Do you have a new idea, business model, product or service? Do you want to get noticed by using a marketing method that might only cost you time? Try writing a white paper to attract people to your door.
So, What’s a White Paper?
Historically white papers were distributed to a privileged few and written by government and policy folk as a way to frame a policy or course of action.
Today, however, white papers have gone mainstream in the business community. They are a great way to let potential clients know you know something and can help them in some way.
At the most basic level, a business white paper:
- identifies or explains the landscape relating to an idea, service, or product;
- explains a solution or course of action that can be taken based upon the landscape; and
- describes how you can help the reader achieve that solution of course of action.
A well put together business white paper can really show off your talents and help you establish trust and build a relationship with a potential client.
Where do you start?
Think back to that essay you wrote in grammar school – your drafting should begin with a basic outline that includes – an audience, a set of facts based upon research, an argument and a conclusion. Once you have those loose pieces of the puzzle together, move on to some serious drafting by crafting your draft around these elements:
- Define Your Audience – Who is your reader?
You might have a specific business plan that defines your “client” or “customer” or you simply have an idea of the types of people or businesses that might be interested in what you make or do. Either way, before you go anywhere with your draft you need to define who you think is going to be reading your white paper. Defining your audience will help you keep focus on a particular type of reader throughout your drafting process.
As an example, if you are a web developer wanting to draw in small business to your e-commerce solution, dedicating a good deal of your white paper to the technical aspects of how your solution works is a sure way to lose your reader. In the alternative, you want to be sure that your paper explains, in practical terms, how your solution makes sense for their small business operations.
- Explain the Landscape – What is the Issue? Where is the Need?
This is the part where you dazzle them with your understanding of the facts, figures and information. This section of your paper requires the type of writing and information synthesis you likely hated to do in school but don’t lose sight of the fact that beyond knowing who your reader is, it’s the most important part of any white paper that is going to attract clients.
This is also the section of your paper where you refer to “good and reliable” references. Make sure you include them either in-line, at the bottom of the page or on a reference list at the end of your paper. The quality of your references is going to let the reader know you have done your homework and mastered the issues. It also gives them the opportunity to verify what you had to say.
Your explanation and mastery of this information is what is going to establish credibility with your reader and attract them as a client. Don’t start any of your discussion in this section with “in my experience” and try to stay away from your own research.
As an example, if the topic of your white paper is – the best way to dress for an outdoor vacation adventure – you want to use this section of your paper to discuss the ins and outs (research and all) of proper layering. You don’t want to use this section to tout how your new parka system was used by sherpas for years.
Your experience or research might be interesting but what you know and can explain about the broader landscape is what delivers value to the reader. Recognize that if your reader stops reading your white paper after this section you have already given them a valuable take-home, one that they will likely remember.
- Identify the Solution or Course of Action – What should your reader do?
Are you going to engage in a hard or soft sell? Answer this question before you start drafting this section. You can dig right in to your specific solution or course of action and explain the who, what, where and why of it or you can write objectively about different types of solutions or courses of actions.
Choosing the latter is usually a better bet because it continues to establish credibility and trust with your reader. Don’t, however, underestimate taking a more direct route. The route you choose in this section really depends on your product or service and audience.
Either way, you need to be specific about what can be done, how it can be done and why it can be done. Tell you reader about the potential options in detail. Compare and contrast those options.
- Conclude and Put it All Together, – Walk The Reader to Your Door and Say Hello
You might have figured this out by now… you need to conclude your paper with a tip of your hat to your product or service. If you don’t, how will your reader know about you and what you can do for them?
In the section above you either wrote directly about your product or service and explained its “best in class” nature or you discussed options that highlighted your product or service as “best in class”. In this section you need to wrap up that discussion and conclude that your product or service is the solution of course of action the reader should take.
Be specific about what you do and how you can help the reader with the solution or course of action you propose.
Invite the reader to get in touch, whether it is to discuss your product or service or address any questions or comments they may have about your white paper. Give your contact information and let the reader know how to get in touch with you.
- Edit, Edit Again and then Again
Once you have a draft together, put it down. Let it sit for a few hours, maybe even a day. Pick it up again and read it. Does the language make sense to you? Are there typos? Have you organized what you wanted to say in a way that makes sense to you? Put it down again. Give it an hour, a day, etc. and then look at it again with the same questions in mind.
Once you have taken a look at it several times and think it’s perfect – hand it off to at least two other people. Let them read it, let them edit it.
A white paper that attracts clients is polished and provides the reader with a great take-home. Hope that your reader prints it out, throws it into a briefcase or shoulder bag and reads it through on the commute home. That simply won’t happen when your reader hits a typo or can’t understand why you transitioned from one idea to the next in your writing.
- Give it a Spit-Shine
Now that you have your edited draft together and feel really smart, don’t forget the window dressing. White papers are not slide presentations, glossy brochures or direct mail ads – they are your product, however. So, make them look nice, professional and reliable.
Don’t add a lot of graphics and color – Keep it as simple as white pages for the body of the paper and a cover page and contact page at the end. There are tons of templates in most word processing programs that will do this for you. Don’t underestimate the need to keep it simple and make it look professional. Two things are going to draw your reader to your white paper initially – the title and the look and feel of it.
- Publish it…mass produce it…
You worked hard on your white paper and are hoping to see results – now publish it in PDF and get it out there. Get it on your website. E-mail it to existing clients, friends and others you think might be interested in it. Share is with the masses – post it to google docs, scribd, slideshare, authorStream, findarticles, and the hundreds of other idea sharing sites that are out there.
A well put together white paper will get contacts knocking at your door. They are a great way to create a buzz about you, your ideas, what you know and what you might be able to do for others. So give it a go and see what a white paper can do for you!