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The Creds: Building Up Your Professional Profile

In the wonderfully challenging world of the internet, where scams are hiding behind almost every bit of click bait and banner, the validity of your statement of being a professional is only as good as the evidence you can provide.

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.

Published Work

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!

Leadership Experience

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.

LinkedIn

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.

Facebook

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.”

Aldous Huxley


Want great content like this for your website or blog?

Contact Sarah at sarah@itinerantmuse.com!


©2018 Sarah A. Easley – All Rights Reserved.

Pro Tool Tip: NVDA

Ever considered that not everyone who visits your site is reading what you have to say the same way? Here’s a tool to help you figure out if your content is screen reader-accessible!

You have great content, high-quality graphics, relevant backlinks, inspiring quotations, and everything that makes web content rich … but are you engaging everyone who comes to your site?

Web accessibility is a hot topic. It is becoming increasingly vital for anyone with a digital presence to be aware of — businesses, educational institutions, news hubs, blogs, etc. It’s not just a headline, it’s a real-world legal concern that should have us all sitting up and paying attention.

Behind the legality, accessibility is also a moral issue that touches at the core of human-to-human relations. If a woman who is blind visits your website and can’t navigate through because it lacks accessibility features, is it right to just shrug and ignore her in favor of other clients?

And, as an entrepreneur or internet influencer, it’s basic business sense to ensure a potential client isn’t blocked from working with you by your website’s level of accessibility.

Listening to Read

Text-to-speech or speech synthesizing technology has been around for a long time and it’s only gotten smarter as the Digital Age continues to shape our tech-dependent society. There are a lot of different forms it can take, but a basic function they all share is the conversion of written/typed text into synthesized speech.

This technology benefits a broader spectrum of the population than you may realize.

While individuals who are deaf may be the first demographic to spring to mind, consider also those who have difficulty reading. This could mean those who struggle with literacy skills or for whom English is a secondary language.

It could also be of use to someone who is trying to tackle some household chores, but wants to run through their RSS feed before the kids get home from school. Catching up on the headlines and getting the dishes done at the same time? Done!

There are many ways screen readers and other text-to-speech technologies (often referred to as “assistive technology”) can support users if your website is formatted to work with them.

As a website owner, you need to be sure your content is accessible.

NonVisual Desktop Access

One of the simplest ways you can be sure your website will work with screen readers is by downloading one yourself. While this may be a bit daunting, especially when you’re seeing price tags in the four-digit range, there are alternatives out there that won’t break your bank.

My personal favorite is NonVisual Desktop Access (NVDA). Produced by NV Access, NVDA is available as a free download. Developed for users by users, their site offers the option of giving a donation, which I highly recommend as a great way to support the group’s continuing efforts to maintain the program.

You can grab the free software here: NVDA Download

For an introduction to NVDA (and to get a sense of just how important web accessibility is) be sure to check out the following video: “NVDA: The Free Software Empowering Blind People World Wide”

Learning to Use Your New Tool

NVDA is exceptionally easy to use once you have it installed on your computer. As with any new program, however, you’ll want to find a beginner’s tutorial to figure out just how to get the most out of it. Trial and error only gets you so far!

The following video will get you started: “Learn NVDA: Using the Internet, Part I”

 

“Accessible design is good design – it benefits people who don’t have disabilities as well as people who do. Accessibility is all about removing barriers and providing the benefits of technology to everyone.”

Steve Ballmer


Want great content like this for your website or blog?

Contact Sarah at sarah@itinerantmuse.com


©2018 Sarah A. Easley – All Rights Reserved

Keep Moving Forward

No matter what pushes back at you, seeks to trip or delay you, always press onward…

It happens.

You’re running late for a meeting and the phone starts to ring. Pantyhose only pulled up halfway, you try valiantly to avoid tripping while tottering over to the charger only to hear the strained notes of the ringtone coming from the other side of the room. Turning, frustration mounting, you tug at the hose to try and get them in place while scanning your desk for the cell phone. No dice.

Three of the six rings have sounded … uh oh.

Sweat starts beading under your arms. Darn, forgot to put on deodorant.

The fourth ring.

You dive for the desk … riiiiiiiiiiip. And you had almost managed to pull the dratted hose all the way up, too.

Venting with a curse when you bang your knee on a drawer handle, papers scatter as you desperately shove piles over in your search.

Ah ha, there it is!

Nope, it isn’t.

Fifth ring — cuss, cuss, cuss.

Following the dissipating tone downward you finally track it to the cranny between the side of the desk and the wall. Of course. Reaching, slipping on the roller mat for your computer chair in your stockinged toes, you grab it. You spring up in triumph, finger pressed to the screen, ready to swipe and stammer a breathless greeting.

1 MISSED CALL

……

………

But they didn’t even stay on the line long enough for the sixth ring!

Leaning against the desk, the tear in your hose having spread halfway down your thigh during your heroic efforts, you slouch in defeat. That was the client. It was totally the client. They needed something from you and they gave up. They probably think you’re lazy or don’t feel they’re worth your time. They’re sure to go with someone else for the job. You open your recent calls and sure enough!

MOM

Frustration and the backlash of panic threatens to bring tears to your eyes. You don’t even bother with a swear because you just don’t have it in you. Now you’re running even further behind schedule and you’re barely half-dressed.

You have two options here.

You can slide on down to the floor and indulge in the ugly cry that your tear ducts are ready to let loose. Maybe the client will be willing to reschedule for tomorrow. Chalk this one up as a bad day.

Or you can stand back up. Yank the ragged hose off and slip into the slacks, instead. Swipe on some deodorant and message the client to let him know you’re on your way.

And take a deep breath as you walk out the door.

It’s hard to pick yourself up and get back on track when you’ve been completely derailed. When nothing is working out the way it should and it feels like the day is conspiring to undermine you.

Distress is going to come knocking and road blocks will pop up seemingly out of nowhere for you to stub your toe on.

It’s the easiest thing in the world to say something like, “Don’t give up! You’ve got this! Just strike your Wonder Woman pose and slay the day!”

That really doesn’t help when the rip in your hose is about to reach your knee and the floor is looking like a good place to curl up and have a good, cathartic wallow on.

When you’ve been knocked back on your heels and are left with the option to either fall back or move forward, find it in yourself to just put one foot in front of the other. It might be more of a shuffle than a stride. Maybe it’s little better than a limp. But do it. One step.

That, you can do.

A step toward the trashcan to throw your torn pantyhose in. Phew, did it.

Now another step. Take that step toward the closet door and pull the slacks out. No need to wrestle yourself into hose, now.

Another step. And another. One at a time until you’ve hit on a stride that propels you onward with more surety.

“Keep moving forward.”

Tell yourself that with each step you take. If you can do it, then you’re not sliding toward the floor.

Take the day on as it comes. It’s not about winning or losing. It’s just moving forward. Progress instead of stagnation.

At a certain point, you’ll find it in you to find your swagger again.

 

“Perseverance is failing 19 times and succeeding the 20th.”

Julie Andrews


Interested in content like this for your site or blog?

Contact Sarah at sarah@itinerantmuse.com


©2018 Sarah A. Easley – All Rights Reserved

The Advice that Changed Everything

I had one class to go in my MA degree and the question of what I would do with it left me utterly lost. The simple advice given by a friend reset my perspective and showed me the path forward…

Photograph of a crystal sphere sitting on a rock by the seaside. The sunrise is captured in the heart of the sphere as a bridge extends off into the distance.
Photograph by MartyNZ on Pixabay

In October 2017, I was getting ready to wrap up my master’s program in English and was wondering what I was going to do with the bit of paper I would be earning in the not-so-distant future. I’d always loved to write and a degree in the discipline was certainly going to come in handy, but a clear idea of where this would take me had yet to manifest itself.

A list of professions followed me around in my purse, clogged with frantic scribbles and defaced by irate cross-outs.

I was mired in a dark hole of uncertainty. Perhaps I was even a little panicked at the thought of the big, bad world lurking just beyond the finish line I was hurtling toward. In the grand scheme of things this was really just a small bump in the road of the rest of my life. In the moment, though, it was a major existential crisis!

Then I sat down with a friend at work and asked for his advice. It was really an act of desperation to pull him aside, but it turned out to be the best thing I could have done.

(Props to him, by the way, for keeping it cool in the face of the frazzled creature sitting across from him, begging for some hint as to how to face The Future.)

Not only did he not use the typical throw-away line most liberal arts majors get beaned with — “Well, you could teach, I guess” — but he gave me the one idea that altered my perspective on what life could hold for me…

“Do something creative.”

Yeah, I know. That really is it. But man, those words made my whole perspective clear as crystal.

I’d thought of freelance writing off-and-on for years, finding the freedom and creativity an exciting prospect, but cowed by the thought of living without the support and benefits of a traditional job. I have responsibilities, bills, and what the heck will I do about insurance?! The “reasonable” voice in my head always quashed the notion handily.

My friend’s words put a strip of duct tape over the mouth of the mental nay-sayer and, for the first time, I saw the path set right before me that led to a brave, new life.

Suddenly, the world of cubicles didn’t seem so necessary — a requirement of success. I really could leave my reliable, well-paying job to take the leap and chase a dream … if I wanted it badly enough. True, it would all be on me, but the reward would be as well.

“What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?”

Vincent Van Gogh


Interested in content like this for your website or blog?

Contact Sarah at sarah@itinerantmuse.com


©2018 Sarah A. Easley – All Rights Reserved