Want more clients who treat you like the professional you are?
Want to show off your abilities without feeling like you’re talking about yourself the whole time?
Girl, you need some case studies.
We’re not talking boring studies that sound like they belong in some niche scientific journal. I mean stories that show interested buyers how you’ve helped past customers get the results they want. It’s a personality-filled hero’s journey of taking your client from point A to point B, defeating their demons along the way.
A case study is like a testimonial on steroids. And while they take a bit of dedication to put together, they are totally worth it.
Here’s the complete guide to planning, writing, and using case studies in your own business.
1) Choose your client(s) for your case study
A case study is, above all, a tale of transformation. So you want to look for the clients who have a clear before and after story.
Does this mean they all need to have jaw-dropping results? Of course not. You just need to pick clients who saw a positive return on their investment from working with you. Your readers want to know that you can deliver what you say you will.
Now, one of the most common mistakes service providers make is creating case studies for projects that look really good on paper, but were a total pain to complete on your end. Beware! Whatever story you promote is the kind of work you can expect more of in the future—that’s the whole point. So for your own sanity’s sake, never write a case study for a service you no longer want to offer. No matter how great the results were. You’ll just end up getting more work you hate, and then you’ll hate me for telling you to write this scummy case study in the first place, and then we all lose.
Alright, got someone in mind? Then you’re ready to…
2) Get the client on board
Before a single word is typed into that glaringly white Word doc, you’ve got to reach out and ask for permission. This is extremely important to both maintain a good relationship and to cover your own butt.
Sharing the client’s business name and project details can sound like a big ask if approached in the wrong way. Some business owners are afraid of letting competitors know their secrets, or even revealing too much of their internal processes to customers.
To get the best results, frame your request like this:
Congratulate: Express your appreciation for their business and your enthusiasm for the results you achieved together.
Propose the idea: Explain that you’d love to feature their success on your website as a case study, promoting their business in the process.
Calm fears: Let them know that you will send them the draft for them to approve before it goes public.
Leave it as a question: End your email as a straight-forward ask, such as “Are you open to making this happen?”
If they say no, thank them for their time and drop it entirely. Trust me—it’s not worth the potential loss of respect to push the issue, and you should never publish a case study without their approval.
If, however, they respond with hesitation, it probably means they just need a few more reassurances. Be clear about your intent, and be open to some compromises. For example, you can explain that you can be vague enough to leave out information their competitors could benefit from, while still telling enough of the story to show their success and leadership in the industry. If they’re concerned about showing specific metrics, let them know you can leave out hard dollar amounts and stick to vaguer (but still very meaningful) metrics like percentage increase.
And yes, you CAN still write an impactful case study without hard metrics, assuming there are other benefits that your work brought that you can highlight.
Similar to asking your clients for a testimonial, asking for a case study can sound daunting—but it’s actually a standard practice. Many businesses will be thrilled to be featured, or at least happy to help out someone who’s already helped their business so much.
3) Get the story
Your ultimate goal is to show the problem your client was facing, how you helped them solve the problem, and then the results of your work together.
With that in mind, it’s time to start collecting the information that will form the foundation of your case study.
As the person who provided the work, you may feel you have all the details to write a good case study. And if your client is open to a case study but for some reason can’t provide an interview, you could put something together on your own that’ll do okay.
However, for a story that packs a punch, you really need your client to share their perspective.
A written questionnaire will work in a pinch, but a live call will generally provide better results. In fact, this is often an easier request. A 20-minute call is often simpler than 10 questions that your client has to type out an answer to, especially if they’re not writing-inclined.
Of course, a live interview requires a few logistical considerations:
1 | Write out your interview questions and send them to the client ahead of time so they can prepare. (Psst! I’ve got a list of sample questions for you to download right here).
2 | On the call, reiterate your gratitude for agreeing to the case study, and your enthusiasm for sharing their successes. Explain that you obviously know some of the answers to the questions you’re about to ask, but that you’d like to capture their own words for a more powerful story.
3 | Record the call so you’re not scrambling to take notes as they talk. Be sure to let them know you’re doing this. You can use a tool like Ecamm to record in Skype, or sign up for Zoom for a more professional video call and recording (it’s free for one-on-one calls).
4 | After the call, pull out relevant quotes. It’s often easier (though definitely not necessary) to order a transcript of the recording so you can just browse it visually instead of listening to the same 10-second section over and over. You can use a service like GoTranscript, Quick Transcription Service, or hundreds of other transcription providers to get this done for less than $1/minute.
4) Write that case study
Many formal studies for, say, software tools, follow a defined case study format that’s accepted in certain business circles. These pieces are long, and they’re passed around as PDFs as part of the sales cycle.
But we’re here to connect with readers right on your website. So I’ll tell you now—that’s not the kind of case study we’re talking about, and that’s not what will be effective for you as a course creator or other personality-driven business.
The way to connect with your website visitors is to tell a story. Let’s break it down.
First, set the stage
You want to open with some context. Introduce the client by name, explain what their company does, and then share the problem they were facing (that you eventually helped them solve).
“But wait,” you might say, “My clients didn’t really have a problem. They just needed some work done.”
My dear, they wouldn’t have hired you if they didn’t have a problem. That problem might have been as simple as “We couldn’t find the right person for the job.” It was an issue they were facing that was big enough to open their wallet, so don’t underestimate the value that you bring.
Agitate the problem
Now that you’ve stated the problem, really dig into it. Why was the problem relevant? Why did they need to solve it NOW? What other solutions had they tried that failed?
The goal is to get specific here, to paint a picture of what life was like for them. What emotions were they experiencing, and daily troubles? Those specifics help your readers identify similarities in their own situations. Include client quotes whenever you can to move the story along.
Walk through the solution
With the problem fully laid out, you can take the reader through the solution that you delivered. We’re using “solution” as a broad term here to mean whatever service, product, or feature you offered that solved the client’s problem.
Pay attention to any processes or extra features that you client mentioned in the interview, even if it wasn’t a main deliverable. If something is valuable enough for your client to mention, it will be valuable to your prospective clients as well.
As you go through the solution portion, don’t be afraid to be honest about roadblocks you encountered, or even other companies that had a hand in the final results. Your story doesn’t need to be straight-forward to be effective. In fact, those twists and turns show that you’re a real business that does business with other real businesses. The question is, how did you handle those roadblocks, and how well did you work with the other party? THAT shows your true colors.
Share the results
Once the solution was implemented, what happened? How did the client feel about their results, and what positive changes did it bring to their business or personal life? This is the chance to dive into growth metrics and real-worth impact.
You can create an excellent case study in under 500 words that would be perfect for a “Case Studies” or “Work” page on your website. If you want to create something a bit longer, however, I suggest adding a bit more value for the reader. This means something different for every business and every case study, but ultimately you’re looking for take-aways, practical advice, or a sense of revealing “how they did it” to your readers. This transforms it from a story about how well you did into content that will benefit the reader.
Polish it up
As you do a final read-through, add in subheads that tell enough of the story that a skimmer can get the main plot points. And finally, give your case study a title that addresses the exact pain point that you solved for your client. That will attract readers who are experiencing that same pain.
5) Present it to the client
With the case study finally on paper, it’s time to get the client’s approval. Easy-peasy. Remember, you’ve already primed them with what to expect, and they’ve completed an interview with you, so this should go pretty smoothly.
Send the case study as an email attachment. In the email, use the same messaging you’ve been using the whole time: You’re thankful for their involvement, you’re excited to share their successes, you can’t wait to feature them, etc. Ask for their approval on the case study, and ask them to let you know “if anything needs to be adjusted.” I’ve found that language sets the proper expectations—you’re happy to make tweaks, but rewriting the whole thing isn’t the plan.
6) Make it look good
Once you’re at this stage, take a deep breath, HOLY COW you just completed your first case study. The hardest part is over.
With the draft approved, it’s time to get that baby on your site.
There are two main options for housing your case study. Either you put it in a blog post, or it lives permanently on your site in a page called “Work,” “Clients,” “Case Studies,” etc.
If you have only a few studies, a permanent page is going to give you more mileage. If you have a regular stream of new clients and you plan on making case studies part of your main marketing content, you may want to consider going with the blog instead—and be sure to add on as much value as possible.
When formatting the case study (whether in a blog post or page), go visual. Include photos of the client if possible, photos of their workspace if that makes sense, snippets of the deliverables, etc. Even generic visuals (that are on-brand and not sucky stock photos) are better than nothing. You can also pull out key metrics, benefits, or quotes to highlight in a graphic.
Before you hit publish, be sure to include a call-to-action (CTA) on the page. Again, case studies can be some of your best content for converting visitors into buyers. You want them to be able to make that purchase (or reach out to you) the moment they’re ready.
Using your case study to make waves in your business
With that sexy new content live on your site, it’s time to use it to make some magic.
Naturally, you’ll want to put it through a round of promotion. Just like any other content in your business, your case study deserves solid distribution. At minimum, this means a few social media posts and an email to your list. Focus on the value that the reader would get from clicking on the link—they might learn more about the experience of working with you, see “how they did it,” get insights on which of your offerings might work for them, etc.
After the first promotion, it can be easy to just forget about your case study. But hold up, that content can still be repurposed! Pull out client quotes to use as testimonials elsewhere on your site, or even put them into quote images to share on social media (I dive more into that in my free guide 16 Types of Facebook Posts). Don’t forget to include links to your case studies or excerpts in custom pitches as well. Those real-world examples will be extremely impactful in closing the deal with a new client.
Get out there and build that trust
Trust is the foundation of everything you do online. Your visitors want to know that you fulfill your commitments, and that you do a good job. A case study can do some seriously heavy lifting in that department. But the hardest part is just getting started.
If you’ve made it to the end of this article and have decided that you really want to do a case study, the first step is just sending one little email to your client. That’s it. Do it now. Once that’s out in the world, you can figure out the rest.
Best of luck, and as always, leave any questions you have in the comments. I’m here to help.