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How to Assemble the Team for Your White Paper

A white paper team includes as few as two people — the client and the writer — and as many as a dozen, if many subject matter experts and reviewers are involved. Choosing the correct people for the team increases the chances of producing a successful white paper.

Step Who What
1.1 Client Identifies need for white paper
1.2 Client Identifies in-house subject matter experts and reviewers
1.3 Client Picks writer, either outsourced or in-house
1.4 Client Picks illustrator (if any), either outsourced or in-house
1.5 Client Picks designer (if any), either outsourced or in-house
1.6 Client and writer Negotiate project terms: scope, deadline, deliverables, fees (if outsourced)
1.7 Client and illustrator (if any) Negotiate project terms
1.8 Client and designer (if any) Negotiate project terms
1.9 Writer, designer, and illustrator Sign nondisclosure agreement (if outsourced)
1.10 Client Pays initial deposit to writer (if outsourced)

What the client does to assemble the white paper team

The client assembles the whole team to work on the white paper. This team includes in-house subject matter experts, the writer, and, if required, the illustrator and designer. On some white papers, the writer fills all these roles, creating graphics and doing page design as well. The client also identifies anyone else who should review the white paper before it’s released, such as management higher-ups.

The client is responsible for putting together the white paper team in a thoughtful way, making sure not to add too many or too few people or anyone who’s likely to swoop in at the last moment with disruptive views.

The client also negotiates the white paper scope and deadlines with the writer, illustrator, and designer. If any of these roles are contracted from outside the company, the client needs to negotiate fees. And any outside suppliers probably need to sign a nondisclosure agreement.

When hiring a writer, be clear about your expectations, deadlines, and any other details that could lead to misunderstandings later in the project. You don’t want either party to make unspoken assumptions about the project, deadline, scope, payment, or terms that come back to haunt you.

Most white paper writers ask for an initial deposit before starting a project. These projects involve several weeks’ work, and no independent writer can afford to gamble on not getting paid for all that time. Because illustrators and designers normally put in just a few hours’ work, they’re most often content to submit an invoice to the client after they finish work on a white paper.

What the writer does to assemble the white paper team

The writer needs to win the project from the client, perhaps against a small field of other candidates. This means that the writer needs to impress the client with his writing experience, domain knowledge, understanding of white papers, and availability to meet the deadline. An independent writer also needs to negotiate the fee, invoice for an initial deposit, and perhaps sign a nondisclosure agreement (NDA).

Writers, when working with a new client, ask for a 50 percent deposit upfront. Demanding a payment upfront isn’t always “nice” or “convenient,” but doing so effectively protects you from wasting your time on projects that don’t have management support.

You can allow one exception to the rule about getting an initial deposit. For a huge name-brand client, such as Google, getting a PO may be enough to start work.

How to hire a white paper writer

If you’re a client looking for an outside white paper writer, how do you find the best one for you? And how do you go about hiring that person?

Consider these four trade-offs:

  • Money versus time: The more experienced the writer, the faster he works, but the more he tends to charge.

  • Writing experience versus domain knowledge: Do you prefer a writer with a lot of experience writing white papers or someone who knows your industry inside out? Sometimes you can find both, but that combo will likely cost extra. Given the choice, most clients lean toward writing ability.

  • Full-service versus text-only: You may want to find a creative supplier who can deliver a turnkey package with text, graphics, page design, and a final PDF all ready to publish. You may also want the writer to generate related marketing materials, such as a press release, several blog posts, a couple dozen tweets, and so on, to help promote the white paper.

  • Project manager versus wordsmith: If you’re working on your first white paper, you may want a seasoned writer who can create a plan, take the lead during conference calls, and serve as the de facto project manager, spelling out where you are and what to do next.

If you’re the client looking to hire a white paper writer, figure out where you stand on each of these trade-offs and decide what services you need. Here are three possible scenarios:

  • If budget is a concern and you have an in-house writer and designer, enlist them for your white paper. You may have to wait to get your project on their schedule, and you should plan to promote the white paper yourself, but the price will be right: nothing beyond the same salaries everyone normally draws.

  • If budget is limited but you have no in-house resources, look for a medium-level writer who has done at least ten white papers in your market space so he brings strong domain knowledge to the table. Plan to run his drafts through a good editor to finesse the text. Find an affordable designer-illustrator, and plan to do your own marketing.

  • If you have the budget, hire the best suppliers you can find. Seasoned creatives will save everyone time, give you what you want the first time, and surprise you with innovative suggestions and best practices.

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