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How to Use LinkedIn to Connect with Top-Drawer Freelance Clients

This is a guest post by Carol Tice.

For freelancers, LinkedIn is the 21st Century phone book.

Increasingly, when companies want to hire a freelancer, they don’t ask around their network. They don’t look at the stack of business cards on their desk.

This is a guest post by Carol Tice.

For freelancers, LinkedIn is the 21st Century phone book.

Increasingly, when companies want to hire a freelancer, they don’t ask around their network. They don’t look at the stack of business cards on their desk.

They do searches for “freelance writer” — or graphic designer, or web developer — on LinkedIn.

The question is, how can you connect with the right prospective clients on there? I’m talking big, well-funded companies with fat freelance budgets. I mean Fortune 500 companies, fast-growing startups, and major national magazines.

It’s all in presenting yourself as a seasoned pro — or as seasoned and pro as you possibly can, with your level of experience.

There are two basic strategies for finding great clients on LinkedIn.

One is to actively market yourself on LinkedIn to prospects you identify.

The other is to use a passive-marketing approach. You do this by making yourself look amazingly knowledgeable, professional, and well-connected on LinkedIn. Then, you relax and wait for prospects doing searches for freelancers within LinkedIn to find your profile, check out your links, and decide they simply must hire you.

I’ve gotten clients via LinkedIn both ways — in fact, three different Fortune 500 companies hired me off LinkedIn in the past year.

One wanted me to write for their airline magazine. One top national retailer hired me to write articles for their newsletter for business owners. And the third, a temporary-help firm, hired me to write for their company newsletter for employees.

How can you make this sort of thing happen?

Here’s a rundown of the best LinkedIn strategies I’ve found for attracting great-paying clients.

Passive strategies

We all love inbound marketing, don’t we? You set up your LinkedIn profile and wait for the quality leads to roll in.

Here’s what you need to do on LinkedIn to make that happen:

1. Use a strong photo and bio. A nice, professional-looking photo is vital. Then, stuff your bio with key words. For instance, mine currently says “Award-winning freelance writer, copywriter, blogger, journalist, and writing mentor.” It may seem silly to make a list of all these similar words for what I do, but this is how you get found — you need to mention every key word you think prospects might search on to find you. Also, the more fully fleshed-out and professional you make this profile seem, the more likely that quality clients will be attracted to it and flakes discouraged from contacting you.

2. Fully flesh out your work history. The more past jobs you can list on here, the more experienced you will appear. This will help you attract better clients and demand higher rates. Go back through your freelance history and plug in every client you’ve had in the past, with the dates when you worked for them. Each past employer you list becomes a connection on LinkedIn that adds credibility and might interest a prospect.

3. Include strong links. The free level of LinkedIn gives you three links — make them count. Or use the portfolio plug-in to put some of your clips right on your LI profile.

4. State your skills. LinkedIn’s skills feature is another form of SEO that allows you to drill down and offer more details on your exact specialties. You can identify specific skills you have to increase your odds of getting found on LI by the best prospects for you. For instance, I’ve listed white paper writer, newsletter writer, retail writer, and business writer among my skills.

5. Post regular updates. I’m putting this under passive strategy because it takes so little effort — what, a minute? — to update your status once a week or so. That’s enough to show visitors you are active in this channel. No one is going to reach out through LI if your profile seems little-used. What makes a pro update? Talk about a conference you went to, a client you’re working with, or just share great content from a big name that shows you’re always learning about your field.

6. Lead them to a killer website. Ultimately, your prospect is going to want to click over from here to your portfolio site to take a closer look at your experience and see your clips. If all you’ve got is a LinkedIn profile, that doesn’t come off as very pro. So put up the best-looking, simple site you can and load it up with samples. The top thing prospects want to do before they hire you is look at your previous work and read an “About” page to get more detail on your background and a sense of your personality.

Active strategies

You don’t have to sit around waiting for opportunity to knock on LinkedIn. There are some great ways to reach out and target prospective clients you know would be a great fit for your skills.

1. Check Who’s viewed your profile? Many people don’t seem to realize you can click on this LI sidebar widget and get information on who has visited your profile. (If you do a paid level, you’ll see more info in here.) Often, you may see likely prospects who were scanning your profile because they hire freelancers. If that’s the case, send them an InMail message — even the free level lets you send a few each month. Here’s a quick template for that reach-out:

Subject line: Were you looking for a [type of freelancer]?

Body: Hi there — I noticed you were checking out my profile here on LinkedIn. Were you in need of a freelance writer? As it happens I have experience in your industry [describe and/or give links here]. Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help — [Signature]

2. Add connections. Begin by reconnecting with every editor or marketing manager you’ve worked for in the past. Where are they now? Do they have freelance needs? Could they refer you? It’s fun to reconnect on here and catch up with people who already know and love your work. Marketing won’t get a lot easier than this. You want to build your LI connections in any case, as you seem inexperienced if you’ve only got three connections (even if you’ve got years of experience in your field). As you add connections, your large network will help make you desirable to prospects, as well as giving you a pool of people who might provide introductions to prospects you want to target on here.

3. Troll the full-time job ads. I know, you’re not looking for a 9-to-5 gig. But here’s the thing — job posters on LI have to pay to place those ads. That means they have budgets, and hire professionals in your field. Often, I’ve discovered, they also hire freelancers, especially while they’re trying to fill a vacancy. Here’s a template on how to reach out:

Dear [recruiters name]: I noticed you’re looking to hire a full time [writer, graphic designer, etc.]. I’m not looking for full-time work — I’m a happy, full-time freelancer. I was just wondering if you have freelance needs while you are making this hire.

I have [state relevant experience].

[If possible, pitch a project or story idea here.]

Let me know if I can help — [Signature]

4. Send InMail. LinkedIn has its own mail system, and if you’re not using it, know that it boasts a 30 percent response rate. Which if you know anything about direct mail is huge. LI is currently guaranteeing InMail, too — if you send one and don’t get a response, they credit you back. There appears to be a great novelty factor to InMail right now that could help you contact prospects you’ve searched up here and want to target.

5. Answer questions. More SEO juice and crediblity-building opportunity is available on the LinkedIn Answers tab. Ask or answer questions on this LI feature.

By Carol Tice

Carol Tice writes the Make a Living Writing blog, where subscribers get
her report 40 Ways
to Market Your Writing
. She is also Den Mother of the freelance writer's
learning community Freelance Writers