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LinkedIn Profile Optimization Tips For Freelancers: Your Guide to Landing New Clients on LinkedIn

November 17, 2020
Camille Trent

Every day, freelancers turn potential clients off with passive LinkedIn profiles. This article walks freelancers through the steps of updating their profiles to attract new clients and make money on LinkedIn.

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In 2020, top freelancers and small business owners generate daily leads through LinkedIn. 

LinkedIn's not the only way to attract potential clients, but the high organic reach and business focus make it a (if not the) social platform of choice for freelancers.

“As a beginner freelance writer, I got more website traffic and freelance writing clients from LinkedIn than from any other social media site. BY FAR,” says Jorden Roper, Freelance Writer and Blogger, Writing Revolt

As a newbie copywriter, Roper made $10,000 from LinkedIn alone. No pitching, no formal experience, and no college degree required.

The first step to attracting clients on LinkedIn is optimizing your profile for conversations and conversions. Unfortunately, this is where most freelancers get lost. They think about their LinkedIn profiles as resumes instead of landing pages. The problem? Freelancers aren’t looking for new jobs, they’re looking for clients.

Clients respond to sales pages, not a laundry list of logos.   

“The biggest mistake freelancers make on LinkedIn is having a nice, clean, well-written profile that does absolutely nothing to distinguish from all the other thousands of freelancers on LinkedIn,” says Connor Kunz, Growth Marketing Manager at Home Care Pulse. “Make yourself stand out!”

In other words, the best freelancers understand modern marketing. Their LinkedIn profiles have one mission: to sell their services.  

While LinkedIn can certainly help you find ideal customers, it’s always easier and less annoying (looking at you, automated cold pitch DMs right after a connection request) if they find you first.  

Why Is LinkedIn So Important for Freelancers?

Reporting more than 722 million global users, there’s no shortage of potential clients on LinkedIn. The United States is leading the market with 170 million members

That’s a lot of people. 

Think of all the clients and freelancers virtually crossing paths without saying a word. 

In a nutshell, LinkedIn is a 24/7 social networking event designed for business professionals to learn, connect, and hire. Think of it as a less expensive, more effective trade show. 

The best part? Everyone’s invited and admission is free.

Freelancers are often priced out of corporate trade shows and other networking events. LinkedIn is the perfect alternative if you can crack the code on profile optimization (hint: you can).

Unfortunately, many freelancers leave money on the table by sitting the social media event out or refusing to dust off their digital business cards.

Why Freelancing Is Gaining Steam in 2020 

Over one-third of U.S. workers (36%) participate in gig work. According to Intuit and Emergent Research, freelance workers will increase to 43% in 2021. That’s more than the number of full-time workers in finance or construction. 

Given the global pandemic, this prediction looks more than likely. Some freelance-heavy states are already past this mark. 

47% of professionals from California, New York, Illinois, Texas, Massachusetts, and Florida freelance while working full-time. With comparatively high costs of living in large urban areas, extra income factors into the freelance appeal.

But why LinkedIn? Why spend your time optimizing your profile and posting on LinkedIn as opposed to Upwork or more established social media sites like Facebook? 

Benefits of LinkedIn for freelancers.

  • Clients are actively look for freelancers on LinkedIn.
  • LinkedIn is having a moment. It’s less saturated than Facebook and Instagram and there’s more room to stand out.
  • LinkedIn is a professional networking platform. Unlike other social media platforms, people are already in business mode. They’re browsing for work tips and people. 
  • It’s free! Unless you upgrade to LinkedIn Profinder for freelancers, or Premium for anyone.

Your dream client is on LinkedIn. Your competition is on LinkedIn. You should think about joining (crashing?) the party. Don’t worry, we’ll help you with your grand entrance. LinkedIn is still relatively new and opportunities are wide open.

Only 1% of LinkedIn users post content weekly. 

Even if you don’t want to post, it’s well worth your time to optimize your LinkedIn profile for potential freelance clients. Doing so increases opportunities by 40x.

LinkedIn Profile Optimization Tips From the Experts

Okay, you get it. LinkedIn’s a good place to connect with clients, but where to start?

Think back to the landing page example. Sure, you can drive traffic to your page with thought leadership. But if your profile’s not optimized, those visitors won’t convert. 

That’s why the experts recommend starting with your Introduction Card. The Introduction Card is LinkedIn-speak for the top part of your profile page. It includes:

  • Name
  • Headline
  • Profile photo
  • Banner image
  • Current position
  • Education
  • Location
  • Contact info

Introduction Card example.

The short-term goal is to earn All-Star status (we’re coming for you, Lebron). The long-term goal is to grow your freelance business with clients who come to you. 

Tips for enhancing your Introduction Card.

  • Be conversational and interesting.
  • Focus on your headline.
  • Invest in a professional photo.
  • Use a nice banner image using a Canva template.
  • Include your industry.

LinkedIn profile strength meter.

Source: LinkedIn Insights

To check your LinkedIn profile completion status, go to your profile page and scroll to Your Dashboard (directly under your About and Featured section). 

Because only 51% of LinkedIn users have reached all-star status by completing their profiles, doing so is literally half the battle.

According to The Mighty Marketer, the LinkedIn algorithm prioritizes results by:

  1. Profile completeness and keyword relevance in the headline.
  2. Common connections with the person doing search.
  3. Connections (1st, 2nd, or 3rd).
  4. Your activity.
  5. Your skills.

Of course, any freelancer can fill in the blanks. Optimizing your profile from top to bottom to attract new clients is another story. That’s why LinkedIn coaches charge a pretty penny for what we’re about to share. 

“Before you can craft an effective, client-centric LinkedIn profile, you must know who your ideal clients are,” says Melonie Dodaro, CEO, Top Dog Media.

“Make your profile about them – your ideal clients. You do this by talking about their goals, their challenges, and their aspirations.”

The Optimized LinkedIn Profile Checklist

Okay, yes. But how? Let’s go down the LinkedIn profile checklist, starting with your name. 

1. Name.

Seems pretty self-explanatory, right? Yes and no. 

Believe it or not, there are a few tips and tricks with this one. Ultimately, we recommend sticking to your given name on LinkedIn, but there are advantages to spicing it up. 

Emojis:

  • Adding an emoji before your name on LinkedIn will help you spot automated messages from a mile away. When sales folks send out “personalized” DMs, the marketing tool pulls your first name (or what it thinks is your first name). If you add an emoji before your name, you can spot the bots. This is because instead of opening with your name, DMs will open with a solo emoji. Oops. 
  • Another popular strategy is adding an emoji after the name. For instance, some freelance writers use the pencil emoji to tie their name to writing. Others use trademark symbols or lowercase letters to stand out. Check out Connor Kunz’s name in the background photo section below for a good example. 

Titles:

  • Some freelancers include a related service keyword (like their title) after their name. The idea is to show up in more searches or get extra exposure in the feed. Honestly, this is unnecessary. Proceed with caution on any advice that clutters or distracts from your legal name. After all, your name is your brand. 

2. Headline.

Most of the experts we surveyed said freelancers should start with the headline when optimizing their profiles. 

“Start with your headline,” said Terry Schilling, Copywriter and Copy Coach, Terry Schilling Creative. “Be clear on what you do and who you serve, and the outcome you promise. This shows up in searches and gets attention.”

The professional headline acts more like a tagline. LinkedIn gives users 120 characters under their names. Here are a few ways to approach your headline: 

  • Option 1: Use a clear (bonus points for clever) tagline to intrigue potential clients in the LinkedIn feed and entice them to click through to your profile. (Tip: Would you click on your profile to find out more? Does it speak to your audience?)
  • Option 2: Include service keywords (e.g., Marketing Strategist, Marketing Manager). Like Google, LinkedIn connects searchers with ideal matches based on the terms given. That said, never keyword stuff. Ultimately, you’re optimizing your profile for humans, not bots. 
  • Option 3. Include your job title and company name. This is the default headline on LinkedIn. While it’s not bad, it’s better suited for employees than freelancers. 

A good middle-ground option is to start your headline with a catchy one-liner and end with a couple of keywords (e.g. Copywriter, Content Writer).

Ultimately, a freelancer headline needs to answer the question, “What do you do and for whom?” says Chima Mmeje, SEO Copywriter and Content Strategist, Zenith SEO Copywriting. She offered two examples:

  • “Conversion copy for 6-figure eCommerce companies”
  • “I help busy CEOs streamline their day-to-day with virtual assistant services.”

“Don't overcomplicate or stuff your headline with too many options. I've seen freelance copywriters who offer conversion copy, SEO, and digital marketing services, in one headline. It's confusing and makes it impossible to determine your specialty,” says Mmeje.

Remember, first impressions matter. Name, headline, and profile photo are the first things potential clients see. Make them count. 

3. Profile photo.

“Have a nice classy image that doesn't look like you're going to pitch someone as soon as they connect with you,” says Stephen G. Pope, CEO, SGP Labs.

The key to a great LinkedIn headshot is to hire a professional. After all, LinkedIn is a platform for professionals. Pay a photographer to take a few high-resolution, close-up photos with a solid or subdued background. Do not use a selfie.  

LinkedIn profile photo size:

  • 400 x 400 pixels
  • Maximum size: 10MB

Tips for your LinkedIn photoshoot:

  • Solid or plain background
  • Consider a bright background
  • Ensure you’re the only one in the photo
  • Professional, close-up headshot
  • Include space around your head when cropping
  • Don’t wear colors that blend into the background (or your skin tone)
  • Smile straight into the camera
  • Dress appropriately

You may have noticed brightly colored dots in your LinkedIn feed. Just the fact that you noticed them means it’s probably working. Adding a bright background or ring around your profile photo helps for standing out in a sea of social media sameness. 

If you're not a design freelancer, hire a professional designer to edit your Linkedin photo background. Alternatively, you can do this yourself using Canva templates.

Pro tip: Make sure your profile photo is visible to second- and third-degree connections. Go to your profile page, tap on your face, and make sure “visible to” is set to “public.”

4. Background photo.

On Facebook, you might call this your cover image or banner. 

The LinkedIn background photo is the 1,584 x 396 pixel banner at the top of your page, above your profile photo. 

LinkedIn background photo size:

  • 1,584 x 396 pixels
  • Maximum size: 4MB
Think of your background photo as your personal billboard space. Highway billboards aren’t cheap. And you only have a few seconds to steal a passerby’s attention. What do you do?

This is your opportunity to get creative. And that’s exactly what Connor Kunz did. He used the opportunity to invite conversation (without pitching). 

Background photo example:

5. Current position.

What have you been up to recently? That’s the type of small talk prospective clients will make in the first interview. Beat them to it in your experience section.

Talk about some of your most impressive current or past clients, the work you do for them, and the results your freelance work generates. Position the results in terms of business outcomes. Don’t add every freelance gig as separate work experiences.

Connor Kunz, Growth Marketing Manager, Home Care Pulse recommends freelancers start with the recent experience and About section when beginning the LinkedIn profile optimization process. 

“These are the elements that everything else is directing people to, so get them right before you focus on the other elements," says Kunz.

This is your opportunity to showcase your best work. Add media (images and links to your portfolio site or Slideshare) to show what success looks like. Potential clients respond best when they can picture how much better their lives would be if they hired you. 

6. Education.

This one’s straightforward. Fill out every form field. What schools did you attend? What degrees did you earn? 

It’s unlikely that an employer will ask about this, especially if you’ve been working for a while. Experience trumps formal education in the freelancing world. Prospective clients want to know you can (and have) done the work. 

7. Location.

The biggest mistake freelancers make with their location is taking it too literally. 

If you live in a small town, it’s OK to use the largest nearby metropolitan area. That way, you show up for more searches. After talking with several marketers and freelancers, we’ve found this to be a common (and effective) technique. 

For instance, a prominent marketing video producer lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado, but lists Denver, Colorado, for extra exposure. 

It works because most companies are based in large cities. When they search for a “social media marketer,” the algorithm prioritizes first-degree connections close by, similar to Google’s proximity filter. 

Even if the freelance gig is remote, it’s more likely you’ll show up if you optimize for the metropolitan area.  

8. Contact info.

Right next to your location (under your headline), you’ll see a link to your connections and a link to your contact info. Contact info includes Your Profile, Websites, and Email. 

Here’s how to optimize each:

Your profile:

If you haven’t already, go in and customize your profile URL. It’s much cleaner and professional when the slug (words after the last slash) is your first and last name, not auto-generated nonsense. 

Steps to update your profile URL on LinkedIn:

  1. Click “Edit public profile & URL” in the top right of your profile (next to your background image) on desktop. 
  2. Navigate to “Edit Your Custom URL” in the top right corner of the “Public profile settings” page. 
  3. Change your slug to your full name. If that’s not available, add a number or middle name. 

Websites:

More than one website is allowed. In fact, you can add up to three. However, consider the order and label each according to your priorities. Which site do you really want prospects to click on?. 

Default labels are available in the dropdown menu. To add a custom label to your website URL, select “Other” and add a descriptive and compelling title. 

NOTE: Adding multiple websites can confuse clients. Unless you have several businesses, only list one website on your LinkedIn contact info section. 

Direct contact options:

In addition to website and profile URL, you can also add direct contact methods like phone, address, email, Twitter, and instant messenger platforms. Strangely, birthdate is also included in the contact info section. 

9. The About section.

What about the About section? We know you scrolled past those other pointers to get to this one. And for good reason. 

Your About section is your LinkedIn summary. It’s prime real estate, especially for freelancers.

Chima Mmeje, SEO Copywriter and Content Strategist, Zenith SEO Copywriting breaks down her favorite approach for getting the most out of the About section:

  1. The first sentence should capture the biggest benefit of your service for your target audience. It should be so compelling, that they click to read more.
  2. Follow up with two lines about your expertise and a few lines detailing your most awesome results for clients.
  3. Conclude with contact information as the CTA.

“Avoid the temptation to turn your about section into a biography. We're living in a digital world where people have short attention spans,” says Mmeje. 

Christian Haskins, Founder and LinkedIn expert at Simply Social NY agrees. 

“About section. It's your best chance to convert someone. People need to stop thinking about LinkedIn profiles like their Myspace page, and instead [think about them as] their brand website.”

LinkedIn About example:

“A lot of freelancers, when new, say things like, ‘I just started and am looking for opportunity.’ The world doesn't need to know you're new,” says Kaleena Stroud, Sales Copywriter. “Write an About that sounds like you've been doing this for years. It's a bit of ‘fake it til you make it.’" 

10. Your Featured Work section. 

Directly under the About section, the Featured section is an overlooked gem. Freelancers can feature posts, articles, photos, and links. Pinning top posts is a popular tactic here. Just remember to make them relevant.

Pro tip: Curation is key. Adding excess content here will do more harm than good. Ask, "Does this reinforce my message and move clients closer in the buying journey?"

11. Work experience and past clients.

Joshua Waldman, Next Avenue Contributor and Professional LinkedIn profile writer, advises freelancers to use this template when updating their LinkedIn experience sections:

  1. One main Company Entry (Your Freelancer Inc.) 2011-Present.
  2. Title: Owner or Writer or Designer or CEO etc.
  3. Three to five bullet points showing your main activities and the results a potential client might expect to see.
  4. Five to 15 recommendations that would function as testimonials of a job well done.
  5. Media entries, including one main portfolio slideshow (Slideshare) or video, with supporting media.

12. Include volunteer experience, accomplishment, and interests. 

To be honest, this section is less important for freelancers. Certifications and skills are more for employers and recruiters trying to vet job candidates. That said, volunteer experience and interests are opportunities to show a bit more personality. 

Volunteer work shows you care about others and are not only in business for your own gain. It also hints at your interests. You can then expand on those hobbies in the interests section. 

Lastly, it’s not a bad idea to add accomplishments related to your field. It’s unlikely that prospective customers will scroll this far down, but adding relevant accomplishments in your niche helps reinforce credibility. 

Common LinkedIn Profile Mistakes

If you’ve been active on LinkedIn for a few months, you’ve seen it all. The humblebrag, the “broem,” and the unabridged (and uninteresting) novels in place of punchy bullet points. 

Here are a few LinkedIn profile no-nos costing freelancers clients:

You didn’t proofread.

You’ve heard the joke. The editor who claims “detail-oriented” as a strength but spells “editing” with two Ts. It never hurts to get a second set of eyes on your profile, especially if you’re a freelance writer or editor.

Your search profile is not visible.

Of course, none of this matters if your LinkedIn profile is not searchable. 

Here’s how to make your LinkedIn profile public:

  1. Click “Edit public profile and & URL” in the top right of your profile page.
  2. Scroll to “Edit Visibility.”
  3. Click Your profile’s public visibility switch to “On.”

Your profile doesn’t come off as genuine.

Don’t write your About section in third-person. It’s distant and less relatable. As a freelancer, you can win like-minded clients on authenticity and personality. 

It’s a win-win for both parties to show what it’s like working with you before the first meeting. Remember, dishonesty will come out to bite you later down the road. 

Be yourself, show results, and let the chips fall where they may. 

You made it all about you.

Wait, what? Isn’t that the whole point of your personal profile? Not according to thought leadership expert Stephen G. Pope, CEO, SGP Labs. Here’s his take on the biggest mistakes freelancers make on LinkedIn:

“Talking too much about them, their experience, before it's clear what results you provide,” is one of the worst mistakes freelancers make on LinkedIn, according to Pope.  

Conclusion

It’s a hard concept for new freelancers to grasp, but ultimately your LinkedIn profile should not be about you. Your About section shouldn’t be a biography and your experience section shouldn’t be a brag. Personalize it, but don’t overdo it. That’s not what your potential clients came to see. Check your ego at the door (login screen?).

Clients want to see that you can solve their problems. The best LinkedIn profile strategy is empathy. 

Let your clients know you understand their pains because you’ve been there. You’ve made life easier for clients like them by solving the problems they came to your profile to learn about in the first place. 

“Sell the dream, not the bed,” Abby Wilson, Founder, Tailor Frame reminds LinkedIn members in her posts

Never focus on the features. Emphasize the benefits of working with you and the solutions you solve. Use Linkedin to showcase your personality and expertise with empathetic storytelling and relatable examples.

Make your customers and prospects the hero (not you), and you’ll lead the pack in 2021 with one smart marketing strategy.  

Camille Trent
about the author

Camille Trent is the Brand & Marketing Strategist at Texas Citizens Bank, where she manages marketing and writes about business and finance. A longtime freelance copywriter and ad nerd, she also helps agencies and SMBs tell stories that stick. When she's not writing, she's hanging out with her shelter pup and two favorite redheads. Or she's trying to coach the Portland Trail Blazers to victory from her couch.

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