Using case studies for your business can be an important marketing tool for any sized business, provided that the study is well-organized and is a strong example of success. Many experts suggest that if you want to succeed at something, you should model your efforts on those who have already been there and done it, and have the results to prove it.
If you are running a service-based business, a case study can provide prospective clients with a chance to see what your company can potentially do for them. If you are selling information products, case studies can give those interested in your industry an insider look into how to do similar tasks and get similar results. If you are a coach or consultant, case studies can provide valuable teaching moments for your students.
Seeing is believing when it comes to most marketing, so using case studies related to your services or industry can reveal the potential of certain tools, methods and techniques.
In this post, we will be looking at using case studies as a reason to do business with your company. Let’s start by defining exactly what a case study is.
What Is a Case Study?
A case study can be defined as a report about or analysis of a project, campaign or business, in which the project is tracked, actions taken are studied, and factors are assessed to determine how they contributed to the success of the project. There are usually a number of steps in a project, such as:
- Identifying the problem
- Setting goals
- Researching solutions
- Taking action
- Assessing the actions taken
- Tracking the results of the project
Imagine that a company wanted to increase its profits by improving the conversion rate of their traffic, turning their visitors from browsers into buyers. Their current sales letter for product A is getting only 1% conversion rate on a product they are charging $20 for. At the rate of only one customer per 100, they would need to drive a lot more traffic to start earning well.
They have two choices:
- Drive more traffic
- Improve the sales page so that more people buy
They can set a goal of a 5% conversion rate, which would be $100 per 100 visitors, or $1 per visitor. They would then be earning five times more money with the same amount of traffic. And if they drive more traffic, they could earn money at an even more rapid rate.
The company needs to know where they are at the minute so they can track their results. They can then decide to take certain actions and track the results of their actions. They would soon have a “before and after” set of results that could be used as a case study.
Documenting the Case Study
When writing up case studies for your business, there are several important aspects of it that would help make the study valuable to those who wished to understand what had happened, and how to perhaps get similar results themselves.
Where can you get case study information? You could start with one or two of your own in-house examples, such as the one mentioned above. These could be sold on their own or used as part of your marketing efforts in relation to a product or service you are trying to sell.
You could also ask clients whom you work well with if they would be willing to allow you to create case studies for your business, based on the work you have done for them. In this case, you would have to be particularly sensitive about the legalities of producing a case study.
You would need to ensure nothing extremely confidential was let out into the public arena. You might also have to be careful of non-compete agreements, because if you are working with similar clients, their getting the same results might have a significant impact on the first company’s position in the marketplace.
There are ways of masking data so Company A will be protected. But it is important to be aware of these issues from the outset, especially if you are going to use screen captures as illustrations. The first step will of course be to get permission. If you can’t, then just use in-house examples over which you have full rights.
Some companies like to volunteer to share their case studies in order to show their successes and use them as marketing tools. If you are an information publisher and wanted to create a new product about, for example, email marketing best practices, you could put a call out asking for volunteers to share their stories. You would then include several in the product.
What Businesses Do Case Studies Work Well For?
The short answer is, almost any industry or type of business. Case studies are an ideal way for those interested in a niche to learn and above all, to model their activities on other successful companies.
Chances are many other small businesses are struggling with the same issues in a range of categories or business sectors, and can
Common sectors to work in might include:
Case study topics could include the benefits of budgeting, the importance of accounting, using formulas in Excel to automate your financial record keeping, and so on.
Businesses evolve over time and at different rates. Case studies of broad appeal might include:
- Startup strategies
- Intermediate-level growth strategies
- Automation of a particular area of your business
Popular marketing case studies include:
- Email marketing successes
- Building your brand
- Social media strategies (especially in relation to one particular platform, such as how to get great results on Pinterest)
Case studies that can help businesses deal with the key aspects of customer service include:
- Getting customers
- Keeping customers
- Turning prospects into customers
- Best customer service practices
Business skills goals might include time management, organization, team building, or better leadership skills within the company.
Common areas of focus include improving one’s public speaking skills, anger management, conflict resolution, boosting one’s motivation, and so on.
Case studies with before and after photos are everywhere in the weight-loss world. Other topics might include how to lower cholesterol naturally, or how to develop a walking program that would get you up to 10,000 steps per day by the end of it.
Now that we’ve looked at where to get case studies and the legal implications of publishing them, it’s time to focus on how to create an effective one that will boost your business.
Creating an Effective Case Study
There are a number of steps to creating an effective case study your audience will love and find of great value. Follow this basic formula to ensure nothing important is left out.
The formula is as follows:
i) Choose a case study
ii) Get permission for external case studies
iii) Create a legal release form
iv) Create a questionnaire if you are asking for volunteers
v) Interview participants
vi) Understand the decision-making process
vii) Understand the implementation process
viii) Understand the results
ix) Read through the submissions carefully
x) Schedule a follow-up phone call
xi) Organize all the deliverables
xii) Write up the case study
We will look at each of these in turn.
Choose a Case Study
Decide which case study you think would be valuable teaching material for your target audience. You could choose a case study with a very successful outcome, or one that was a mild disaster as a good example of what NOT to do.
If you’re working with a customer or client, how did they use your product or service, and what significant changes have happened in reference to Area A since they began working with you? Did they try your solution first, or had they used one of your competitors’ solutions and just not been happy with the results?
When writing up in-house case studies for your business you should think of a recent goal you set that you achieved, and surpassed. What steps did you take to get from your starting point to the level of success you began to enjoy? What tools did you use? Were they free, paid, and so on? Your case study should add up to a compelling story with a happy ending, and one
Get Permission for External Case Studies
If you are going to use an external case study, be sure to get permission from your client first. Consider creating a standard permission template that they can sign. Be sure to state that their identity will be protected at all costs, unless they are happy to show people their results with their name on it.
Some companies will love working with you and be happy to help you promote your business. Others might want to know what’s in it for them. For example, if you are selling the case study, it would be reasonable to offer them a percentage of the income to be earned, such as a 50/50 split.
Also make a list of deliverables you will need from them in order to make the case study look impressive. These might include things that will identify them, such as:
- Business contact information
- Business mission statement
- Photos of their business, such as their team, work space, and so on
- Statistics before the project started
- Statistics after the project started
- Screenshots to show results
Set a deadline by which you need these items. Set the terms, if any, by which you will work together and they can profit from the case study.
If they are going to be anonymous, screenshots with any mention of the business name blanked out can be included, along with a general description of the company and what it does. You can make up names for key players to ensure that no one will be able to figure out which company it is.
Create one template for anonymous companies, and another for those who don’t mind sharing their story openly. Adjust the template as needed for each case study.
Create a Legal Release Form
Ask them to sign a form that gives you permission to use their information. Again, create an all-purpose template you can edit as needed to ensure you are both protected.
iv) Create a Questionnaire If You Are Asking for Volunteers
If you have requested volunteers for your new information product so you can use real case studies, create a questionnaire to help sort them out. Using the example of email marketing best practices, you might wish to narrow it down so that the case study is only based on those who use AWeber (for example).
In this case, you could then ask more precise questions rather than general ones that would cover any email marketing platform. This would help make the case study more meaningful and potentially easier to replicate.
Once the volunteers pass your selection criteria, they could go on to fill out your questionnaire. The questionnaire can help you create relatively uniform case studies so results can be compared side by side.
Questions could include:
- What problem did you experience before deciding to begin your new project?
- What goals did you set?
- What tools did you use?
- What actions did you take to solve your problem and meet your goals?
- Do you have before and after data to show your results?
- Do you have screenshots to show your results?
- Do you have reports to show your results?
These questions can help you gather useful information and also the deliverables you will need to make case studies for your business truly useful one.
These interview questions can help you get a good background on the company in order to provide a context for the case study. Important questions to ask would include:
- What industry is your company in?
- What is your business mission?
- How long have you been in business?
- How many people do you have on staff?
- Which people were involved in the project we will be writing up as a case study?
- What were their roles?
- What goal did you set for the project?
- Why was this particular goal important to your business?
- When did your team first determine there was a problem that needed to be dealt with?
- What solutions did you try before you started this project?
- Did your problem happen suddenly, or did it emerge over time?
- Why did the team choose to tackle it in-house? OR
Why did the team decide that external help would be needed?
- What main factors contributed to the problem arising? OR
What indications in your analytics showed there was a problem that needed to be addressed?
- What solutions did you try in order to help you gather more data and improve the issue? (They can list software and other tools here)
Understand the Decision-Making Process
In relation to the services and tools they decided to use, if they are your client, it can be very valuable to find out why they chose you from all of the other options available. This can help with the write-up of the case study and with getting new clients via more targeted marketing materials.
These questions can help pinpoint their thinking:
- What materials did you read that influenced your decision?
- What free trials did you use?
- What were your main criteria when you were looking for a solution? (Ease of use, cost, particular features, and so on)
- Which of our competitors did you consider, if any?
- What points tipped your decision in our favor?
- Did you try any similar solution/s previously?
- What do you feel were the main reasons they didn’t work out?
- How did you and your team decide to make a change?
- Where was your business in terms of the problem at the time you started looking for a solution?
- What were you seeking to improve?
- What other factors were a consideration? (Time, money, staff hours, automating typical work tasks, and so on)
- Which solutions worked best, and why?
- What cost savings did you manage?
- What time savings did you manage?
- What automation did you achieve?
- How are you now able to serve your customers better?
Understand the Implementation Process
Understanding how the solution/s were implemented is also essential if you want to create a case study with replicable results.
Questions to ask might include:
- Who was responsible for researching possible solutions?
- Who was responsible for implementing the possible solutions?
- Why did they choose that solution?
- What challenges did they face?
- What did they find easy about using the solution they chose?
- How long did it take to make the changeover?
- Did any staff have any particular problems with the new solution?
- What did they do to overcome their problems?
- If using an external solution, did you get support in making the switch?
- If using an external solution, how good was their documentation?
- What advice would you give to anyone also making the switch?
- What hints or tips can you give that would aid in successful implementation?
Understand the Results
Seeing is believing, so it is important to give specific examples, screenshots, reports and so on whenever possible, provided that they do not give away a lot of proprietary information.
The best way to understand the results is to tabulate them as far as possible in a before and after format: they started at X and now they are at Y.
However, there are other aspects of the project that you might not be able to make such direct comparisons about. These could have to do with time saved in certain tasks, increased ease of doing them, or even being able to do things now that you were never able to do before but which can really help you grow your business.
Try adding a few of these questions to your list of questions:
- How much faster are you at completing X task now that you use Y product?
- How did the product or tool help you reach your goals?
- How has your productivity changed since implementing?
- In what ways are you better able to serve your customers?
Once you have templated the questions we have been outlining, you can use them for almost any case study, either in-house or external. You can email them to the person who has agreed to have their case study published.
Read Through the Submissions Carefully
Print out what they have sent you. Read through it. Pencil in questions you might have, or requests for more information.
Schedule a Follow-Up Phone Call
This will give the process more of a human touch and help you ask some of the questions you have penciled in. Make detailed notes as you talk. You might also consider recording the conversation for future reference.
Follow up on the call with any additional requests for more deliverables.
Organize All the Deliverables
Make sure they follow up with the requested materials. Organize all of the elements of the case study into a folder so you can access it easily once you start writing it up.
Write Up the Case Study
There are a number of important areas to include:
- The title
- An executive summary
- A profile of the company
- The challenges faced by the company
- Progress towards solving the problem
- A table of contents
- Spelling and grammar check and proofreading
- The review process for participants
- Attractive design
- Turn into a PDF
- Create marketing material for the case study
- Create an order flow for it
We will discuss each of these areas in the next
Writing Up Case Studies for your Business
Let’s look in more detail at how to write up the case study.
The title should be interesting and offer a good idea of what will be in the case study, such as “Best email marketing practices using AWeber: X Company boosts sales by 500%.”
Here’s a simple formula for an effective case study title:
- Who it is about?
- What was done/how was it done?
- What was the result?
An Executive Summary
The summary should encapsulate the results in just a few sentences. You could also include brief statistics to demonstrate the significance of the findings.
An easy executive summary formula would look like this:
- What was the problem?
- What was the goal?
- What was the proposed solution?
- What was the result?
A Profile of the Company
This should give key details about the company in order to provide a context. The data should include:
- Who are they?
- What is their business mission?
- What niche or industry are they in?
- What size of company are they?
The Challenges Faced by the Company
This is a summary of the main issue/s that led to the project being developed. It should be concise but packed with interesting details.
- What problem did they face?
- How did they know it was a problem?
- What goal did they set to overcome the problem?
- What methods did they use to overcome the problem?
- Who implemented the project?
Progress towards Solving the Problem
Most projects will have taken place over the course of several weeks or even months. With most goal setting, there are various ways to check on how much progress is being made towards the goal. In this section, you can talk about things that showed the company was on the right track with their actions, and about things that might not have worked as well as they had hoped.
Contents of this section might include:
- Who worked on the project?
- What were the challenges of implementation?
- What were the easy parts?
- How was progress towards the goal tracked (which milestones were set)?
- What were the benefits, and how quickly did they come?
The final section of case studies for your business should feature the progress that has been made since your customer or client began to implement their project. This will be the most important place for graphics and analysis of what each screenshot demonstrates, and what the reports reveal.
Make the content easy to skim with bullet points and takeaway items.
Each visual should offer value and the kind of detail needed to make the case study replicable. Screenshots are important, of course, but you can also create infographics that summarize key concepts. These will all appeal to the 70% of the population who are visual learners.
The before and after format is useful here as well, in order to demonstrate the final results as compared with milestone results. You can mention things that were changed, new tactics added, actions taken, tools used, and so on.
This can be similar to your executive summary. What was gained or lost as a result of the project or new initiative? You can also include a bulleted list of key takeaways from the case study.
A Table of Contents
A table of contents can help organize all of the material into a whole. It also looks more professional, which is important if you plan to sell your case study.
Spelling and Grammar Check and Proofreading
When you are sure you are finished, run a spelling and grammar check in Word. Then print out the report and go through it to pick up any mistakes that Word hasn’t found.
The Review Process for Participants
If you use external case studies for your business, send them to your volunteer/s for a review. It is a common courtesy, and can also help identify any errors or misunderstandings before you go to press. It also allows them to check to make sure you are not accidentally giving away any overly sensitive information. Make changes as needed.
Once you have compiled the report and are sure it is as perfect as can be, give it an attractive design. Include page numbers, headers, footers, and perhaps your logo/URL to brand the report as yours.
Turn into a PDF
When your case study is laid out attractively, turn it into a PDF. Add levels of security as needed to lock your content.
Create Marketing Material for the Case Study
Create marketing material that will attract readers in your niche. They will usually include:
- The cover
- A “blurb” or description of the content, mentioning the main features and benefits of the case study
- The table of contents
- Quotes/call outs that are important points from the case study
For coaching or consulting material, this information will help you create an attractive landing page.
Create an Order Flow for It
Depending on the method you are using to sell your content, create an order flow for it; that is, a Buy Now button and a download page so they can buy the item and be able to download it without any hassle. Many people use PayPal in order to get paid because so many people have an account, but you can also accept credit cards through the service for a small commission payable to PayPal.
You could also use an eCommerce aggregator like Gumroad.com or Shopify.com. Become a member, create your listing, and start selling the product there. Embed the product page code into a webpage or blog post at your site and you can also sell it directly from your site.
If you are going to offer it as an extra for your coaching or consulting clients, consider creating a membership portal in WordPress and setting up a case studies area where you can link to the case study. If you continue to produce case studies, you should soon have a library of them that will be sure to impress.
Once you have all of this
Promoting Your Case Study
Promote your case study as you would any other product you are trying to sell. Lead traffic to your sales landing page using all of your usual methods:
- Email marketing
- Social media sites:
- And so on
Maybe you are considering selling the case study, if so, you should be doing all of the activities that are typically part of a successful product launch, including:
- Paid ads
- Search engine optimization
- Live or pre-recorded webinars
- Video promotion — market on YouTube
- A podcast
- Live events, such as Google Hangouts
- Create at least one blog post related to the topic of the case study
- Issue a press release
- Create a PowerPoint presentation — market on SlideShare.net
- Turn it into an eBook to sell on Amazon as a way to drive traffic to your site
- And so on
As you make sales, ask for reviews and testimonials. Send review copies to some of the top people in your niche who are not direct competitors to see if you can get testimonials. Add these to your landing page and other marketing materials as you get them.
Hopefully, your case study will be so well-organized and useful, it will start to create a buzz and position you as an expert worth paying attention to.
Your Own In-House Case Studies
As you have seen in this report, compiling case studies for your business from other people’s work can be time-consuming and fraught with legal issues. Therefore, the easiest way to control the writing of a case study process is to create your own in-house case study. Or better still, a library of them. Knowing from the outset that you will be creating the case study will help you keep the right records and create the right materials to put together case studies worth reading and buying.
Choose a goal based on where you are in your business, and in which area you would wish to grow.
There are a couple of ways to do this: SMART and SWOT.
Setting a SMART Goal
SMART is a memory aid to help you set effective goals. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timed.
- Specific – What are you trying to do?
- Measurable – How will you measure your progress towards the goal?
- Attainable – Is this goal possible? Do you have all you need to achieve it?
- Relevant – Why is it important to your business?
- Timed – How long will it take to reach the goal? One month, the fiscal quarter, and so on.
An example of a SMART goal would be, “We would like to increase our email marketing list by 10% by the end of this month through social media marketing.”
SWOT is a useful tool to help you analyze where you are with your business before setting any new goals and taking any new initiatives. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.
It is usually laid out in a 2 x 2 grid, with strengths and weaknesses next to one another, and opportunities and threats next to each other underneath.
Strengths and weaknesses usually refer to internal conditions within the company, while opportunities and threats usually refer to external conditions. If you are thinking of setting a new goal, a SWOT analysis could be just what you need to set you on the road to success.
- Strengths – What do you do well? What resources do you have that can help? What expertise do you have in this area?
- Weaknesses – What could you improve? What resources are you lacking? What gaps are there in personnel or your skills set that you would need to address if you wished to increase your chances of success?
- Opportunities – What opportunities might be good chances to grow your business strategically? What trends can you take advantage of? How can you turn your strengths into opportunities?
- Threats – What threats could harm you? (This could be competitors, the marketplace, the economic environment, and so on.) Are your competitors already doing what you are thinking of doing? If so, what can you learn from their approach, so you can do even better?
Going through the SMART goals process and SWOT analysis can help you pinpoint exactly the kind of project that will lead to business growth and make for a fascinating case study your niche audience will be eager to read. Keep thorough records as you work towards your goal and you should have great results, plus a compelling case study at the end of the process.
Case studies can take some time to create, but if you template the process as much as possible, they will be easier to compile. If you include them as part of your corporate mindset, you will soon have a wealth of case studies you can use for coaching, consulting, selling as an information product, and/or using in your marketing materials to get even more clients.
Gather case studies from a range of small businesses, so you can demonstrate that you are an authority in your niche or industry who is worth paying attention to because you have your finger on the pulse of important tools, trends and techniques.
If you sell information products, selling case studies can be an all-new stream of income, and will usually command a higher price than just a regular eBook because of all the factual content that has gone into each one. Sell them as stand-alone products or include them in a larger product, adding it as a special module or a bonus item your visitors will be eager to get their hands on.
Start small with a case study from your own company. Develop your templates. Create SMART goals. Undertake a SWOT analysis for each new goal or initiative. Track everything as you start any important project in your company, and you should soon have an impressive library of case studies to use or sell.
Money Saving Tip!
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