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Writing and Selling White Papers
by Constance Fabian-Isaacs

Looking for a new market to explore? Looking for some exposure on the web? Keep reading! There’s money to be made writing and selling white papers.

What the heck is a white paper? A white paper is a technical essay—a “how to” so to speak. At one time white papers were used in various industries to communicate or explain new processes, tools, products or features to other professionals in the same field. They were often presented at technical conferences to demonstrate innovative ideas. Soon marketing departments discovered these “white papers” and expanded their use as a way to market complex tools and products to other companies in their industries. Having found success in that arena, they used these technical papers as a means to entice sales leads to provide contact information on their websites. White papers have now seeped into a new realm. Small businesses—and not just high tech businesses—have found that white papers are an excellent means to generate sales leads and obtain contact information in their domain. Not only that, but also a way for professionals to establish credibility in their field.

Guess what? Most small business owners with websites can’t write. And they’re willing to pay anywhere from $300 to $1000 for a white paper on their business, product or process. That’s where we writers come in. We can take their business concept or product and write a white paper for them.

Here’s the scoop. The small business owner has paid good money to build a website. What they’ve found is that even when contact information is requested, their site visitors don’t always provide it. However, when a site visitor sees the paper, “How to Choose a Handy Man” on the “Mr. FixIt” website their curiosity is peaked. Before the visitor can download or read the white paper, they must type in their contact information. Eureka! A sales lead with contact information is generated, the consumer gets a guide to choosing a handy man, and Mr. FixIt has gained credibility by providing the information. Everybody wins!

Writing white papers isn’t for everyone, but for those of you who are curious about how to do things, or like to write “how to” articles, this could be a good way to expand your freelance writing opportunities.

You might be wondering, “Ok, how do I get started?” Here are some tips:

Scan the web for local businesses. If you have some people with which you currently do business, check out their websites first. See if they have a white paper posted, or they might call it an article. If not, there’s your prospect.

Analyze what they do in this business. Come up with questions you have about the business like:

  1. How do I know they would be the best business for me to use?
  2. How do I know I’m getting the best price?
  3. When is the best time to do this type of project?
  4. How do I plan this type of project?
  5. What do I need to know about doing a project like this?

Pick your most compelling question and do your homework—answer the question. It would be like writing an article for a targeted market. For this type of market, you’ll want to keep it simple.

Write your piece using a very simple outline:

  1. Purpose – Clearly state the purpose of the piece
  2. Overview – Give a brief overview of the contents of the paper. In this paragraph, you would also establish your credibility or the credibility of the business owner. If you don’t personally have the credibility you can always site your research sources.
  3. Content – use a very simple step-by-step or point-by-point approach. Keep your explanations simple enough for the “non-expert” to interpret, but detailed enough to give the reader the experience of having learned something for the time they’ve spent reading. You can even use illustrations and figures to clarify your points. If you don’t use pictures, at the very least, use real-life examples.
  4. Summary – summarize the points in your paper, ensuring that you’ve fully supported all the points you intended to make.

Make your contact. You have two primary potential markets: business owners themselves and website developers. When marketing your papers to either market, use technical websites that generate sales leads through white paper distribution as examples. Most high tech companies use this technique.

For example, www.xyenterprise.com uses this technique for gathering contact information. Go to the site if you click on any of the gold buttons, you’ll be presented with a page of general information and on the right side of the page there is an area entitled “Resources”. Click on the title “Best Practices for Content Management”. Here’s where you must enter your contact information to get this paper or other papers from their library.

Another example is www.handymanmatters.com. In this example, they don’t use their paper for gathering contact information (but they could have). Instead, it’s just used to provide the consumer with free information. Consumers always value free information. You will see a link to “Download your FREE Consumer Guide to Choosing a Home Repair or Remodeling Contractor” on the right side of the page.

While white papers can present highly technical and complex ideas, the structure of the paper should be kept simple. The reason I described a white paper as a technical essay, is because the format is similar. For more information on writing white papers, visit the website: www.stelzner.com/copy-g-HowTo-whitepapers.php. Or pick up the book by Michael A. Stelzner entitled, Writing White Papers: How to Capture Readers and Keep Them Engaged. The important thing to remember when reading his book is that it’s intended for a technical audience. Don’t be intimidated by that. Just adapt his thinking to real world use and go for it. For selling your white papers, let your fingers do the dancing on your keyboard and use your imagination!

© Copyright 2008, Constance Fabian-Isaacs

Constance Fabian-Isaacs is a freelance writer and a Sr. Technical Communications Specialist for GuideWorks, LLC in Englewood, CO. She has written for both the oil and gas industry and the entertainment industry.

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