Prior to engaging your services, a potential client is likely to pull up your LinkedIn profile. This resource provides consultants a guide of best practices to optimize their LinkedIn profile.
Today, the LinkedIn profile is the single most important professional marketing space for an independent consultant. It’s important to help you:
- Get discovered
- Establish your expertise
Therefore, it’s essential that your profile clearly communicates your value proposition and positioning, and tells a compelling, coherent story that establishes your credentials and expertise.
How can you ensure your profile is ready to grab the attention of a potential new client?
This resource will guide you through best practices of what to do — and what not to do — when building your LinkedIn profile. Plus, you can download our detailed checklist for you to use to make your LinkedIn profile client ready.
Download our LinkedIn Checklist
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LinkedIn subscription type
There’s a strong argument for paying for a LinkedIn Premium account, which offers additional features valuable to independent consultants. There are a few different subscription types:
- Career: Get hired and get ahead. USD$19.99/month.
- Business: Grow and nurture your network. USD$27.99/month.
- Sales Navigator Core: Unlock sales opportunities. USD$79.99/month.
- Recruiter Lite: Find and hire talent. USD$119.99/month.
For an independent consultant, Premium Career and Premium Business are great options.
“It will help you be contactable,” Will Bachman says.
LinkedIn Premium offers enhanced features such as:
- InMail credits, which allow people you aren’t connected with to contact you directly, and vice versa. It’s shown to be 2.6x more effective than email alone.
- Who’s Viewed Your Profile feature, which allows you to see who has looked at your profile over the previous 90 days.
- Learning courses, offering access to more than 15,000 expert-led courses.
The InMail feature is particularly valuable, giving you the option to make your profile open so that anyone else with a premium account to send you an email for free — making it easier for potential clients to contact you.
Other benefits include things such as better search functionality across the LinkedIn network. All premium subscriptions allow you to start with a one-month free trial.
Get a professional headshot
When it comes to your profile photo, a high quality, professional headshot is definitely a best practice.
It will immediately take your profile to the professional level and set a good first impression for potential clients.
Bachman provides a rough rule of thumb when calculating how much to budget for this.
“What you’d like to make as your annual income, divide by 1,000, and that’s how much you should spend on your photo.”
For example, if your income goal is $250,000 per year, you should budget roughly $250 for professional headshot photographs.
The LinkedIn requirements for a profile photo are:
- Maximum file size of 8MB.
- Pixel size between 400 (w) x 400 (h) pixels and 7680 (w) x 4320 (h) pixels.
- File type must be PNG or JPG. The site does not support GIFs.
LinkedIn recommends adding a photo that won’t require much cropping. You can adjust the photo after it has been uploaded.
Don’t leave the generic LinkedIn background on your profile. A large number of people make the mistake of overlooking this opportunity to enforce your branding.
This is a missed opportunity to communicate a visual and emotional message about you or your practice to potential clients.
It does take some thought and some effort to get a banner selected and perhaps designed, so the meta-message is: “I’m a person who takes the extra step in the way I present myself to the world, and I’ll go the extra mile when I work on your project.”
“Pick something that represents you,” Bachman says. “Such as a book you’ve written, logo of your firm or agency, or something that suggests what you do.”
Also, make sure the background photo compliments your profile photo.
The LinkedIn requirements for a background photo are:
- Maximum file size of 8MB.
- Recommended pixel dimensions are 1584 (w) x 396 (h) pixels.
- File type must be PNG or JPG. The site does not support GIFs.
Here are a handful of ideas to serve as an inspiration for your profile’s banner image:
Susan Drumm promotes her podcast with a URL and a clear call to action (“Subscribe Now”). Note how the colors of the background of her photo so nicely match her brand colors.
You immediately know that Sean Brazier‘s work has something to do with data.
Robbie Kellman Baxter shows you right away that she gives keynote speeches.
Guillherme Bcheche‘s banner radiates a sense of calm – it just whispers. As a potential client, you feel that you’ll sit chatting in low voices in a quiet room while he intently listens to what you have to say.
The city skyline is a popular motif. If you engage Nidhi Chadda, you’re getting a New Yorker.
Allen Cheng’s banner made me stop and think. The image suggests that Allen is playful and fun to work with. Not sure exactly what the image is, but on first glance it looks like a three dimensional abacus designed by a six-year old with an IQ of 180.
Another popular motif is the outdoor scene. Anna Engstromer suggests here that she loves to sail.
This one might sound like a no-brainer, but always make sure names and titles have their proper capitalization.
Bachman recommends not adding your degrees or certifications other than M.D. or PhD, “unless they are super valued in your space, and people are searching for the degree specifically.”
We also recommend against including your MBA in the name field.
If you’re married and have a maiden name you have used professionally, consider including it in parenthesis.
Most people aren’t capturing the full value of their LinkedIn headline. LinkedIn itself says this is the second most important component of your profile, after the photo.
Just how important is that headline? When people do a search on the network, the first thing that shows up is your name, photo, location, and headline. They don’t see the rest of your profile, so these three items are all you have to grab their attention.
There are several great strategies to take advantage of the LinkedIn headline — as well as ways to render it ineffective.
One way people make it ineffective is by simply stating who they are, such as “independent consultant” or “strategist.” This communicates that you aren’t focused, and tells nothing about your focus area of expertise.
“It doesn’t tell them much,” Bachman says. “Think of this as the headline you want to capture people’s attention — when they search and they see it, it will it bring them in.”
Another mistake is just putting your title and firm name in the headline, when people don’t know your company and have no idea what your title means.
Think about “Founder at Joe Smith Consulting.” What does that tell you? Nothing about Joe Smith or what he and his firm do.
These mistakes result in a waste of valuable space, and won’t get people curious enough to click on that link to your full profile.
Here are some examples of weak words to use in a headline:
The headline is your billboard — it’s the only thing people see in search, or if you comment on a post, etc. The aim for it is to drive people to your full profile.
Therefore, you want to utilize a much more powerful headline that grabs attention. Be specific in your headline, and use it to show off your specific expertise and personality.
Here are a few good options to think about using:
- Your fishing line. A fishing line should be seven to 15 words and identify the target audience and exactly what you do by answering these two questions: Who are the clients you want to serve, and what problems can you solve for them? For more insight and examples of effective fishing lines, listen to Unleashed podcast episode 411 and read this section in our Resource, How to Find Clients.
- Encourage conversation. Make a statement that invites feedback or gets people interested in you. Bachman’s headline reads: “What three words best capture what motivates you? Mine are: Curiosity, Collaboration, Community.” He receives many messages each week with people simply reaching out to share their three words.
The main rule of thumb is don’t be generic and don’t be boring. To fully capture the power of the LinkedIn headline, it should be used as an opportunity to clearly communicate who you are and what you do.
Here is a good example of a LinkedIn headline from Umbrex member Belinda Li:
“Helping purpose-driven organizations fuel financially sustainable growth for greater social impact.”
Here are some questions to ask for inspiration to write a catchy headline:
- What kind of clients do you typically serve?
- What kind of problems to you solve?
- Does your headline add credibility?
“We often think we want a wide target, but that is not always best practice for grabbing the attention of a potential client,” Bachman says. “And if you have a wide target, there’s a difference between how you are trying to position yourself to the market, and the actual work you do in reality.”
Mark Williams, aka Mr. LinkedIn, also has some advice for writing your LinkedIn headline.
“Your your aim is, first of all, who’s my target audience? And what do what they need to know about me to know that I’m relevant to them? And so out of all the things that you need to do the headline, that’s the number one — quickly, succinctly, tell me what you do.”
You want make sure that when someone comes across your profile, they immediately know what you do, that you’re suitable for their needs, and someone they might be interested in.
Assign your location where you are physically located.
If you live in a location such as a suburb that isn’t easily recognizable, you might think about using the nearest metro area or known city so people can more readily identify where you are geographically.
For example, if you live in Evanston, Illinois, you might put Chicago as your location.
If you service more areas than your main location, be sure to mention that elsewhere in your profile.
There is now a visibility setting in LinkedIn that allows you to choose who sees your email address. You can choose first or second degree connections, or anyone on LinkedIn.
There are also settings for who can see your last name, and if people can find you on the site using your email or phone number.
Everyone should set these options in the way that makes them feel most comfortable, but we recommend that you at least make your public/professional email address visible to anyone on the network.
If you want to be contacted, you need to be as contactable as possible. At the bare minimum, set it to be visible to first and second degree connections.
Under “edit contact info” in your profile settings, you can include your companuy website, which we definitely recommend, and other URLs as well. These can be linked to social profiles, your blog, podcast, or other relevant websites.
In this section you can set your contact phone number, enter your address if you wish it to be displayed, your Twitter user name, and even add an instant messaging service if you’d like.
We recommend you edit your contact section to make sure it includes, at the minimum:
- Phone number
- Social media links
- Company website
Ensure that this information is always kept up-to-date.
We recommend you connect on LinkedIn with every person you interact with professionally.
This makes it much easier to keep in touch with people and follow up with them if they move from firm to firm.
Aim to be above 500 connections, because someone with much less than that may be perceived to not be active on the site. That said, the quality of your connections is more important than quantity.
When reaching out to new connections, it’s helpful to include a personalized message.
The main advice here is, don’t be boring!
“If something could apply to 50% of management consultants, then it’s not very differentiating. Take it out of your profile,” Bachman advises.
For example, this would include generic phrases such as “general management,” “strategic,” “impact,” etc. You want to remove all the jargon and buzzwords that don’t mean that much. Rather, drill down to the specifics of what you do — think about your niche target ideal client.
Your LinkedIn About section is not a resume. Instead, Bachman advises to treat it as if you are telling a story about yourself, which grabs people’s attention more.
The goal here is to tell a story about yourself, rather than a list of functions. Show your value proposition, your motivation, what gets you excited. Make it something people are curious to read and that makes them want to reach out to you.
Your summary should explain what your firm does as well as what you do individually. If you list your clients in your summary, especially if they are big names, try to add specifically what services you provide them, an anecdote, or a case study.
Another great tip for your About section, is to leave the first sentence a cliffhanger. This section only shows a certain amount of characters before there is a ‘read more’ button.
Catch the viewer’s attention with the first sentence and leave them wanting to read more. Make sure this section doesn’t repeat your headline, because that’s when they will stop reading.
You can also add attachments such as PDFs or other documents that provide more detail, such as a project list or overview document of your consulting practice.
If you have published thought leadership or articles elsewhere, consider posting those as articles on LinkedIn. Articles generally do not always bring people to your profile, but they can demonstrate credibility and establish your expertise.
Posting on LinkedIn
To be visible to your network, ideally you want to post three to five times a week.
“The vast majority of people are not going to see any one post; it’s a constant waterfall,” Bachman says.
You don’t want to post too often — more than one or two per day — because then the LinkedIn algorithm will limit the reach of each individual post.
After you make a post, the algorithm will show your post to a limited number of your connections and will watch to see if they engage through comments, likes, or shares. If there is no engagement, visibility will stop there and it won’t be shown to additional viewers.
However, if you get engagement, your post will be displayed to a broader and broader set — eventually reaching people you aren’t connected with.
Therefore, posts that engage reactions are of the utmost importance.
What type of posts should you craft? Don’t only drop a URL you think is interesting — you want to draw people into the post with your own take, or a question. Add value by saying what you got out of a curated link or article.
Give your own point of view besides just posting an article itself. Perhaps ask a thought-provoking question to encourage comments and engagement.
If you put a link in the body of the post, LinkedIn will limit the reach of the post. You can put the link in the comments, although LinkedIn has recently caught onto this trend. You could also encourage audience to look up the article by providing a summary that leaves them wanting to find out more about the topic.
The 5 types of posts that generate better engagement:
- Observations that may be debatable
- Tips and tricks
- A personal story
- Asks a question
- Something cool
You also want to engage with other posts. This gives you more credibility to LinkedIn, and is an even better way of generating reach and getting other people to notice you.
Comments are better than likes for promoting engagement and higher exposure. Try asking a question to the author to get your comment noticed and create more engagement.
A good LinkedIn post strategy is to post regularly on one or two specific themes, so people get used to seeing you post on those topics. It builds engagement with an audience who cares about that topic. This also builds authority with the LinkedIn algorithm.
The experience section can often read as a resume, but make it more interesting than that.
Many people miss out by not including specific details in their Experience section.
Don’t just state your title at a company. Put in the types of projects you do or did at the organization, add some case studies from big projects you managed, and tell what you have learned in the job you held.
Take a look at these two real-life Experience sections below. The first simply lists the firm without including any actual experience or results at all. The second is a missed opportunity to be more specific, rather than using a generic sentence filled with common industry jargon.
There are two key benefits to the Experience section:
- It helps with discovery with relevant keywords that can show up in searches by potential clients who may be looking for that specific expertise.
- It helps with credibility — when someone is looking at your profile already and trying to see if you are the right fit. The more specifics and details you have, the more of a match you become.
You don’t have to list all your experience — you can leave out things that bring no value to what you do today.
Don’t only list your responsibilities, either, which will help avoid it sounding like your resume.
Tell a three-part story about:
- What you did
- What was the situation
- What was the impact?”
“Clients aren’t interested in your job duties,” Bachman says.
Robbie Kellman Baxter is an example of a member consultant who nails her Experience section. Not only does she tell a compelling story with specific details on what she’s done, she also takes advantage of the Media upload option to connect links to her speaking reels.
If you don’t have a company page on LinkedIn, create one so you can link it to your experience. For your business logo or icon photo, make sure it is clear and large. Perhaps use only the graphic or simple logo, because designs and text can make it hard to see.
You can also add attachments to the experience section, so be sure to include any relevant documents here.
You want to list where you went to school, year of graduation and your degree, and you can also include add information about what you did in school, such as extracurricular activities or sports, volunteer activities, and your most important learnings
Think of relevant skills, projects, or events that have helped you with your work today.
Bachman reassures that you don’t need to stress about adding a bunch of skills to your LinkedIn profile, unless you have a super specific skill or certification that has to do with your work.
Otherwise, this section is not extremely important.
Likewise, don’t stress over getting recommendations just for the sake of it.
However, if a client asks if there’s a way they can thank you for a project you can ask for a recommendation, which never hurts.
This can be a good place to have a repository of testimonials that people can easily see, and you can reference.
“If you are ever in a situation where you are finishing a project, one thing you ask your client is, ‘could you write a recommendation for me on LinkedIn?’” Bachman says.
Then you don’t have to save and search for recommendations, unless you don’t want to be public about who your clients are.
There are a number of privacy settings on LinkedIn, and these can change from time to time. We recommend you go in every now and then and review them.
Personal opinions vary about how to set these, and you should do what’s most comfortable for you.
With all of these options for controlling your privacy and visibility, we recommend that you visit this section and make sure the settings are right for you.
Your LinkedIn profile can be used as a social platform, to network, as a resume, portfolio, and to have testimonies from people you have worked with.
Don’t feel like you need to add every single thing you have done in your professional career to your LinkedIn profile. Think about the client you want to attract, and add in experience and stories that would interest and draw them to want to connect with you.
Always be consistent in engaging with your connections through posts, and always be adding more connections as you meet people. With consistency, LinkedIn can be a great lead generation tool.
Additional LinkedIn resources
- Video presentation: LinkedIn Best Practices for Independent Professionals by Will Bachman.
- Episode 211 of the Unleashed Podcast: LinkedIn Best Practices.
- Episode 235 of Unleashed: Learn from Mark Williams, aka Mr. LinkedIn, on how to create a best-in-class profile.
- The Irresistible Consultants Guide to Winning Clients by David A. Fields