Why Aren’t You B2B Writers Doing More of these Lucrative Projects? (Guest Post)

PB Note: Gordon Graham is the reigning guru of white papers, and he sent me this great overview of the craft (and its exceptionally promising potential). Seriously consider picking up his brand-new new book, “White Papers for Dummies,” an excellent soup-to-nuts primer that’s been called a “must-read that contains priceless information you just can’t find anywhere else.” Take it away, Gordon!

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It always surprises me that more B2B writers aren’t doing white papers.

As you may know, white papers are fact-based marketing documents used by B2B vendors to generate leads, build recognition, and nurture prospects through a complex sale. They typically run six to eight pages plus front and back matter.

If you’ve done any journalism, a white paper is much like a feature article for a magazine, only it pays 3 to 10 times as much.

In fact, the “average” fee for writing a white paper today is $4,200. Typical fees range from $3,000 to $6,000. Writers with domain knowledge or experience writing white papers routinely charge $5,000 to $7,000—or about $1,000 per page.

Why do companies pay so much?

1) B2B buyers expect them: Survey after survey pegs white papers as the #1 or #2 favorite content that prospects look at.
2) The competition has them: Any vendor that doesn’t can be out of the running for a million-dollar sale.
3) They work: White papers help B2B vendors sell billions of dollars worth of products and services every year.

All these factors add up to an unquenchable demand for these documents, which are now a standard part of the toolkit for any B2B marketer.

But writing a white paper can be challenging. It requires an unusual mix of writing to explain and writing to persuade. It demands that you find and assemble a mass of impeccable facts, figures, quotes, anecdotes and rhetorical devices into a compelling argument.

Not many writers know how to do all that or have had enough practice at this format. But any experienced business writer has all the essential skills it takes: researching, interviewing, writing smoothly, meeting deadlines, handling comments from reviewers, and so on.

A white paper is essentially a long-form, fact-based piece of marketing collateral. To write an effective white paper, you and your client need to identify a compelling topic, pinpoint a specific audience, gather persuasive proof points, construct a logical argument, and spin all this material into a 6- to 8-page narrative that holds readers’ attention and compels them to take the next step in the sales cycle for the associated product or service.

To do that effectively, you need to leave out any hype, buzzwords and marketing-speak. Focus on providing useful information, not a sales pitch. Help your readers understand an issue, solve a problem, or make a decision. Stick to the facts or to well-argued logic. Given today’s jaded prospects with their finely-tuned radar for hype, this low-key or “educational” approach can actually help “sell” a prospect far more effectively than outright promotional copy. This is why well-written white papers are crucial marketing tools for many B2B companies.

Okay, but how many clients need white papers anyway? Aren’t they all in software or some technology where you have to understand gobbledegook to get work?

Yes, white papers are popular in technology firms, but they’re now used in many other sectors. I’ve done them for clients in advertising, construction, healthcare, insurance, printing, sports—even children’s toys! Any B2B company selling something relatively new, relatively complex, or relatively expensive could benefit from a white paper.

Being extremely conservative and counting only the traditional users of white papers—B2B equipment manufacturers, software companies, and scientific and technical services—I found 454,244 potential clients in the U.S. alone. Adding in other countries from the developed world that use English—like Australia, Canada, and the UK—that climbs to more than 600,000.

I know for a fact that many of these companies are desperate for a writer who can help them tell their stories. I hear from one almost every day.

How can you learn more about writing them?

1. Go to websites of companies in your B2B specialty, and find half a dozen white papers to download and study.

Chances are, you’ll soon be thinking, “I can write better than this!” You’ll see how most white papers are not nearly as persuasive or compelling as they could be. That’s a great confidence booster when you’re starting out.

2. Visit my website to see dozens of free articles about every aspect of white paper writing.

3. Check out the free cheat sheet for my book here and a lot of extras here.

4. Join my LinkedIn group “Get More From Your White Papers” and post your question. The group members will do our best to answer you.

If you’re an experienced business writer or a laid-off journalist, give white papers a try. You’ll find a ready-made demand with high fees, and lots of interesting work to be done.

Have you done some white papers? If so, what was your experience like?

Did you find them to be easier or harder to do than you’d originally thought?

Have you been surprised at the quality (or lack thereof) of the samples you’ve seen?

If you haven’t yet tried doing white papers, what’s stopped you?

GordonGrahamPicGordon Graham (a.k.a. That White Paper Guy) has written more than 175 B2B white papers for clients from Australia to New York City, on everything from selecting enterprise software to designing virtual worlds for kids, for everyone from tiny startups to Google.

GordonGrahamWP4DummiesCvrCheck out his new book White Papers For Dummies

8 replies
  1. Cathy Miller
    Cathy Miller says:

    Hi Gordon: I have a healthcare niche and have done plenty of white papers. At one time, they were at least half my income. What I continue to bump up against is the philosophy of not giving away your trade secrets.

    I often have the discussion that just because you are sharing your expertise doesn’t mean others are going to be able to do it as well as you do. But, then this is an industry that has always struggled with transparency – can you spell healthcare reform? 😉

    I have also seen a decreasing interest in white papers. Perhaps it’s only certain industries that have moved away from white papers. I’d love to hear your perspective on that.

  2. Gordon Graham
    Gordon Graham says:

    Hi Cathy,
    I hear lots of noise about how every company should be on Facebook or Twitter or doing videos. But in any B2B sale of something new, complex, or expensive, you can be sure there’s a committee of people reviewing the decision. These people need useful, factual information to help them make an sound decision about how to solve their business problem. And white papers are the ideal format for delivering that information.

    Some people are soured on white papers because most of them are so weak and unpersuasive. But that just opens up more opportunity for anyone who can produce solid white papers! Even if the market cools off and HALF the companies who could use white papers decide not to, that still leaves more than a quarter million clients in the English speaking world… more than 200,000 in the U.S. alone! That’s more clients than you and I and everyone who reads this blog could ever serve.

    As for giving away your trade secrets, there may be a line a company doesn’t want to cross if it have some patented process or “secret sauce” that’s truly unique. But I’ve told the world everything I know about how to write white papers… and I’m busier than ever. Part of the secret is that white papers help position a company as a trusted advisor. And that helps prospects to know you, like you, and trust you. When that happens, they want to work with you.

  3. Peter Bowerman
    Peter Bowerman says:

    Thanks Cathy for weighing in,

    And good answer, Gordon. I’ll admit I’m no WP expert, but regarding your observation that a lot of companies are being told to ramp up their social media presence, I have to wonder how many of them are thinking/being convinced that WP’s are “old school” and social media is the “new way to market” and that’s in part, the reason why some are pulling back from WP’s. NOT that the two are mutually exclusive in any way, shape or form.

    Understand that I don’t believe for a second that social media is the best way to market, but it seems to me that a lot of companies get intimidated (terrorized probably wouldn’t be too strong a word in some cases) into believing that they’re really missing the boat by not “doing” social media. And that’s the crux of it – they don’t know exactly what they should be doing, but that they need to be, and so, often, it gets entered into in a haphazard way with little thought to strategy.

    Of course, social media makes a lot of sense for many companies (if you get that it’s simply another way to reach your target audience, not some “revolution”), but the jury is still out on its efficacy for many big companies.

    Sorry to get off point a bit, but curious as to your take…

    PB

  4. Lori
    Lori says:

    I’ve done a number of white papers. Lately, though, they’ve begun to resemble four-page advertorials. That, of course, depends on the client and what their goals are, but I’ve now had to ask “How long were you intending?” because I envision 10-20 pages while they’re thinking 500-800 words. It’s a bit unnerving when you’re trying to quote prices for the darned things.

    The work has become easier as some clients “dumb down” the white paper. These things are becoming more persuasion mixed with some facts thrown in to validate points. While I get that, I’d really rather they call it what it is. For example, the two-page white paper I did last year was nothing like the 16-page white paper, complete with extensive research, that I did three years prior.

    Like Cathy, I’ve seen a decline in interest and an increase in the need for case studies. I’ve been able to sell a few people on the white paper, but usually they’re looking at something less time-consuming on their side, which means the glorified advertorial. Again, let’s not call it a white paper, I say. But who am I to argue with the ones writing the checks?

  5. Gordon Graham
    Gordon Graham says:

    Hi Lori,
    Yes I believe there is a growing tendency to try to do shorter “white papers” Likely for one main reason: marketing people think they can stretch their budgets by doing shorter documents… forgetting that it takes MORE effort to write something shorter that packs the same punch. So they are shooting themselves in the foot by producing these weak 2-page advertorial/brochures that generate zero results. (Oh well, at least they saved money from their budgets?!)

    And I agree with Peter that marketers are being intimidated/terrorized to do more social media because of the silly idea that “nobody reads anymore.”

    My advice to all writers is to focus on clients selling big-ticket items, where white papers are still very much in demand, and where the math still works. If a company invests $10,000 to outsource the writing and design of a white paper that pulls in ONE sale of a system worth $250,000 or more, that’s a wise investment. But for something selling for $25K, the ROI isn’t there. Make sense?

  6. Ellie Jane
    Ellie Jane says:

    We are definitely in for whitepapers – traditional article writing is fine. We do have a content editorial and guest blogging as well. The critical point is content asset management, that is, how do you repurpose information in a more user-friendly way to your target audience.

    In terms of B2B, we are now re-orienting towards H2H (Human to Human), so I would say copywriting is changing a little bit to accommodate the P2P (person to person effect).

    Very discussive post – great one.

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  1. […] PB Note: Gordon Graham is the reigning guru of white papers, and he sent me this great overview of the craft (and its exceptionally promising potential). Seriously consider picking up his brand-new new book, “White Papers for Dummies,” an excellent soup-to-nuts primer that’s been called a “must-read that contains priceless information you just can’t find anywhere else.” Take it away, Gordon! – See more at: http://www.wellfedwriter.com/blog/why-arent-you-b2b-writers-doing-more-of-these-lucrative-projects/#… […]

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