$1500 For a Day’s Work: Is This Lucrative Writing Niche for You?

Carol Tice

Hand holding out moneyBy Casey Hibbard
When I started freelancing 15 years ago, I wrote EVERYTHING — brochures, web copy, articles, newsletters, ad copy, sales letters, bios… I quickly realized which projects got me eager to start my workday and which ones had me vowing never to take on another one like it.
For me, customer case studies were an immediate addiction — a chance to tell a compelling story rather than spinning lofty marketing copy. For customer case studies, clients hire you to interview their happy customers and then write a story about how a product or service made a difference for a real customer.

Even better, they pay nicely — typically in the range of $1,000 to $1,500 for about a day’s worth of work.

Yes, a lot of freelancers shy away from case studies,thinking they’re too dry, too technical or that not that many companies actually do them.

What’s the truth?

Let’s sort fact from fiction by looking at seven myths about case study writing.

Myth #1: They’re boring and dry.

Truth: For many, the term “case study” conjures thoughts of business school or med-school textbooks. These academic case studies are for educational purposes and typically not known for being particularly compelling.

However, customer case studies, or success stories, are used for marketing and sales and persuade an audience to take an action. It’s a chance to weave a tale with highs, lows and quotes that capture the emotion of those you interview.

The upside for writers: It can get old, constantly writing promise-filled marketing copy of what the product or service WILL do for the customer.

Customer success stories demonstrate that a solution or company actually delivers on its marketing promises. You interview real subjects about their goals and challenges, learn how they solved their challenges and how things are better as a result. And unlike other marketing writing, the featured customer and story are always different. It’s never boring.

Myth #2: It’s a small niche. Not that many companies do them.

Truth: Just try a Google search for “customer success stories.” VMware, SAS, HP, Microsoft, Salesforce.com and Red Hat all come up with links to their case studies. And that’s just the first page of results. When you click further, you find hundreds of companies of all sizes and types that also create customer stories.

The upside: Increasingly, more organizations are bringing customer stories into their marketing mix, making it a growing area for freelance copywriters. To find clients, look beyond the big names for small and mid-tier companies that sell higher-priced products and services, and need to demonstrate how they bring value to their customers.

Myth #3: You have to write about technology

Truth: You don’t have to be an engineer to write customer case studies. Tech companies may have been some of the first to embrace customer case studies as a sales and marketing tool, but they’ve now become more mainstream with non-tech companies.

The upside: Even if you write for tech companies, you usually write about the benefits, not the back-end code. But if you aren’t interested in writing about technology, look for organizations that need to demonstrate the impact and competitive differentiators of their higher-end solutions. Think business consulting and professional services firms. Even nonprofits are excellent targets, though they typically have smaller budgets.

Myth #4: Once clients have a few case studies they don’t really need more

Truth: Companies that embrace customer case studies as part of their marketing do them consistently. They’re always adding new customers and products, updating their offerings, expanding into new markets. And with more places than ever before to publish and share those stories (blogs, Facebook, e-zines), they’re always looking for fresh stories to tell their audiences.

The upside: Customer case studies can be a cash cow. I’ve created case studies for one client for the past 12 years. The client realizes the value new customer stories bring to its sales force, website, media pitches, social media channels, events, and email marketing. Educate clients about the many ways they can use customer stories.

Myth #5: Case studies are a hassle because they require customer approval

Truth: OK, that’s sort of true. But it’s more the exception than the rule. Customer case studies are one of the only types of marketing collateral that require more steps because you’re involving the customer. Rather than just collecting background from internal contacts, you interview the customer and get their signoff on the final piece — extending the average time to complete them. Usually, you can have them wrapped up in 4-6 weeks.

The upside: Case studies are a process, giving you, as the writer, the opportunity to take on more of a project management role. You set up the interview and manage the process through customer edits and approvals. As a project manager, you can charge more. Clients love that you take it from start to finish. And to avoid major delays in getting paid, always invoice your client after you’ve delivered the first written draft, rather than when the featured customer approves the story. After all, your pay is not contingent on customer approval, but on what you deliver.

Myth #6: I’ll have to travel a lot

Truth: No, case studies are the perfect phone projects! Out of more than 700 case studies, I’ve conducted fewer than five interviews in person. And the only reason for those was my proximity to the customers being featured. I probably just wanted to get out of the house! Most of the time, I’m in one place, my client in a different geography, and their customer in a third place.

The upside: You don’t have to limit your client base to organizations that are local to you. I’ve got clients across the U.S., and in Canada, Australia, and the Netherlands. Proactively reach out to organizations that already create case studies, or would be good fits for them, and introduce yourself, or send something of value — an article that talks about case studies.

Myth #7: Companies are going to video these days

Truth: Video is hot, but most people still prefer written collateral. Many of my clients have started creating customer videos, but they also create written versions. They understand that people like to consume content in different formats.

The upside: Recent surveys indicate a 2-1 preference of written case studies to video. Video is a chance to showcase some strong sound bites and the story at a glance, but written is where you can weave in the detail behind the success. Plus, quality video is a lot more expensive.

Also, companies can use video and written stories in tandem. Both help with search engine traffic, but written stories provide the opportunity for more key words, helping organic search. Let clients know that you can spin out a written story from a customer video or that a written story can help lay the groundwork for a great customer video shoot.

Could writing customer case studies be the right niche for you? Let’s discuss in the comments.

Casey Hibbard is the author of Stories That Sell: Turn Satisfied Customers into Your Most Powerful Sales and Marketing Asset. For more information about creating case studies, check out her Stories that Sell blog, or sign up for the upcoming, no-cost Webinar, “The 6 Traits of Case Studies That Compel and Sell.

 

81 Comments

  1. Eva

    Hi there,
    Just wondering if you should approach prospective companies by phone first i.e. cold calling before sending an email, or is it ok to introduce yourself via email in the first instance? I want to target some overseas companies and would like to avoid crazy telephone bills.
    Thanks,
    Eva

    • Carol Tice

      Eva, there’s no one way to market your writing…try an approach you like and see if it works for you.

    • Janet

      Hi Eva,

      You can absolutely contact people via email. Check out the Writer’s Den LOI (Letters of Introduction) information for helpful advice.

      Janet

  2. Howard Baldwin

    I’ve been targeting this area for ten years, and I can confirm that Casey does not exaggerate on the payoff. You usually don’t do one every single day, of course, but still, it’s a nice payday.

    • Casey Hibbard

      Great to hear Howard! Thanks for your input.

  3. Janet

    Hi Casey,

    I read your book, listened to your interview with Carol, and am now signed up for your webinar. Thanks for all the great information.

    This is the niche that I would like to be my main bread and butter. I wrote 2 case studies for friends who have businesses and enjoyed the process. Two questions came to mind, though.

    1. I know that you can write a case study with an angle. For example, Company A wants the case study to spotlight the ease of their software implementation. What do you do, though, when the information you get from the interview really does not lend itself to that focus (even when you asked specific questions, tried to get numbers, etc.)?

    2. When working with a company that has not used case studies, what advice do you give them with regards to getting their clients to agree to be interviewed, take the time, etc.? This was a problem with one of my friends; many clients were too busy, didn’t want to go through the hassle.

    Thanks, Casey,
    Janet

    • Casey Hibbard

      Hi Janet,

      Great questions. Both are very valid concerns. There’s what the client wants to emphasize and what the customer’s actual experience was. Sometimes those don’t meet up and maybe you don’t really know until you get into the interview. Assuming the customer is happy, then why is the customer happy? When you collect that info in the interview, go back to your client before writing, tell them what you heard, and decide together what to focus on. It has to be a valuable story for the client but you can’t make the customer’s story something it isn’t.

      On getting customers to agree, that is very much a case-by-case approach. First of all, be clear with them about what’s involved. Usually it doesn’t take more than 1.5 hours of their time. Some customers will be excited to be featured for the public exposure, while others will see it as a hassle, or in fact, don’t want to call attention to what they’re doing. But it’s important for everyone to treat it as a joint opportunity, rather than a favor the customer is doing. How can you sell it to the customer in a way that they will also find beneficial? If it’s not public exposure, then maybe the contacts could benefit from having the case documented for internal use. I’ve seen this many times. A manager at a company wants his/her story documented to educate coworkers and executives about the success he/she has achieved – for their own internal PR or career advancement. By doing this upfront work to get permission, you hopefully get approvals after the drafting phase.

      If your client tries to find a silver lining for customers and they just don’t agree, then move on to others. Or, work within customer limitations on what info they are willing to share or not share so you still get a usable story. Or lastly, create an unnamed case study. Not ideal but still useful.

      Protect yourself as the writer by including a line in your proposal or contract that says something to the effect that payment is for services rendered and not dependent on whether a customer actually approves the story. Don’t get burned by your payment being contingent on something you can’t control!

  4. Lori Ferguson

    Fabulous article, Casey, and Carol, thanks for inviting this guest post! This piece has *really* kicked my thinking into overdrive! I’ve been looking for a way to expand my client base, and this is a natural fit. I do lots of feature writing, so interviewing and crafting a story are *right* up my alley! I’m already generating a list of clients I can approach!

    Thanks for an excellent article, Casey, and some wonderful, additional tips in the comments section. I’ve signed up for your webinar and am really looking forward to it!

    • Casey Hibbard

      Go Lori! Great to hear that you have some good client prospects in mind. When you remind them of the many ways they can use them, it’s a pretty good return on investment for a piece of marketing.

  5. Daphnée Kwong Waye

    I’m not much interested in this field but maybe I’ll try it one day. If I’m out of options after college. Anyway, this is a very detailed and helpful post! Makes anyone think twice before stereotyping case studies…

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