September 27, 2006
Breaking into Writing White Papers & Speechwriting By John K. Borchardt | printable version
Speechwriting and writing white papers are lucrative writing niches many freelancers overlook. In both cases, clients include businesses, government and non-profit institutions. White papers are detailed analyses of business, technology and other subjects. These are used for marketing, information sharing to demonstrate thought leadership and as the basis of decision making. While the type of writing and the writing process for white papers and speeches are much different, business considerations for these two fields have much in common.
According to the "How Much Should I Charge?" section of WritersMarket.com, speechwriting fees range from $65/hour to $100/hour. Organizations pay white paper writers either by the hour or a set fee for the finished document. According to "How Much Should I Charge," hourly fees range from $45 to $120 and average $80. White paper projects are often lengthy and a project fee can total $20,000.
As a newbie, quoting excessively low fees or special discounts to your first clients may come back to haunt you. They will often be reluctant to pay higher fees for subsequent work.
To land their first assignments in these two fields, novices need relevant experience - either working in the field the white paper or speech covers or writing about the subject for newspapers and magazines. I used my pre-writing career and my magazine article writing as springboards to my first assignments in both these fields. Being a member of Toastmasters International added credibility and helped me improve my speechwriting skills. As you accumulate credits and self-marketing experience, jobs will be easier to come by and you can also raise your fees.
I have found that checking online job boards is a poor way to find work in these fields. Posted fees are usually low with assignments few and far between. To land assignments, white paper and speech writers need to rely on their own networking. This means attending meetings and conferences where potential clients are likely to gather. Be sure to bring your business cards and get the cards of potential clients. That way you can follow up by sending them a flyer describing your services. I have found this is more effective than a website since many will not check your website URL printed on your business card.
Freelancers need to screen clients to eliminate possible deadbeats. Check with your local Better Business Bureau and websites such as WritersWeekly.com's Whispers And Warnings section. Large organizations pay well and frequently use outside writers to prepare white papers and speeches. However, smaller organizations and individuals, less experienced at using freelancers, may be reluctant to pay reasonable fees and are more likely to refuse payment or try to renegotiate terms after completion of the work.
When discussing writing a white paper or speech, some clients may have difficulty in specifying exactly what they want. This means multiple revisions, often extensive, are common, particularly in speechwriting. Writers will have to structure their contracts - and written contracts are essential - to keep this in mind. For example, my contracts call for receiving a fee, 50% if possible, up front, another 25% upon completion of the first draft and the final 25% upon approval of the final revision. Also, it is wise to specify the number of revisions that will be covered by the negotiated fee with additional revisions costing extra. Contracts should also cover the project scope, deliverables, deadlines and liability.
My large and mid-sized corporate clients insist on using their own contract forms and the entire fee may be paid only upon completing the assignment. However, these firms are more experienced in working with freelancers and better able to set and communicate their expectations. Thus they are less likely to be disappointed when you submit your work. Should this be the case, their solution is to give you no further assignments rather than reneging on a contract.
Getting started in these two fields is the hard part. However, successfully complete an assignment and you will often receive both repeat business and referrals.
The White Paper Marketing Handbook, Bob Bly, South-Western Educational Pub
Writing White Papers: How to Capture Readers and Keep Them Engaged, Michael A.
Stelzner, WhitePaperSource Publishing (October 1, 2006)
Writing Great Speeches: Professional Techniques You Can Use , Alan M. Perlman,
Allyn & Bacon (1997)
The Elements of Speechwriting and Public Speaking, Jeff Scott Cook, Longman (1996)
John Borchardt is a full-time writer specializing in science, technology, careers and the workplace. He has more than 1,100 articles published in magazines, newspapers, encyclopedias and online. He is also author of the book Career Management for Scientists and Engineers, a Library of Science monthly selection.