Continuing education. In this competitive world, that’s one way to stay ahead of the competition. But continuing education doesn’t have to be in a classroom, and you certainly don’t need to receive a grade or take final exams (although putting your new knowledge to the test might indirectly do that for you anyway). Chances are, if you’re trying to stay ahead, you’re looking for new and innovative ways of doing things, looking for the latest trends to capitalize on, and you just want to be better than the competition. Thanks to the World Wide Web, we now have a lot of bottomless ideas waiting to be read, thought about, and put into practice. These ideas come from opinion leaders and business executives in various aspects of the industry. But they can also come from you!

Today, white papers are one of the critical ways you can position yourself as a thought leader. The benefits are twofold. White papers, which are informational reports, are increasingly used to “sell” information, products. and services providing more detailed information on a topic or problem. Also, including white papers on your website helps optimize your site; Today’s search engines are crawling white papers just like they do your blogs and other “live” information.

White papers are a great way to dig into a topic of interest to a market segment. You explain the importance of this information and how the reader can use it within your business model or marketing mix. Where does your experience lie? What topics can you provide information to your customers about? Do they need to better understand a new technology and how it can benefit them? If you were a potential customer, what kind of information would you need to know to do business with a particular VAR? By presenting well thought out and written content, you will develop your brand, but more importantly, you will position yourself as a thought leader among your peers and your customers. People will hope that you have the answer (or at least the ideas), becoming the ultimate solution provider.

Sometimes white papers can be difficult to write, so don’t be afraid to have someone help you collect your thoughts and put them on paper. Here are some tips to help you get started:

– Choose your topic. Are you going to write an in-depth story about the latest piece of software, still in the prototype phase, that you just tested? Do you have a marketing promotion that has worked well for you and are you willing to share that success with others? Whatever the topic, do your research and gather as much information as you can. Find facts to support your statements, and use the knowledge and research of other opinion leaders to support your position on the issue (just remember to attribute your ideas in your whitepaper). Of course, with the Web, there is an endless supply of information.

– Deliver relevant information. Doing a Google search for your topic could give you hundreds, if not thousands, of results with information to use as part of your white paper research model. However, the facts and statistics you use should be relevant to the topic at hand. Don’t just include a bunch of information to “fatten up” the white paper. Doing so will confuse your reader and miss the point. Instead, focus on two or three areas of information that specifically relate to the point you are trying to make. To determine what belongs and what doesn’t, start by defining the objective of the white paper. Make sure all your information relates to that goal.

– Include helpful tips and tricks. Everyone loves ideas, especially when they are free. By sharing the tips and tricks that worked for you, you are offering an inside look at how you solve problems and providing some free tips at the same time. This aggravates your ability to be a thought leader. Clients and prospects will come back to you for more if you implement your tips, and they work!

– Offer problems; then solve them using your approach. White papers should be designed to give real life examples and situations that could happen. As the solution provider writing the whitepaper, you need to tailor your answers to resolve the situations, giving several examples of what works, but directing the reader in the direction of how you would resolve the situation.

– Insert keywords. Here’s the SEO part of why white papers work today. By using keywords that will appear in a search engine search, you can attract readers from outside of your existing customer base to visit your website. Technical reports help optimize your site. Think of keywords and keyword phrases that potential customers could use to find the information they need. Then incorporate them into your whitepaper (as long as they stay on topic), which will direct them to your website.

When writing white papers, it’s easy to get out of breath or sometimes fall short. Keep your works at approximately 3,000 to 4,000 words. Each sentence should focus on the topic at hand and be relevant to the overall topic. Articles that are 2000 words or less may not have the substance someone is looking for, while an article that is more than 5,000 words is simply too cumbersome and may be more suitable as a detailed e-book. But as long as the text supports your original goal of writing the article in the first place, then you should be well on your way to becoming the next most important thought leader.

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