5 Deadly Mistakes that Many Freelancers Make on LinkedIn

Deadly LinkedIn mistakesWhat you do—or don’t do—in your LinkedIn profile will put you near the top or the bottom of the search results when clients are looking for freelancers. Clients won’t find you, or hire you if they view your profile, if you make what I call the 5 deadly mistakes.

When clients find me by searching LinkedIn for “freelance medical writer,” they tell me that my profile came up first or second in the search results.

I used to wonder why I was ranking so high. I know that my profile is compelling and focuses on the needs of my ideal clients. But there were 83,000 freelance medical writers on LinkedIn the last time I did this search.

Surely some of these freelancers also have compelling, client-focused profiles? I started looking at the profiles of some other freelance medical writers. And I saw the same deadly mistakes over and over again.

When I broadened the search to “freelance writer” and “freelance editor,” I continued to see the  same mistakes on hundreds of profiles.

Deadly Mistakes that Show in Search Results

3 seconds is all you have to impress clients, says LinkedIn expert Melanie Dodaro.

And I agree with her. When I was looking at search results for “freelance medical writer,” “freelance writer,” or “freelance editor,” it took me less than 3 seconds to decide if I would have clicked on a freelancer’s profile if I were a client.

About 98% of the time, the answer was no.

Here’s why.

Search results include your headline and photo. Common mistakes that drive away clients are:

  • A headline that doesn’t say you’re a freelancer
  • A boring headline
  • Not having a photo
  • Having an unprofessional photo.

When I clicked on freelancers’ profiles, I found many more common and deadly mistakes.

LinkedIn Should be an Easy Way to Get Clients

It made me really sad to see so many awful profiles. Because it only takes a few hours to develop a compelling, client-focused profile that will help freelancers attract clients on LinkedIn.

And it’s more important than ever for freelancers to have a strong LinkedIn presence. More and more clients are using LinkedIn to:

  • Find freelancers
  • Check out freelancers who were referred to them before deciding whether to contact them.

If clients don’t like what they see, then they’ll quickly move on to the next freelancer on the list. Clients who search for freelancers on LinkedIn will have dozens, hundreds, or thousands of freelancers to choose from (depending on the search criteria and filters they use).

That’s what I’m not exaggerating when I call what I found deadly mistakes.

5 Common and Deadly Mistakes  

Here are the LinkedIn profile mistakes I found.

None of these are hard to fix. If you made any or all of these mistakes because you didn’t know what to do, that’s okay. After I cover the mistakes, I’ll tell you how to fix them.

1. Horrible Headline

Your headline is the most important part of your LinkedIn profile. It should grab the attention of your ideal clients and make them want to learn more about you.

Common and deadly headline mistakes include:

  • Not saying you’re a freelancer
  • Now saying what you do
  • Not offering a client benefit
  • Being boring
  • Using words and terms like “self-employed,” “owner,” “independent,” or “independent consultant.”

Some of the worst headlines I saw didn’t identify the person as a “freelancer.” Clients searching for a freelancer won’t find you if your headline says “owner” “or “independent consultant.”

And if you’re a freelancer, clients already know that you’re self-employed and the owner of your business. You don’t need to tell them this.

How to Fix this Deadly Mistake

You can use to 120 characters to attract clients and make them want to learn more about you. Clearly say what you do and how you help your clients.

Use relevant keywords to rank higher in search results, especially:

  • “freelancer” and “freelance [writer, editor, etc.]”
  • Your services.

You can also include the type of clients you work with or other key information.

2. Unprofessional Photo (or No Photo)

Having an unprofessional photo, or no photo, is a real turnoff for clients. Here are some common mistakes I saw:

  • Photos with kids
  • Photos with pets
  • Wearing a bathing suit, sunglasses, baseball cap, or sports clothing
  • Selfies
  • Head and shoulders shots clearly cropped from a larger photo
  • Photos with a messy background

How to Fix this Deadly Mistake

Use a professional head and shoulders shot taken by a professional photographer. If you can’t hire a professional photographer, don’t use a selfie. Make sure the background for your photo is neutral and clean. Make sure your face is centered and there’s a little space over your head. Dress professionally and don’t include your pet or kids.

 3. Irrelevant, Illegible, or Hard-to-Read Banner Image

The banner image, sometimes called the cover photo, is the bar at the top of your profile that includes your photo. Many banner images of freelancers are:

  • Confusing
  • Pretty but irrelevant
  • Illegible or hard to read.

If your image is confusing, and clients don’t immediately know what it is, then they’ll move on to the next freelancer on the list. Some freelancers have clear banner images but they’re totally unrelated to their work and will leave clients wondering why the image is there.

And I found many banner images with words that are either illegible or very hard to read. I did my search on a laptop. If the words were illegible or very hard to read on a 15” screen, they’d be much worse on a smartphone or tablet.

How to Fix this Deadly Mistake

Using the default banner image, which is perfectly fine, is the easy way to fix this mistake. If you use a custom image, make sure it’s clear and looks great as part of your profile on computers, smart phones, and tablets.

4. Missing Contact Info

The most common mistake in Contact info was not including any. Many freelancers only had their LinkedIn profile URL under Contact info. What’s the point of that? The client is already on your profile and doesn’t need your profile URL.

Not including your email address under Contact info is definitely a deadly mistake. If a client wants to send you details about possible freelance work, it’s much easier to do this in an email than in a LinkedIn message.

How to Fix this Deadly Mistake

Include your email address under Contact info and, if you’re comfortable, your phone number. If you have a website, include the URL.

Also, I recommend including your email, phone number, and website URL at the end of your About section.

5. Awful About Section

The About section is the second most important part of your profile after your headline. Here are some of the common mistakes I saw:

  • No About section
  • Lack of focus on the freelancer’s ideal clients and how she/he helps them
  • Long blocks of hard-to-read information
  • No bulleted lists
  • No call to action.

How to Fix this Deadly Mistake

The first 220-270 characters with spaces of About count most. That’s what shows before clients have to click “see more.” On mobile devices, about 102-167 characters show.

So start About by building on your headline. Offer a clear, concise client-focused message.

Put as much of your key message as you can in the first 102-167 characters to attract clients viewing your profile on a smart phone or tablet.

Continue to use the keywords that clients are likely to use to search for a freelancer like you throughout About. Clients often look for keywords related to titles, so use “freelancer” instead of “freelance services,” and “freelance medical writer” (or “freelance ADD YOUR FIELD HERE”) instead of freelance medical writing.”

Use other keywords related to your services that people will search for, like:

  • The type of clients you work with
  • Your key services
  • Industry-specific keywords.

Focus the rest of About on how you help your clients meet their needs. Briefly summarize your services, and your relevant experience and background. Use bulleted lists for your services and anything else that works well in a list.

Use a call to action to tell clients what you want them to do at the end of About. The call to action can invite clients to call or email you, visit your website, connect on LinkedIn, or any combination of these. Include your contact information and website URL.

Boost Your LinkedIn Profile, Connections, and Activity

It’s not hard to develop a compelling, client-focused profile. And you should be able to do most of this in a few hours.

Here’s a free checklist to help you:

Ultimate LinkedIn Profile Checklist for Freelancers

I also noticed that most of the freelancers who made a lot of the deadly mistakes in their profiles had few connections.

Having a large network—at least 500 connections—and being active on LinkedIn also help you rank higher on search results. Being active on LinkedIn means sharing content and engaging with other people on your content and their content. You can do this in less than 2 hours a week.


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