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Microsoft's Acquisition of LinkedIn: Tips for Freelancers
LinkedIn and Freelancers
Many writers on social networks use their online profiles to showcase their portolio, client feedback, track record and career history. With Microsoft's acquisition of LinkedIn in 2016, how do freelancers ensure they reach potential clients?
Your Online CV
LinkedIn: a 20th Century Business Model
Although LinkedIn introduced several changes to its users over time, for example displaying a Facebook-like newsfeed, at its core its business model is steeped in the 20th century. People meeting at networking events would use LinkedIn as their online CRM (customer relationship management) system, which was free to use as a default when it first launched. The premium feature was introduced in 2011 to speed up the process of requesting introductions to contacts. Historically on LinkedIn, you needed a friend or existing contact for an introduction to someone you hadn't met yet but that you thought could be a useful contact for your business.
You could only send private messages to your existing contacts when LinkedIn started, and this is still the case for free users. The premium feature allows paying members to send a private message to people who are not in their network of connections.
What Has LinkedIn Done for Freelancers?
In two words: not much. Back in the 20th century there weren't as many freelancers as there are today. The majority of people were in 9-5 jobs and most of them were dreaming about a better and/or better paid job during their working week and weekend. LinkedIn was like a supercharged job market where you could have a good look around, see what your peers were doing, particularly your ex colleagues who had moved on to bigger and better things.
Freelancers had to beg their former bosses and colleagues for written endorsements (testimonials) to be able to attract new clients. This was a very useful feature, but if you were on the receiving end of endless requests for endorsements it would get tiresome, especially when you weren't reciprocated.
LinkedIn then introduced a “click and endorse” system where you weren't even expected to write a full recommendation but you could simply click on someone's skill attached to their profile to “endorse” them. People would collect clicks like kids collect stickers, but apart from seeing lots of different skills icons next to your name this wouldn't add any value to a profile. Personally I deleted that feature years ago. The main reason was that it was a waste of time, because it didn't motivate people to hire me as a freelancer and I noticed that people would click to endorse a skill only because they wanted me to reciprocate.
If you as a freelancer can get at least three good written endorsements/testimonials on your profile, then potential clients can read them and evaluate whether you are a good match for their organisation. However, if all your endorsements are from several years ago you will need to request a new endorsement from a client of one of your latest projects you have been working on otherwise people will move on to another profile that is more up to date.
What Should Freelancers Write on Their LinkedIn Profile?
Because Microsoft is likely to share data across various platforms, be careful what you publish online. Make it a habit to update your profile on a regular basis, adding and deleting projects. The new LinkedIn is geared towards data mining for the employment market. As a marketplace for jobs, LinkedIn is aimed a specific section of the workforce that has a long term view of their career and is likely to be employed instead of doing freelance work. Freelancers move from project to project and it's difficult for LinkedIn to pin them down accurately in terms of targeting them for advertising.
These are my suggestions for making the most of your LinkedIn profile and presence:
Keep your summary short but very focused on achievements
Don't fill in your career history but if you have set up your own company have that as your employer, especially if you have been self-employed for a while
Use the Projects and Publications sections to your advantage listing the articles you have written and successful projects you have been involved in
Choose a maximum of 3 skills and choose them very carefully, ensuring that when people search for these keywords they will be able to find your profile
Use the “Jobs” search facility to find freelancing opportunities, but bear in mind they are few and far between because the majority of openings are for permanent jobs
Update your profile a few times a year to ensure you keep it current but don't expect too much from LinkedIn as a source of prospects
Have an eye-catching headline summarising your experience
If you really want to work with a specific brand, reach out to them directly on LinkedIn or ask one of your contacts for an introduction
Use pictures and videos in your profile
Share relevant news items on a regular basis
I Chose to Keep My LinkedIn Profile to a MinimumClick thumbnail to view full-size
Is LinkedIn Useful for Freelancers?
So, should you bother with LinkedIn at all? After the dust settles and the inevitable teething problems resulting from the acquisition will be resolved, LinkedIn is only one of many avenues to explore to showcase your skills. In the meantime, over the years other competing platforms will surely emerge.