where do you even find white paper writing jobs? And what are some mistakes to avoid along the way?
In the post below, you’ll get all the info you need to start your successful foray into white paper writing.
- What is a white paper?
- How much can you make on white paper writing jobs?
- How to get white paper writing experience?
- Where to find white paper writing jobs
- White paper writing mistakes to avoid
A white paper is a cross between a magazine article and a corporate brochure, sharing an organization’s often-complicated message in an easy-to-understand, formal, and persuasive manner. Most clients want to read the educational magazine article part of the white paper to find out the solutions to their problems — but the persuasive brochure part of the white paper does its job too, and convinces the readers to buy the product or use the service.
The unique balancing feature of the white paper — to both educate and sell — makes it one of the most powerful marketing tools. This is the reason why clients are ready to pay $3,000-$10,000 for a 6-14 page white paper writing job. It’s a great way to make money writing!
The huge upside of writing white papers is why we did a comprehensive training bootcamp on the topic over on the Freelance Writers Den. You can access this entire 4-week bootcamp plus over 300 hours of other trainings by becoming a Den member.
If you know how to write articles or marketing materials, you should be able to learn how to write white papers with a little effort and practice.
The first thing you need to do is read all you can about writing white papers from books, blogs, articles, etc. That also means studying some white paper examples so you know what’s expected (check out this example of a white paper). More and more companies are posting white papers online to build their authority — download a few and give them a read.
Now start writing…
After you learn how to write white papers, you can start practicing your skill on a hypothetical or real company. Choose a business-to-business company, as this type of business tends to commission more white papers. They usually have complicated offerings and need to convince business owners to buy their product or service.
Or create a white paper to sell your writing, about how businesses benefit from using freelance writers. Post it on your site as a free download for prospects.
Sharpen your skills by writing white papers as often as you can. Once you feel that you’re ready, start looking for real paying white paper jobs.
- Let your existing clients know what white papers are, how they work and why their business needs one. Show them the sample white papers you’ve created. If you can convince them that they need a white paper, you will be on your way.
- Look for business owners who are getting articles or brochures written. Explain what a white paper is and why it’s better than a regular article or brochure. Propose possible white paper topics that would be appropriate to their business. Hopefully, you will be able to entice them into asking you to write one.
- Write one for less. If it’s your first white paper job, then it doesn’t matter if you charge less. Maybe you will not earn enough for all the effort you put in, but you will get a sample that will help you land lucrative jobs.
Once you have a few samples in your portfolio, you can look for better jobs.
The best thing is to advertise your services as a white paper writer through your website, cold calling, and other marketing methods. It’s important that you target B2B companies, as they need white papers. Look for companies that are involved in fields like technology (cloud computing, CRM, content management, IT healthcare), or finance (insurance, banks, re-insurance).
While you’re gaining experience taking white paper writing jobs, there are some critical mistakes you should try to avoid as you enter this market.
Here are some mistakes our own Carol Tice made on a white paper writing gig:
Mistake #1: Not vetting the client
When a writer-friend tells you, “Hey, this is a chance to work with an amazing end client that’s a Fortune 500,” I don’t know about you, but I tend to get stars in my eyes.
It turned out that I’d be working not directly with this client, but with one of their approved marketing agencies. The guy who headed it was a former staff speechwriter and marketing writer at this F500. Once again, I was wowed.
“Man, this guy must know *exactly* what he’s doing,” I thought.
What I didn’t find out? He’d just recently quit the company and set up this agency…and had no experience running an agency. He’d never had writers working under him before. He hadn’t written white papers, either.
That turned out to be something he sucked at. In the course of my project, everyone he had hired as a ‘staffer’ for his little agency quit.
He would have his staff minions give assignments to the writers — and guess what? It was like a big game of telephone.
Almost every single thing I was told, from deadlines to wordcounts, turned out to be wrong. A lot of frantic rewriting ensued.
Takeaway: If I’d asked around about this guy, I might have learned he was a legendary prima donna — and would have trouble delegating writing work.
Mistake #2: No direct client contact
Everything I did on this white paper writing job came down secondhand. I couldn’t even have told you who at the big company this agency reported to.
I’d receive word trickle-down style, about who to interview about what. Then, after I interviewed them, I’d be told I didn’t ask them the right things, or that I needed a different source. These kinds of miscommunications are an epidemic in agencies that keep their clients close to the vest.
In his efforts to keep us from poaching the client work (not even possible with this company, since they only used a few approved agencies), he would parcel out parts of projects to different people. You never knew who else might be touching different parts of your same elephant. The result: chaos.
Takeaway: I should have gotten clarity off the bat on who I’d be reporting to for this white paper writing job, who was on my project, and who I’d be able to access.
Mistake #3: Skipping the research
I basically worked with what I was handed, instead of doing my own research to learn more about the types of charity programs I was documenting. I might have had better backup ideas for interviews, or programs to compare it (favorably) to, if I’d taken the time.
More than once in the course of the project, I was sitting around for days on end, and then having to do a rush job on an interview, where I probably could have more quickly found sources on my own and just asked for approval.
Takeaway: Don’t sit with your hands folded waiting for info from your client — do your own legwork, so that you have more to work with.
Mistake #4: A key question omitted
One big question I really wish I’d asked is, “What is your writing process like?”
After all, I’d never written a white paper before. So I didn’t realize that I needed a few key things:
- Approval of each of my sources from higher-ups
- A signed release from each of my interview subjects
- To let each interview subject read their copy before turning it in
- To obtain stock photos from my subjects
Long after some of my interviews, toward the end of the project, I was suddenly asked to “turn in my releases.” To which I replied, “What releases????”
I’d never been given a form or told my interviews had to fill it out…but suddenly, I looked like a clueless fool. It had been weeks since some of my interviews, and it was extra work to dig some of them back up and get them to sign off.
Takeaway: Find out what *all* the elements are that are your “deliverables” in the project — and be sure you get them as you go. Don’t leave paperwork to the end.
Mistake #5: Running in circles
One of the things that was dangled in front of me on this white paper writing job was the idea of foreign travel. Their program is global, and they were including some stories from other countries.
When it was strongly hinted that I might snag one of these assignments, I turned my life upside down to run out and get an expedited passport. Which, of course, turned out to be a total waste of time. In fact, I never left my house, even.
Takeaway: Don’t chase phantoms on a gig. If someone’s hinting you might need to do something for the project, get more details and find out if it’s real, before wasting time.
The good news is that the project did eventually get finished…and it came out real nice. I got a great clip out of the deal. It was definitely worth doing, despite all the problems.
But I wish I’d taken a more thorough attitude to scoping this out before I dove in. Then, I might have had a smoother road and ended up getting more white paper writing gigs for this client, instead of having a relationship that went down in flames.
As it worked out, it was a long time before another white paper writing job opportunity came around.
Got questions about writing white papers? Just ask in the comments below.