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Outside writer vs in-house writer

5 good reasons to hire an outside white paper writer

You’ve come up with a brilliant idea for a white paper.

It’s so good, it will bring tears of joy to the CEO’s eyes when he sees all the leads it produces.

photo showing tears of joy from a CEO

But, before you can bask in the glory of your brilliance, you need to get the white paper written. That’s the tricky part.

If you make the wrong choices, that can have a negative impact on the entire business… not to mention your own career.

To get your white paper written, you might be tempted to pick one of these options that pop into your mind.

Option 1: Get a developer or engineer to write the first draft

The problem is that most technical people are terrible at explaining things in a concise and elegant way. So your results will likely be spotty.

And this option requires the developer to stop doing valuable development and to switch gears to write. After they say they’re done, someone will have to clean up their draft to make it readable (not a task for the faint of heart).

This frequently requires several trips back to the frustrated developer—distracting them once again from their “real job”—since the marketing person doesn’t understand the cryptic descriptions.

Option 2: Get a marketer to write it

With this approach, your marketer asks the developers for info.

The marketer (is this you?) tries their best to decipher what the developer said and create a first draft. After the first draft is done, they send it back to the developer who gave them the initial info.

This is often when the developer demands the marketer change the wording back to tech speak (even though the marketer knows no one in the intended audience of decision-makers want to read that).

Option 3: Get a junior writer to write it

You throw the project to a junior in-house writer who quickly gets stuck, chews up hours with your development team, and elicits groans every time they ask for more clarification.

None of these options work

Maybe you wanted to write your white paper in-house because you feel your employees know your products/services better than any outsider?

Or maybe you feel that white papers are so important that you should keep those in-house to retain more control?

Or to better match your company voice?

But are you really sure your in-house people can deliver what you need? And meet your deadline?

  • How many white papers have they ever worked on?
  • What do they know about content marketing?
  • How will you keep them working on your white paper when they’re constantly being pulled back to their “real job”?
  • How much will this really cost, when you factor in all their time away from their “real job”?

There’s a better way: Outsource your white paper to an outside writer.

What if you could hand over this Manhattan-sized headache to a professional and let them deal with it?

Here are 5 good reasons why you should seriously consider outsourcing your next white paper.

Why outsource #1: Outside writers work faster

“Unless they’re experienced white paper writers, your in-house people will take longer and experience more false starts, writing blocks, and scrap and rework than a professional outside writer,” says That White Paper Guy, Gordon Graham.

Graham says he regularly hears from clients who are desperate for help after their in-house efforts ran out of steam.

photo of round clock showing 5 PM

In fact, outsourced writers can be more than twice as fast as in-house writers.

Since freelance writers are more experienced, they can work more efficiently, spending less time doing research and writing.

These facts are backed up by Michael Stelzner’s survey of 600+ white paper writers, The White Paper Industry Report, 2nd edition (2007).

This survey showed that the average freelance writer takes 8 hours to do research, while an in-house or non-professional takes 20 hours.

Let’s face it, writing your first white paper can be a headache-inducing experience.

Outsourced writers have typically written many more white papers over their careers than in-house or non-professional writers. The typical experienced outside writer has written 11 or more white papers over the last two years.1

All this means an outsourced writer can bring your white paper to market faster. That means more leads or more mindshare for your company sooner.

Why outsource #2: Outside writers cost less

photo of hand dropping money into fishbowl to show savings on outside white paper writers

Remember, your employees are well-paid with overhead costs on top of their salaries.

Overhead covers things like federal and state taxes, paid vacation, insurance, training, heating and air conditioning, and the cost of a computer, desk, and cubicle for every employee.

Consider the fully-loaded costs of the kinds of employees you would ask to write a white paper.

That could be a sales executive, developer, or engineer. Maybe even a tech writer.

Here are some stats from the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics about how much people in each role typically earn, updated for May 2022:

  • Sales representatives: $109,950
  • Software developers: $132,930
  • Computer hardware engineers: $140,830
  • Technical writers: $86,760

So maybe you decide to hire a tech writer to work in-house. After all, they sound like a bargain!

However, there are several challenges with hiring an in-house writer.

It takes time to hire a writer. A survey by Glassdoor, the online recruiting site, found the average length of time required to hire a new employee is 23.8 days.

And it takes money to hire an in-house writer. According to The Center for American Progress, the estimated cost of finding and hiring a higher-paid employee is at least 20% of their annual salary.

This means your $86,750 copywriter just became a whopping $104,100 new hire… if you’re lucky.

To compare, the average price for having a white paper written by an outsourced writer is between $5,000 and $7,000.

This means you could get 17 white papers done for the cost of hiring one full-time writer.

Do you think any new employee can possibly generate that much in their first year?

photo of developer with postits all over to show conflicting priorities

Why outsource #3: Outside writers let your staff stick to their real jobs

Developers and engineers can’t work on content and build new versions of your product at the same time.

Their jobs take concentration.

You don’t want to divide their attention by making them work on content projects instead of focusing on the projects that can help your business grow.

The idea of working on a white paper for a couple hours a day, or a couple days a week, is just not realistic.

“Every day your employees are working on your white paper, they’re not attending to their regular duties to build new products, attract more customers, and generally drive the company forward,” says Graham.

“Can your company afford to take a developer or engineer out of their regular role for two or three weeks at a time?”

By outsourcing your white papers, you can free up their time and allow them to focus on more critical aspects of the business.

An outside writer can interview them for an hour or two.

Photo of hourglass on calendar to show meeting a deadline for a white paper

Why outsource #4: Outside writers can meet your deadline

Years ago when I worked as a developer, I was regularly pulled in more directions than Stretch Armstrong at a children’s toy convention.

Rest assured, when any developer has to hit a deadline, your white paper will get pushed to the back burner.

What are you going to do about that? Fire them?

An outsourced writer, on the other hand, can focus on your project and your timelines.

They won’t get distracted by support calls, the latest bug in the software that needs to be fixed, or doing an all-nighter to prepare the next release.

As a professional writer, they can focus on your project to meet your deadlines.

photo of writer holding up orange halves to show fresh eyes

Why outsource #5: Outside writers look at your product with fresh eyes

Sometimes your project needs a set of fresh eyes.

An outside writer provides an experienced set. They will ask the kind of questions a prospect would ask and challenge you to go back to the original mission of the company.

They won’t use the shorthand, jargon, or company-speak that insiders often indulge in.

By putting themselves in the shoes of your prospects, an outside writer will deliver more effective answers to the questions that naturally occur to your prospects.

It’s up to you…

In the end, whether you go in-house or outsource your next white paper is up to you.

And make no mistake: You are the biggest success factor.

Whether you work with an in-house writer or an outside freelancer, you’ll need to support them with some key items, including:

  • A clear purpose for the document
  • A good understanding of your audience
  • A compelling topic that your audience cares about
  • A proper briefing from some knowledgable SMEs
  • A solid and sane approval process
  • A skilled designer who can create a professional-looking document
  • A sensible plan for promoting the white paper after it’s done

A seasoned outside writer can likely help you with many of these items.

They have experience defining the purpose and pinpointing the audience for many white papers.

They can help manage the approvals and work closely with your designer.

They may even be able to suggest the best promotional tactics.

An in-house writer pulled away from their real job? Not so much.


Originally published 19 June, 2019. Updated 30 November 2023.

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About Chris Hardee

Chris Hardee is a 20-year technology professional who found a passion for writing and marketing. He enjoys diving deep into technical concepts, finding important points in the data, and translating them into the right words. 

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  1. Julius on June 26, 2019 at 8:12 am

    I’m a full-time technical content writer from India.

    $5000 per white paper is $1400 more than my annual salary.

    If allowed to apply complete attention to white papers alone, I might write at least 10 of them in a year.

    • Angie Gallop on June 26, 2019 at 10:18 am

      Julius: Thanks for sharing the numbers. Someone in your situation could do very well as long as you are able to overcome the difficulty of writing in a language and for a culture that is (likely) very different than the one you live in.

      Although you may be in a position to undercut the rates that writers can command in the US/UK/CAN/AUS/EU I’d urge you not to go this route. Instead, sell (and charge well!) for your knowledge of the emerging market in India to companies that want to break in.

      Also, think beyond writing for individual clients and look to packaging what you know in digital products that you can sell. You are in a fantastic position to assist companies in a high paying market while living in a low paying one. Thanks again for having the courage to speak up. Keep us posted on your progress.

      • David Pederson on June 26, 2019 at 1:50 pm

        Well said, Angie!

        Julius – I hope you see the potential in Angie’s response. There is a new world waiting when you shift your focus. I look forward to seeing you embrace it!

        With terrific skills (which takes a ton of work acquiring, but is worth it. Think to dig deep!) and a mastery of great copywriting talent, the opportunities to move beyond you 5k annual salary is there.

        My recommendation? Do it. Do the work, be better than the rest. And move forward.

  2. Pamela DeLoatch on June 26, 2019 at 11:22 am

    I hope my potential clients see this article! I write white papers (as well as other content) for HR organizations and want to expand in this area.

    I’m wondering if you might have insight into two questions as I work on targeting my audience. 1) Any guidelines on the size of company that would need white papers on a regular basis? (Some of my smaller clients use blogs and articles exclusively) 2) Is there a sweet spot in size where companies go to solo white paper writers versus agencies? Thank you!

    • Gordon Graham on July 3, 2019 at 12:55 pm

      Hi Pamela, Great questions!

      1) Sometimes even the largest companies only need the occasional white paper. I used to write for Google / Doubleclick in New York City, and they would do maybe one paper a year. Sometimes one every two years! So not many companies need white papers “on a regular basis.”

      I tend not to look so much at the size of company, as the answers to these 3 questions:

      * Do you sell something relatively new? (Then there’s not many sources for info.)
      * Do you sell something relatively complicated? (Then it takes some explaining.)
      * Do you sell something relatively expensive? (Then I takes some cost justification.)

      Two out of 3 means they could use white papers. You can read more about that here:

      2) Hmmm… hard to say. In my experience, this depends on the preference of the individual client or perhaps their corporate policies. Many larger public companies are required to go through agencies. I think your best way to land white paper projects is to emphasize your domain knowledge. Not many agencies can match that. Most have general-purpose writers with little work experience in any specific industry. So your knowledge of HR means you can connect with readers better and complete projects faster.

  3. David Pederson on June 26, 2019 at 1:55 pm

    BTW Chris! Great article. Love the reality check on ROI.

    • Chris Hardee on June 27, 2019 at 9:18 am

      Thanks David, I really appreciate it. It was a lot of fun to write.

  4. Craig Gauvreau on June 29, 2019 at 10:28 am

    Yes, great article. I like the points on ROI… so many ideas I have

  5. Ranee Boyd Tomlin on July 2, 2019 at 10:32 pm

    Chris, this was a well-written and nicely researched article that was also delightfully readable—with great graphics. You hit all the right notes and relevant points and did so quite convincingly. Thanks for sharing your skill with Gordon Graham’s followers!

    • Chris Hardee on July 3, 2019 at 4:54 pm

      Thanks Renee, it was lots of fun to write.

  6. Chris Hardee on July 3, 2019 at 4:53 pm

    That’s wonderful, I’m glad you enjoyed it.

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