One of the recurring challenges of running a business is building trust with potential customers. Before clients even feel comfortable about working with you, you need to prove that your services work. But how can you build credibility before working with someone?
This is where case studies come in. When done right, case studies can help demonstrate how effective your business is so that you can build trust with potential customers and engage them right off the bat.
In this tutorial, we'll examine the advantages of creating case studies, walk through the process of how to write a case study, and take a look at compelling case study examples and templates.
What is a Case Study?
There are many different ways to define a case study, but for freelancers and business owners, a case study usually documents the processes and solutions that demonstrate how well you work.
These case studies are often based on clients and customers that have had success with using your product or service. Unlike a customer testimonial or review, which are often just a few sentences of praise, case studies include more detail. Case studies typically include the problems you're trying to solve for the client, the solutions you've used, and the achieved results.
What Case Studies Can Do for Your Business
Given the amount of detail that a single case study contains, it's easy to feel intimidated about creating it. Sure, getting your clients' cooperation, narrowing down the needed information, and writing the case study itself takes more work, but there are many benefits to investing your time and effort in creating a handful of case studies for your business. Here are some of the benefits you can expect:
1. Case Studies Build Credibility Quickly
Since case studies are essentially documented proof that you can provide good service, it helps lift your credibility in the eyes of new, possibly wary, clients. After all, if you've already done similar projects before, it makes sense to assume that you can do them again. If your case studies are engaging and thorough, you'll have no problem convincing even the most skeptical clients of your abilities.
2. Case Studies Give You an Advantage Over Competitors
Since writing case studies takes more work than gathering testimonials or putting up your portfolio, fewer of your competitors will be investing time and energy into creating compelling case studies. This can help you stand out even in the most crowded, competitive industries.
3. Case Studies Are Effective Marketing Tools
According to the 2016 B2B Content Marketing Trends report from the Content Marketing Institute, content marketers rate case studies as the third most effective content marketing channel.
Only in-person events and webinars were rated as more effective. This means that, at least from the experience of marketers, case studies perform better as marketing tools compared to blogs and newsletters. If you're going to invest some time in a marketing channel, it should be a case study.
How to Write a Case Study
Since we've pointed out why case studies can be an asset to your business, it might seem like the best idea is to get started on them right now. However, without the proper groundwork, your case study might end up being boring or, worse, might end up repelling potential clients rather than attracting them. Here are the recommended steps that can help you start your first case study on the right path:
Step 1. Find the Right Client or Project to Profile
The first thing you should do is to find the best candidates you can profile for your first case study. While it's easier to just pick your latest client and project, there are other things to consider, especially given the amount of work that goes into writing and designing your case study. Think about the following:
Which Types of Projects Do You Want to Do More Of? Which Types of Clients Do You Want to Work With?
Ideally, your case studies will bring you more of the projects you want to do and attract more of the clients you want to work with. For example, if you're a designer who mostly works with small businesses and wants to start working more with tech startups, it makes sense to profile your more tech-inclined clients and projects. Or, if you provide several services—such as website design, print design, and UX design—and want to start specializing in a single service, it's best to pick projects that are centered on the service you want to specialize in.
Are There Numbers or Statistics That You Can Present as Proof That Your Project Was Successful?
Case studies work best when there's hard evidence of the value you provide. That evidence usually comes in the form of numbers. If you're a web designer, you can track the number of clicks on "Buy Now" buttons on the sites you designed. Content writers can track the traffic and social shares that their articles get. Developers can track specific metrics that are important to the client, such as how fast an app runs and how many users download or use the app monthly. If reliability is important in your field, you can also track the number of hours or days it took for you to deliver the project.
To find out the numbers that will work best for your case study, consider the main goals of the project. What did the client want to achieve? How were they measuring it? This can help you figure out which stats to gather for your case study.
What Was Your Working Relationship Like? Was the Client Satisfied?
While you might not be allowed to disclose confidential business details, your most satisfied clients will be more willing candidates for your case studies. It's best to ask them directly after you've gotten positive feedback or achieved impressive results on a finished project, when they'd be more likely to accommodate a case study as a celebration of success.
It also helps to involve them in the process by asking for quotes you can use, especially when it comes to using their own words to express how satisfied they are with your work. Having direct quotes from clients can add a more natural, personable feel to your case study, so that you avoid focusing just on the dry technicalities. This is important because no matter how technical your products and services are, a lot of emotion goes into a client's buying decisions.
Step 2. Tell a Compelling Story
Now that you have all the information you need to get started with your case study, see how you can turn all that information into an engaging story that will attract the attention of potential clients and hold their interest.
Pick an Angle
Your first job is to find the angle. Usually, this is the specific result you've achieved for your client, which you'll be elaborating on throughout the case study. Because of the importance of your angle, it's no surprise that it might end up being your case study's title. For example, this case study from Design by Structure, a London-based design firm, is introduced with the high-impact header "Revenue. Doubled." Then it gives specific achievements below.
Judging from this header and the content, the case study is all about how the right web design can lead to more sales, rather than other benefits such as a more memorable brand or a faster-loading website. These other benefits or results may have occurred, but they're not the focus of the case study.
While it's possible to highlight two or even three different angles in your case study, focusing on too many elements or results might lead to a confusing message. When in doubt, stick to the most important angle of the story and build your case study around it.
Use a Strong Voice
Whether you use a formal or casual tone in your case study depends on your industry and your branding. The important thing is to ensure that whichever tone you use, your writing voice has to be strong. This means the following:
- Get directly to the point. As Strunk and White's "Elements of Style" put it, "Omit needless words." Be as direct as possible by using as few words as you can to get a point across. Don't unnecessarily repeat ideas by rephrasing the same point over and over throughout your case study.
- Be assertive. Don't be afraid to take credit for your opinions, ideas, and accomplishments. Rather than using phrases like "The client was able to increase their website traffic," use something like "I helped the client increase their website traffic". Be clear about the active role you've played in the process and the results.
Keep it Engaging
Most importantly, focus on the story you're trying to tell with your case study. Stories typically have an interesting beginning, an expository middle, and a satisfying conclusion. When it comes to case studies, your interesting beginning is a statement of the problem or conflict your client was facing before you came into the picture. The middle is the description of the step by step process you used to resolve this conflict, and the end contains the results you achieved and how this changed the client's business and life for the better.
But how do you know if you've accomplished this successfully? Here are pointers to look out for:
- Use emotions to anchor the problem you're solving and the results you achieved. Rather than plainly starting off your case study with something like "XYZ Corp wanted to increase their sales," think about what this means to the bigger picture. What was the client feeling about this goal they wanted to achieve? What was getting in their way? What were the consequences of this problem? Draw out these emotional anchors by writing something more like, "XYZ Corp's founders spent five years putting off their plans for expansion because they just weren't making enough sales. 'It was frustrating that we couldn't make it happen for so long,' said Mr. Smith, co-founder of XYZ Corp." As for your conclusion, think about what the results mean for the client and the possibilities they now face given that this particular problem is already solved.
- Make it interesting and useful, even for those who might not be potential clients. It's tempting to over-focus on making the sale, but before you can even sell your service, you have to sell the story of the case study. It must be useful enough that your readers can take away some ideas from it and maybe even share it with others. Your case studies have to be more than just a marketing channel, they should be educational and inspiring as well.
Step 3. Add a Call to Action
Finally, it's important to add a call to action to your case study. This is to encourage interested prospects to contact you or to start a conversation about their needs. A good example of this is the call to action at the very beginning of this website design case study from Kooba, which invites you to "Start your project".
To create an effective call to action, make sure to remind your reader why they should click the call to action. In the above example, the positioning of the previous client as "world-leading" achieves this—who wouldn't want their business to be world-leading?
As a bonus, it also helps to remind readers of what they'll be missing out on if they don't follow your call to action. What opportunities won't be available to them? What changes will they be unable to make?
If you can, test your calls to action over time to see if any major tweaks in color, size, or wording can affect the response you get.
Case Study Examples and Templates
As you're working on your case study, it's important to review other case studies that are out "in the wild". These can give you inspiration on how to design case studies, based on what has worked for other people. One notable example is marketer Neil Patel's case studies, such as this one for PortraitFlip.
This example starts out strong, with a compelling headline focusing on thousands of dollars of cost savings. The rest of the case study may be short, but it's full of important stats and information. This just goes to show that it's not the length of the text that matters, but the strength of your evidence and how compelling the story is. Other examples you can check out include this simple case study from design firm Forge and Smith.
So that you can focus on the actual content of your case study, it might help to use templates to make the design process easier. If you want to make downloadable or printable case studies, you can't go wrong with this minimalist case study template. If you need something richer and more image-heavy, you can also opt for this more colorful case study template, work with this business case study flyer template, or use the professional case study booklet design shown below.
Hopefully, these examples and templates will inspire you to create beautiful, engaging case studies that will not just build your credibility, but also excite your potential clients to take the step and work with you.
There are hundreds of professional print template types and brochure templates to choose from on Envato Elements. They can save you a ton of time and give you a stand out visual design to work with.
Editorial Note: This content was originally published in 2016. We're sharing it again because our editors have determined that this information is still accurate and relevant.