In this series on white paper projects, we’ve already discussed the research process, the writing process, and working with your client. However, one of the keys to a successful white paper is managing a white paper project effectively. As the writer, in addition to making sure you get from your client everything they promised, you must orchestrate all the moving pieces that come with writing a white paper.
8 Steps to Help You with That Process
1. Up-front agreements needed
Make sure the client has signed off on the topic of the white paper, the target market, and the purpose. Is it to share industry knowledge? Or product knowledge? Is the intended audience already aware of the product? Or will the white paper serve to educate them about it? Having a full grasp of your intended audience will help you determine what content to include and the paper’s tone.
2. Milestones and agreed dates
Establish a calendar the client signs off on. Working backward from your deadline date, you want to establish windows for the research, interview, writing, and revision stages. Without a clearly defined calendar, it may be difficult to keep your client on task and to stay in control of your work schedule.
3. Who are the SMEs
With your client, determine the subject matter experts (SME) to target as authorities in the field. You may want to identify more SMEs than you think you’ll need as it’s possible you won’t be able to interview everyone you contact. However, you’ll want to limit the number of interviews you conduct. Each SME should bring new knowledge to the topic — you don’t want each to repeat the same information.
4. Reach out to your list of SMEs
Connecting with them and scheduling these interviews can be challenging, particularly if they’re in a different time zone. When reaching out, be specific about what you’re doing and why you’d like to interview them. If you have a scheduling program like Calendly, include a link in your email and ask them to choose a time that fits with their schedule.
However, you may have to be persistent to get an interview on the books. If, after several attempts, you can’t connect with the SME, you may need to reach out to your client who may be able to facilitate the process for you. Although you want to reach out early, you don’t want to schedule the interviews until after you’ve conducted your research. If you schedule the interviews before the research is complete, the interview questions may not be as targeted. Your research will help inform your questions.
5. Allow enough time for research
While you’re emailing SMEs to get them on your calendar, start conducting your research like we identified in the article, Research Is the Key to a Successful White Paper. Depending on the number of projects you’re working on at the same time, you may want to allow two weeks in your schedule for research.
6. Prepare for the interviews
With the information you’ve collected from your research, draft interview questions for the SMEs. Hopefully, by this point, you’ll have confirmed interviews on your schedule. If it suits your process, you can send the interview questions to your SMEs at least a day before the interview. Some writers prefer to not send them ahead of time, because they feel then the SMEs don’t pay as much attention to their questions and may even try to just send answers and not have a live conversation.
7. Draft and get approval before moving on
Once you’ve completed the interviews, organize your information and draft an outline. From this document, you can create a rough draft of the executive summary to submit to your client. Before you start writing the balance of the white paper, you want your client to sign off on this document or let you know of any changes they’d like. This step could save you from a lot of revisions in the initial draft.
8. Revise and polish
Once you’ve gotten your client’s input on the executive summary, use your research and interview transcripts to write the first draft. From there, you’ll work with your client to revise and polish the copy until you have a complete white paper your client has approved.
The key is to have an organized flow chart of the tasks you need to complete and the time frame for each section. The more organized your system is, the smoother the process will be of managing a white paper project.