3 Ways To Create Your First Case Study That Attracts Clients

Written By Alex Berman

One of the many challenges of being a freelance programmer is securing a steady stream of income. In order to secure additional income, you need to acquire new clients.

As a programmer, you could probably write code and create new applications in your sleep, but when it comes to getting clients, most freelance programmers stumble. You know your job, but you aren’t comfortable with the business side of things, so you have problems maintaining a successful business.

There are a lot of freelancers out there competing for the same clients, and many of them are using the same tactics to recruit those clients. Case studies are a way to cut through the noise—a way to stand out in order to survive in a marketplace that is increasingly hard to compete in.

I’ve talked about how case studies can help agencies sell more on my YouTube channel. The same strategy is applicable to freelance programmers who want to get more work. If you create a case study, you can use it to show potential clients that you’re worth hiring.

Case studies are easy to write because they follow a basic format. You can create one using different kinds of projects, based on your past work, or you can do a project on your own to build a case study around.

Standing out from the crowd with a great case study starts with creating materials that will show your potential clients you are capable of delivering results for their company.

How Case Studies Help Attract Clients

As a programmer, you most likely have a portfolio and a testimonial section on your website. While these are useful in showing potential clients your skills, they do not show the exact timeline of the projects you worked on.

Portfolios are snapshots of the finished product. They show what projects you’ve worked on, and that those projects were successfully completed.

However, portfolios are too brief to include the process you used to work with your clients to solve their problem, how long it took you to complete the project, what applications the software was used for, how was the finished product was received in the client’s industry, how it improved their business, etc.

A case study is more detailed because it incorporates all of these items and more. It is a documentation of the processes and solutions you used to solve a problem for a client.

Portfolios don’t tell a story; case studies do.

Case studies show more than the simple fact that you created a product; they show how a certain app or an operating system benefited its users (i.e., clients).

Case studies can build credibility for you faster than a portfolio can. It is compelling proof that shows how you do excellent work and that you are able to replicate it when needed.

Moreover, not everyone is willing to invest time and energy in creating a case study. That alone puts you ahead of your peers and competitors.

What to Include in a Case Study

Every case study follows a certain format. Generally speaking, you should provide background on the project, outline your strategy, and then provide specific numbers to support your strategy and the success of your project.

However, this format is not always set in stone. Regardless of what format you choose to use, the following three elements are needed to put together a great case study:

1. Background

Everybody loves reading a great story, and a case study isn’t far from being one. In every story, the author establishes the background. This step is the first part of your case study. The background of your case study should answer the following questions:

  • What is the case study about?
  • Who is it for?
  • What were the client’s needs?

It’s important to answer these questions to provide context for the project at hand. Plus, starting off your case study with this narrative makes it easy for potential clients to continue reading to find out how you created a solution to the problem you’ve set up in this section of the case study.

2. Specific strategy

Potential clients want to know how you are able to come up with a solution to a problem similar to theirs. This section is where you should talk about the approach you made to get to the desired result.

Continue the story from the first section of the case study. Show how you approached a specific problem, what the goals and objectives set by the client were, and, more importantly, how you were able to deliver the solution to meet those needs.

Then, go into your production process. Walk the reader through how you broke that process down; take them through it step by step.

For example, clients often want to be involved in the process and they certainly want to pay for a final product they’re satisfied with. In this process breakdown, you can show the steps you took to allow the client to give you feedback, and then how you implemented that feedback as the project progressed.

Something to always keep in mind while creating your case study: The purpose of the case study is to give your potential clients a complete insight into the way you work. After reading your case study, it should be easier for your clients to say yes to working with you because they understand you and your work process.

3. Numbers

To make your case study more compelling and credible, use the actual data from the specific project. Basing your case study conclusion on numbers gives your work credibility.

Has the application you created “doubled the revenue” for your client? What does that look like in specific numbers? Vague words don’t add any value to a case study, so make sure you back up every statement with the data.

While it’s important to talk about the coding and technology itself, these details often aren’t as convincing to potential clients. All they care about are the results. Provide any relevant statistics here. Don’t just think about how you neatly optimized the code and how it all runs smoothly and effectively. Speak the language of the client by talking about the value behind your skills.

Usually, showing value means going into the marketing metrics. For example, if you created a mobile app that allows a specific company to interact with their clientele, write about how many downloads the app had, how many weeks it was featured as a “top app” in the app store, how many daily or weekly interactions the app generated, total user time on the app, and the great reviews it received from the app store.

Use anything the client did with your software as social proof of the commercial usability of your work.

Your case study should be detailed, but it doesn’t have to be long. Three to five pages, including any appropriate graphics or illustrations, should be enough. It’s good to have someone else read through it to check for spelling or grammatical errors—just like any code you write, you want your case study to be bug-free.

But what if you don’t have any projects to be the basis for a case study yet?

Creating Your First Case Study

Even if you don't have any clients and don't have a specific project in mind yet, you can still plan to create an effective case study. Here are the three ways to come up with your very first case study:

1. Work for free

If you’re squirming at the thought of working for free, hear me out first. Working pro bono isn’t the most appealing thing that a programmer can do to get clients, but it will get you that first case study.

The easiest way to find free work is to use cold email scripts (you can learn more about those scripts in these videos). Instead of charging for the work, offer to do it for free.

Try to find a small project that you can finish in a week or two. That way, you’re not working

for free for too long, and that original piece of work can turn into your case study more quickly.

2. Use experience from your former or current company as a case study

Let’s assume that projects you’ve worked on in the past are similar to projects you want to work on in the future as a freelancer. If you’re currently working for a company, or have worked for a company in the recent past, you can use that experience to provide the basis for a case study.

Whether you want to ask your boss first or not, it’s up to you. You can morally interpret this dilemma however you want. A moral dilemma lies in the fact that in most cases, you will be working on a segment of the final product, but you can write a case study on projects you were involved with by writing it in a way that makes it seem like you did the whole project.

3. Build your own project

If you don’t want to work for free or can’t use your current or former company, you can build your own project and use it as the basis for a case study.

The kind of project that you will work on is completely up to you. Working on a project specifically to build a case study around it is actually a great opportunity, because you can choose what type of technology and programming language you want to specialize in going forward.

I would not spend more than 25 days on this kind of project. Anything that takes too long to implement may not be a good topic for a case study because your goal for the case study is to get additional clients. Keep in mind that moving quickly supports that goal.

Make It Easy for Clients to Say Yes

Once you’re finished with your case study, you’ll email it to potential clients when they ask for it or if you want to send them materials about your services. Some freelancers choose to post their case study online, but this is not a common practice, as it outlines specific details and problems your clients have. In most cases, they don’t want this kind of information public. If you choose to post it online, ask your clients for permission first and be sure to create an opt-in for the material so you know who’s reading it and if it’s a potential client, you can follow up with them.

A strong, detailed case study could spell the difference between feast or famine for a freelance programmer.

A good case study will cover the background of the problem, outline the processes used to solve the problem, and show the value of the end product by detailing numbers that support the success of the product.

Granted, there are tons of other ways to market yourself, but having a case study sets you apart from freelancers who go by the usual route.

If I were a hiring manager or a client, I’d pick a freelance programmer who can show me how they drive results over someone who takes a more generic approach, and I’m pretty sure other clients go by the same principle.

So, if you’re serious about having a full-time career as a freelance programmer, go ahead and start writing your first case study that tells a story of a project that creatively solved a problem and found success in the marketplace.