If you’re a consultant and slapping your profile up and connecting with folks is the extent of existing on LinkedIn, it’s time to up your game on the No. 1 B2B networking site. With so much other social media competing for attention, if you have to pick a few to be active on, you’d be hard-pressed not to include LinkedIn. As a free user, you won’t get all the bells and whistles of a premium account, but there are still plenty of ways to help your freelancing career without huge time or effort, but the payoff can be big. I know personally—I’ve been using it for free since 2003 to mine potential clients, expand my network, and help position my business, to name a few perks. As a colleague of mine says: “Your network is your net worth,” and there is a treasure trove on LinkedIn if you use it right.
#1 Post Status Updates: One of the most important things you can do as a business is show your expertise in an industry or topic. This does two things: keeps your name on your network’s collective mind and provides connections with helpful information (that’s where smart content curation and knowing your audience comes in). The status update should be something timely, interesting, and relevant (and if entertaining all the better). Give your update extra attention with an introduction including a spin on the topic, a teaser, or an interesting factoid from the article (and make sure there is an image). Use the “Public” setting as this will cast the widest net to both your network and their connections, which means more exposure and opportunities.
(Side note/rant: LinkedIn’s new publishing feature is available to some users, ergo my posting here, but there is no GA date. The red notification that appears when someone publishes a post has become irksome to many, including myself, and there are no plans to change this, as far as I know. The notification tends to cause a Pavlovian response and should be reserved for profile views, connection requests, and other items revolving around my presence on LinkedIn, not those that are “pushed” to me. An idea could be that published post notifications appear on the news feed and the person can make a decision to click.)
Tip: Click on this new drill-down on the home page side navigation called “Who’s Viewed Your Updates” that displays stats for your updates; who is viewing them, liking, and sharing them. This is great data to see what is most popular and interesting to your network, ideas for new updates (and the dud topics not to post for the future).
#2 Jobs. Jobs. Jobs: Did someone mention jobs? Isn’t it the life of a freelancer to always be on the look out for your next gig? I’m always surprised to find that consultants don’t use or even know about LinkedIn’s “Job” feature because they thought it was only for full-time positions—au contraire! You can search by industry, keywords, company, freelance, part-time, or a combination of criteria. The bonus is that you will see which 1st degree connections are connected to the company who can potentially make introductions, or 2nd degree ones that you can hit up through 1st degree connections. I’ve done both and this has proven successful in getting work. Recently, LinkedIn added jobs “you might be interested in” to your news feed as well as providing similar jobs to a job posting on the side navigation, which can also be useful.
Tip: Save frequent search requirements and request email notifications for new results, but know that LinkedIn’s email system is erratic so you won’t always get the emails and will need to check manually. Conversely, the job search function can be clunky, like showing any job with the word “part” in it even if you’ve entered in the search box “part-time”.
#3 Who’s Viewed Your Profile: This is LinkedIn’s most popular feature, and it’s no surprise why. The person checking you out could be a potential new client, a competitor sizing you up, or an industry partner looking for resources (or—boo hiss—an anonymous user, which you can’t see as a free user). Check to see if there are profiles you should be researching or following up with. Though free subscriptions entitle you to look at only the last five viewers, there is still plenty of data to view.
Tip: A new embedded feature provides number of hits and demographics of viewers by industry, location, and other data. This can be helpful for fine-tuning your profile, researching potential clients, and understanding what activities (or lack thereof) may have triggered changes to views. Less useful but good for data junkies is a click to the right with “How you rank for profile views” to learn your rank within all your connections and the increase or decrease of views in the past month. It would be more productive if it compared and ranked consultants with similar titles.
#4 Join Groups (and Post Content) Joining and contributing to industry groups is a great way to increase your name and expertise recognition. One of the best leads I ever got on LinkedIn was an editor who saw an article I posted in a group and contacted me to write for his publication. Because posting can be a time suck with multiple groups, consider posting the same discussion on various groups (but be sure it’s targeted and introduced the right way). Don’t be afraid to provide thoughtful, concise comments on select discussions where you have knowledge or opinions, as this can potentially expand your network and get your brand out there too.
Tip: If posting the same content to groups in “bulk”, go through status updates on your home page and delete multiple ones so you don’t look like an overposter. Two is fine, 10 is not.
#5 Invitation to Connect: Obvious? Yes. Always used wisely? No. You’d be surprised how many times you meet potential clients, business partners or others in various pockets of your life that could be valuable in your network…but do nothing about it. Think beyond the business cards you’ve collected and the people in your life slotted into the “work” category. Don’t downplay friends, vendors, and others that could be useful to your career, and you to theirs. (and don’t forget about people you share groups with-this is a perfectly legit and good approach—your invite will contain info about which groups you are both members of).
Tip: Always personalize your invitation: where you met, some context for inviting them. Simply clicking “Invitation to connect” is just lazy. It’s easy to type a few words and it makes a big difference to the person viewing it.
These are some of the ways I’ve had LinkedIn work for me. What are your favorite way to use LinkedIn as a freelancer? What’s been successful for you?