Episode 211: LinkedIn Best Practices for Independent Consultants
November 5, 2019
In this episode Will Bachman covers:
Which type of LinkedIn Premium subscription should you get
Tips on posting LinkedIn articles and posts
Recommendations on each element of your LinkedIn profile, including:
- Contact info
- Summary section
- Summary section attachments
- Experience section attachments
- Recommendations received and given
For more on LinkedIn, check out the LinkedInformed podcast with Mark Williams. Episode 242, covering effective LinkedIn posts, is a great place to start.
Will Bachman: Hey, welcome to Unleashed, the podcast that explores how to thrive as an independent professional. I’m your host, Will Bachman. Unleashed is produced by Umbrex, a global community that connects top tier independent management consultants with one another and with clients.
Today, I want to talk about LinkedIn best practices for independent professionals. I’m going to be going through a checklist that I wrote up after viewing about 10,000 LinkedIn profiles over the past 10 years. I’m happy to send you this checklist. Just send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll subscribe you to the weekly Unleashed email that includes a bunch of bonus material, transcripts of each episode, and one of the bonus features is this checklist that I’m going to go through on the show today.
Alright, so let’s get into it. First is subscription type. So before we talk about individual profile elements, subscription type? LinkedIn makes it pretty confusing about what the prices is and the features of the different subscriptions. It’s almost impossible to find on LinkedIn what the price is. They just say, “Get one month free,” and then it’s really hard to find the price, but looking at other websites, you can find the comparisons.
So there’s four basic levels for individual humans like you and me, and then there’s some corporate levels for executives, for recruiters and so forth. But setting those aside, the four levels, and I’m just going to round it up. So Career, LinkedIn Career, which is a premium, I mean, other than free, right? So there’s this free account, but there’s four levels above that, premium accounts.
So there’s Career, which is $29.99 cents a month, and for the rest of these, I’m just going to round it up, so let’s call that $30 a month, or $240 a year, which is 33% savings. So Career is the lowest level of premium. It does let you see who has viewed your profile, which is pretty handy to see who’s been checking you out because then you might want to follow them in return. It does allow you to direct message recruiters and see how you can compare to other applicants who apply for jobs.
And I’m pretty sure that Career gets you free access to LinkedIn Learning, which used to be lynda.com before LinkedIn bought them, a amazing set of courses, vast set of courses that you get access to. So that’s a basic level.
I would recommend for most independent consultants that they go for the next level up, which is Business, and that’s $60 a month, or $575 per year, 20% savings. With Business Premium, you get 15 InMails per month. You probably know what InMails are, but if you don’t, it’s a way that you can send a free message to anybody on LinkedIn. And you also get the who can view your profile, you get an unlimited number of profile views on the site, and you also get the access to LinkedIn Learning.
So the next level up is Sales Navigator, and that’s $80 a month, or $780 a year. That’s 20% off. With Sales Navigator, it’s a different screen and different lookup. With the Business and the Career Premium, it’s your basic plain vanilla, just LinkedIn. With Sales Navigator, it’s a slightly different screen, different view, a little bit different getting used to. It has a more powerful search tool with Sales Navigator, and I should have mentioned also, with Business Premium, you get a more powerful search tool. You can search on more criteria.
Sales Navigator’s even more powerful. It’s probably 12 or 13 different filters that you can search on. You get 20 InMails per month. You can also see who viewed your profile. And then Sales Navigator, I would say, I would recommend it if you’re a heavy LinkedIn user and using it a lot to search for leads because it has more powerful search technology.
And then the top one is Hiring or Recruiter Lite, and that’s $120 a month, or $1,200 a year. And that one, you get 30 InMails per month and also yet a different screen and view. Now, Recruiter Lite, I tried it for a while, I had it for a year or two. That’s useful if you’re doing a significant, obviously, amount of recruiting, but beyond that, if you’re using it more for business development, then I think Sales Navigator or Business would be just fine, and probably even more appropriate than the Recruiter Lite.
So you should definitely sign up for one of the premium levels. If you’re an independent professional, probably the Business Premium for $60 a month is probably right for most people because that ability to see who’s checked out your profile is handy.
Okay, so let’s get into actual profile itself. So the photo, alright? Get a professional headshot. The photo creates the first impression. It’s the single most important element of your bio, I’d say. You know, it’s equivalent to, in the old days of going to an actual interview and wearing a suit, it’s kind of equivalent to that.
My rough thumb rule is, whatever you want to make per year, divide that by a thousand, and that’s how many dollars you should spend on your photo. So if you’re targeting to make $100,000 a year, go spend $100 on a professional headshot. If you want to make half a million dollars a year, then go spend $500 on a professional headshot. A very rough rule of thumb, but it just gives you a sense, you know, spend a few hundred dollars and get it done right. Don’t get a photo of you at a wedding, right, with a bow tie or with your kids, just get a photo of you looking at the camera and without a lot of background stuff.
Okay, the background photo, that’s that horizontal kind of banner, horizontal photo, that’s tricky. I would recommend that you get a background photo, knowing what to check, to pick, is kind of difficult to say. If you’ve got one of you speaking up on a stage, that’s kind of nice because the message is that you’re someone who speaks on stage, or if you have a picture of you speaking on TV, that would be awesome. If you’ve written a book, then photos of your book is great.
Some people will put a picture of their city, okay, that’s alright. Or maybe some kind of photo that represents what you do. So I don’t know, if you’re in pharma, maybe some pictures of some pills, or some pictures of some writing on a blackboard or something if you’re an academic, but you know, something that catches the attention. It’s a little hard to say exactly what’s great, but just getting away from the plain default blue LinkedIn background is recommended, just one extra chance to catch people’s attention.
Alright, your name. You probably got your name just fine, but I see a lot of names on LinkedIn where maybe they don’t have a proper capitalization. They decided it wasn’t worth the effort to put a capital letter in front of their name, so that looks pretty bad. Don’t put degrees or certifications, definitely don’t put MBA after your name. You know, if you’re an MD or PhD, fine, go ahead, but other than that, don’t put your degree.
I guess for some fields that advice might be different, maybe for some technical fields like where your IT certification really is important or in financial, maybe people will be searching for that, but in general, sometimes you’ll come across a profile [inaudible 00:08:23] not just one, but three, four, five, six different acronyms after someone’s name. I have no idea what they mean, and it just looks kind of silly.
If you have changed your name and you have a maiden name, you probably want to include that in parenthesis so that people can find you who knew you by your maiden name.
If you go by a nickname, include that so people can find you. You might want to put it in parenthesis. So for example, Bill Clinton might put William, space, and then Bill in parenthesis, and then Clinton, and that way he’ll show up for a search either for William Clinton or for Bill Clinton. And if you just always go by a nickname, then you could just use your name that you go by. So my name on LinkedIn is just Will Bachman. That’s what I’ve gone for for a few decades. No one is out there searching for William Bachman to find me.
Okay, headline. This is one of the more important ones. So a lot of folks I see will just put something like “independent consultant”, but that tells you almost nothing about what you do. It’s like just such a broad category. So I really recommend against independent consultant or against entrepreneur, because again, that doesn’t tell you much, or against something like “president of the Bachman Group”. I mean, so I’m Will Bachman, president of the Bachman Group, it doesn’t tell you anything about what kind of company I have, right?
So you wouldn’t take a book off the shelf that just says on the cover, on the spine, just “book” or “nonfiction book”. It’s not super compelling, right? So come up with a headline that… It might be your fishing line. So if you’re familiar with David A. Fields who talks about a fishing line, that captures the attention and summarizes in a phrase who you serve and what kind of problems you work on.
So for example, Belinda Lee has a nice one. Her headline is, “Helping mission-driven organizations fuel financially sustainable growth for greater social impact.” Alright? That’s more powerful than just saying “nonprofit consultant”, right, because it gives you a tighter sense of what she does. And some people might say, “That’s not for me,” and that’s perfect. You want to headline that a lot of people are going to say, “That’s not for me,” but people who it is for are going to be more likely to click on your profile. The headline is the one thing that people see in a search results, so you want something that’s going to be enough to get people’s attention.
Alright, Location. You should include your current home base. So some people will put “other” or just “United States” for their location. And when people are filtering, let’s say they’re looking for a consultant and they’re ideally getting someone who is based in San Francisco, then if you just, maybe you live in San Francisco, if you just set United States as your location, then they’re not going to find you.
And I suggest you put the nearest metro area if you live in a suburb that might not be as recognized. So I live in Queens, in Astoria, so rather than putting Astoria, New York, which is part of New York City, I just have my location as New York City, or maybe greater New York City. So just put in the local metro area.
Okay, contact info. This is one that a lot, a lot of people, when I checked their profile, have not made full use of. First of all, you should update the email on your contact info so that it’s actually an email that you check regularly. A lot of times I’ll see people, and their contact email is perhaps from some previous job that they don’t even have access to anymore.
If you have a website for your consulting practice, then add that website URL. You can also add up to two other URLs, so if you have some thought leadership that you’re proud of, maybe if you have something published in Harvard Business Review or Forbes or something, then you could put a URL just to that piece. If you have some kind of podcast or blog or something, include a link to that. You can include your phone number.
Now, only people that are first degree connections can see the full set of your contact info. Everybody else is only going to be able to see, when they click on contact info, just your LinkedIn URL. But your first degree connections will be able to see it, so I recommend including your phone number. I mean, I have my phone number on mine, and I haven’t received like annoying phone calls from people who got it there, to my knowledge, so I think it’s worth putting it out there so people can reach you. And also add your other social media links. So if you’re active on Twitter or Instagram, you can put those links there as well.
Connections. Alright, so if you haven’t already, connect to everyone you know so that your connections are 500 plus. When I’m going on LinkedIn, if I see someone with, let’s say, 127 connections, then I think that person, that they have just lower credibility in my mind. I might not even reach out to them about something.
So that’s a bit of a judgment call. Some people say, “Oh, I’m super strict, I only connect with people on LinkedIn that I know personally and are longtime close friends,” and that’s fine if you’re using it just as a tool to stay connected with your friends. If you’re using LinkedIn for business, would you say, “Well, I only want project opportunities from longterm people that I already know.”
So I’m a little bit more liberal about connecting with people that I think might be interesting to know, but you want to get at least above 500. You don’t need to drive it up, your connections, into the thousands, but when someone has less than 500 connections, it calls into question a little bit how serious they are about LinkedIn. Or the other person may even think, “Oh, this person’s not active on LinkedIn, they may not even accept my connection request or may not check my InMail,” so then they may not reach out to you.
Okay, and the summary section. So the first three lines of your summary are the most critical. These are the ones that people are going to read. They have to click “see more” to see more, so you want those three lines to really capture the attention. And don’t… Just like so many people use phrases that just like anybody could use, you know, “A seasoned executive who is driven by results and always over-delivers.” It just sounds like an algorithm made it up out of just random buzz words.
So if someone could say the same thing about anybody else on LinkedIn, or anybody else who went to business school with you, then maybe don’t include that phrase. Use the summary section to tell a little bit of a story. You can check out my LinkedIn profile where I’ve tried to do that and kind of draw people in a little bit, rather than just saying, “Okay, my firm does consulting to the following six industries,” or, “I serve pharma executives and do X, Y, Z.” Don’t just lead off with your fishing line. Try to draw people in a little bit.
So consider, in your summary, at the bottom of it, consider some kind of call to action. “So to schedule a lean operational diagnostic of your factory, email me at,” and then your email address. Alright? And use the full space. I would also avoid just sort of a laundry list of a bunch of different industries. “I serve pharma and energy and higher ed and nonprofit,” and if you say that you serve too many industries there in your summary, it looks like you aren’t focused on any of them.
Some people use that section to list out the different kinds of projects they do. I think that’s fine. You can also make use of, LinkedIn has some nice formatting and tools, and so look into formatting it so it’s easy to read and there’s some bullet points and so forth in your summary.
Alright, summary attachments. If you have any kind of PDF or thought leadership that you’re proud of, then you can attach those to your summary section. You can upload those, something that other folks can download. So if you’ve written an article that you’re proud of or you just have a sample of your work that you can make public, some sanitized sample of your work, then attach those there.
Next, articles. So we’re going to talk about articles and posts, the two ways to kind of publish content on LinkedIn. So articles are longer form and they have more opportunity to include multimedia. You can include some video in there, some pictures, audio. You can format, you can use different formatting in there, but most people do not read articles, so at least they’re not going to generate views if you publish an article on LinkedIn.
However, articles can be useful for establishing your credibility if someone actually goes to your profile. So if you’ve published thought leadership elsewhere, if you’ve published some article in some journal or somewhere else online, you might consider reposting that as an article on LinkedIn. And it really helps establish your credibility in an area, but an article is not going to probably draw new views to your profile, like as opposed to posts.
So posts are, there is a limit on the number of characters, I think it’s like 1300 or so characters, so they’re much shorter. You don’t have the opportunity to do much formatting with them. There’s, I think, what? Four types of different posts. One is a pure text post. You can do an image plus text post where you attach a photograph or some kind of image. You can add a document, so you can upload a PDF or a Word document or a PowerPoint, and you can do video posts. So you can upload a video and have some text above that.
You’ve obviously seen these kinds of posts in your LinkedIn feed. Posts are great. They get much more views. So a typical article of mine, I put some articles, I mean, my articles might get 7 views, 10 views, 15 or something, whereas my posts might get anywhere from 1500 views to 8000 views, depending on how good they are and how viral and stuff.
Consider posting regularly. You might post up to three to five times per week to just maintain visibility of your network and just remind people that you exist. And the goal is not to sell with posts, but just to engage people in a conversation.
And I really recommend a podcast called LinkedInformed by Mark Williams, and episode 242 of that podcast talks about how to create posts. And Mark suggests there’s five different posts that work well. One is observational and debatable. Number two is tips and tricks. Number three is just very helpful. Number four is a personal story, and number five is just something that’s cool. So check out episode 242 of LinkedInformed, and a link for that is in the show notes of this episode, to get some tips on how to write posts. You want to avoid posts that are just like the boring ones that you see. “I’m so proud to be speaking tomorrow at this conference,” or you know, those are pretty lame.
Okay, other activity or likes, so we’re getting into activity a bit on LinkedIn. There’s nothing wrong with liking someone else’s post, but it doesn’t really encourage conversation. It’s not going to get as noticed by the person who posted that, so a comment on someone else’s post is better.
And just going back to posts a little bit, I was saying three to five times a week, that would do typically one post per day. You don’t want to do more than one post per day, or at least don’t bang out multiple posts over a period of a couple of hours because the LinkedIn algorithm is going to kind of ratchet down on how much it shows your posts if it sees you posting just numerous times.
The way the algorithm seems to work in terms of how many people will view your post is, the LinkedIn algorithm, when you post, it will first show it to a limited set of your first degree connections. It might show it to 30 or 40 or 50, and then if those people engage on your posts, if those people comment or like your post, then LinkedIn will show it to more people, and then if they keep engaging, it will show it to more and more people. So if your post falls flat with the first 50 people that it shows, then it’ll just die there, and you might get 50 or 100 views max. But if those people engage, then it gets spread.
It also seems to be the case that if you are regularly commenting on other people’s posts, the LinkedIn algorithm is more likely to boost your post. So if you just like someone else’s posts, that author doesn’t really notice it very much, you’re just one in a long list of people that said thumbs up, but if you comment on it, that helps conversation, and that’s really the goal of activity on LinkedIn, is creating conversations.
So comment on someone’s post, and the ideal, what I’ve heard from Mark Williams, is roughly try to get about three or more comments on other people’s posts for every post that you do yourself. Be kind of a good citizen on LinkedIn encouraging conversation. So if you see someone’s post, maybe they have one of those slightly boring posts about, “Oh, so great to be speaking at this conference,” well ask them like, “What was one key takeaway that you had from that event or that speaker that you saw speaking?” You know, something to start a dialogue.
Okay. Now, one thing I don’t recommend doing is don’t share someone else’s post. So there’s three ways to do a reaction to someone else’s posts. One is liking it, one is commenting on it, and then another one is sharing it. So don’t share it. What that does is it takes their post and it puts it kind of on your timeline, but the problem is, it breaks the thread of all the comments. So when people then comment on yours, the original author won’t see it, or the people seeing your post won’t see all the comments on that person’s. So if you comment on someone else’s post, it still shows up and alerts your followers that you’ve commented on that one, it’s just far, far better to comment than to share someone’s post.
Okay. Let’s get back to your profile. The experience section. So don’t just state your job responsibilities for your previous jobs. If you were a VP of procurement, we can pretty much guess what your job responsibilities were, you know, “I was responsible for doing RFPs and for buying all the stuff that my company used.” Well, no kidding. That’s what every VP of procurement in the world does, so you don’t need to say that. Instead, talk about what was the situation, what did you do, and what was the impact of that? So using that framework, which is good for resumes as well.
So that’s one point, you know, just kind of giving… Then a separate kind of way of approaching it is talking about what you learned in that job. That can be very powerful. In each experience, like what did you learn from that or what did you take away from that? That can really tell an interesting story. It takes a little bit more work to do that.
A couple other points on experience is close out the past experiences you’ve had if you’re no longer at that job. It sounds kind of obvious, but I’ll see a lot of people where, let’s say they were a VP at IBM and now they’re an independent consultant, they were just kind of lazy or they don’t update their LinkedIn, and it shows they’re currently an independent consultant, but it still shows them active as VP of whatever at IBM.
And so it just creates this uncertainty on the viewer or your potential client of, “Have you left that job or what’s the story?” And it’s either, yes, they’ve left the job and they’re kind of lazy about updating their LinkedIn profile, or they’re still at the job, which is confusing. So update and close out your old jobs.
Another point on experience is, when someone’s viewing your profile, they see five experiences at once, and then they need to click to see more and then click to see more. So if there are some important ones you want people to see, you may want to not kind of junk up your profile with… You know, sometimes people will just put many, many experiences, like every project that they’ve done, they’ll list it as an experience.
Or if they’re on the board of like a lot of companies as a venture capitalist or something, they’ll say, “I’m on the board of this, board of this, board of this,” [inaudible 00:27:21] all these experiences, and then it takes a long time to click “see more”, click “see more” to everything they’ve done and go back to say, “Oh, they were at McKinsey for 15 years,” or 12 years or whatever down at the bottom. So consider maybe not putting every single experience on there, or grouping them together. Like you could just have one as “board memberships” and then list all the different companies. You could consider doing that.
You can also change the order of the experiences. So some people will be doing two or three things currently, they might be an independent consultant or running their own consulting firm, as well as maybe they’re on the board of a local nonprofit or something. But if you’re not careful, the one that shows up at the top will be being on the board of this local nonprofit, and that’s kind of what shows up in search results as opposed to your main gig, being an independent consultant. So when you’re editing your profile, you can drag them up and down and change the order. So think about doing that in your experience section.
Okay. For your most recent experience, and we’re talking about being an independent professional here, so for your firm, you can create a company page for your consulting practice. And I highly recommend doing that.
First tip is create a name for your practice, number one, and then create a company page for your consulting practice. It just takes about five minutes. And that way, when people see your firm name and they click on it, if you don’t create a company page, it’s just going to go to kind of search results for that name, whereas if you create a company page, it will be linked to your company page, and that allows you then to include an about the firm section, includes you to add a website address if you have a website.
It’s a much better experience. You can include some posts on your company page. You don’t need to go crazy adding all sorts of content to company page, but at least having an “about us” section so people, if they want to check out what is that firm, they can click on it and see.
Alright, experience attachments. So to each experience, you can add attachments or documents. So if you have collateral, marketing collateral, the one pager on your firm, then that would be great. If you have like written references that you don’t mind sharing publicly, you could do that. Sample work product, white papers, anything there just adds richness to it.
Okay. Education section. So provide some details in the description section for each of your educational experiences, particularly if you have a PhD or a master’s degree. Sometimes I’ll see people, it just says, “PhD from the University of Minnesota,” or from Princeton or something, it won’t even say what their PhD is about. So say what the topic was, and if you wrote a thesis, include the thesis. If you were in activities that you participated in, important leadership roles, yeah, even though it was a while ago, you can include those as well. Just tell us a little bit more about you as a person.
Alright, skills section. So LinkedIn will suggest a bunch of skills, and you can also proactively add any specific rare skills that you have. I don’t think you really need to obsess about the skill section. You definitely don’t need to worry, I believe, about the number of people that have voted or validated that you have a certain skill. I don’t think that makes much difference. If there’s something specific that you have, like maybe you’re good at Tableau, you might want to have that as a skill.
The usefulness of skills is some people, some recruiters or some clients may do a search on a skill, and if then that skill is listed as one of your skills, then you’ll pop up. And I’m pretty sure that it doesn’t really matter if two people have recommended you for that skill, or 150, you’ll still pop up if you have that listed on your skills.
Next is recommendations received. So if you develop a good relationship with a client, at the end of the project, and sometimes a nice client will ask like, “Hey, is there anything I can do for you?” Ask for a recommendation on LinkedIn. It’s a public-visible reference. And recommendations given, I wouldn’t go crazy and write like 100 recommendations for other people, but writing one or two dozen recommendations with specific comments shows that you’re a generous person. If you had like 80 or 100, that would be kind of ridiculous and just shows that you’re maybe fishing for recommendations in return, but having a dozen or so on there would be a nice thing.
And then interests. So this is the groups that you belong to. You can hide those or you can make them visible. So it’s useful to belong to groups. The usefulness has gone down a bit as people become less active in groups than they used to be. So if you want to show that you’re focused on a specific industry sector, then it could be marginally useful to join groups in that industry sector, you know, a pharma procurement group or something, and just make that visible.
Finally, privacy settings. So on the privacy settings, if you have a professional photo, you want to make that visible to the public. When someone outside your network searches and finds you, you want them to be able to see your picture. Some people will make their picture not visible. I think having a picture there adds credibility.
Consider adjusting your settings to allow anyone to send you a message without them needing to use an InMail credit. So if you have a premium account, like we talked about at the very beginning, then you can allow that to receive inbound messages, and the other person doesn’t have to use an InMail credit. And look, if there’s a potential client out there, then you want to get that message. I get probably a fair bit of, you know, kind of spammy kind of stuff on LinkedIn from lead generation people and other people that want to sell me some stuff, but I’m willing to accept that for the occasional actual client who wants to reach out to me and not have to use an InMail credit. So I allow that.
And then also I’d say, there’s a setting on there for “allow people to see that you have checked out their profile”. So if you really wanted to be covert and stalk people, I guess you might want to say, “No, I want to be anonymous,” but I would say that you do want to allow people to see that you have checked their profile, because if you’re, let’s say, checking on clients, if they have a premium account, then they’ll get an alert like, oh, you, your name, checked out their profile. And then they might say, “Oh, let me see who this is that’s checking out my profile,” and they may actually reach out to you or send you a connection request. So I would say that would generally be a good thing.
So that’s the set of recommendations. Again, if you want to get the checklist, just email me at email@example.com. We’ll add you to the weekly Unleashed email and you get bonus material each week, including a transcript of each episode, a summary of each episode, and some other bonus material.
So thanks for listening and I would love your comments or suggestions. What are some other LinkedIn best practices that I missed? I certainly didn’t cover all of them, and would also love to hear your stories about how you know you’ve used LinkedIn for business development.
If you’ve got any questions about LinkedIn, send them to me. I’ll do my best to answer them on a future episode. And again, thanks for listening.