Boost Your Portfolio: How to Write a Client Case Study

A few weeks ago I met with Emily Sapp, a creative strategist and user experience designer, to discuss an interesting challenge. Emily was moving back to Portland from Nashville and looking for ways to refine her portfolio in order to position her for design thinking and strategy projects. We knew her UX background had a wealth of design thinking experience and it was simply a matter of repositioning her achievements to support her new goal.

So, Emily and I came up with a really interesting collaborative project that allowed us to meet to discuss her past jobs and develop her case studies working together. Knowing Emily isn’t the only one to struggle to uncover how to create case studies, I wanted to share some of my recommendations to help you boost your portfolio through client stories. Here are some steps you can take to get working.

1. Get Familiar with SPIN and FAB

If you have sales experience, you’ll probably be deeply familiar with the terms SPIN and FAB. If not, they sound a little like gibberish. The essence is this: SPIN refers to describing a client or prospect’s problem and the overall benefit of working with you and FAB refers to the specific benefits they’ll received.

Specifically, SPIN stands for Situation, Problem, Implication and Need Pay Off. So if we were to talk about my experience working with Emily, Situation would refer to who she is (a design thinker and UX designer) and what she’s working on (her portfolio), Problem would refer to her challenge (writing case studies), Implication would refer to the broader implication of that problem (her challenge writing her case studies was making it hard for her to get the jobs she wanted) and Need Pay Off is the benefit she received working with me (she had an easy, collaborative time updating her portfolio in order to get the jobs she wanted). To learn more about SPIN, I’d highly recommend reading SPIN Selling: Stop Fumbling and Start Making Sales and Why Questions Matter in Selling.

FAB refers to Feature, Advantage and Benefit. These are the specific features intrinsic in your product or service and the advantages and benefits in those features. So in Emily’s case, a Feature would be a specific service (coaching Emily through her job experiences) that had an Advantage that supported her process (I made it easy for her to organize those job experiences as we worked) and lead to a Benefit that supported her goal (organizing those experiences helped her succinctly and uniquely share her experiences to help her find hew work). To learn more about FAB, I’d highly recommend reading Feature Dumping Doesn’t Work, Do This Instead and Understanding Feature – Advantage – Benefit.

2. Connect Your Case Studies with YOU

Step two is much more ephemeral than step one but ultimately sets you up to create case studies that not only describe your unique value but also showcase your unique company. In my opinion, viewing your past work experience and placing it within a template of SPIN and FAB is a scientific, organizational process. Sharing those work experiences in a way that highlights you is far more creative. As such, I believe there are things you can to do support your creative process!

Start by reviewing your desires and goals in writing these case studies. What are the core values of your company? What is your Vision and Mission statement? What are you key differentiators? How do you want these case studies to help you achieve new goals? Each of these answers help remind you who you are, how you work and what you want and they will support you deeply as you create your writing tone, integrate your unique personality and ensure that as you write you position yourself in a way that helps you procure the jobs you want.

3. Set Yourself Up for Success While You Write

The fact is, writing is a challenging process for everyone—and often a tougher experience for writers than non-writers because they know just how hard it is! As a result, you’ll want to do what you can to make the writing process as easy and inspired as possible. Place yourself in a creative setting like a coffee shop, a park or even your home office. Reward yourself for your work, maybe treating yourself to a cup of iced coffee or lighting a candle. And then, get going. Your goal is to take each experience, outline it into the SPIN and FAB statement and then write a case study that shares your unique experience in your unique voice.

I highly recommend starting your writing process by hand. Writing by hand uses a different part of your brain and forces you to be more succinct. Once your first draft is written, re-write by hand. You’ll notice ways you can clarify, move sentences around and reword your content. Then, write your final draft on your computer. You may find that you write it exactly the way you wrote by hand. Or you may discover that typing gives you a different, more authentic voice. Go with your instinct to uncover ways you can make your writing sound more natural and true to you.

After that, step away from your work. Set the content aside and complete your day focused on other projects. When you return to your writing the next day or later in the week, you’ll find new ways you want to word your case studies. Stepping away from work allows you to digest the process, ensuring you’re more specific and more inspired.

Now, you have each of the tools you need to develop a series of case studies that help boost your portfolio to ensure you get the job or jobs you want. It’s simply a matter of using SPIN and FAB to describe your process, ensuring your experience aligns with your unique brand and writing your portfolio in a way that taps into who you are and what you want. You’ve got this.