Best practice Case studies

Write and interview your OWN case studies! Really? Awkward.

It can be an awkward and frustrating experience writing your own case studies, in-house. Especially if all you get is compliments. Here’s how to get beyond that and mine for deep insight, and get to the real value in your expertise.

OK, I see your point. Essentially, you’re asking someone (a client) why they enjoyed working with you so much, and what makes you so special. That might feel a little uncomfortable when you come to write your own case studies in-house (whether you’ve been trained to do so by an expert or not). 

I know because I’ve been there, sat face-to-face with someone reflecting on the experience of working together when they say nice things. It’s a bit unsettling if you’re not so good at accepting praise. It’s just one of the reasons why people hire freelance copywriters to write case studies on their behalf; there’s the benefit of impartiality, as well as expertise.

This post isn’t about emotional hang-ups and pride though. And whether you find praise awkward or not, sometimes it’s just plain difficult to get at insight, beyond polite, one-dimensional platitudes.

What I can teach you is how to move beyond platitudes and superficial conversation, to expose the real value hidden inside compliments and general friendly chit-chat.

You see, writing good case studies that resonate isn’t about regurgitating glowing praise and endorsements. In fact, that can detract from your overall objective of crafting useful insight for someone with a similar problem.

What it’s really about is much more profound.

How to mine for deep insight

We need to interrogate the insight that underpins compliments and platitudes – the essence of what happened and why that resulted in praise and one more satisfied customer:

Thanks for saying I was a delight to work with. What is it about the way we work together that makes you say that though? 
You were kind and thoughtful
Thank you. So how did that manifest in the day-to-day?
Well, you went beyond what was required. 
In what way?
You went beyond what other people have done for us.
Interesting. Are there any specific examples you remember?
Other freelancers we've used only do the bare minimum, they don't spend as long as you analysing the problem before they try and fix it. Like that time you...
So, let me check I've understood this correctly - you're saying the trick is to spend longer than you think on the problem, be really analytical and really get to grips with the pain before you try to fix it, regardless of how it gets fixed it?
Yes, that's it!

Bingo. There’s the insight. 

Reflected glory

From the subtext, it’s obvious that you personally (as the solution provider in this case study) deliver on all these things, because you wrote the case study, and it’ll probably appear alongside your brand, on your website.

So don’t worry about soaking up some of that kudos.

This isn’t about distancing you from the story, it’s about keeping things focused on insight and the real value of what happened, lessons learned for your readers – prospective ideal clients.

The language of problems

If your work is creative and consultative, chances are you’ll have some process of deep analysis and design before you actually go away and do something on your client’s behalf.

Don’t underestimate the relevance of that. Focus on it.

That period of defining the problem and expressing it are no less valuable (arguably more valuable) than actually fixing it. It brings on lightbulb moments – realisations in your client. Doors open for them. They take back control of something that controlled them for far too long.
Sure, you helped fix the problem but you’ve got to paint yourself as just an actor in an ongoing play. A catalyst. Enabler for people to take control and fix their own problems. Business people love that – long-lasting sustainable solutions that they take ownership of. 

What to do if you don’t quite mine deep enough

If you don’t manage to probe as deeply as you’d like, and can’t solicit the kind of quote you’re looking for in your case study, there are ways around this. 

When writing, you can edit a quote into third-person, so if your interviewee says ‘Chris helped me see something I’d never realised before’ rewrite it as

‘It’s all about holding up a mirror, and revealing things you might take for granted. You’ll know what they are because they’ll seem really obvious in hindsight.’ 

You’d verify this insight during the interview by reflecting this sentiment back at them, to confirm and check that’s what they meant. Check my case study interviewing and writing framework for more advice on paraphrasing.

You can also mine for insight by framing your questions in a different way. Just ask ‘so, what does this mean for someone reading this in the same situation you were in, before I was on the scene, what would you say to them to help?’ If they say ‘hire you’ laugh it off, joke about how that’s not quite as impartial as you’d like. But remind them you’re hunting for insight and advice. Ask them to talk to you as they’d talk to their past-selves (someone in the muddle now that they were in then). In fact that’s often how I like to begin my case study interviews.

Focus on value, not yourself

Coming back to pride, getting over yourself, and handling it gracefully when people say nice things about you – you’ve got to stay focused on what comes out of this case study exercise. You love helping people with your expertise. You want to do more of that, right? The best way to do that is to really uncover and understand the value you bring, presented through other people’s eyes.

This stuff is seriously useful market research, it tells you what you really stand for, what you really do – so you can go out and offer it to even more people. They’re clues about what you need to do more of, to get more of this kind of work.

A final note

During this article I’ve assumed you’re doing this all alone, like I do, as an independent freelancer. Of course, you might be a team of people in your small creative business. That’s why it pays for all of you to get smart on how to write case studies, so someone who wasn’t quite so intimately involved can carry out the interview – keeping things more objective and impartial, like a freelance copywriter would.

By Chris Kenworthy | Coach

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