For freelancers and independent contractors, clients are your life’s blood. Isn’t it marvelous that there’s a place on the Web for you to find your next client, or more importantly, for your next clients to find you?
All kinds of social networks vie for your time and interest, but LinkedIn is unique because of its laser focus on creating and fostering business and professional relationships. At LinkedIn, there are 120 million people talking business.
You may not have known it, but September 23 was International Freelancers Day, as declared by the International Freelancers Academy, a training company who sponsored a daylong set of webinars providing inspiration and practical advice to freelancers of all types.
Among the webinar presenters that day was Steve Slaunwhite, author of The Wealthy Freelancer and small business marketing coach. His message is simple: LinkedIn allows you to build professional relationships with all sorts of people. The more relationships you build, the better it is for your freelance business.
Slaunwhite said that LinkedIn offers many tools, but six tools are critical to generating business. All six are part of the basic service, and don’t cost you anything but time:
- Researching companies and old contacts
Let’s take a closer look at these tools, with some thoughts on how to apply Slaunwhite’s tips to technical communication careers.
Build a Profile
When people search LinkedIn for a potential contractor or new employee, they check your profile first. You want to give them as much information about your skills, experience and expertise as possible. This starts with the “Professional Headline” that appears under your name. You have 120 characters to tell visitors who you are and what you do best. Remember, you’re not just a job title. Your Summary section gives you a little bit more space to describe and market yourself.
If you specialize in a single industry, identify that in the Industry portion of your profile. You can also select “Writing and Editing” if that describes you better.
With each position you add in your Experience section, a Recommendations link appears in your profile. Slaunwhite said this section has become increasingly important, as people recognize that these testimonials are rarely perfunctory, even if they may be brief. “You have to jump through some hoops to write a recommendation for someone,” he said. So ask current and former co-workers to write recommendations for you. Offer to recommend others too, what goes around comes around.
Make New Connections
Remember, the heart of any social networking site is the people who are connected to you. In the sidebar of your LinkedIn home page is the total number of connections you’ve made, and the total number of people that you and your connections link to. Often that latter number is in the millions.
Slaunwhite recommends that as a freelancer, you work to make one new connection every week. Do this by asking your existing connections to introduce you to someone in their network who sounds interesting.
Get Active in Groups
Groups are great ways to meet new people, near and far. If you’re in or near an urban area, chances are good there’s at least one group that includes your target market. Groups also exist for specific industries and types of employees, so check groups that may attract managers in larger businesses who could have contracting authority.
Of course, LinkedIn is another resource for support and companionship among us technical communicators as well. Dozens of lively technical communication groups exist covering all sorts of interests. Many STC special interest groups also use LinkedIn to communicate, and you don’t always have to be a member of the parent organization to join the LinkedIn group.
To get the most out of groups, don’t be a lurker! Participate in group discussions, and be helpful. You can make connections with other group members, even without an introduction from someone else in your network.
Research Target Companies
Thanks to its reputation, LinkedIn itself has deep connections into many companies. You can learn much about a company through its LinkedIn page. You can “follow” a company Twitter-style, which keeps you updated on information the company posts to LinkedIn, including contract and full-time jobs. The amount of information you have access to depends a bit on who your connections are, and a paid membership gets you more.
Slaunwhite also reminds you to review your existing network periodically. You never know when someone you used to work with shows up at a company you want to work with now.
Look for Answers and Provide Them to Others
We’re all looking for answers at some point in time. LinkedIn is another place where you can ask the world nearly anything, and the hive mind can respond. Being part of the hive mind and answering questions relating to your area(s) of expertise is one way to improve your reputation, and allow potential clients to find you.
Working in the Answers portal is similar to participating in groups. Don’t be overly self-promotional, but demonstrate your expertise in converting Word docs to XML, for example. When a harried manager from a small business complains loudly about the amount of technical support he has to do, suggest how better documentation can ease that pain. Doing so in the relatively public sphere of Linked In raises your profile, and in the latter example might even help the profession as a whole.
LinkedIn recently added a new section to profile pages: an area to list skills. Slaunwhite made this his sixth tool for using LinkedIn. Here is where you can list technical skills, software applications you know, and all the “soft” skills hiring managers love to see. Needless to say, these skills show up in LinkedIn People searches, so it’s important to include as many as you can (you are limited to 50 separate skills).
LinkedIn can be a fantastic resource for both freelance technical writers and those who might be in the permanent job market. These tools will help you find and get the work.
Find Mike McCallister’s newly-improved LinkedIn profile at http://www.linkedin.com/in/workingwriter