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How to Set Up Your LinkedIn Profile: A Freelancer's Guide


LinkedIn makes sense for professionals, but what about for freelancers?

In my experience, LinkedIn is an important tool in my marketing toolbox. Being on LinkedIn allows me to showcase my skills and experience. Additionally, LinkedIn is a networking platform, which makes it perfect for finding prospects, hooking up with new clients or reconnecting with past clients.

In this article I show you how to set up your LinkedIn profile as an effective marketing tool. Setting up your profile for success is important because it provides the foundation on which to build your LinkedIn networking and marketing efforts.

Here's what you want from your profile.

  • You want people to find you on LinkedIn. In other words, your profile must be search optimized.
  • In every aspect of your profile, from your headline right down to the nitty-gritty of your skills and experience, you want to draw people in and make them interested to find out more about you. Your profile must be well written, and structured in an accessible way.
  • Often as freelancers, we have a broader range of experience than is typical. You want your profile to give a solid, focused account of your skills and experience, putting your best foot forward.

In this tutorial, I show you how to achieve these goals.

For most of these steps, you'll need to edit your profile. You can do that here:

Your LinkedIn Headline

Your headline is the only thing about you most people will ever see on LinkedIn, other than your name and where you live. It's what people see of you in search results, group discussions, and their home feed.

What's more, if you want people to check out your full profile, your headline must be compelling enough to draw them in.

For both these reasons, writing a strong headline should be your top priority when you set up your LinkedIn profile.

As advertising executive David Ogilvy once said of writing adverts:

On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.

Putting it another way, write a good headline, and you'll have done 80% of the work towards having an effective LinkedIn profile. That's how important this is.

A LinkedIn headline can be up to 120 characters long. Those are your 120 characters to shine.

By default, your headline is set to your current job title. Most people leave it at the default setting. By rewriting your headline, you'll be ahead of the game.

To edit your headline, click the edit button next to your name on your LinkedIn profile:

Here's how to ensure your headline stands out from the crowd:

  • Start with 1-3 words that summarize what you do.
  • Address your headline to your target audience. You want people reading it to say "yes, that's me".
  • Include keywords prospects might use when searching for your services.
  • Write like a human being, and avoid business jargon where possible.

Here are three examples written following this advice. Can you see how these draw you in and make you want to know more?

  • Software engineer. I code software to help fresh produce wholesalers manage stock levels.
  • Women's personal trainer. I help professional ladies keep fit amid a hectic lifestyle.
  • SEO consultant. I help your customers find you on Google. Internet Marketing | Blogging | Social Media

A final word on headlines: Don't worry too much about getting your headline perfect the first time. It's a good idea to update your headline once or twice a month, and with each update you can think of ways to improve it.

Your LinkedIn Summary

After your headline, your LinkedIn summary is the next most important component of your LinkedIn profile. It's the first thing people will read once they've clicked through to your profile, and as such it's the LinkedIn equivalent of your Elevator Pitch.

There's no set way to write a summary. Every summary is as unique as the person writing it. However, effective summaries share similar elements. Here are some tips to consider as you write your summary.

  • Grab attention. Focus on writing a a powerful opening sentence that makes people curious to know more about you. For example, name some bluechip companies you've worked with, or come right out and say what makes you different from other freelancers in your niche.
  • List your biggest accomplishments. Be specific, and use numbers. Don't just say you manage a team. Say you manage a team of five creatives, including copywriters and designers, and have done so for the past three years.
  • Attract your ideal clients. Decide exactly which clients you'd like to work with (even if this is different to your current client-base), and address your summary to them.
  • Let your passion shine through you. Think about what you love to do, and show that.
  • Show your communication skills. Clients prefer to work with a communicative freelancer. Your summary is a chance to show you can write clearly and concisely.
  • Keep it keyword rich. Keywords matter on LinkedIn search. Include in your summary any keywords you couldn't fit into your headline.
  • What's your offer? Include a brief description of your services.
  • As with the headline, write like a human being. Write in the first person (i.e. say "I am..." rather than "David is..."). Your aim is to show you're a real person your clients can relate to.

Also as with your headline, you can (and should) update your summary frequently. LinkedIn lets your connections know when you change your summary, so the more frequently you make changes, the more you'll stay front of mind among your prospects.

Your LinkedIn Connections

Contacts on LinkedIn are known as connections. I've met some freelancers who assume the more connections you have, the better.

While it's good to have as many connections as possible, what's more important is the quality of your relationship with your connections.

While it's good to have as many connections as possible, what's more important is the quality of your relationship with your connections. It's far better to have 50 or 100 contacts you stay in touch with than 1,000 connections you never talk to.

Who should you add as a connection? Broadly, there are two approaches.

The first is open networking, where you'll accept any contact who wants to connect with you. The second is limited networking, where you only accept contacts you've met in real life.

LinkedIn encourages its members to engage in limited networking. It's a good approach if you've already got a wide network of real life contacts, and it allows you to ensure all your connections are high quality.

Open networking can be helpful if you only have a small network that you'd like to grow, fast. Even so, you should choose carefully which contacts you add to your network. To engage in open networking, you can join one of LinkedIn's many open networking groups. Open networkers are also known as LIONs (LinkedIn Open Networkers).

Whichever type of networking you choose (I do a mixture of both, but I tend towards limited networking), always personalize your messages when you add a new contact. Briefly explain who you are, why you're interested in them, and why you'd like to connect. When you do this, not only are they more likely to accept your connection request, you're also establishing that you want to be an engaged, active member of their network.

Your LinkedIn Recommendations

Freelancers thrive or nosedive based on testimonials. Testimonials demonstrate to potential clients that you can be trusted to do a good job.

One of the biggest advantages for a freelancer on LinkedIn is that testimonials are built into the LinkedIn ecosystem, so your contacts expect you to ask for them. As such, you want to ask as many of your past and current clients as possible to leave you a recommendation. Note that I said to ask your clients. Avoid the temptation to ask friends, family members and prospects.

There are two ways to get testimonials.

The first is to give testimonials. You can give them to freelancers or companies you've worked with on collaborate projects. I've found that most of the time, when I give a testimonial, the person I gave it to reciprocates.

The second is to ask for them. Scroll down to the recommendations section of your LinkedIn profile, and click "Ask for a Recommendation". You then choose which role you'd like to be endorsed for, and who you'd like to endorse you.

When you ask for a recommendation, you can personalize the request. It's best to do so, for two reasons. First, because you're more likely to get a positive response. And second, because you can offer helpful pointers on what you'd like them to say in your recommendation.

Here's the template I use to write requests for recommendations.

Dear [insert name],

I'm updating my LinkedIn profile, and I'd be delighted if you'd write a recommendation for me based on my work for [company name].

I'll be using this recommendation to demonstrate my skills and expertise to potential clients. The skills I'd like to highlight are research, writing, meeting deadlines, and being an all-round good person to bounce ideas off. It would be great if you could comment on some of these in your recommendation.

I've copied a couple of sample recommendations below in case you need help finding inspiration.

If you have any questions, let me know.

Thanks in advance for helping me out, and please ask if you'd like a recommendation too.

Your Skills and Experience

A freelancer typically works with many more companies than a standard employee. Because of this, many freelancers have a projects-based resume, highlighting their biggest projects and key achievements. Others choose to simply share a portfolio.

LinkedIn is much like an online resume, but it offers many more options for customization. There are five main options for freelancers:

  • Listing your skills. I suggest all freelancers list their skills, as they make it more likely you'll be found in a LinkedIn search. LinkedIn recently started allowing skills to be endorsed by your contacts. When you ask for recommendations it's a good idea to also ask to have one or two skills endorsed.
  • Listing each of your main clients as separate positions. When you have a regular client who gives you ongoing work, you can add them as positions to the experience section of your LinkedIn profile. The advantage of this is that it highlights the breadth of your work experience, and you can ask for recommendations for each role. The disadvantage is that the list of positions can quickly become long and unwieldy.

The other three options all require you to add extra sections to your profile. You do this by clicking on the "Add Sections" link above your summary.

In the add sections menu, you can choose to add the following:

  • Creative Portfolio Display. Perfect for designers and artists, the creative portfolio display lets you show off your visual work.
  • Publications. This is ideal for writers and any freelancer who uses writing as a marketing strategy. You can list your books, magazine articles and blog posts, and you have the option to include links to your publications.
  • Projects. The best all-round option that will suit most freelancers, including programmers and consultants. Projects allow you to explain the who, what, when and how of your key achievements in your freelance career.

That's it. You're set to go.

Once you've written your headline and summary, listed your skills and experience, built up a network of contacts, and asked for recommendations, you're ready to get marketing on LinkedIn.

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