LinkedIn. Some people love it, some people hate it, and some people don’t know where to start.
Although you might associate the site with in-house positions, it can be a great tool for freelancers to show off skills and experience, keep in touch with existing networking contacts, forge new connections, and market themselves to potential clients. Even if you’re already swimming in work, it never hurts to establish another way for people to find you.
It should go without saying that different freelancers will have different degrees of success using LinkedIn. The services you offer, the clients you cater to, and the amount of effort you put into the platform can all play a role (among other factors). But even if you use your profile more as a static online résumé than as a tool for active networking and marketing, implementing certain one-time tweaks can get you some long-term benefits with minimal upkeep required.
1. Fine-Tune Your Headline
By default, LinkedIn uses your current title and company as your headline, but you can make it whatever you want. Why not be specific, get creative, and go that extra mile to draw in potential clients?
Sure, “Writer at Joe Schmoe Editorial” might be accurate, but it could it also be more descriptive and more eye-catching. Do you specialize in a particular subject, medium, or type of service? Is “freelance” the best term for you, or do you want to describe yourself as “independent” or the owner of your business? Are there skills or certifications you want to highlight? Is there a way you can use your headline to tell potential clients what you can do for them?
The style of headline that’s right for you will depend on your personality, your industry, your level of experience, and the type of client you’re trying to attract. Top Dog Social Media has some helpful examples of what it calls client-centric, ego-centric, mission-centric, and keyword-centric headlines that may help you figure out the right fit.
2. Create a Company Page
If you add an entry to the Experience section of your profile and the company doesn’t have a LinkedIn page associated with it, it will show up with a generic square next to it in your work history. By creating a company page for your freelance business—even if you’re just one person and don’t have an LLC or other business entity—you control the logo or other image that shows up as well as the page people are directed to if they click on it. This doesn’t take long to do and instantly makes you look more professional.
Be sure to fill out all the relevant information. If you have a website, a directory profile, a Twitter account or Facebook page for your business, or another online landing page, try to use the same images and text there and on your LinkedIn page so that everything matches. And be sure to customize your URL so you can have an easy-to-remember address rather than the random one you’ll be assigned by default (for example, PEN’s company page is linkedin.com/company/professionaleditorsnetwork).
Once you’ve created your company page, you can use the built-in feature to invite your connections to follow it. Not only can more followers boost your visibility, but if you’re a newer freelancer, inviting a connection makes sure that person knows you have your own business now—something they might have missed if you don’t know each other well. And, as a bonus, you might get some free credits for creating the page that you can use to try out advertising on the site.
3. Use the Service Provider Widget
Put the services you offer front and center with this newer LinkedIn feature. The “showcase services” module lets you list your services in the header area of your profile, right below your headline and location, and they also show up in search results alongside your name—so people can see what you do before they even click on your profile. In addition, it gives you the option to allow people you’re not connected with to message you about your services for free (something that otherwise requires a paid account).
The tricky part is that not all users have the module enabled by default. If it’s not available to you when you edit your profile, you’ll need to follow LinkedIn’s process for becoming a service provider, which involves joining an official hidden group. Once you do, you should get access to the module within forty-eight hours.
4. Consider the #OpenToWork Feature
This feature lets other users know you’re looking for work by putting a green #OpenToWork frame around your profile picture and alerting recruiters—and other LinkedIn users, if you choose—to the areas you’re interested in. (For those who have a day job on top of a freelance business, know that the site says, “We take steps to prevent LinkedIn Recruiter users who work at your company and related companies from seeing your shared career interests, but we can’t guarantee complete privacy.”) This won’t be the right fit for all freelancers, but if you’re looking for any opportunity to spread the word that you’re available, this option could help bring in some extra leads.
5. Customize Your Profiles, Plural
Your LinkedIn connections, LinkedIn users who aren’t connected with you, and people who don’t have LinkedIn accounts at all may see three different things when they view your profile. The site allows you to customize who sees what—and if you’re using your profile to connect with people and market your services, it makes sense to make as much information public as possible. While you’re at it, as mentioned above for the company page, don’t settle for the random string of numbers LinkedIn assigns you as your personal profile URL. Use the “Edit your custom URL” option on the public profile editor page to pick your name, your business name, or another easy-to-remember suffix.
Make sure you’ve filled out all the portions of your profile that apply to you, particularly the headshot and a background image. Not using images, especially the headshot, will make it far less likely that other people will interact and connect with you. Your profile photo should ideally be a photo of you, not an image of your logo, and it should be high quality and professional. Your background image is a great opportunity to incorporate branding from your website or another platform, if you have it, and/or to create an image with text that further advertises you and your services.
In addition to listing your work history under Experience, add the professional associations you belong to in the Organizations section. This helps show you’re serious about networking and professional development—plus, someone seeing they belong to the same group you do could make the difference in that person deciding to connect. If you’ve taken specialized training or have professional certifications, add them. And don’t neglect your volunteer experience, especially if the work or subject area is relevant to your freelance services.
Many of the things that make a good professional directory listing also make a good LinkedIn profile, including using keywords and targeting your desire audience, so our list of directory tips can help you up your game as well.
6. Ask for Recommendations and Endorsements
Testimonials are a great way to boost your legitimacy and show off your skills—on LinkedIn or on any other platform. They can be especially valuable for people like editors and book coaches who might not have a portfolio of work samples they can share with the public. If you have satisfied clients (or current or former colleagues and supervisors) who you think would be willing to write some kind words about you, ask them to recommend you on LinkedIn, either through the site’s built-in request feature or with an emailed or in-person request.
Then there’s the endorsement feature, which allows your connections to vouch for your skills in certain areas. Connections can add new skills of their own accord, but you can get the ball rolling by adding specific skills you want to highlight—whether that’s “content marketing,” “copyediting,” or “AP style.”
If you get a great recommendation on LinkedIn, consider asking for permission to quote it on your website or directory listing, too. It could be a great marketing tool for all your online spaces (or even a business card or other print product).
7. Decide on a Connection Strategy
Some people use LinkedIn to connect only with people they already know. Some people use it to grow their network selectively. Others try to connect with as many people as possible.
All these approaches have their pros and cons, but the important thing to keep in mind is that your connection strategy won’t necessarily match that of the person you’re sending a request to. You might think you’re a natural fit to connect with them because you work in the same subset of the same industry in the same city, but that doesn’t mean they feel the same. However, you can increase the chances of your connection being accepted by personalizing your request: take the time to write a note explaining why you want to connect.
On the flip side, when it comes to requests you receive, think about whether each person is someone you really do want to connect with—and be on the lookout for spam and scam accounts.
8. Be Visible to Your Network
Stay on your connections’ minds by staying in their newsfeeds, which you can do by posting regularly. If someone keeps seeing your name pop up when they log in, that could make them more likely to remember you when they’re looking for someone who provides the services you do. You don’t have to post every day or even every week if you don’t have anything worthwhile to say—quality is more important than quantity most of the time—but if you’ve just published a blog post, registered for a conference, or signed up to teach a class, share it on LinkedIn! Try to share other people’s content occasionally, too: if you come across an article or take a class that was helpful to you, post about it with a brief explanation of why it was valuable.
And be sure to engage with your connections’ updates—like and comment on their posts to show you’re keeping up with what they’ve been doing and congratulate them on accomplishments. One caveat: be careful of the automated suggestions LinkedIn makes for you to congratulate people on new jobs or work anniversaries. Your colleagues’ information might not be up to date on the site, and the last thing you want is to congratulate someone on five years at their company only to find out they got let go last month.
9. Stay Current
Finally, as on any platform, it’s important to keep your profile up to date. You don’t have to constantly tweak and finesse it, but if it doesn’t reflect your current position, your name (business or personal), or the services you’re offering now, it’s not much help. Worse, it could work against you—if a client contacts you based on what they see on LinkedIn but finds out it’s not true anymore, that doesn’t make a great first impression.
Staying current includes your headshot, too. If your photo looks drastically different from how you look now, it could be confusing to clients and other potential connections. And even if it’s accurate, a noticeably dated photo could make those people worry you’re not keeping up to date in other ways. The best approach is for your photo to be accurate, recent, and consistent across all your online platforms for a cohesive look.
None of these tips is a magic bullet, but any improvement to your LinkedIn presence increases your chances of success both on and off the site. So start with what you’re comfortable with—and if you’re already doing everything listed here, ask yourself whether using InMail for cold contacts or publishing blog-length posts on LinkedIn could be a good next step for you.
Madeleine Vasaly is the Professional Editors Network’s marketing and social media liaison and website administrator. She is a freelance editor specializing in trade nonfiction books as well as the senior editor of news and culture website Twin Cities Geek.