By: Chris Andreou and Jaxson Khan
We keep hearing the same thing from all the busiest freelancers and self-employed workers we know: LinkedIn is the web platform that consistently brings in the most clients.
Research shows that LinkedIn is responsible for a full 80% of all B2B leads generated by social media.
In this article, first we'll show you how to set up your own LinkedIn profile so that it ranks in the top 1% of search results within your industry.
Then we will go into detail on the methodology behind our results, and look at some case studies.
The five things you should do right now
As a freelancer, LinkedIn provides you with the single greatest opportunity to build your brand and grow your freelance business.
These are the five things you should do to improve your profile as a freelancer, based on the best practices that we derived from our research.
1. Get an "All-Star Profile" (a term coined by LinkedIn). To do this you will need: industry and location, an up to date current position, two past positions, education, a minimum of three skills listed, and at least 50 connections. Once you've got that, you can concentrate on making it stand out.
2. Make your headline more than just your job title. Ideally, it also speaks to what you do and even who you work with.
3. Turn your summary into a story rather than a list. This one speaks for itself.
4. Brief career history of job titles and dates. You can be selective, and it doesn't have to include every job that you've ever had. Do your best to align that history to your history. Just be careful not to leave huge gaps, as people might think you're hiding something.
5. Focus on the quantitative results that you have driven. How many dollars you saved, how many customers you acquired, how many partnerships you struck. You need to show why you're better than everyone else, and the answer at times is in the numbers.
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Fine tuning for a perfect picture
- Include any membership to professional bodies and networks
- Link to other online profiles and places that the reader can find you
- Grow your network. One of the easiest ways to do this is to sync your address book, which will add more connections to LinkedIn that are already part of your network.
- Follow the people that your target customers are following, especially those with a lot of followers.
- Choose the right profile picture. Ideally have your face take up most of it, unless you have a good action shot and it's relevant to what you do. For example, Alison's for social media below. Here's how to change your profile picture.
- A background photo can add context and make your page stand out
- Claim your custom URL. You can do that in LinkedIn's settings.
- Try to get away from buzzwords, such as "specialised", "leadership", "focussed", or "strategic". A string of adjectives won't get you too far.
- The photo is overly formal making you look standoffish or glum. You don't want to look like your passport photo or office ID card.
- The summary is a bunch of buzzwords or doesn't tell you much at all.
- Key career pieces are missing
- The career section is so comprehensive as to feel like an entire CV. It can appear desperate. You might want to keep your summary to no more than 100-200 words. Capture the key elements of your work experience, track record, and current interests which are mostly likely to impress your prospects.
Running your profile
You shouldn't go overboard but a quick update at least once per week is easy to schedule and will ensure your profile looks active and current.
- The number one takeaway is to share relevant content from your LinkedIn feed
- Comment on other people's feeds
- Share media and marketing collateral that are relevant to your business.
- Publish longer form content, or at least link to it.
- Round it out with personal interests, volunteer work, or causes that you care about.
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Why we did this
When you go into freelance consulting, you lose your old company's brand and have to start fresh with your own. Failing to create a strong brand, especially in this social media age, could prevent your business from growing as fast as it could - or worse, from taking off at all.
LinkedIn is by a very large margin the best social media platform freelancers can use to drive client growth and lead generation. This makes it the best place to build your brand and is cheaper than having your own website.
We wanted to know more about how the top freelance consultants are using LinkedIn, as well as how they are standing out on the platform. So, we went through the profiles of many top freelancers in the UK and North America and compiled a set of best practises.
We also read everything else written so far on the typical qualities of top LinkedIn profiles.
Here we share everything that we learned with you so that you can create a Top 1% LinkedIn profile and grow your freelance consulting business faster.
How we did it - our methodology
Before we jump in - how did we find the top 1% LinkedIn profiles?
Well, here's the thing - LinkedIn makes this a bit tricky. For example, LinkedIn calculates its own score. It's called the Social Selling Index.
And they'll even give you a rank. For example, we know that at the time of writing this, Chris' was in the Top 1% across his industry and 3% across his network. Jaxson's is in the Top 1% across both his industry (consulting) and his network:
You can find your own by going here: https://www.linkedin.com/sales/ssi
However, you are only able to access your own SSI. So how could we determine the other top profiles?
We used the all-knowing source of knowledge, Google! If profiles were on the first page, their SEO was strong as was their page relevance. We looked for freelancers from different categories, including IT, social media, and corporate training.
For example, we searched "it consultant UK LinkedIn" and found Ian Shearer (profiled below) as the first individual (not company) LinkedIn profile listed:
Once we knew what the profiles were in the Top 1%, we wanted to create our own set of three key components to evaluate them.
The top three traits that we decided to evaluate, along with our justifications for doing so are:
- Effective headline: Does the headline clearly state what they do? The headline, while short, goes into the page title for SEO and that matters
- Narrative driven, strong summary: Does the summary tell a story and/or is it interesting? The summary is where people decide if they're going to investigate you further - it's the 'hook.'
- Concise yet compelling career history: Are their experiences clear, well selected, and do they drive their story? The career history is where people decide if they want to work with you.
Also, SEO is far better ranked by text content than by images.
We ranked each of these traits out of 5, for a total score of 15.
Let's take a look at three profiles we have chosen because each one reflects key best practices from our research.
We have also included Jaxson's profile for the same reason.
Case Study 1: Alison Battisby
- Effective headline: 5 out of 5
- Narrative driven / strong summary: 4 out of 5
- Concise career history: 4 out of 5
Like many graduates of a journalism program, we weren't surprised to see that Alison Battisby didn't end up working for a paper herself.
The job prospects in journalism are dire - it's an industry beset by multiple challenges, including digital adaptation and an immense influx of competition from non-traditional news sources including Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.
Instead she made her way into marketing. She helped launch major brands such as Tesco where she set up their first Facebook page as a social media account executive.
Later she headed social media efforts at another agency; a Google partner. Alison then became a freelancer for a few years, before fully striking out on her own business in Avocado Social, a full-featured social media consultancy. A
lison is now also a lecturer and speaker on the topic of social media, teaching at General Assembly London, and giving talks at Facebook, Google, BBC, and more. How did we know all that? Well, from her LinkedIn profile of course.
Alison is a social media consultant in London, and she has an exemplary LinkedIn profile. It's a great place to start, because she has a very clear storyline, as we summarised above.
She not only says she is the "CEO & Founder" of Avocado Social, but she concisely describes her value proposition: "providing social media marketing strategy and expert training for growing businesses."
That's one of the common best practices that we saw - to use your headline also to describe what you do, not simply state your job title.
We'd give her headline a 5.0 for its clarity.
What we observed is that she first lays out her experience in the form of the major clients she's worked with, on a client-by-client basis.
Second, she talks about her thought leadership experiences - where she has spoken.
Third, she includes some of her specialties, including as a "social media consultant" and "social media trainer". Some of that may be helpful simply as SEO keywords -- search terms that people can easily find you on, for example, "social media trainer London".
Alison's career history is portrayed very well and concisely so we'd give it a 4.0. She could have improved it by including volunteering experience, community work, or some other colour.
Alison also has a great set of links and pictures at the bottom of her summary that link to various work and speaking engagements. Later in her actual career history, she effectively summarises what she did for each role without going into too much detail. Alison references both her university educational experiences and focuses on the most recent one. She also lists a relevant certification in Facebook marketing.
Ultimately, Alison's whole LinkedIn program tells a very clear story, and she aligns each of its elements towards proving a point to advance that story.
Total score: 13.0/15.0
Case Study 2: Ian Shearer
- Effective headline: 4 out of 5
- Narrative driven / strong summary: 3.5 out of 5
- Concise career history: 4 out of 5
Next, let's look at Ian Shearer, an IT consultant from Leeds.
It seems that Ian worked for about 20 years in IT, including 5+ years at the executive level. And now he's gone off to work on his own terms as a senior IT consultant. Ian has a strong profile evidenced by his extensive experience and career history.
Ian lists several terms that he might be searched by such as CIO, IT Consultant, Experienced IT Executive, and the terms Business Transformation and IT Strategic Direction.
We'd give this a 4.0 because while it's good for SEO, it would be better as a sentence "CIO and IT Consultant helping business transformation through IT strategic direction" or something similar.
Ian quickly highlights his lengthy experience and key skills.
We liked that he specifically mentioned the number of years that he has worked in the sector and also lists very specific skills in IT, not just "leadership" or something generic.
That being said, some of it is still a bit general in its language. He could do better in his summary by telling more of a story and highlighting some examples of his past work.
We'd give him a 3.5 here.
Ian's career history is particularly strong.
He highlights in detail his increasing levels of responsibility and work. He could do even better by highlighting the results and impact of his work, for example, £ or time saved.
We'd give him a 4.0 here.
We think Ian's profile is a great example of someone whose experience speaks for itself, so it makes sense for him to put it up front.
But he also could benefit in particular from some of Alison's approach, creating more of a storyline and also including relevant media, links, and attachments. Something to remember is that you want to appear legitimate. And the more you can link to other sources on the web that speak to your legitimacy and your narrative, the better off you will be.
Total score: 11.5/15.0
Case Study 3: Bailey Parnell
- Effective headline: 3.5 out of 5
- Narrative driven / strong summary: 4.5 out of 5
- Concise career history: 5 out of 5
We also interviewed and spoke to Bailey Parnell, a skills and training consultant based in Toronto, Canada.
Bailey has a very strong LinkedIn profile and is a sought after speaker. She is a bit of a superstar by the way - here's what we particularly liked: her overall summary, highlights of her first role, and generally the links she attached to her profile.
She told us a few things about the way she frames herself on LinkedIn. To start with "her brand is very authentic" in that it is truly her, and she doesn't feel that she has to dress it up too much.
While she's intentional about curating the narrative and she emphasises the importance of knowing how to tell your story, she also feels like the best approach is not to overthink it.
She says one tip that she often thinks people underestimate is to layout your profile in a way that makes sense for current expectations. Use a cover photo, add links to your profile, and make it attractive. This is seemingly tacit knowledge, particularly for the millennial generation, but may not be for others.
On LinkedIn, Bailey focuses a lot on content. She focuses extensively on how she won work and what she is doing to grow her business. If she doesn't have something about her business to comment on, she is likely to comment on other people's posts, or at least post something on a new trend or other interesting news.
Bailey provided some additional advice related to LinkedIn. For one, she says that "people are looking for you even if you aren't looking for them."
She thinks that a LinkedIn profile, which fully functions as your resume and indicates you are open to work, is an absolute must for a freelance consultant. To some extent with LinkedIn, the medium itself may be the message. In the modern world, it means that you take your role seriously and you fully embrace your online presence.
We think it's solid, but it includes a lot of different ideas, and there's a lot to unpack: "Founder & CEO, SkillsCamp, Soft Skills Training. #SafeSocial Researcher. Educator. Entrepreneur. Speaker. "
We think she could improve it by removing one or two of those words. For example, Educator and Entrepreneur. They kind of speak for themselves as we know she is the founder of a company focused on training. We would reframe it to something like "Founder & CEO of SkillsCamp, soft skills training for X" and then perhaps " | #Safe Social Researcher | Speaker".
We'd give her a 3.5 here for redundancy and opportunity to make it somewhat clearer.
Here Bailey makes the case that she is exceptional.
She notes a major award that she won. She talks about a speech that she made which has almost one million views on YouTube. And she talks about the media coverage that she received. Bailey describes what her company does and how she came to be running it. She lists the topics that she speaks on in the community.
She also describes her educational background and even includes a bit about where she and her family grew up. Overall, the summary is very impressive while also feeling down to earth and human. Her plain language description of SkillsCamp and her career history are particularly good.
We'd give her a 4.5 here. We think she could tie the story in even more for example how experiences led into each other, but otherwise, her overall summary is exceptional.
Bailey scores extra points for using the format she's given to her career history to market her current business. In fact, her business' value proposition and it is probably one of the best that we've seen in terms of clarity.
She lays out the exact process and specific things you will do with her and SkillsCamp at a high level. This makes it easy and clear to see how you can work with her. Let's take a more detailed look at how she did that:
SkillsCamp is a soft skills training company. Intro - great summary right away of what they do and who they help.
Working with us is easy. Framing the convenience.
1. DISCOVERY CHAT An easy, welcoming open step to identify the problem.
2. CHOOSE THE SKILLS A collaborative process to figure out the right solution.
3. CHOOSE THE DELIVERY METHOD Choosing the "service", made easy.
Let's get started today! Simple, unaggressive call to action. Sign up. Get started. Go.
Additionally, Bailey has great links across her profile, many which feature her face and emphasises her profile as a person of note.
While the average freelancer may not have her level of experience or strength of the brand, both of those can be developed over time - particularly the brand. We'd give her a 5.0 on her career summary.
Bailey took several years of experience in marketing and transformed it into a great career as a freelancer and burgeoning entrepreneur. And her LinkedIn profile and online presence is a huge part of that.
Case Study 4: Jaxson Khan
- Effective headline: 4 out of 5
- Narrative driven / strong summary: 3 out of 5
- Concise career history: 4 out of 5
We've included Jaxson as an example of someone who has a bit of weird profile because he has worked in several different sectors and areas. His friends sometimes call him "Jax of all trades". Alison is a great example of someone with a clear storyline as a freelance consultant.
If you're someone with a lot of diverse experiences like Jaxson, it's better to be more selective and to narrow down what you show. That way it's more clear to the average person coming across your profile. All that being said, we want to highlight what Jaxson did well and how he benefited from our research.
Jaxson wanted to share a couple of tweaks that he made to his headline on the basis of our research.
One is that he changed his headline to include not just a title but also what he does.
Jaxson then added B2B Consultant - to make it clear who he works with - and highlighted both strategy and communications, as he splits his time between the two. Volunteering is a big part of his life and occupies about half his time, so he's included it as well.
One important point to note is that for SEO purposes, it's best to separate every word. For example, try not to include commas after words. You want Google to parse, for example, "B2B Consultant for Strategy and Communications", not read "B2B Consultant for Strategy, Growth, and Communications".
We think on his initial headline we'd give him a 2.0. On his new one, we'd give him a 4.0. He could still make his value proposition clearer, and the broad categories of "Strategy" or "Education" are slightly vague. Also, it's not clear who his target customer is.
While very strong, Jaxson has also promised to change his summary to tell a story. It currently reads more like a mini-CV, and less like a narrative. For someone who's focussed on helping his clients communicate, he should step it up here.
Jaxson deserves a 3.0 because his summary doesn't tell a story.
Jaxson highlights the specific cases where he has helped or is helping clients through freelance work. For example, he says in his summary under Strategy and Growth:
- Competitive intelligence for a San Francisco based financial technology company
- Strategic advisory on establishing a marketing function for an international film production studio
And under communications, he highlights:
- Researching and writing customer focused ebooks for a San Francisco based CRM company
- Writing long-form articles for a San Francisco based education company
We think that emphasising your client work like this is a great way to allow your prospective customers to see themselves working with you easily.
They might think "oh, he already does this for a very similar type of business." Or "they're already working in my vertical, that means I could easily get references." If you position your client work this way, you might find that more clients come quickly.
The second aspect that Jaxson would share about his profile is how he described his last major work experience, his role at Nudge, an AI SaaS company. He highlights very specific elements, such as how he helped:
- Triple Weekly Active Users in the first six months.
- Or helped the company get news mentions in WSJ, Forbes, Entrepreneur, Washington Post, Bloomberg and more.
These kinds of tactical takeaways can give you sound bites that a prospective client could share with their team when considering the opportunity to work with you.
On his career history, we'd give Jaxson a 4.0.
We think he should still remove a couple of experiences that don't align with his story, perhaps some of his earlier work as a university student or from his excess of volunteering experiences.
To be fair, Jaxson was his own worst critic and gave himself an initial score of 8.5/15.
For his adjusted profile, we agreed to give him an 11/15 but expect him to get to at least 14 after he revises his summary and career history.
Total score: 11.0/15.0
We hope you enjoyed this guide to creating a top 1% LinkedIn profile as a freelance consultant.
For more free content on building your freelance consulting business, subscribe to Forma's newsletter. You can also follow Forma on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram.
A little bit about your authors
Chris Andreou is the CEO and Co-Founder of Forma. Chris has over ten years' experience in strategy across Bain & Company, Heathrow Airport, National Grid and IWG. He holds a PhD in Engineering from the University of Cambridge.
Jaxson Khan is CEO at Khan & Associates, a global advisory firm that helps innovative companies and organizations with strategy, communications, and growth.
In the community, Jaxson serves as a host of the Ask AI podcast, a mentor with Techstars, an instructor at Product Faculty, an advisor to Century Initiative, and a member of the World Economic Forum.
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