(This is the third and final part in a series of articles. You can download the entire series as a reference guide here.)
Most independent consultants have no budget for marketing or advertising, yet they all wish they had a bigger client list. Having a well-crafted LinkedIn profile is free and one of the first things potential clients will look at when they hear about you. Make the most of it!
The first article in this series about how to optimize LinkedIn profiles explains how to create an excellent first impression with a photo, background image, and a succinct “tag line” to summarize your brand and expertise. The second article provides tips for how to market yourself as an independent consultant using the Summary and Background sections. This article summarizes the importance of LinkedIn’s Skills and Endorsements, and Recommendations sections, which are misunderstood and underutilized. It also includes practical tips for how to beef up these sections, as well as the Accomplishments section.
Skills & Endorsements
Your list of skills is an easy way to help others understand your strengths and skill sets. This section is a good opportunity to flesh out your personal brand—emphasize the skills that are related to your sweet spot and delete the skills that aren’t. The two keys to making the most of this section are prioritization and curation.
With only three skills showing on the screen without clicking “view more,” it’s important to show the right ones. These may not be the ones with the highest number of endorsements, especially if you are making a career shift. For example, I have over a hundred endorsements for change management, but I no longer do that type of work so I moved it much lower on my list. Make sure the three skills that support your go-to-market positioning are on top. This is what you want potential clients to see when they skim your profile.
- Click on the blue pencil icon in the top right corner of the section. A new window like this one will pop up.
- Click on the three lines on the right and drag the skill up or down to where you want it.
- Remember to click “Save.”
Tip: Do not get distracted by clicking on an individual skill or the “Adjust settings” at the bottom; the system will not remember your new skill order and you’ll have to redo it.
While you are re-ordering your skills, delete the skills that don’t reinforce your personal brand by clicking on the “X” to the left of the skill. I found this to be psychologically harder than it sounds. I had 18 endorsements for Mergers & Acquisitions even though I’ve only worked on one M&A project. This is not among my strengths, nor is it something I particularly want to be known for, yet 18 people said I’m really good at it. What’s the harm in keeping it on the list? It muddies the water. You want people to zero-in on the strengths that you bring to a project.
What if one of your most important skills isn’t on the list or doesn’t have any (or many) endorsements?
Adding a new skill is easy. On your profile page, instead of clicking on the blue pencil icon in this section click on “Add new skills.” Try to use skills that are suggested by LinkedIn because they are keywords. Simply start typing the skill and select one that LinkedIn suggests based on its massive database of 322 million profiles. For example, if you want to add a skill related to managing events, instead of creating the skill called “Managing Events,” start typing “Managing…,” then select “Event Management” from the list of suggestions. This will link the skill in your profile to LinkedIn’s database and help your profile come up in keyword searches.
Do endorsements matter? Yes. For better or worse, people make judgments based on what they see on this list. They may not admit it, but viewers factor these judgments into their perception of you. Here are two tips for getting endorsements:
Set your settings properly for endorsements. In the Skills & Endorsements section, click on the blue pencil icon and scroll to the bottom of the pop-up screen. Then click on “Adjust endorsement settings.” Make sure the first two choices are set to Yes.
Getting endorsements for a new skill does not have to be left to chance. When I decided to do more public speaking after having done it a few times, I emailed my friends and family and asked them to endorse me for that skill on LinkedIn. Some people struggled with how to do it, but I ended up with 35 endorsements. If you try this route, make it easy for the people you’re asking. Here’s how:
Ask them to endorse you for specific skills. Although it seems a bit like gaming the system, there’s no rule against it. It’s especially helpful if you’re making a career shift. There are two approaches: quid pro quo and friends & family.
Quid Pro Quo: Send a message via LinkedIn to people you know fairly well, especially fellow independent consultants or people changing jobs, saying you’ll endorse them if they endorse you. Here’s some sample text:
I recently read that skill endorsements on LinkedIn really make a difference in how others perceive you, particularly recruiters and potential clients. What skills would you like to rank high on your list? I’m happy to endorse you for the skills you’d like to emphasize.
In return, when you have a couple of minutes, I’d appreciate it if you’d endorse me for these three skills. (Just these three; I’m trying to get them ranked higher on my list.)
- Business Transformation
- Culture Change
- Organizational Effectiveness
Thank you. Be sure to let me know your top three.
If you take this approach it’s best to personalize each message (“Hi Joe,”) so you come across as sincere rather than “spammy.” Also, be sure you keep your word and endorse the other person in return.
Friends & Family Method: Send an email to your inner circle explaining what you are trying to do and why, then ask them to help.
Now that I’m self-employed I’m paying more attention to my “go-to-market” strategy and how people perceive me online. I recently read that skill endorsements on my LinkedIn profile influence people’s perceptions, especially those of potential clients, so I’m trying to boost the rankings of certain skills. I’d appreciate it if you’d take two minutes and endorse me for these three skills. (Just these three; I’m trying to get them ranked higher on my list.)
- Business Transformation
- Culture Change
- Organizational Effectiveness
Here’s how to help me out.
1. Go to my profile: https://www.linkedin.com/yourURLhere
2. Scroll down to the section “Featured Skills and Endorsements” and click at the bottom where it says “View More.”
3. Find the three I have listed above and click on the + symbol next to the skill. Once you click it the symbol will change to a check mark.
That’s it! Thank you for your help. Let me know how I can return the favor.
PS: You may need to reload the page in order for my list of skills to refresh.
Some notes on asking for endorsements:
- You may want to reorder your skills so that the three you are targeting are already at the top of the list before you ask for the endorsements.
- Even though you add the skill to your list per the instructions above, for some reason it still may not show up when other people look at it. (I learned this the hard way.) Hopefully with the new LinkedIn interface in Spring 2017 this has been fixed, but you may want to reach out to someone first to see if the new skill appears in their view of your list. If it doesn’t, you may need to get them to endorse you for that skill first, then you’ll get an email asking you if you want to “add skill” to your profile.
- Profile update alert messages are not sent to your connections when you delete or reorder skills.
The difference between an Endorsement and a Recommendation is quality. An endorsement is like a “Thumbs Up” or “Like” on Facebook; a recommendation carries a lot more weight because the person had to take the time to actually go into LinkedIn and write something about you. Recommendations may be more important for people looking for a permanent position, but they matter for independent consultants too. It says a lot to a potential client if they see that other clients have taken the time to write a testimonial.
Suggestions for getting client recommendations:
- Timing – Ask for a recommendation right after you have delivered the work, when they are seeing the results. In other words, the time you most deserve it.
- Context – When you ask for the recommendation, provide the person with some text or bullet points so it is easy for them to edit. (Writing a recommendation from scratch is a chore.) This will make it easy for them to edit the text or simply copy, paste, and publish. It’s certainly easier to edit than to write something from scratch.
Here are some additional tips from The Undercover Recruiter.com:
- What is your key strength? (Include example.)
- What did they enjoy the most about working with you? (Suggest some text.)
- What word would they use to describe you and why? (Suggest some text, even if it’s for them to fill in the blank. For example, “If I had to give one word to describe Joe, I’d say _____. He always seems to _______.”)
- One problem that they had, which you helped them overcome and how? (Include an example, their feelings, and your action points.)
For more information on Recommendations, including how to request one through the system (making it even easier for the person you are asking) and how to hide one you don’t like, click here).
Think of this section of your profile as another storefront window where you can display your wares. Use this section to reinforce your capability and credibility, as well as to differentiate yourself from all the other consultants in your field. In some ways, this section was designed for independent consultants, so take advantage of it!
As a self-employed consultant, do not skip this section! Without it your profile may convey that you are just between real jobs and not really a professional consultant. Consultants work on projects. We solve problems, we address issues. I am suspicious when I look at a consultant’s LinkedIn profile and nothing is listed here. Are they too lazy to list a few things? Maybe they don’t know their niche so they don’t know which projects to list. Either way I’m forming a negative impression and I am left questioning the person’s consulting experience.
List your most exemplary projects with a short summary and your role. Be sure to include the results of your work! (For help, see “How to Add Accomplishments to Your Résumé and LinkedIn Profile” by Julia Erickson.)
List only those projects that reinforce your go-to-market strategy and brand positioning. It’s OK to list projects you did as an employee; you don’t have to mention the company name. Instead you can use generic phrasing like “…for a Fortune 500 global retailer” or “…with a multinational tech company.” Listing the project dates and key people you worked with are optional.
Your objective for this section: By the time a potential client skims it they have a good idea of the type of work you do and how you make a difference. You get bonus points if they can imagine you doing this for their company.
Obviously, consulting is a people business. Clients want to hire consultants they like. By completing the additional parts of the Accomplishments section, you will appear more human, different from other consultants, and possibly facilitate a common connection between you and the client by listing schools and organizations. Two things to note:
- Don’t list your test scores. Emphasizing your book smarts often comes across as overcompensating for some other skill you lack, like confidence.
- Definitely list all of your certifications, even if they aren’t active. For example, Certified Public Accountant (inactive). Clients often use certifications as a way to winnow candidates and to search for consultants. For example, last week a client reached out to me looking for a consultant certified as a PMI-SP (Project Management Institute – Scheduling Professional). I searched on LinkedIn and found five independent consultants in the U.S. who know someone I know, which makes it easy to check a reference and get introduced. If they hadn’t listed PMI-SP as one of their certifications, I never would have found them or shared their profiles with the client.
Unlike mutual funds, when it comes to consulting, past performance is indeed a good indicator of future results. Make sure your LinkedIn profile reflects your results and successes. Outline how you help clients in the summary section, then use the Accomplishments section to seal the deal.
This article is last of three in a series. Click here to download the complete series as a reference guide, Optimizing Your LinkedIn Profile as an Independent Consultant.
Also published on Medium.