When coaching clients on how to write a case study, I always share three simple rules. Following them will keep you laser-focused on writing something that prospects will value and respond to.
How to Write a Case Study, Rule 1. Case studies should represent future work.
Your case studies should describe the kind of work you want to be doing more of in the future. They should not describe outdated or outmoded offerings, no matter how recognizable the name of the client you served.
Case studies can’t just be about describing an engagement that you’re proud of. No matter how interesting the new, solution, or outcome, if a case study doesn’t resemble the engagements you’re selling now or hope to do in the future, it should not be on your website.
That doesn’t mean you can’t include a case study that describes the result of an engagement you wouldn’t sell today. It just means that when you tell that story, tell it in a way that sets up a future prospect to be properly matched with what you do now. Emphasize the aspects of the problem that you still solve today. Highlight the ways you work today. Explain the kinds of solutions that are relevant to your prospects now. And of course, de-emphasize the things that might be different (process, deliverables, etc.).
How to Write a Case Study, Rule 2. Case studies should be results-forward.
If a prospect gives a case study only partial attention or scans the page, they should at the least come away with the right idea about the results of your work (see my recommendations for how to design a case study layout). Now remember, results are not what you made, but what difference you made possible for your client.
Ask yourself, how do you prove the impact of your work? What needles are you trying to move? Can you measure this and show it to a prospect? If you think the answer is “no” right now, find a way to make it “yes.”
Ways to Measure Success
A great case study includes a data-based accounting of the impact you had on your client. Relevant data might include:
- Efficiency: Did you do it faster than other firms would have? How much faster?
- Budget: Did that save your client money? How much?
- Audience: How many people did you reach?
- Actions: What did they do?
- Sales: Did you increase sales? By how much?
No matter how you measure the success of your work, having hard numbers to prove it is essential.
Keep in mind that this way of accounting for your results might require some time. That means a delay between when you complete work and when you can write about it. How long of a delay depends upon how much time you need to observe and measure the results.
If it can be measured qualitatively, do so. Use testimonials. No matter how good you are at selling yourself, you will never be as good a salesperson as the client for whom you’ve had the greatest impact, especially if you lack objective data to include in your case study. It’s ok to ask a client for a testimonial, and even to ask them to speak specifically about a particular aspect of your work together. If you’ve had the impact you want to have, they’ll likely be eager to do anything they can for you.
How to Write a Case Study, Rule 3. Case studies should be readable and actionable.
Use format and typography to make it easier for a prospect to read your case studies faster. Also use them to make what they should do next more clear. For example, include some kind of summary at the top of each case study, highlighting the major points (e.g. challenge, solution, outcome). Throughout the case study, use lists where appropriate. These things will help your reader quickly anchor to places where critical and practical information is featured. After a prospect has read your case study, there should be a contextually elegant way to encourage them to get in touch (e.g. “Now it’s your turn,” or “Let us do this for you,” etc.).