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How to produce case studies that work

How can you stand out as a business professional who offers dependable results? Take a leaf from changes in the world of motivational speakers, as found the Wall Street Journal:

Companies have long hired motivational speakers and business "gurus" to address employee audiences. But lately, fueled by demand for a more tangible return on investment and boredom with the regular speaker circuit, event planners are tapping CEOs, historians, and even fighter pilots, to offer a fresh take on topics such as crisis management and corporate culture.

The fighter pilots, the article went on to say, were brought into a business planning conference in full flight dress to describe how the US Air Force plans a mission, determines progress, celebrates success, and debriefs.  The point the article made is that this new breed of speaker isn’t just about motivation anymore -- they provide real insights into how to get results.

If you haven’t piloted an F-18 recently, climbed the North Face of the Eiger, or wrestled a Great White Shark into submission recently, how do you demonstrate your ability to get results? Generally, with a case study.

But do it right. The problem with many case studies is that they’re not particularly credible. You may say that your firm walked on water, so to speak, in a recent engagement -- but who’s going to hold you accountable for the miracles you say that you wrought?

Your client, that’s who. If your client agrees that you truly did achieve miracles in that engagement, what you have to say has the ring of authenticity.

Let’s say, for example, that your work involves helping companies reduce their energy costs. You could talk about how you analyzed their building and operations, and made recommendations, which the company followed. Your story would have much more credibility if your client can provide hard data on their energy costs before, and then after you worked your insightful magic. Go one further -- add some quotes from your client about how you were careful to avoid disrupting operations, and how the changes you recommended didn’t cost a lot in capital expenditures.

In my experience, the best way to prepare a case study for publication is to do it jointly with the client, so that the client is listed as a co-author. In video or audio form, it should be a joint interview.

It may be best to work with a third-party writer or other content producer who will interview the representative of the firm and the client, and then prepare the content for review by both parties. The client will be reassured if told that the content will not be made public without their permission.

I find that many clients are happy to have some free publicity around a success story, and don’t mind depositing a benefit in the “favor bank,” knowing that there may come a time when they need to claim that favor, in the form of a fast turnaround on a project, or a discounted price to meet a budget limit.

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