You’re a freelance writer running a service-based business.
But you’re not just any freelance writer serving clients. You’re the freelance writer who goes above and beyond in their research, who’s never missed a deadline, and who builds lasting relationships with clients (because you’re a human, not a robot).
You’re different. Your work is different. Your approach is different.
But it’s tough to make the differences in how you work apparent when you’re using a lot of the same marketing materials as your peers.
But there’s one tool very few freelance writers use that can make all the difference in the world: Case studies.
Why case studies work for a service-based business
First things first: What’s a case study?
Think of a case study as a story. In fact, we’ll use “case study” and “success story” interchangeably here.
A case study is designed to tell the story of how a client achieved a specific metric of success by using your service. In sharing that success, a case study done right will also give context to your services, putting them in perspective for future clients.
Case studies work because they combine two elements that work incredibly well in marketing: Storytelling and social proof.
Take it from copywriter Joel Klettke, who recently launched a case-study creation business he’s cleverly calling Case Study Buddy:
When done well, case studies combine all the best elements of social proof: A customer your lead can empathize with, testimonials and quotes that substantiate your claims, and a clear narrative our brains find easy to follow. They show leads that a business just like theirs got the results they want by choosing your service, and hammer that home in a story format that follows a before, during and after arc. For a moment, leads join your customer on their journey and see themselves in it.
Being able to see how other clients are using your products or services will trigger your prospective leads to take a walk in their shoes, revealing ways they can use your products or services.
The “ah-ha” moment we want all of our customers to feel? A good case study will deliver it.
Elements of a good case study
A case study can produce all these benefits — but only when done well.
Here are a few key elements that make for a strong case study:
Like any good narrative, the success story has to have an arc.
In a recent set of case studies I wrote for a client, the before-during-after arc was referred to as The Test, The Science, and The Results. The Test sets the stage for where the customer was at when they realized they needed my client’s service. The Science brings in my client’s expertise to explain the process of solving the customer’s problem. And The Results share the successes experienced since the project’s completion.
Case studies are all about bringing your client to center stage. A good case study will include quotes, facts, and data from at least one client source.
In cases where you’ve worked with more than one employee of your client, identify a few people who might be able to speak to the information you need (the pain points, the project process, and the results), and get them on the phone.
While email responses and surveys can prime the pump, only a phone conversation can give you the back-and-forth banter that allows you to really dive into your questions.
3. Specific results
A strong case study is results oriented. The more specific results, the better.
How many leads were they able to capture with the ebook you ghostwrote? How did viewership increase on their blog once you took over? How did conversion rates change when you rewrote those product descriptions?
4. Easy visuals
Start with a clean layout and design for your case study, then spruce it up with pull quotes and illustrative charts of results. Use visuals to draw attention to the points you want your potential clients to notice most.
How to streamline the process to make it easy on your clients (and on you)
This is where we put the brakes on.
Just because you’ve decided a case study would make for a great way to market your service doesn’t mean you’re good to go. You still need one very important thing: Your client’s buy-in.
Back to Klettke of Case Study Buddy:
Help sell your lead/client internally by giving them written confirmation that nothing will be published without their consent, setting expectations for the interaction (how long the call will be, how the case study will be used, when they’ll be able to review a draft), and sending them a list of questions you’ll be asking beforehand so they can prepare and collect the necessary data.
By putting some time in up front, you can work to calm any fears that the case study might position the client in an unwanted light, share potentially confidential information, or take up too much of their time.
Having a process in place can save a heck of a lot of time on your end, as well.
A few ways to use and market a case study
Once a case study is complete, it’s up to you to get it in front of your potential leads.
Here are a few ways you might do that:
- Amplify your outreach and presentations with case studies. Cold outreach gets a lot less cold with the addition of a story you can put in the context of your prospective client. Meanwhile, the best speakers share stories, and having case studies in your arsenal will give you a library of stories to pull from for your next presentation.
- Scatter testimonials throughout your marketing. Grab “soundbites” from your interviews and use them throughout your website, as social media copy (tweets, Instagram captions, Facebook posts), on landing pages, or in email footers.
- Use your case study an opt-in. Use a success story as a “carrot” when someone opts-in to your email list. Remember: When done well, the case study will provide a good amount of value for your prospective clients, because it shows them what they could achieve.
- Share your case studies via a monthly blog or email series. Integrate your case studies into your content marketing by sharing the stories as part of a monthly series on your blog or to your email list.
Case studies are pretty versatile — like any good story — and it’s wise to make the most of the time spent researching and interviewing by using the case study to market your services in different ways.
Why the bad rap? Have a little fun with your case studies
Case studies tend to have a bad rap, because they seem to be unconditionally tied to whitepapers and corporate jargon.
But these success stories? They’re downright sexy.
They amplify the power of social marketing and storytelling, and give you an entirely different way to market how your services are different.
And, of course, writing killer case studies for your clients might be a service you could pitch them when you’re through.
Do you have a client you’d love to write a case study about?
About the Author: Sara Frandina
Sara Frandina is a New York-based copywriter + content strategist with a relentless love of words and an insatiable appetite for books, travel and popcorn. When she’s not creating copy for clients, she’s helping fellow solopreneurs and small businesses overcome content strategy barriers with tips, freebies, and workshops at sarafrandina.com.
Website | @heytheresar
Filed Under: Freelancing, Marketing
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Have you every written a short article for a magazine, newspaper or trade journal?
Not the most profitable work these days, is it?
If you’re looking for a better way to leverage your storytelling skills, case studies are a great way to do that.
To learn more about the opportunity in case studies — and how to approach these projects — I interview Casey Hibbard for this episode of The High-Income Business Writing podcast.
The notes that follow are a very basic, unedited summary of the show. There’s a lot more detail in the audio version. You can listen to the show using the audio player below. Or you can subscribe in iTunes or on Stitcher to get this show delivered straight to the Podcasts app on your smart phone, tablet or iPod.
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About This Show
The High-Income Business Writing podcast is a production of B2B Biz Launcher. It’s designed for business writer and copywriters who want to propel their writing business to the six-figure level (or the part-time equivalent).
In this week’s episode I interview Casey Hibbard, a successful freelance writer who specializes in writing customer case studies (also known as “customer success stories”), and author of the excellent book, Stories That Sell: Turn Satisfied Customers into Your Most Powerful Sales and Marketing Asset.
Casey explains what case studies are and how they’re used by clients. She gives us a primer on the basic components of case studies, including what elements you should include in order to make them more effective. And she explains why they continue to be so popular in the marketing communications arena.
Casey also talks at length about:
- How she manages these projects
- What key deliverables you should include
- Guidelines for pricing case studies
- Different types and formats of case studies
- What makes a great case study writer
- What to do if you have no samples but want to get started
Case Study Basics
Customer case studies (which are different from academic case studies) are stories about a specific customer’s experience with a product or service.
They typically follow a feature story style and format.
How they’re used:
- Sales, marketing and public relations efforts.
- Used by salespeople in the selling process
- Lead generation campaigns
- For pitching the media to try and land story opportunities
- A good source for crafting a press release
Case studies can be repurposed in many different ways. They’re also a great way to prepare when creating a video case study with the same customer.
Case Study Formats
Most case studies are still written, but many have also expanded into video and other formats.
Buyers tend to prefer written case studies (easier to skim and absorb)
Typical length: one to four pages, but average is two pages (400 – 1,600 words)
Why do case studies continue to be so popular? There’s nothing as powerful and credible as a real customer’s experience with a product or service. Case studies are the proof that you’re delivering on your marketing promises.
Format, style and medium: consider your audience. Different audiences want and expect different levels of detail and different ways to consume the information. So you need to be sensitive to your story’s target audience.
- This is why many clients will create multiple versions of their case studies (text, video, audio, PowerPoint, etc.)
- Some will also create versions of varying length and style, and some will produce other complementary marketing pieces from each case study.
- This creates multiple opportunities for writers! Gives you an opportunity to offer different ideas and project packages.
Main Components of a Typical Case Study
Case studies are very formulaic. They follow a typical story flow:
- Main character (the customer)
- Challenges they were facing
- How they overcame these challenges
- Why they chose that specific solution
- The outcome
Your subheads DON’T have to be “Challenge, Solution, Results.” Your case study can take much more of a feature-story format, where the subheads are much more compelling and allow you to get the general idea of the story. (Many case studies are going in this direction.)
However, sometimes your client dictates the format based on what they’re already using. So you may have to stick to their existing approach. But if you have an opportunity to recommend a format, suggest they go with a feature story.
What industries publish case studies?
- Technology (hardware, software, medical, biotech, green, etc.)
- Industries that provide any type of business service
- Any company that sells something innovative, expensive or complex
- Small businesses
At the end of the day, customer success stories are the only thing that truly differentiates an organization from their competitors. Everything else can be replicated/copied.
How Much Can You Charge for a Case Study?
Depends on your experience and the types of clients you’re going after. Larger, better-funded organizations tend to have bigger budgets.
The average is $500 – $1,000 per page.
- A one-page case study can easily go for $500+
- A two-page case study can go for $1,500+
- Some larger companies will pay experienced case study writers up to $4,000 per case study!
- Just getting started? It’s OK to start much lower and work your way up.
Case studies offer writers a great payoff for the time spent. Once you get the hang of it, you can bring your total time investment down to seven or eight hours per case study. Assuming you’re charging $1,500 per piece, that’s about $200 an hour!
That’s one reason you want to quote fixed fees rather than hourly rates. Clients will accept $1,500 for a two-page case study. But if you quoted $200 an hour, you WON’T land the project!
Some clients will ask you to write two or three a month, others will only need one per quarter. But in terms of what kind of workload you could take on, once you get the hang of it, you could conceivably write three or four case studies per week.
Bottom line: you can make a very good living just writing case studies (if that’s all you wanted to write). But you don’t have to limit yourself to case studies only. You can take on other projects, if you’d like.
Workflow and Process
- Before you start on a case study project, take the time to research your client — their products, services, markets served, etc. Casey charges a one-time fee for this (approximately $300 for the first product/service line). Why? So the client takes your interview seriously. It also helps keep your case study fee competitive while giving you some room in your budget to do some initial research. This research also helps Casey develop the customer interview questions.
- Have your client bring a happy customer to you. It’s best for your client to prequalify the customer and then bring that customer to you (rather than having you do all the legwork).
- Hold a background interview with your client (to get the back story on this particular customer, etc.)
- Schedule an interview with your client’s customer. (Most of these will be over the phone.)
- Interview the customer. As the writer, you want to be the one leading the interview and asking the questions. So, make sure to take control of that conversation.
- Write a first draft and send it to your client first for edits/approvals. (Exception: If something came up during the interview that you should address with your client before you start writing, make sure to bring it to their attention. Especially if it’s related to how you should approach the story.)
- Once you’ve received edits/approvals from your client, send the revised draft directly to your client’s customer. Casey prefers to handle this approval process directly with the customer, rather than having the client manage it. She has found that clients really appreciate her taking this on.
Case study design/layout: Most clients will already have an internal or external resource. But sometimes you may be asked if you know a designer.
Demand for Case Studies + Things to Consider
Marketers tend to have a difficult time finding good case study writers. It’s a specialized type of project that requires solid story telling and interviewing skills.
Journalists often make great case study writers. They’re already doing this type of writing, so it’s an excellent opportunity for them.
But what if you have zero case study samples? How do you get started?
- Tap friends, family, colleagues who are in business and may need to tell a customer success story.
- Approach some small businesses in your area.
- Tell everyone you know what you’re doing (you may need to educate them on what case studies are).
- Consider doing a couple of case studies for free in order to get a couple of pieces in your portfolio
- Consider approaching a nonprofit organization that’s near and dear to your heart. Help them tell one or two of their stories.
- Don’t worry if your case study samples are not in the industries you’re trying to get into. The important thing is to show that you can write a compelling story.
Items mentioned in this podcast include:
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