Thoughts on branding, design, writing and life by Kevin Potts. Established 2003.

Quotes and Case Studies in Your Portfolio

Client testimonials should be an integral part in every designer’s portfolio. It’s far easier to sell your services with evidence of past success, and clients will be far more interested in working with someone who’s familiar with their needs.

There is a dirty little corporate term called “reference selling.” You’ll hear it in marketing boardrooms, sales demos and from overpaid consultants. It’s not exactly a new concept, but some suit gave it a clever euphemism anyway.

Essentially, reference selling is using a customer’s story to promote your business. In the sales word of “don’t tell me, show me,” it’s one of the clearest means of demonstrating a service. When giving a sales spiel, it’s easy to spin off strings of synergistic, solution-focused buzzwords, but you’re avoiding/delaying what people want to hear: The Story.

The Story is about People Just Like Them, who had a problem — say, a crappy website — that needed resolution. Your expertise and design chops led them into the promised land of increased sales conversions, higher click-thrus and longer visits from web users. You turned a money-draining anchor into the company’s top income source. You are their savior.

Imagine a plumber coming to fix your bathroom sink. When he gets there he says he only does toilets and showers and only did one kitchen sink sometime back in ’86. This is not what you want to hear. You want to know the person you’ve hired has experience, has helped customers with your same problem, and knows how to fix it.

This is what reference selling accomplishes, and why it should be a feature of your portfolio.


A quote or short testimonial is the cornerstone of a reference. Direct sales sites use them all the time with tremendous success, because they know what people want to read — The Story — and they know they want it from an unbiased source — People Just Like Them.

Good quotes are the I’ve seen on many design portfolios. My anecdotal experience has shown that clients who are happy with your work are equally happy to help you out with a quick testimonial. This is how I generally structure my requests:

Dear So and So. I just wanted to drop you a line to thank you for the opportunity to work on your project. I am quite proud of the design and wish to add it to my online portfolio, and I was hoping you could provide a short testimonial about our experience working together (just a sentence or two) to go on my site. Thanks, and I look forward to working with you again.

Nothing much else to it. If you didn’t double the client’s budget and hit on his daughter, you should get a response shortly.

Case Studies

These are far more effective than quotes, but take substantially more time to prepare and effort to write. The ideal case study accomplishes several things. It clearly outlines the client’s initial problem, demonstrates the great working chemistry you had, and defines exactly what you did to solve the problem.

A case study shouldn’t be too long (1,000 words is probably too much), but it shouldn’t be too short either (100 words is probably not long enough). This is a meat-and-potatoes marketing piece, rife with details, client quotes and copious marketing spin on how great you are. This is The Story, laid on the table with a compelling narrative.

To produce a good case study, you’ll need to interview the client. Thoroughly. Get lots of quotes, details and numbers (“we saw a 450% increase in the length of visitor stays and a 15% reduction in shopping cart abandonment”). Write a solid first draft and send it to the client for approval, and don’t be surprised if they make changes. Edit accordingly and send back for approval. Do not publish a case study or even a testimonial without the client’s express, written permission.

You’ll find many technology companies use case studies. Often, services are intangible and difficult to explain because there are so many technical details. It’s far more effective to tell how a previous client has doubled sales and seen a 500% ROI in just three months than to drone on about crap like hosting plans, video codecs, printing prepress headaches, MySQL calls and some crap called Rails.

Making a Connection

In order for any sales to go through, a connection has to be made between the seller and the customer. It’s hard to start that engine cold, but evidence of previous client success builds a foundation that enables you to address the client’s problem on their level — because you’ve already been there.

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commentary + criticism


wrote the following on Thursday March 30, 2006

Perfect timing! ...been working on mine, too.

Also, I clicked around your site. Looks very nice and you do a great job explaining and selling. (I laughed out loud at ‘from The Big Apple to Orange County and lots of other places not named after fruit’)

Natalie Jost

wrote the following on Thursday March 30, 2006

ha ha ha – “some crap called rails.” =D

The Co-Worker

wrote the following on Thursday March 30, 2006

Good article. Case studies and quotes are KEY in all aspects of selling. Just check the quotes on the back of a back of Sunflower Seed Cookies!

Mohodin Rageh

wrote the following on Friday March 31, 2006

Good write-up. How about those web developers having fake references? There are many of them my friend before you dismiss it. There is no way one can justify that. It is shameful.

Just a thought that occured to me.

keep up the good work mate.