Social media has exploded over the past 10 years and has grown enormously around the world. Today, it's a key tool in business and an online presence is a must-have for independent contractors in all industries. Not only is it a great way to expand and maintain your professional network, ultimately helping you find more opportunities, but many companies are reviewing the profiles of potential contractors online to gauge their experience and seek out references.
If you're among the many independent contractors who fell behind when social media exploded, you may feel that catching up is close to impossible. This train of thought is causing a major disadvantage for your business. The truth is, getting started on social media and improving your online presence isn't such a daunting task. There is a slight time investment up front, but once you have momentum, maintaining and growing that presence will easily fit into your regular schedule. There are literally thousands of social media platforms across the internet, so a common question is "Where do I get started?" Avoid starting everywhere. It's better to have one fantastic profile than 5 badly maintained profiles. For independent contractors that first profile should be on LinkedIn. LinkedIn is an online network where professionals connect with and communicate with colleagues, business partners, and even friends. Unlike some social networks like Facebook where people share details of their personal lives, LinkedIn is a place to share your professional knowledge and experiences. This is a great spot to find new opportunities, share knowledge with experts around the world, and even find potential contracting partners. Here are a few simple steps to get started:
Create an account
Visit www.linkedin.com and fill in the form on the home page -- registration is free and
takes less than 2 minutes. Use the full name you would use professionally -- if your friends call you Bob, but you print Robert on your business card, use Robert on LinkedIn. Ensure the email address you provide is permanent.
Go through the basic set-up steps
Once you hit the Next button, LinkedIn will ask you a few simple questions to finish setting up your profile, including your company name and title, and ask you to confirm your email address. (Note: When you confirm your email address, LinkedIn will ask your permission to access certain contacts. You are required to say "Yes" to continue but don't worry -- it will not actually do anything with your contacts unless you ask it to in the next steps). Now that LinkedIn has access to your address book, it will help you connect with your contacts. You can decide if you'd like to do it now, or simply hit the "Skip this Step" button and do it later. (We recommend you do this later, after you have your profile set-up exactly how you want it). You will also be asked if you would like to upgrade to the paid version -- hold off on this until you have a better grasp on the network to determine if you really need it.
Edit Your Profile
Many independent contractors treat their LinkedIn profile like their resume. It may even help to have your resume beside you as you set this up. LinkedIn will help you by asking questions about specific experience, education, and skills. You will also create a profile summary about yourself, add a picture, and include any extracurricular activities. As you go through, be as detailed as possible, but don't stress too much. You can always go back and edit this as necessary. Your priorities for now should be a profile summary, your current work, and a profile photo. (Note: Keep the photo professional. Potential clients don't want to see you and your friends in a Las Vegas casino)
Start making connections and grow your network
If you didn't do it while you set-up your account, now's the time. Go to the "Connections" link in the top menu, and click "Add Connections". Here, LinkedIn will ask to scan through some of your email contacts to find people already on LinkedIn. You can also click the "Find Alumni" button to seek people who went to the same school as you, use the "People You May Know" link to get suggestions from LinkedIn, or simply use the search menu at the top of your screen to seek specific individuals. Once you've started, it will be easy to connect with more people. You can search specific companies and look at their employees or you can search your contacts' connections to find mutual acquaintances.
LinkedIn Groups are a place where people with a common interest gather to share knowledge with each other. This can be extremely valuable whether you're looking for new opportunities, or working on a project and need some input. There are thousands of groups on LinkedIn for virtually any topic. Search for and join a few that are for you. It could be a group about a specific technology, an industry association, a region where you work, or an alumni for a company or institution.
Browse your news feed
Now that you have connections and you're a part of groups, you will have a valuable newsfeed. Click the "Home" button at the top and you'll find it. As you scroll through, you'll see updates from your connections and your groups. These may include statuses, links to articles, details of their activity (new connections, comments they've made), and some questions they may be asking their own network.
This is where the value of social networking begins! As you scroll through your newsfeed, engage with your network. Click the "Like" button on content you agree with, add a comment to give your own insight, and share posts with your own network. You can also start adding your own content. When you come across an article you like, share it by putting the link into the "Share an Update" bar at the top of your newsfeed. You should also add your own comment to make it more personal. Engage in groups as well. Share relevant articles with your group, join conversations to answer questions, or ask your own questions. These 7 simple steps will get you on your way. Once you're more familiar with the platform, you can start taking on other tasks like job searching, giving and receiving recommendations, and becoming a LinkedIn influencer. Remember that order to benefit from any social network you need to have an active presence and contribute. What challenges have you faced in getting your social media presence going? Please share your comments below.