What factors would cause a prospective client to hire you, over another business professional? Over the past few weeks I’ve been doing some research, digging into exactly that question. I’ve been talking with people who are in position to hire external advisors, asking them what tends to sway their decision.

Their most common answer? “I want to be sure you’ve done this kind of work before.” They want experience, and they want to be sure it’s experience for their kind of situation.

And they added that the best ways to show that experience come through (1) referrals and (2) case studies. I’ll dig into the question of referrals in a future post, but in this one I want to be sure that you’re effective in case studies that answer that question, “Have you done this before?”

I’ve covered other aspects of case studies previously, in Post #1, “Why case studies are best if they make your client look amazing.

For demonstrating your ability to get results in their kind of circumstances, you need to first of all think of what those circumstances are. And key to this is understanding that all clients think that their situation is unique. You may have seen similar situations many times before, but to your prospect or client this is uncharted territory.

So if you can find a way to demonstrate results in their industry, part of the world or their profession, you’ll reassure them that you can deliver for them too.

To develop an effective set of case studies that can help you demonstrate “Yes, I’ve done this before” in an effective way, you need to start by getting a clear idea of who your client is. I’ve gone into this in some depth in Post #5, “How avatars can help your content target your client’s hot buttons,” about the importance of understanding their issues and concerns.

Those concerns are likely two-fold: “I want to look good. I don’t want to look bad.” In other words, they want to be sure that if they engage your services, the project will succeed and they’ll be showered with praise, a bonus and maybe a celebratory beer or two. They don’t want to be blamed for a nightmare that costs money, and maybe loses them their job.

Your case studies can help reassure them on both points.

Going a step further, your case studies also help your direct client, the person who has decided to retain your services, when this person must convince other people in the organization, maybe higher up the food chain. Remember that this “over-client” likely hasn’t met you, so your case studies have quite a heavy task if they’re to convince that other person to green-light your proposal.

Here’s how to plan your case studies, with your client’s concerns in mind. To go back to the original question – “Have you done this before?” – show them that the answer is: Yes.

Have you done work in my industry before?

Clients want to know that you understand the particular issues they face. In many cases, this means regulatory pressures – health and safety, environmental, consumer protection, security and other rules that your solutions must fit. They want the assurance that you won’t unknowingly put them into non-compliance.

Clients also want to know that you understand the competitive pressures they’re under – such as any retailer needs to have an “Amazon strategy” on how to deal with the big behemoth that is disrupting so many sectors.

So, you should have case studies for each of the industry sectors you consider to be a priority. You may think that the issues each industry faces are the same, but to members of that industry, they’re unique. Acknowledge that in the case studies you present.

Have you experience working with members of my profession?

Lawyers have very specific jargon – as do engineers, accountants, actuaries, software developers and carpenters. Words like “competent,” “realize,” “mortality” and “plane” have specific meaning within that profession or occupation. By using their buzzwords, jargon and terminology correctly, your prospects will come to see you as “one of us,” and that’s a good place to be.

It may be best to have your case studies reviewed by a member of that profession, to be sure that the insider terms you’re using, are used appropriately and spelled correctly.

Have you experience working with clients in my part of the world?

A few years ago, I was on a consulting gig in the DR Congo, one of the more under-developed parts of the world. I was there as part of a team designing buildings for a campus that would include schools, hospitals and office buildings. The engineers I was with were told to be sure that the designs they came up with were constructible (that’s a bit of inside jargon, right there) by local companies, employing local people. They also had to be sure that the materials they specified were locally available.

That's an extreme example of geographic specialization, but all parts of the world have their own regulations, customs, weather and other realities that your business recommendations and solutions must fit into.

This means that if you want to work in a specific geographic area and do not have experience there yet, you may need to be flexible about your fees, in order to get that experience that you can then include in your case studies.

Designing effective case studies

To develop good case studies, start by taking copious notes on the projects in which you’re involved. Take photographs, take measurements for before-and-after comparisons, and take screenshots of your computer.

Then, put together the text of the case study following the tried-and-true formula:
Situation: Describe conditions before you got involved, including the problems or opportunities faced by your client. This should be expressed in hard data whenever possible.
Solution: What you and your client decided to do, in order to solve the situation.
Resolution: The benefit received – describing it using the same type of hard data you used to document the original situation.

It helps if you have a formatted template, with your logo, and the text and images laid out in a way that’s standardized. That way, if you paste them into a proposal, they’ll add to your personal brand’s credibility rather than detract.

You can also add your case studies to your LinkedIn profile – upload PDF versions as “work samples.” This means that if anyone who has met you or heard about you, and is checking out your profile to see your qualifications, will be more impressed and reassured around that crucial question, “Have you done this before?”