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Bathroom renovation mess

White papers and… renovating a bathroom?!

Have you ever renovated a bathroom?

I’m not talking about a new shower curtain. 

I’m talking about a rip-and-replace. 

That means tearing out everything down to the studs, hacking out the old plumbing, ripping up the old wiring; redoing the ceiling, walls, and floor; replacing the vanity, tub, toilet… 

And I’m in the middle of a bathroom reno like that. 

I wanted to do this myself, DIY-style.

Call me crazy, but during the pandemic, I wanted to learn some new skills, not have workmen traipsing through my house… and save thousands of dollars.

And I’m starting to see how renovating a bathroom has a lot in common with writing a white paper. 

Here are eight similarities I noticed, plus a tip or two under each one.

What do you think? Am I imagining all this, or is there something to it?


young man overwhelmed by his project

White papers and DIY bathroom renos 1:
Both can seem overwhelming

“We need to refresh our bathroom…” or “We need a new white paper.” How hard can that be?

Actually? Very hard.

Both projects require a lot of knowledge, many skills, a fair bit of time and money, and a host of decisions stretching over many weeks.

At some point, both projects can start to feel pretty overwhelming. 

That’s when you need to step back and think of that huge project as a set of smaller steps you can handle one by one. 

For a bathroom reno, those steps include planning, purchasing, demolition, plumbing, wiring, inspections, ceiling, walls, floor, fixtures, and of course, the grand unveiling. 

A step like purchasing can be ongoing. You may well discover more bits and pieces you need as you go.

Towel racks? Makeup lights? Who thinks of these things?

For a white paper, the main steps include planning, research, first draft, getting reviews, final draft, design, graphics, sign-offs, and posting it to the web. 

A step like research can be ongoing. You may well discover more bits and pieces you need to fill in as you go. 

Tip: Don’t get overwhelmed. Take it step-by-step, and you’ll get there.

Tip: If you’re stuck, take a break. Go for a walk. Sleep on it. A little time away from a project usually gives us some fresh ideas. 


Many players surrounding a business man

White papers and DIY bathroom renos 2:
Both involve a lot of people

No one renos an entire bathroom all by themself. And no one completes a white paper on their own, either. 

In reality, both projects involve many people. 

For a bathroom reno, those people can include the plumber, electrician, drywaller, painter, carpenter, inspector, and the building permit issuer.

Not to mention your partner and maybe your kids who give up the use of the bathroom while it’s under construction! 

For a white paper, those people can include the sponsor, sources, reviewers, designer, and marketing staff promoting that content.

Tip: Get contact info for everyone involved in your project, so you can reach them when you need to.

Tip: Keep everyone informed about where the project stands, and what you and they need to do next.  


Man focused on online research on laptop

White papers and DIY bathroom renos 3:
Both take a lot of research

Finding the right information is a key part of both projects.  

For my bathroom reno, I spent days online. I ended up buying things from at least a dozen different sources… and that’s counting Amazon as only one!

I visited countless websites, watched dozens of YouTube videos, and scanned through half a dozen books.

And I asked salespeople in many stores for their help. 

Not every source was helpful. In fact, I couldn’t trust what some told me.

For example, I found lots of web articles called, “How to repair plaster” that never even mentioned plaster: All they talked about was drywall.

But I soon learned there’s a big difference between 120-year-old plaster and today’s thin drywall. So I kept looking.

Eventually, I came across a great website and a product specifically developed to repair century-old plaster. 

Any fewer sources, any less research, and my reno wouldn’t have turned out nearly as well. 

screenshot of Jeff Thorman trusted source for DIYers

Two sources I trust for DIY advice are Jeff Thorman of Home Renovision DIY (above) who was a general contractor for 30 years, and Scott Sidler of The Craftsman Blog (below) who focuses on older homes like mine. 

screenshot of Scott Sidler The Craftsman Blog trusted source for DIY info

And of course, This Old House from PBS is the gold standard that’s been running for 40+ years now. When all three of my most trusted sources agree on how to do something, I follow their advice. 


For most white papers, you need to find at least a dozen different sources to support your argument. 

For background, expect to spend a few days visiting websites, watching videos, and perhaps consulting a few books.

Not to mention interviewing SMEs (subject matter experts) from your client’s company. 

Not every source may be useful. Some may contradict one other. 

Tip: If in doubt, keep looking. You need the very best sources for your project. 

Any less and your white paper can be as mixed-up as that new hire at Home Depot their first day on the job! 


brick wall partly covered by plaster

White papers and DIY bathroom renos 4:
Both can surprise you

In both projects, unexpected things can happen.

In my bathroom reno, the plumber ran into a brick wall. Literally. 

“Oh yeah,” I said. “That’s the outside wall of the old part of the house. From 1900.”

There was no way we were getting through that obstacle. That’s not even legal. 

So I had to revise my plans. I moved the new vanity, mirror, and lights across the room where we could actually run plumbing and wiring inside the wall.

But when I peeled back the ancient oilcloth over the brick wall, I discovered it was covered in smooth plaster, still in excellent condition.

A few quick patches and that whole wall was ready to paint! 

In a white paper, you can hit unexpected surprises. 

On a recent project, my client hired a new VP of marketing when a white paper was in final reviews.

Of course, she wanted to read it herself. 

“Oh no,” I thought. “Not back to square one.” 

The new VP turned out to be a thoughtful reviewer who made sound  suggestions.

With a bit more effort, that white paper turned out stronger than it would have been without her. 

Tip: Sometimes you just have to roll with what turns up.

Tip: You may even find that an unexpected surprise makes your project better. 


man looking at his watch shocked at the time

White papers and DIY bathroom renos 5:
Both take longer than you expect

How long does it take to finish a project that involves many steps, many people, many sources, and an unexpected surprise or two?

Well, if you want to get your bathroom renovated in two or three weeks, you’ll be disappointed.

And if you want to get a white paper finished in two or three weeks, you’ll be just as disappointed. 

My bathroom reno is taking a long time.

I was planning all last winter, purchasing all spring, procrastinating all summer, dabbling all fall, and now I’m hoping to wrap it up before this spring.  

The plumbers and electricians spent four days on-site.

All the rest of that time was me. 

Sure, I was doing lots of things for the first time. Repairing a plaster and lath ceiling? Using a nail gun with a compressor? Sponge painting? 

Those were all new to me, and I was slow at them.

A more experienced DIYer could have achieved what I did in a fraction of the time.

Even so, have you ever heard anyone say, “My bathroom reno was done faster than I ever imagined?!”

Most white papers also take longer than you expect. 

In my experience on more than 300 white papers, the typical project takes six to eight weeks from start to finish.

And that’s when the topic is crystal clear, the client does prompt reviews, and the whole team is fairly seasoned.

Lack of clear direction, slow reviews, and an inexperienced team can slow everything down to a crawl.   

Have you ever heard anyone say, “My white paper was done faster than I ever imagined?!”

Tip: Allow six to eight weeks for any white paper. Make sure to get clear direction and prompt reviews.

Tip: Try your best to assemble a seasoned team. If everyone from the SMEs to the designer are working on their first white paper ever, the project may take forever… and not even turn out that well. 


woman moving sticky notes around a board to manage a project

White papers and DIY bathroom renos 6:
Both require strong project management

Project management touches on many steps in a project: planning, budgeting, scheduling…

Not to mention keeping all the players informed about what’s going on and what they need to do next. 

Both projects require someone to take charge, manage all the other people, and make quick, wise decisions.

That means a strong project manager. 

For a DIY bathroom reno, you become your own project manager, also known as “general contractor.”

You may not have detailed drawings for your project. I sure don’t.

Even with blueprints, many subcontractors just do what they usually do, and install things where they usually put them.

So if you want anything done differently, you have to communicate that loud and clear, early and often. 

In my bathroom, I took down some wonky tiles and discovered a plaster ceiling underneath in perfect condition.

So I decided not to put up that new drywall ceiling I’d planned.

That gave us 9-foot ceilings and saved a big chunk of work. 

But that meant moving wires up into the attic.

And that meant taking apart my wife’s closet, squeezing up through the tiny access hole, digging through the insulation, fishing up those wires, and rerunning them along the attic joists. 

All while keeping my eyes open for mice and bats. 

Believe me, I’m hoping I don’t have to go up there again in a hurry.

For a white paper, the project manager is usually the writer.

No one else has the time or the skills.

So like any good DIYer, the writer likely steps in to fill that role.

That means constant communication, especially to point out any decisions that could be costly to reverse.

For example, you don’t want to send the text to the designer until it’s approved.

Otherwise, if you ask the designer to make picky text changes in their design file, that will cost extra and eat up more time. 

The role of a good project manager is to minimize surprises and delays… and we’ve seen how those can afflict any white paper.  

Tip: Involve everyone who has to approve the final white paper from the start. Give them lots of chances to review drafts before the project is finalized. 

Tip: Get the white paper text approved before you send it to the designer. 


many pipes that need connecting

White papers and DIY bathroom renos 7: 
Both must hook up to your existing systems

To work properly, every bathroom and white paper must be connected to all your existing systems. 

For a bathroom, those connections tie into your home’s plumbing, venting, and electrical systems. In an older home like mine, these systems may need to be brought up to code.

As well, your home’s structure will need to support the weight of any new bathtub you add.

Your goal is to make everything work well, so you fix it once and don’t have to think about it for years to come. 

For a white paper, those connections tie into your company’s website, funnels, and lead-tracking systems or martech.

As well, your social media will need to support the new white paper.

Your goal is to get the word out to anyone who might be interested in your white paper.

And you want to do that several times, through several different channels. 

Remember, a white paper that’s working well can continue to deliver results for years to come. 


Hand reaching out to help

White papers and DIY bathroom renos 8:
For both, you likely want a buddy to help

Many hands make light work. So to move any big project along, you can always use a helper.

For a bathroom reno, a good buddy can answer your questions about things you’ve never dealt with.

They can explain how to do things according to code.

They can show you how to use any new tools you acquired. And they can generally lend a hand when you need one. 

In my case, I asked a buddy to help me carry heavy items up to the second floor.

I asked for help sawing down two-by-fours to make replacement lath.

And my kids picked the paint colors and did a lot of the sponge painting.

Beyond that, I’ve asked three experienced DIYers for advice along the way. 

For a white paper, a good buddy can answer your questions.

They can explain how to do things according to best practices.

Then can show you how to use new tools, and generally lend a hand when you can use one.

And if you need a buddy for your next white paper, I can help. 

At the start of your project, I can help you make a sensible plan, budget, and schedule with my unique white paper planning service.

In a single Zoom, I can discover what flavor of white paper you need, and gather enough background to draw up a blueprint to guide you through your project. 

If you have a draft white paper you’re not sure about, I can show you how to make it stronger with a cost-effective white paper checkup.

And if you like, I can do all those suggested revisions for you.

After doing hundreds of white papers, I can work fast to give you the results you need… just like any seasoned plumber, electrician, or carpenter. 

Pssst… and if you’re renovating your own bathroom, we can talk about that just for fun too!


What do you think? Have you ever done a DIY bathroom reno? Do you agree it’s a lot like writing a white paper? Please leave your comment below.


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About Gordon Graham

Worked on 320+ white papers for clients from Silicon Valley to Switzerland, on everything from choosing enterprise software to designing virtual worlds for kids, for clients from tiny startups to 3M, Google, and Verizon. Wrote White Papers for Dummies which earned 60+ 5-star ratings on Amazon. Won 16 awards from the Society for Technical Communication. Named AWAI 2019 Copywriter of the Year.

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