Using LinkedIn for Freelancers to Generate Work

Are you currently using LinkedIn to generate work?

Many freelancers are self-employed because of their passion for their discipline, whether that is copywriting, graphic design or something else. Self-promotion does not come naturally to everybody, but if you’re living the freelance lifestyle you will recognise that it is important to drum up future work. If the idea of putting yourself out there and networking for business makes you feel uneasy, it’s time to get over that fear and get yourself better known.

As referrals and recommendations are like gold-dust in business, networking is exactly the type of promotional activity freelancers should be taking part in. With a few basic techniques networking doesn’t need to be the overt self-promotion. It’s a skill that can be learned like any other, so maybe it’s time to start actively networking on LinkedIn.


Flexibility of LinkedIn Networking

Unlike face-to-face networking, social media provides opportunities to network at a time and place that suits you, and on your own terms. You can connect with as many or as few people as you like and have as many conversations as you have time for – it’s entirely up to you.

If you’re a night owl or can only grab a few minutes to network between other responsibilities, then social media networking can fit right into your schedule. As other people will be on LinkedIn in between meetings or when they’ve got some downtime there is an acceptance that messages won’t always be responded to straight away.


Why is LinkedIn important for freelancers?

LinkedIn is the world’s biggest business social network with over 303 million active monthly users worldwide. According to LinkedIn’s own data, 40% of active users visit it daily. That is a huge audience of professional people using the platform on a regular basis.

Some industries are represented more than others, but with more than a third of users being in upper management positions, it is likely that you’ll find useful contacts actively engaging with the platform on a regular basis.

All of this adds up to LinkedIn being the best business networking event you will ever attend.


Complete Your LinkedIn Profile

You’ll find lots of advice published on how to create a professional LinkedIn profile. In summary:

  1. Use a professional headshot of yourself. No filters, no nights out or holiday snaps. Aim for a photo that looks both professional and friendly. People do business with people they like.
  2. Give an overview of your experience, not a full CV that lists all your past projects. The intention is to give people a flavour of what you are like, not the full back-story. You can always add a link to your website and/or online portfolio.
  3. Your headline and about section are the key sections you need to spend time on. This is because they are the main copy that people will see before they visit your full profile.

LinkedIn works as a search engine so it is important to include key words and phrases in your ‘headline’ and ‘about’ section. If you use the terminology that your ideal client would search for and you’re likely to show up in more search results.  Your ‘headline’ doesn’t have to be your job title, although using the word ‘Freelance’ or ‘Consultant’ would be helpful. This headline will be seen by other users when you make connection requests or comment, so make sure that it’s immediately obvious what you do. Try to avoid generic terms like ‘helping people with XYZ’ – be specific about what you do and who you help.

If you own an iPhone you can take advantage of a little-known loophole. LinkedIn’s iPhone app allows you to add extra characters to your bio, compared with the desktop or Android app versions. So if you’re running out of characters try editing via iPhone.


Reach Out to More people on LinkedIn

When it comes to LinkedIn the size of your network is crucial to success. The bigger the audience, the more people will see your updates.

Make a start by connecting with your past and existing clients, suppliers, contacts and fellow freelancers. It’s always good to send a personalised message with each connection request so that you can remind them how you know them and indicate why you’d like to connect.

If your reason for networking is to generate new work, then it makes sense to search for and connect with people that you would like to work with, or those who could refer you to potential clients. There are several ways to find new contacts:

  1. You can search for a named company, then follow the link for ‘people who work there’ and filter to find who you’d like to connect with. This is good if you are trying to build up connections in a particular sector or specific company.
  2. You can search by job title or keyword, then filter by location, company etc. This is great if you’re wanting to ‘mine’ a specialism. For instance if you are specifically wanting to connect with Accountants in Birmingham.
  3. You can look at who has commented on, or liked someone’s post and send connection requests to them. This is a great way to connect with people who are active on LinkedIn and share your interests.
  4. If any of your contacts have failed to set their network security settings to private you can go and take a look at their connection list. Which reminds me: Absolutely make sure that your connections are only visible to you – visit your profile, ‘settings and privacy’ and toggle to restrict what others can see.

Growing your network is the best way to amplify your reach on LinkedIn, so it should be a regular activity in your calendar.


Reach Out to Contacts and Join the Conversation

Don’t be afraid to use the messaging feature to have an introductory chat with any new connections but avoid the temptation to sell straight away – that’s  bad practice. Keep in mind that you can offer your help more subtly later down the line.

Comment on posts that people in your network share so that they get to know, like and trust you. This will help you stay front of mind whenever an opportunity arises.

The bigger your network, the more people will see each update you post. If your connections comment on your content, then their connections will also see your post.

Make sure that your comments stay positive, professional and constructive. Consider how your comments will come across – you want to be seen as an expert that adds value, not a pedant or critic.


Demonstrate Your Expertise with Content

Many people are wary of sharing posts on LinkedIn because of a fear of being seen as irrelevant, out of touch or attracting negative comments. The best posts provide your network with value and give you the opportunity to demonstrate your expertise.

Provide insight into your industry sector or your professional skill, and share your views in a way that will interest your network. It doesn’t have to be particularly detailed or controversial – just interesting and useful.

For instance, can you create posts about interesting examples from other businesses, or work that you have completed? Make sure that you include a comment on what your view is on the topic in order to showcase your skills and experience.

There are two ways to create content on LinkedIn. The first is a ‘post’ – essentially a short update. The second is an ‘article’ – longer form content, more like a blog post. Posting an article qualifies you for an author tick, but on the other hand posts get much more reach than articles and will therefore be seen by many more people.

If you offer your network value without the expectation of anything in return they will start to remember your name in association with that topic, and will hopefully repay you over time with insight, opportunities or introductions.

Normal content sharing rules apply in that you should provide an attention grabbing opener and a question at the end. You can tag others in, and use a few hashtags. LinkedIn however prefers text posts to image ones, and if you need to add a link put it in the comments not in the main post as LinkedIn prefers posts that keep people in-platform.


Searching for Freelance Opportunities

You can search LinkedIn specifically for key terms and phrases to find opportunities, such as ‘copywriting’. Just search for the term, then filter by ‘content’ and ‘recent’ (which you’ll find just above the list of posts) to find any recent posts containing the phrase.

Consider the types of phrases that people will include in their post, such as ‘recommend accountant’ if they are asking their network for recommendations. Include these terms in your search and you are more likely to reach relevant posts.

Unfortunately LinkedIn doesn’t currently allow you to filter content by country, so there is some filtering to be done to ensure that you are only responding to relevant enquiries.

One thing that comes up time and again is that the original contact has asked for recommendations, then comments flood in by people saying ‘take a look at my website’. It would be much more effective to take a pro-active approach to contacting them either via LinkedIn or email to introduce yourself in more detail. Consider how you can stand out from the crowd and get a conversation flowing.

It should go without saying that immediacy is important in responding to requests for recommendations. A post from a week ago means that the originator has probably already found a solution to their problem.


LinkedIn Jobs Search

LinkedIn’s own jobs listing is a good way of finding out who is hiring, but the quality of the results relies on your ability to search and filter. As well as using LinkedIn’s own filters you can use the search function and filter by jobs, which is a different way of generating a list of relevant jobs.

For instance, I could visit LinkedIn jobs from the top navigation, search by skill and location as directed, then filter by job type (Temporary/Contract).

Alternatively, I could head to the search function in the top navigation in my feed, and search for my skill, then use the filters to select ‘jobs’, and filter further to Temporary/Contract. You’ll notice that the results pages differ.

Try a few job titles or discipline areas to find the search results that match what you are interested in.


Playing the Long Game

Showing up regularly is the key to LinkedIn success. Create posts on a regular basis to remain visible and respond to any comments in response to your post. Even on days you aren’t posting you should contribute to discussions on other people’s post.

Make use of the notifications that LinkedIn provides to congratulate people on career moves or work anniversaries. Get in touch with people who have viewed your profile and ask to connect.

Develop your network and nurture relationships by contacting your network individually to share insights and add value without directly selling your services. By playing the long game you’ll develop a network of professional contacts that get to know, like and trust you.


Author Bio

Roisin leads Refresh Marketing, a consultancy specialising in marketing strategy and planning. Her wide sector experience includes education marketing, charity, public sector, arts & heritage, the energy sector and social causes. As a Chartered Marketer and a Fellow of the CIM, she also lectures in Marketing at Nottingham Business School at Nottingham Trent University.

You can find Roisin on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram.