When a client browses through the services you offer, it can be hard for her to equate that list with the results she needs your help to reach.
The best way to make clear what you’re able to offer — better even than a straight up portfolio full of amazing work for big name clients — is a set of case studies that showcase what you’ve already accomplished.
Researching Before You Write
Before you can write case studies, you need to have information. You might have a general feel for how a past project went, but you’ll need to go and collect details so that you can write the most effective case study possible.
The more numbers that you can directly connect to the work you accomplished — the return on your client’s investment, if you will — the better.
Start by scheduling a follow-up interview with the client who you’re writing the case study about. You want to make sure that your client is comfortable being featured; a case study is significantly less effective if you can’t include the client’s name.
You need to gather information about the client’s perspective on how the project went and its impact on the client’s company. The more numbers that you can directly connect to the work you accomplished — the return on your client’s investment, if you will — the better.
It’s also worth going over your project notes in some depth, looking at what the client initially told you and how you decided to move forward. If you don’t have project notes, it may be worth waiting until your next amazing project to prepare a case study. You need to have some information to actually work from, and relying on memory may not give you the necessary details.
Structuring Your Case Study
There’s no precise template that you absolutely have to follow for every case study you write. It’s a flexible format, particularly when you’re writing for prospective clients and not for an academic audience.
That isn’t to say that there aren’t good case studies and bad case studies (there is a wide range in the quality of case studies published online and if your case study is even marginally decent, you’ll be ahead of the curve). Rather, you should make the format of your case study work for you and the type of project you’re showcasing. If you need to make the experience as visual as possible because that’s the type of work you’re offering, that’s fine. You just need to make sure that you’re getting your value across to prospective clients when you write a case study.
There are certain sections that make sense to incorporate into a case study. Feel free to tweak this arrangement until it works for you, though — you want to tell a story that makes sense, not turn in a school report.
- Goals: In order to do a project for a client in the first place, the client had some goal in mind, something that your work would help her achieve. Your case study needs to start from that point so that prospective clients get an idea of the purpose behind your work (and how well you achieve that purpose).
- Process: A case study is a chance to show what you do that no one else will be able to match. You don’t need to give away the recipe for the secret sauce, but you do need to offer a clear idea of what a client gets when she comes to you. The more detail you can offer and the more real you can make it, the more likely you are to convince a potential client that you’re a good fit.
- Results: Even though every project is different, your clients hire you because they want a certain set of results that they expect you can provide. A case study is an easy way to confirm their expectations, or get them asking questions so that there’s no miscommunication about what you can offer. Go as deep as you can in describing the end results of the project your case study covers.
- Generalization: Readers need to be able to make the connection between what you did for the client described in the case study and what you can do for every client you work with. Draw the connections for your readers: you don’t want to insult their intelligence, but you do want to ensure that they get the message, even if they’re just skimming the document.
Creating a video case study, rather than a written case study, is an option. Before taking that approach, though, you need to be sure that your prospective clients will sit all the way through a video. Most business owners are likely to prefer a written case study to a video, because they can skim through it much quicker.
Preparing Your Case Study for Public Consumption
Even if you make your entire living by writing case studies on a freelance basis, make a point of having an editor read over your document. Typos sneak through, we get awkward when writing about ourselves and other problems can creep into our writing. A second pair of eyes just helps ensure that the document that you want to convince prospective clients to hire you can do its job.
No matter which strategy you choose, your case study should be put together impeccably.
Exactly how to prepare your case study, beyond editing, depends on how you plan to make it available to readers. No matter which strategy you choose, your case study should be put together impeccably. It is a major component of your marketing materials and should be well-designed with your prospective clients in mind. Don’t even consider dumping it into Microsoft Word and printing to PDF.
If your particular niche doesn’t guarantee that you have the skill set necessary to handle any particular part of the process of preparing your case study, bring in some help. You may be able to trade some of your experience for the aid of another freelancer, but even if you can’t, it’s worth investing money in your marketing materials. You need to be sure that your prospective clients take you seriously and if that means budgeting some money to spend with a writer or a designer, do it.
Great Case Studies Worth Studying
- David Airey’s logo design for Henri Ehrhart
- Web Liquid’s social media work for OpenSkies
- Communication Overtones’ social media campaign for Seaworld
- Just Creative Design’s work on the graphic designer’s own logo
Making Your Case Studies Available
A case study isn’t going to do you much good unless you put it in front of your prospective clients.
- Integrate case studies into your portfolio: One of the most effective places to at least introduce potential clients to your case studies is through your portfolio. It may not be the full case study — a portfolio case study may prove to be shorter than what you might otherwise offer, in the interest of presenting a portfolio that can be quickly reviewed. But you can link to the full case study.
- Create a case studies page on your website: As a prospective client browses through your website, she may click around to get a feel for what you do and how you do it. Having an entire page devoted to case studies linked to in your navigation can make it easy for a visitor to find.
- Develop an ebook or booklet of case studies: Having a standalone document, either as a PDF or in print, that you can provide as you’re talking to someone about a potential project makes it easier to direct her attention to the relevant information. If you take on different types of projects, it can make sense to have individual sets of case studies for each type of project.
The Lifecycle of a Case Study
A case study is a lot of work, but it’s a process that you should get used to. It’s good to make a habit of turning out new case studies as you complete great projects with different clients. Just like with every other part of your portfolio, you need to keep your case studies current. The work that you’re showing clients needs to look fresh and up to date.
There’s no age at which a case study is definitively dated, but it’s probably fair to start looking at a case study with a mind to revising it after a maximum of two years.
It’s not a bad idea to always have a new case study in some stage of development if you can. Working on your case studies as you have time between client projects can be enough to keep the cycle going. And delivering new and interesting case studies on a regular basis to prospective clients can help turn more of them into actual clients.