How Much Does a Case Study Cost?
Case studies are the often under-appreciated workhorses of the content marketing world. They serve the primary purpose of demonstrating how your solution works and who it works for, while simultaneously offering significant social proof of its effectiveness. They can be used in lead generation efforts, to build credibility, and to support sales efforts.
Broken into smaller pieces, they provide valuable blog fodder and discussion starters. Testimonials can be extracted and used in marketing materials online and offline. In B2B technical markets, buyers expect access to case studies to support their deliberation process.
It’s hard to imagine a B2B sales and marketing scenario where a few carefully chosen and crafted case studies are not a valuable asset. However, many companies lack a strong library of case studies because of the complexity involved in developing them.
Starting with obtaining cooperation from the client, to producing an asset worthy of the solution it showcases, a case study can be time consuming and costly to produce. The right partner can greatly simplify the process by smoothing the client approval process, conducting interviews, and preparing the case study for use.
But if you’ve sought help with case studies before, you may have noticed that there’s wide variation in how much providers charge. If you’re building a marketing budget, you need an estimate slightly more precise than “between $50 and $5,000.”
Cost Factors for Case Studies
A quick Google search for “hire a writer” yields a wealth of ads for writers who will work for as little as $3/hour. Let’s be honest, here. Three dollars an hour is not a rate at which any self-respecting English language writer will work, and it’s definitely not a rate that any decent, self-respecting organization should pay. At the same time, it’s probably not necessary to shell out $5000 a pop, unless you’re planning a lengthy, in-depth study of a complex solution, and hiring top talent to produce it. To begin understanding how much you should budget, consider the following factors.
Quality of Writing
Of all the factors involved, this is the one that will have the greatest impact on how much you pay. It’s also the aspect that is most worth paying for.
Clean, crisp writing communicates credibility and trust. It focuses on key points, and draws the intended audience in to engage with the content. Like a gymnast whose moves seem effortless, great writing often appears simple–but achieving that simplicity takes talent and practice.
It is, of course, possible to have a case study written for $50 or (gasp) less, but you are unlikely to achieve much in terms of quality at this level. If you’re lucky enough to snag an early-career freelancer willing to work at this rate, who can also produce a useful draft, odds are they will soon discover that they cannot make a living at this rate, and you will soon lose them again.
For $250, you can probably find an experienced writer to produce a short case study, if you don’t mind a good bit of trial and error in finding the right person.
Generally, to hire an experienced, skilled case study writer, who can manage the project effectively, and reliably produce a useful draft, expect rates to range from $500 to $1500. At the higher end, expect a strong portfolio, technical expertise, and a strong understanding of your audience.
Some agencies charge $3000+ for case studies. In this case, expect the highest level of proven quality, plus a turnkey service including branding and design.
Case studies can be as simple as a single paragraph on a web page or as complex as a ten-page examination of a complex implementation. Most marketing case studies fall somewhere in between. We have found that for most purposes, one to two pages is a good length. This will usually result in content that can be used in its entirety, and also be broken down into smaller pieces for various purposes. Obviously, the longer a case study is, the more time it takes to prepare, and therefore the higher the cost will be.
Number of Interviews
Typically, a case study tells a story from two primary points of view: The client’s, and the solution provider’s. Thus, the standard case study may involve interviews with a principal at each of the two organizations. In complex cases, it may be necessary to have input from individuals who were involved in the project at different levels. Expect the cost to increase beyond the first two interviews.
Most people think of a case study as a thing to be “written.” And it’s true that writing is a big part of the process, but it is not the only important element. Because case studies involve individuals from multiple organizations, producing one requires a certain amount of project and relationship management. Unless you’re lining up the interviews and managing draft approvals, you may pay extra for the writer to manage these aspects. Other services you may want to invest in include:
- Design. If your case study will be used as sales collateral or as a download from your website, invest in custom design. You can do this in-house, hire a separate designer, or ask your provider to include this service.
- Testimonials extraction. Among the many valuable benefits of producing a case study is the opportunity to obtain glowing testimonials from your customers, which can be repurposed in a variety of ways. It’s likely that your writer will extract lots of quotes from your client, not all of which will make it into the final draft of the case study. For an additional investment, the writer can be hired to extract and clean up the best quotes for use as testimonials.
- Repurposing. Case studies in particular lend themselves to repurposing—in blog articles, white papers, and ebooks, for a start. If your case study writer works with your company regularly, they can guide you in where and how best to use your case study, and provide the re-writing and revising necessary to make it useful in these additional ways.
Some subjects are simpler to discuss than others. If you’re selling a well-understood service that solves a simple problem, your case study is likely to be relatively easy to produce. Highly technical solutions, such as logistics management, civil engineering, or medical technology require specialized knowledge and high-level skill in order to communicate effectively. Expect to pay more for greater complexity of subject matter.
If you operate in a technical field, expect to pay more for a writer who has specialized knowledge or familiarity with your industry. If you can’t find a skilled writer with specific industry expertise, it’s a good idea to look for one who has handled other technical topics. You’ll still pay a little more, but the writer’s faster ramp-up will save both time and hassle, and result in a better product.
New freelance writers will often offer bargain rates in order to get their foot in the door. This can be a great situation for teams who have more time than money to invest in the project. An inexperienced but talented writer may do a good job with the right guidance and feedback. An organization looking for a writer to provide a turn-key project with minimal hassle and highest quality will want to make a larger investment to secure proven experience.
How You Pay
It can be hard to compare apples to apples when some providers offer a flat rate and others offer per hour. Add to the mix the fact that many providers require minimum commitments, and it can get quite complex.
In short, you’ll generally pay less per case study when you buy a package of several rather than just one; and you’ll pay even less when you purchase a retainer and commit to a certain number of content deliveries per month.
On the flip side, you will usually pay more overall when you pay by the hour. A freelancer who charges an hourly rate may do so because they don’t know how to scope the project, and are afraid of having to work more hours than they’re paid for. Unfortunately, an inexperienced writer will usually work more hours on the same project, often with a less desirable result.
A new writer can be a great investment for a company that doesn’t mind having to manage the process closely, but it’s still a good idea to insist on a project fee, so you don’t end up paying for unreasonable ramp-up times.
So, How Much Should You Actually Spend?
Now that you understand the factors affecting the cost of a case study, you are equipped to decide how much your organization should spend. It’s helpful, when making this decision, to understand how much value case studies will provide. If a case study is just a vanity piece with little practical application, it may not make sense to invest a lot in having a good one written. On the other hand, if it will be used to facilitate multi-million-dollar deals, then it’s worth a higher investment.
Here are a few criteria that may make case studies a good value for your organization:
- Your sales cycle is long with large transaction sizes. These sales generally involve significant trust building with prospects, for which case studies are a valuable resource.
- Your product or service is new or poorly understood in your market. A case study is an excellent way to demonstrate how it works, and prove its value.
- Your organization is in aggressive growth mode. A series of case studies can underpin an aggressive marketing and sales strategy.
- Your company already invests in marketing content. Case studies are a high-value content type, well worth spending part of your budget on.
- Capturing customer stories has become a priority for your organization. Case studies are an excellent way to document success stories for current and future use.
If your organization meets any of these criteria, it’s time to take a look at which of your clients might make a good case study. Check out our “anatomy of a case study” guide for help getting started, or download our rate sheet, using the form below, to get a ballpark for what it would take to hire our team. Then, of course, reach out to us for a free consultation.
Fen Druadìn Head (formerly Heather Head) is an author, as well as the founder of Scopcity. When she is not writing, running the business, or chasing down bad guys on Twitter, she enjoys hiking, snuggling with her husband and three boys, and avoiding the kitchen.