LinkedIn for the Self Employed and Freelancers
LinkedIn has become a vital networking site for many professionals and business people and there are many different ways in which to use it. You can be as active as you want to be, joining discussions, signing up to different groups, posting regular updates and contacting potential clients. But even if you don’t have lots of time to dedicate to this vast resource, there is still plenty to gain from a well maintained LinkedIn profile.
Here are some of the advantages that many freelancers gain from LinkedIn.
- Finding work, contracts and potential clients.
- Keeping up with industry news and developments affecting your sector.
- Finding out what the going rates are for your competitors.
- Finding advice from fellow professionals.
As with any social network, there are plenty of less productive distractions that LinkedIn can provide, such as killing time by seeing what your old colleagues are up to, but we’ll stick to the things that will actually help you advance your freelance career.
Securing new work
Staying visible with a regularly updated profile will help your name feature higher up on LinkedIn search results. So if a business is searching for freelancers with your skill base, then you should finish above some competitors in the results if you are a more active presence on the site.
How to make your profile as visible as possible:
- Make sure your profile is 100 per cent complete, according to LinkedIn’s rating system.
- Make the most of real life connections. If you have mutual connections with a potential client who is carrying out a search, then your results will again feature higher up in their search, so it is useful to make as many genuine connections as possible.
- Staying active in discussion groups relevant to your profession or answering questions from connections will help to make you more visible and will help you build a reputation as an authority in your field.
- Use a number of relevant terms to describe your skills, this means you have more chance of showing up in searches where there are interchangeable words that can be used to describe the same skill.
- Updating your profile with something worthwhile and useful at least once a week will help boost your visibility.
Completing your profile
The bare minimum to be considered as having a complete profile is to provide up to date information in these fields:
Often an interesting one for freelancers, especially those who may be carrying out a number of different roles simultaneously. You can have more than one current position, but remember that LinkedIn will list them in date order, so the most recently taken role will show at the top.
It is your ‘title’ that shows as a snippet of information in search results, rather than your current positions, so choose the most appropriate job title to include here. The field is long enough to be more descriptive than just one word too, giving you extra scope to make your experience stand out.
There is no harm in stating that you are available for work in your current position field either, it perhaps doesn’t look too good to have that there for a long time, but it can attract enquiries if one of your current positions is ‘Freelance copywriter currently available for hire’.
You should have at least two previous positions listed for a complete profile, although this is not always that easy for freelancers just starting out. Include work experience, part time roles or internships if you do not have enough full time positions to include in this section. LinkedIn will also suggest connections from previous workplaces so this helps increase your number of connections.
As with previous workplaces, your places of education are used to try and link you up with former classmates from school or university. You need something in the education section in order to have a profile rated as complete, so even if you do not have any formal education behind you, at least try and enter something whether it’s a primary school, or adding ‘self educated’.
Summary, Experience and Specialties
These are three areas where you can really talk yourself up and they are used by LinkedIn to search your profile for relevant terms when matching you up to search results. Your summary is a chance to give an overview of your skills and this is one of the first places where potential recruiters or would-be clients will often look.
Have a look at some other profiles of people in your field to get an idea of effective summaries and see what keywords others are using to list their skills in the specialities section. Remember, there is often more than one way of saying the same thing, so there is no harm in listing specialities using more than one term, as this will help attract more people to your profile depending on what they search for.
While this picture does not have to be a photograph of yourself, you will need something to use as picture for a complete profile. It could be your company logo, an image you like or another avatar. Many people do of course use their own photo and there are advantages to this, such as helping people you may have met at an event to recognise you if they did not remember your name, while a photo also adds an element of reliability and trustworthiness to your profile. Clients know they are dealing with a real person, not an anonymous salesman.
You may not always be comfortable with asking people to give you a recommendation but other LinkedIn users will appreciate that you need to do this and won’t mind. You need at least three for a complete profile so it’s something you will have to address if recommendations don’t appear naturally. You can boost your chances of getting some by giving recommendations yourself to others you know.
How to grow your connections
You will find that LinkedIn does a lot of the hard work for you in terms of searching your history and matching you up to people it thinks you know from previous workplaces or educational establishments. So if you have a complete profile you will get more accurate recommendations.
When you do connect with somebody, see who else they are connected to and look for mutual contacts that you also know.
You can use your LinkedIn URL on other correspondence outside of the site, such as business cards or in your email signature. Make sure you edit your personal URL in the Edit Profile section so that it is as neat and easy to remember as possible, shortening it so it is not full of random numbers as it often is in the default setting is a good place to start.
Make it easy for others to find you by staying active and keeping your profile accurate and up to date, this will help LinkedIn to recommend you to other relevant connections and vice versa.
Being an active member
LinkedIn obviously wants people to be active on the site itself and do more than just update their personal profile. This means it values you higher if you are active in other parts of the site, so try to find some time to answer questions, offer advice to your contacts, join relevant discussion groups and add your own input. Make it worthwhile too, LinkedIn has ways of filtering out posts that appear too ‘spammy’, while if you provide useful information then it will also make you more reputable to other real life users and may even secure you some work based on you showing off your expertise and knowledge.
While the LinkedIn Answers feature, where members asked public questions, no longer exists, you can still be active in discussions with others on the site, answering queries that other connections pose in their status updates, in forums and in groups.
As with anything, finding something that interests you makes it more likely that you will stick with it. The same applies to LinkedIn discussions. Find discussion groups that are genuinely relevant to you and where you will be able to make a positive contribution. There are thousands and thousands of groups so you will almost certainly be able to find some related to your profession and even narrowed down to your geographic area to help you connect with other people locally. Adding something worthwhile once a week should be enough for you to see an effect in boosting your own profile and establishing new connections.
Be accurate when describing yourself
It is all too easy to get carried away with virtual profiles and add in some fabricated descriptions but it is best to stay accurate and describe yourself with skills that you actually have. But you can make the most of these skills by choosing your words carefully, giving you the best chance of being found by people searching for freelancers with your particular set of skills. Again, check out other profiles and feel free to borrow some of their phrases if they successfully sum up what you do as well.
Making the most of status updates
It is important to remember that LinkedIn is a professional social network, it is not Facebook so don’t waste your time posting updates about what you’ve had for dinner. Give worthwhile updates on your work situation and share useful links, hints and tips with your status updates.
For example, if you have nearly completed a project then you could reference this in your status. This tells other potential clients that you are available and shows everybody that you are a professional freelancer who gets work done. Don’t be afraid of explicitly stating that you are available for hire either, it may just remind somebody that they need help from somebody with your expertise.
Other useful updates would be letting people know about networking events or conferences that you are attending, as this encourages others attending to reach out to you and also shows you are active within your industry.
Updating your status also helps get your name out in front of your connections, even if they rarely go onto LinkedIn. Most people get email alerts when a connection has updated their status, so it’s a good way to remind people about what you do.
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