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?