I don’t know why more companies don’t leverage case studies. They’re fantastic social proof, they give your customers a chance to be heard, and they’re fairly easy to write. It’s also a really natural next step when projects come to a close, giving you a chance to end on a high note (or better yet, use as a stepping stone to the next project).
Yet, when I ask clients if they have case studies in their content arsenal the usual response is,
I get that, too. They can be time-consuming. But they’re also well worth the effort.
Case studies are one of the few projects people can hand off to me and have “running in the background.” All I ever ask for is an email introduction and I handle the entire process from there. So, I thought it would be worth taking the time to share what that process looks like in case you’re interested in tackling some case studies of your own.
1. Make the introduction.
I mean, pretty self-explanatory, but basically you need to contact the client to ask if they’re willing to participate. Then, you sent a brief email introducing the client contact to the case study writer.
2. Schedule the call.
This is a critical step. You can’t be wishy-washy about this. People are busy and giving up valuable time to answer your questions. Make this as simple as possible.
Provide two possible times (ideally within the next week so it’s fresh in their mind), offer to let them set a third if neither works and provide a copy of the questions you’ll ask. Also, let them know you’ll need a full hour.
3. Give them the deets.
Once you’ve scheduled the call, send an email recapping the day, the time, and provide them with a call link. I like to UberConference or Zoom for these calls because both allow me to record (which is critical, as I’ll explain in a minute). You could also use Skype. Make sure they get a dial-in number as a plan B. Tell them you’re looking forward to talking with them and remind them to review the questions you sent in the introduction email.
4. Prepare for the call.
Ten minutes or so before the call, review your questions and keep them on your screen, think through the flow of the call, and remind yourself that it’s your job to stay in control. Show up five minutes early to make sure everything is working. A couple of tips here:
Keep your email open for a minute. Often, if people have trouble logging in, they’ll send an email and you don’t want to miss it in case you need to respond quickly.
When the call starts, let them know it’s being recorded (if the recording doesn’t notify them already)
Greet them and set the agenda. This helps you take control of the call from the beginning. Say hello, make some brief small talk, then say something like, “Here’s how this is going to work. We’ve got an hour, but this may not take that long. I’m going to ask you a bunch of questions and then I’m going to listen. I may have some follow up questions for you as well.” Ask if everything sounds good, then begin.
5. Conduct the interview.
This should be the easiest part. Your job is to be a good listener so you can control the flow of the call.
Do not take notes! If you’re recording the call, this shouldn’t be necessary anyway. I say this from experience. I used to try to furiously type notes as people spoke, but it took my attention away from being a good interviewer. You’re not a secretary, you’re Oprah. Fully engage in the conversation and focus on setting up the next question.
6. End the interview with clear expectations.
First, thank them for their time. They didn’t have to do this, but they did, so it’s important you let them know how much you appreciate it.
Then, extend an offer for them to contact you with more info. This happens sometimes. People will think of things they wish they had said or remember a stat they want to share. Make sure they know this is okay.
Lastly, let them know what to expect moving forward. Assure them that accuracy is your first concern, and because of this, everything will be run past them before it ever gets published. Tell them they’ll hear from you in two weeks once a final version is in place. Let them know they’re the last step before going live. (Even if they don’t want to review, still send them a copy as a courtesy).
7. Get a transcript
Download an audio file of the call, and submit it for transcription. Rev.com is my favorite. They do it for a dollar per minute and usually turn it around the same day. This is the best money you’ll spend and if you’re thinking ahead, you’ve built it into your costs anyway, so it should be no big deal.
8. Assemble the pieces.
Because I know how I’ll structure my case study, I’ve asked the questions in the order I want the story to take shape. This doesn’t also mean I can pull straight from the transcript, though. The nature of conversations is that people jump around. But because I’ve listened carefully rather than taking notes, I know which pieces will fit where.
Deconstruct the call, paragraph by paragraph. I use a highlighter and a red pen. The highlighter marks any text I want to pull and the red pen is for making notes in the margins. I mark things like “use in intro” or “pull quote?” to call my own attention to specific pieces I need to move.
9. Create a draft
Once I’ve identified which pieces I’ll use, I either re-type them in a new document or make a copy of the transcript and delete everything I don’t need. Either way, I end up with a cleaned up version of a still sloppy document.
From here, though, I’m able to see a structure begin to form. I print out a copy of the rough draft and begin editing with a pencil.
10. Revise, revise, revise.
From here, I’m shaping the document. I typically use a 3-part structure (Challenge, Solution, Result), so I write each section individually, treating it as a mini-story in the larger arc.
Once those are in place, I go back to create titles, subtitles, headings, and subheads. I’m also looking for pull quotes and statistics to use as call outs.
11. Submit for review
Don’t ask for feedback; ask for a review. Otherwise, you open yourself up to the idea that people can change what you wrote. This is a terrible message to send. They weren’t on the call, they don’t know your format, they don’t know your process, and they (probably) don’t know how to write as well as you do.
If they want to fill in some gaps or some technical details, that’s fine. Otherwise, you’re still in control.
Once things are good, send a copy to the person with whom you conducted the interview. Again, not for feedback or edits, but for final review. In fact, make sure you tell them, “We’re good on this, internally. Just need your final review.”
12. Send to design.
At this point, your job is done. Some clients have templates for this stage. Other may need referrals. Make sure you know someone or have access to source it yourself.
In my experience, this is really the only way to do this.
Your clients already told you they don’t have time for case studies (even though they’d like to have them), so don’t burden them with the process. Own the entire thing for them. They’ll appreciate you for it.
Same goes for their client (especially for their client!). You’re a representation of your client, so make sure you make it easy for them to talk with you. Anything less is unacceptable and reflects poorly.
Lastly, your questions may change. But you should operate from a base of solid questions that get at the heart of a story. I use the traditional 3-part structure because it’s a perfect story arc.
You could also add a fourth element called “the epiphany.” I usually lump this into the end of “the challenge,” but you could call it out on its own. After all, a good story sells the transformation.
As a bonus, since you made it this far, I’m going to give you a copy of my case study questions to help you get started. Simply sign up right here and I'll email them to you right away.