Articles - 28th August 2020

Yes, LinkedIn can actually work for freelancers

Words by Megan Tatum
Illustration by Jon McCormack

Let me guess what you think of LinkedIn;  LinkedIn is the social media equivalent of one of those ‘networking breaks’ event organisers love to tack on before lunch: slightly awkward, too many suits and ultimately unnecessary when it comes to securing your next big project.

And a year ago, I’d have agreed with you.

I’d always favoured Twitter as a way of sharing work or of reaching out to editors. It felt more contemporary, more relevant, and more functional for freelancers like me. Top editors and marketers use it to request extra help, it’s a great place to source experts and case studies, and it allows you to reach out to (almost) anyone with an informal DM.

In contrast, LinkedIn always felt a little stuffy and better suited to high-fliers at law firms or management consultancies. Whenever I accepted an invitation to connect it always felt tantamount to swapping business cards that you file away in some dusty desk drawer, rather than a genuine opportunity to build a professional relationship.

And so, along with about 92% of other journalists I was on LinkedIn with a basic profile, but I didn’t use it, other than to track down an elusive exec once in a while.

Then, out the blue, the marketing team at a fast-growing start-up got in touch via the platform and offered me a regular stint writing blogs for them. It just so happened I’d been tagged on there by an expert sharing an article of mine. Even with a patchy bio and zero activity or endorsements it was enough for this company to think I was up to the task and they’ve remained a regular client ever since.

For me, it was the catalyst to start taking LinkedIn a lot more seriously.

In these incredibly challenging times I’ve found it can highlight your credentials to companies with healthy budgets and an increasing interest in creating their own content, be that blogs, whitepapers, infographics, roundtables, videos etc. Individuals at these companies might rarely use Twitter and rely instead on either word-of-mouth recommendations or LinkedIn to source reliable freelancers. Show up in their feed sharing your work or well-informed views on their sector and you’re already way ahead of most of the competition.

Since I began showing LinkedIn a little love, I’ve sourced five new regular commercial clients through the platform, one of which now pays me a monthly retainer that’s been invaluable during the uncertainty of the last few months.

So, if you haven’t logged on for a good few years, how can you make the best use of the platform?

 

Build your network – mindfully

Like with any social media platform, the best chance of success comes with the biggest sphere of influence. In simple terms the more connections you have, the more people will see (and hopefully, share) the content you put out.  “As a freelancer, it’s so important to lean on your network, particularly in times of uncertainty,” says Charlotte Davies, a careers expert at LinkedIn. “Start by thinking about who you’ve worked with in the past, friends or family connections, and others in your industry that you can reach out to on LinkedIn. In a time where you might not be able to network with people face-to-face, strengthen these relationships online.” But do so mindfully, the LinkedIn algorithm prioritizes engagement, rather than reach. In other words, if you’re delivering content to a network of disinterested strangers, you’re wasting your time.

 

Keep your bio and endorsements up-to-date

Don’t simply copy and paste your CV. Upload a professional headshot and use the About section on your profile to really sell your experience and take time to create a strong list of skills that peers can endorse. Many companies actually filter down potential candidates on the platform by searching for specific matching skills. In fact, according to Davies, “people who list more than five skills on their LinkedIn profile are 27 times more likely to be discovered in searches by recruiters.”

 

Share posts and engage with content consistently

There isn’t some magic number when it comes to how often you should post on LinkedIn but aim to do so consistently enough that you become a familiar face across your network. To save time use a scheduling tool such as Buffer that allows you to schedule posts for both Twitter and LinkedIn at the same time, tweaking the content for each to suit the platform. Aim to mix posts that share work achievements, with those that offer more personal views and experiences, recommends Davies.

“Offering your personal stories can inspire, help others, and create more connections,” she says. “Share a post on your feed about what your new workday looks like. Just finished hosting a webinar? Share a couple of learnings and tips in an article in case it helps others who might be going through the same thing. It’s a great way to gain insights from others, expand and engage with your LinkedIn network and show future employers that you’re still being proactive in this time.”

Switch between different formats too. Use a post for a quick thought or to share a link or write an article to go into a bit more depth on a topic you’re passionate about.

 

Make use of extra tools, such as LinkedIn Career Advice

You don’t need to shell out for LinkedIn’s monthly subscription service to make use of some of its extra tools. Via the Career Advice platform, for example, the network can match you with mentors in your industry that are available and open to help. Simply go onto your profile and click on the Career Advice hub to type in what help you’re looking for (or offering). Or just do it the old-fashioned way and ask, says Davies. “Don’t be afraid to approach someone that you admire within your industry, or even look to someone from a different field who could have a unique perspective to share.”

 

LinkedIn might sometimes look and feel like a slightly outdated part of your social media toolbox. It lacks the controversies of Twitter and the informality of Instagram. But it shouldn’t be underestimated when it comes to marketing your work and your skills. With just a little extra time and effort, it might even turn out to be the untapped goldmine we all need to see us through the next few months.

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