It’s easy to tell the world you’re a professional, but does your profile back you up?
In the wonderfully challenging world of the internet, where scams are hiding behind almost every banner and bit of click bait, the validity of your statement of being a professional is only as good as the evidence you can provide.
Think about what makes you view yourself as “a professional.” Is it your educational background, experience, or an online training you’ve completed? Do you have a badge or certificate to prove it?
If not, you have a bit of a problem.
Clients won’t always check to see what credentials you have, but when they do it’s vital that you have something for them to see. If they want to assure themselves the work their hiring is being done by someone with competence, finding a lackluster profile or (worse yet) nothing on who they’re looking to hire will likely persuade them to continue along to someone with a more impressive resume.
What to Post
If you’re just starting out it can be a little difficult deciding what you should be putting into your professional profile. Do you want to list your college degree? That proofreading webinar you took during the summer? A badge from HubSpot Academy? The job shadow from high school?
Even if you’re fresh out off school with minimal employment experience there are a lot of things you can use to make your profile shine. You’ll need to look at what you’ve done — accomplishments, awards, extracurricular activities, competitions, and such — with a strategic eye.
The key component here is relevance.
If you’re going to be a freelance writer specializing in the growth of STEM, your 10-year record of volunteering at the local animal shelter is laudable, but unlikely to be what persuades the bio-engineering lab you’re networking with that you have the know-how to write their white papers. Include it, certainly! If it doesn’t offer proof of knowledge or skill, it definitely shows commitment. However, you’re going to want something more to show that Content or Marketing Director that you’re the one they want.
What kind of experience should you be looking to capitalize on for your professional profile? Here are some of the most important points to hit on…
A College Degree
If you’ve been to college, no matter what discipline you studied, always make sure to highlight that you’ve earned a degree. This goes for everything from a certificate or Associate’s all the way up to a Master’s or Doctorate. The more you have to show the better, but any post-secondary degree will be a central feature of your professional persona online. Even if you graduated years ago, don’t think of it as simply checking off a box. The fact that you’ve earned a college degree will always have value.
Mid-degree? Still post it and provide a projected date of graduation. Tack on your current GPA if it’s nice and high, too. This will show anyone looking that even though you’re still in school, you’re rocking it!
If you are a writer and your degree is in the liberal arts, particularly English, communications, or creative writing, then you have a gold star next to your name. Is it necessary? Of course not. Some of the most successful freelance writers don’t have a college degree at all — talent is talent. However, it is great to be able to highlight the fact that you have attained a recognized level of mastery over the English language.
Note: While you certainly want to list your degree, you shouldn’t necessarily name all of the courses you took. Some online profile sites (ex. LinkedIn) include a “Courses” section. If you’re going to be a freelancer writing about blockchain, by all means, show off that you completed an independent study on the future of cryptocurrency, but don’t go adding your Introduction to Drama course. You want prospective clients to be able to find the experience they’re looking for right away. Just as with a cover letter on a resume for a traditional job application, an employer will only take so long to determine whether or not they want to spend their time on you. Don’t make them go fishing!
Applicable Extracurricular or Recreational Experience
Almost any experience in life can turn out to be a valid and useful tidbit to add to your profile. If you participated in an activity that has provided you with valuable information or improved a skill, then make use of it.
Think of internships you’ve taken part in, volunteer experiences, school clubs or sports teams (especially if you were an officer), special projects at work, service awards, etc. If you’re writing about horse training, then don’t even question whether or not to post that clinic you hosted on desensitizing techniques!
Note: What’s most important here in addition to relevance is that the experience is fairly recent. If you’re writing for the IT industry, the fact that you did a summer internship with a coding company decades ago isn’t going to help you much. It’s great that you had the experience, but if all you know is COBOL today’s IT companies won’t have much use for you.
Not all disciplines will have this issue (how much has philosophy or art history changed, after all?), but for anything technical or STEM-related I would stick with the 5/X rule. Never hesitate to list the experience if it occurred within the past 5 years. Anything older, you should leave unmentioned unless you have nothing else to show, you’re 100% certain it is still useful to the state of the industry today, or you have plenty of more recent experiences to list and want to demonstrate how long you’ve been involved with the subject area.
Do you really want to show that Marketing Director you have what it takes to write that article for him? Show him that you’ve been published before. List some of your best pieces that have been put out there.
Does Medium count? How about LinkedIn? My own personal blog?
OF COURSE! If you tapped that “Publish” button and it’s out there for the world to see, then you have published work to list. It’s nice to be able to be able to show off a story written for Huff Post or Kotaku. If you haven’t gotten there yet, though, don’t waste a good piece you’ve put up on Medium.
Note: Relevance, remember? In this case, you want to make sure that what you’re adding to your profile is not just your best work, but applicable to your niche/target market. If you’re just starting out and haven’t established one specific area to write for, then it’s okay to have more of a mix. Just make sure the pieces are strong samples!
While this may seem more important to someone looking for a more traditional job and rising through the ranks of a company, leadership skills are still viewed positively by clients on the look-out for freelancers. Remember that you may not be the only freelancer contracted by a client. If you are ever asked to collaborate with someone else or co-author a piece the ability to be organized and take the initiative will be very useful. Additionally, writers who have had leadership experience will likely find the skill set transfers very neatly when interviewing individuals for a piece or managing a difficult client.
If you’ve ever held a position of authority in college, a sports team, the military, a business, etc., then make sure you highlight it.
Workshops, Webinars, Trainings, Conferences…
If you completed some form of training that applies either to your skills as a writer or the niche you specialize in, then put it up there for the world to see.
Microcredentials are making waves and even influencing the sanctified world of higher education. Don’t waffle over whether you should take that Lynda.com course on writing business emails. Do it and then enter that certificate of completion into your profile.
Note: Proof of completion is very important. Most educational/training sites like Atomic Learning, Lynda.com, HubSpot Academy, and Udemy provide some form of certificate or badge to show that you’ve completed a course through them. Think of each of these achievements as building blocks and construct a solid platform to stand on.
You may think those colorful badges look a little cartoon-y, but if you’ve earned them, use them!
Where to Post
This is the part where my advice gets a little more vague. Though there are some staples you should always maintain as handles throughout your career, what else you choose to do is largely a matter of personal preference, experimentation, and luck. Social media can turn out to be the jackpot for some freelancers and you’ll find success stories all over the place. It isn’t so kind to everyone, however.
So, my best advice would be to go out and give some different platforms a try. See what works and if you strike out, then move on and give something else a go. Some of the special magic of the freelance life is the ability to pivot as you need to.
Twitter didn’t do it for you? Then give Instagram a shot.
Whatever fortune you find among the trendy social networking platforms, there remain three go-to platforms that, in my opinion, are an absolute must for any freelancer.
Your Own Website
You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars to have a web designer whip up a shiny new website. (Definitely don’t go that route if you’re brand new to the game!) Hit up WordPress or another service that will let you make a free or inexpensive site. Make it attractive, functional, accessible, and informative. Above all, ensure that potential clients can find your contact information as soon as they arrive on your site and in multiple spots besides.
A website is your round-the-clock HQ that advertises your services with absolutely no effort needed once you have it up and running. Keep it updated and make sure you have some great pieces showcased in your portfolio. If it has the functionality, attach your blog to the site so that those who want to see a little more of your work can find it.
Some freelancers ignore LinkedIn, since its reputation is as a networking hub for the corporate crowd. Not so! I can’t stress enough how useful it is as a tool for freelancers looking for jobs, potential clients, fellow freelancers, and industry advice.
Think of it this way: You’re looking for clients to write for. You need to track them down and start building a relationship. Doing this through Facebook or Twitter can be taken as an intrusion by some who consider those platforms strictly for personal interactions with friends and will disregard you on principle. LinkedIn is where they are doing their business networking, so that’s where YOU need to be.
Also, just as with your website, your LinkedIn profile will be there promoting your business and skills 24/7.
As I mentioned, Facebook may not always be the best way to communicate with potential clients. The changes to how business postings function that were instituted earlier this year have also made it more of a challenge to effectively gain exposure, even by those who follow your page directly.
Taking this into consideration, Facebook has still statistically proven to be the most useful social media platform for small businesses and freelancers in terms of gaining and converting leads. There are a number of great tools and tricks that can help you target your posts more strategically and boost the page’s potential — and I’m not talking about the “post boost” functionality, as that is pretty much rubbish.
All in all, if you’re going to dive into the world of social media marketing, Facebook remains the place to start.
Note: The 2018 changes to Facebook’s functionality have also made it so that any post put up through an external share site (such as Hootsuite) will be penalized and downgraded so that it reaches fewer viewers. When you post, take the extra minute to do it directly on the platform itself.
Being All You Can Be Online
The internet is, at once, one of the most daunting places to do business and the most rewarding. Finding those clients will always be the biggest challenge a freelancer faces, but gaining their attention and winning their trust is made easier through the tools our digital work space offers. Get to know them, see how they can work in different ways to support your business, and remember to build your professional image with them strategically.
Relevance and a clear message will almost always win out when comparing your profile against one that is crammed full of unrelated bits of information that fail to make the case that the person behind it is exactly who the client is looking for.
“Experience is not what happens to you; it’s what you do with what happens to you.”
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