How to tell the story of your work with case studies

Use this simple system for creating effective portfolio case studies so YOU don’t leave money on the table.

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Working with you is a collaborative experience, right? Clients discuss their strategy, shift their branding, and solve problems inside their business – all while creating a new website. Does your portfolio reflect this journey? Or does your portfolio simply focus on the pretty parts – the graphics, overall design, and things like site functionality.

Unless you tell the story of your work, you’re missing a big opportunity to demonstrate the full value of your work. You’re leaving money on the table… trust me.

Of course potential clients are evaluating your aesthetics and design skills when they look at your portfolio. They are skimming to see who you’ve worked with too – do you have experience with a business in their industry? Do you understand how to present their work in a way that resonates with their audience?

But they are interested in more. Potential clients are wondering what it’s like to work with you.

Deciding if they can trust you with a huge investment of their time, money, and energy. Can you bring their vision to life? And can you help them find the best way to move their business forward?

Persuading potential clients means telling a story. That’s why I always recommend including a case study with images of your work. Okay, stop groaning.

Portfolio case studies aren’t long, drawn out things with lots of words and you don’t have to be an amazing writer to add stories to your portfolio. You just need a simple system to follow. Here’s my simple system for sharing the story of your work.

Talk to your client.

Thinking of adding a completed site to your portfolio? Talk to the client. Find out a little more about the problems she faced before working with you. What prompted this client to create a new website? Is she just launching a biz or is he revising an established brand? Make sure you understand why your client made this investment in the first place, and the situation that prompted him to move forward with this project.

Now ask what it was like to work with YOU… gulp! Yes, this question might feel a little awkward the first time you ask, but it gets easier over time. Remember, you’re talking to a client who is happy. She loves you and the work you’ve done. She will be happy to tell you exactly why working with you felt so wonderful.

Be careful to pay attention to feelings, because those feelings are the tidbits that will make your case study super powerful. Your client felt supported, happy, calm, trusting, excited, etc. Remember that stuff. Pay attention also to any negative feelings – hesitant, worried, frustrated. Feelings like these are important building blocks for your story.

Lastly, ask your client how he feels now. What results is he getting from their new site? Notice things like “I’m confident about sharing my URL” or “my clients love my new site” or “I’m doing more marketing now that I’m so proud of my site.” Your clients likely feel more professional, more polished, more excited. They probably notice an increase in inquiries, sales, and referrals too.

The writing part… don’t worry, you’ve got this!

Close your eyes for a second. Now take a deep breath. We’re going to play a game of imagine.

Imagine I’ve just met you at a coffee shop. We’re good friends…and I’m interested in hearing about your latest project. Immediately you think about this client – the one with the new site you’re currently adding to your portfolio. You smile…and you start telling me the story.

The friendly, relaxed way you tell that story is EXACTLY the way I want you to share this story on your site. No formal language… no overthink. Just you and a friend over a caramel latte.

Here’s the structure you’re going to use…

Introduce your client. Who is she? What is her company name? What does she do? Something simple like “Michelle, of Michelle Hunter Creative, is a brilliant copywriter.” (Ok, maybe not brilliant…but honestly, you don’t need more than that.)

Why did she start this project? Tell me about the problem she was having and her dream for the site. Again, simple – “She reached out to me because she was frustrated. Her copywriting business wasn’t growing like she wanted. She thought her website might be part of the problem.”

What happened next and how did you help her? Remember to keep things friendly, loose, and conversational. Maybe something like this… “We talked about her goals and uncovered how a new site would make a difference for her. Her branding was okay, but it really needed a refresh. And her site wasn’t ready to sell the books and informational products she planned in the near future. We agreed to work on it together.”

Share a bit about your process – from her perspective. This isn’t the place to get all detailed about your process or start using big, formal words. This is your client’s story so you want to talk from her perspective. Maybe even quote her here.

Here’s an example using a quote –» “Christine made me feel comfortable right from the start. I knew my site needed help, but she never made me feel website shame. She just took me through the project step by step. I knew she always had my best interests and goals in mind.”

Here’s an example without a quote –» “We worked together over a few weeks to fully revise Michelle’s site. We updated her branding, and talked together about how she wanted to step into her market. Her new site feels totally authentic and most importantly, it does all the things she needs it to do – both now and when she launches her new products.”

Now, share results. And don’t hold back – this is the good stuff. You might feel a little funny sharing results… especially when you’re writing conversationally. It’s tough to “blow your own horn” and it’s ok to feel a little resistance. But push through it, okay? Because this really is the super good stuff. And besides – you’re just telling the truth. (Never create results that aren’t there… but share the wonderful stuff liberally.) By the way – this is another great place for a quote…

Results with a quote –» “People love my new site and I’m so proud to share it! Just this week I landed the biggest client so far…and I’m confident my professional new site was a key factor in the sale. Thanks Christine!”

Results without a quote –» “Michelle is excited about her new site, proudly using it to market her business in a big way. She’s seen an increase in the leads coming into her business and just this week landed her biggest client ever! I’m so excited to play a role in her continued success.”

That’s it… the whole process. Easy peasy, right?

Portfolio case studies are short, focused things. You want potential clients to understand how you work and see themselves as your next client. That’s it. Can you write a little more than I’ve written here? Sure. But you don’t have to do that. You just have to tell the story.

Now, the copywriter in me wants to encourage you to take one more step – include a call to action. Even if you hate them. Even if selling feels a little strange to you. Push yourself to sell just a little bit right here.

Your potential client just read a story she enjoyed. He’s seen images of your work. She’s excited. He wants to work with you. So make it easy… tell your potential client what to do next.

Here are some examples:

  • Ready to get a site YOU love? Start your project here.
  • Are you my next dream client? Let’s get started.
  • Interested in learning more about my work. Schedule a free consultation.

Keep it simple. Don’t beg or use hesitant language like “If you like what you see here and think you might possibly be ready to revise your website, maybe now is the time for us to talk.” (real example, names are changed to protect the innocent.)

Just ask. Just invite. Just make the offer. You’ll be glad you did. I promise.

Wondering how to add case studies to YOUR portfolio? Comment on this post and ask questions inside the Drama Free Design Community. Don’t forget to tag me!

-Michelle

Author: Michelle Hunter

Michelle Hunter is a business strategist and copywriter with a gift for connecting entrepreneurs and their clients using great writing. She is a regular contributer to the DtD blog and co-creator of Designing Success Bootcamp - Helping designers create a strong marketing engine to power business growth. Visit MichelleHunterCreative.com to contact Michelle or learn more.