#004: Case Studies: How to Earn $200+ an Hour Writing Short Success Stories

Have you every written a short article for a magazine, newspaper or trade journal?

Not the most profitable work these days, is it?

If you’re looking for a better way to leverage your storytelling skills, case studies are a great way to do that.

To learn more about the opportunity in case studies — and how to approach these projects — I interview Casey Hibbard for this episode of The High-Income Business Writing podcast.

The notes that follow are a very basic, unedited summary of the show. There’s a lot more detail in the audio version. You can listen to the show using the audio player below. Or you can subscribe in iTunes or on Stitcher to get this show delivered straight to the Podcasts app on your smart phone, tablet or iPod.

About This Show

The High-Income Business Writing podcast is a production of B2B Biz Launcher. It’s designed for business writer and copywriters who want to propel their writing business to the six-figure level (or the part-time equivalent).

In this week’s episode I interview Casey Hibbard, a successful freelance writer who specializes in writing customer case studies (also known as “customer success stories”), and author of the excellent book, Stories That Sell: Turn Satisfied Customers into Your Most Powerful Sales and Marketing Asset.

Casey explains what case studies are and how they’re used by clients. She gives us a primer on the basic components of case studies, including what elements you should include in order to make them more effective. And she explains why they continue to be so popular in the marketing communications arena.

Casey also talks at length about:

  • How she manages these projects
  • What key deliverables you should include
  • Guidelines for pricing case studies
  • Different types and formats of case studies
  • What makes a great case study writer
  • What to do if you have no samples but want to get started

Case Study Basics

Customer case studies (which are different from academic case studies) are stories about a specific customer’s experience with a product or service.

They typically follow a feature story style and format.

How they’re used:

  • Sales, marketing and public relations efforts.
  • Used by salespeople in the selling process
  • Lead generation campaigns
  • Trade shows
  • For pitching the media to try and land story opportunities
  • A good source for crafting a press release

Case studies can be repurposed in many different ways. They’re also a great way to prepare when creating a video case study with the same customer.

Case Study Formats

Most case studies are still written, but many have also expanded into video and other formats.

Buyers tend to prefer written case studies (easier to skim and absorb)

Typical length: one to four pages, but average is two pages (400 – 1,600 words)

Why do case studies continue to be so popular? There’s nothing as powerful and credible as a real customer’s experience with a product or service. Case studies are the proof that you’re delivering on your marketing promises.

Format, style and medium: consider your audience. Different audiences want and expect different levels of detail and different ways to consume the information. So you need to be sensitive to your story’s target audience.

  • This is why many clients will create multiple versions of their case studies (text, video, audio, PowerPoint, etc.)
  • Some will also create versions of varying length and style, and some will produce other complementary marketing pieces from each case study.
  • This creates multiple opportunities for writers! Gives you an opportunity to offer different ideas and project packages.

Main Components of a Typical Case Study

Case studies are very formulaic. They follow a typical story flow:

  • Main character (the customer)
  • Challenges they were facing
  • How they overcame these challenges
  • Why they chose that specific solution
  • The outcome

Your subheads DON’T have to be “Challenge, Solution, Results.” Your case study can take much more of a feature-story format, where the subheads are much more compelling and allow you to get the general idea of the story. (Many case studies are going in this direction.)

However, sometimes your client dictates the format based on what they’re already using. So you may have to stick to their existing approach. But if you have an opportunity to recommend a format, suggest they go with a feature story.

What industries publish case studies?

  • Technology (hardware, software, medical, biotech, green, etc.)
  • Industries that provide any type of business service
  • Any company that sells something innovative, expensive or complex
  • Nonprofits
  • Small businesses

At the end of the day, customer success stories are the only thing that truly differentiates an organization from their competitors. Everything else can be replicated/copied.

How Much Can You Charge for a Case Study?

Depends on your experience and the types of clients you’re going after. Larger, better-funded organizations tend to have bigger budgets.

The average is $500 – $1,000 per page.

  • A one-page case study can easily go for $500+
  • A two-page case study can go for $1,500+
  • Some larger companies will pay experienced case study writers up to $4,000 per case study!
  • Just getting started? It’s OK to start much lower and work your way up.

Case studies offer writers a great payoff for the time spent. Once you get the hang of it, you can bring your total time investment down to seven or eight hours per case study. Assuming you’re charging $1,500 per piece, that’s about $200 an hour!

That’s one reason you want to quote fixed fees rather than hourly rates. Clients will accept $1,500 for a two-page case study. But if you quoted $200 an hour, you WON’T land the project!

Some clients will ask you to write two or three a month, others will only need one per quarter. But in terms of what kind of workload you could take on, once you get the hang of it, you could conceivably write three or four case studies per week.

Bottom line: you can make a very good living just writing case studies (if that’s all you wanted to write). But you don’t have to limit yourself to case studies only. You can take on other projects, if you’d like.

Workflow and Process

  1. Before you start on a case study project, take the time to research your client — their products, services, markets served, etc. Casey charges a one-time fee for this (approximately $300 for the first product/service line). Why? So the client takes your interview seriously. It also helps keep your case study fee competitive while giving you some room in your budget to do some initial research. This research also helps Casey develop the customer interview questions.
  1. Have your client bring a happy customer to you. It’s best for your client to prequalify the customer and then bring that customer to you (rather than having you do all the legwork).
  1. Hold a background interview with your client (to get the back story on this particular customer, etc.)
  1. Schedule an interview with your client’s customer. (Most of these will be over the phone.)
  1. Interview the customer. As the writer, you want to be the one leading the interview and asking the questions. So, make sure to take control of that conversation.
  1. Write a first draft and send it to your client first for edits/approvals. (Exception: If something came up during the interview that you should address with your client before you start writing, make sure to bring it to their attention. Especially if it’s related to how you should approach the story.)
  1. Once you’ve received edits/approvals from your client, send the revised draft directly to your client’s customer. Casey prefers to handle this approval process directly with the customer, rather than having the client manage it. She has found that clients really appreciate her taking this on.

Case study design/layout: Most clients will already have an internal or external resource. But sometimes you may be asked if you know a designer.

Demand for Case Studies + Things to Consider

Marketers tend to have a difficult time finding good case study writers. It’s a specialized type of project that requires solid story telling and interviewing skills.

Journalists often make great case study writers. They’re already doing this type of writing, so it’s an excellent opportunity for them.

But what if you have zero case study samples? How do you get started?

  • Tap friends, family, colleagues who are in business and may need to tell a customer success story.
  • Approach some small businesses in your area.
  • Tell everyone you know what you’re doing (you may need to educate them on what case studies are).
  • Consider doing a couple of case studies for free in order to get a couple of pieces in your portfolio
  • Consider approaching a nonprofit organization that’s near and dear to your heart. Help them tell one or two of their stories.
  • Don’t worry if your case study samples are not in the industries you’re trying to get into. The important thing is to show that you can write a compelling story.

Items mentioned in this podcast include:

I Need Your Help!

If you have a question you’d potentially like answered on the show — or if you have any feedback in general — please let me know: ed at b2blauncher dot com.

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Till next time,

-Ed