Optimize Your LinkedIn Profile for Independent Consulting

Whether or not you have a website for your consulting business, it's critical that you have a polished, professional profile on LinkedIn. When someone does an internet search on your name, 90% of the time your LinkedIn profile will be one of the top three search results. It's also likely to be the one they click on first because the format is familiar and easy to skim. 

As a self-employed professional, think of your LinkedIn profile as your storefront window where you display your most unique and appealing merchandise (services). Your goal: entice viewers to learn enough about you that they want to meet you in person—and ideally hire you to solve their problem.

This article offers tips for creating a "top-notch top box."" This includes your headline, photo, and background image. If you do nothing else to improve your LinkedIn profile, make sure you optimize this section! (To fully optimize your LinkedIn profile, PICA members can download our 14-page reference guide here.)

Your Headline

Your headline is the line of text that appears right below your name. It’s also what drives search engine optimization and what will show up on Google search results, so it’s important to put some thought into it.

Your headline functions the same as an advertisement headline; its primary purpose is to get the target audience to want to find out more. Consequently, it needs to be succinct, informative, and unique.

Sadly, most LinkedIn members think headline = job title. The problem with this approach is that most job titles are likely to too generic to distinguish you from everyone else with your skills. For example, Management Consultant or Founder of Jane Smith Consulting are too vague to be useful.

If you’re an independent consultant, your headline needs to be client-facing and describe how what you do helps your clients. Create a headline that summarizes who you are, who you serve, the problems you solve, and/or the value you bring.

Don’t just describe who you are and what you do. Write a headline that contains a benefit to the viewer.

Longer headlines are better because you can be more descriptive. Use keywords that recruiters and potential clients may use in their searches. Put yourself in your potential clients’ shoes—if they were going to find you via keyword search, what terms would they use? Include descriptors relevant to your expertise such as process reengineering, organizational design, and merger integration to boost search engine optimization.

Although limited to 120 characters, most people only use a fraction of that limit. Push yourself to use all 120.

Bad example: Supply Chain Consultant is just 24 characters.

Better example: Supply Chain Solutions and Business Process Reengineering Resulting in Breakthrough Cross-Functional Performance (112 characters, including spaces).

It doesn’t have to be just one phrase. Use vertical bars to separate ideas. Example:

Reinventing Work & Reigniting Leaders | Consultant | Coach. Developing targeted solutions to increase performance.

Include at least one action "-ing" word to summarize the results you create for clients. Some examples:

  • Building high performing sales teams that…
  • Helping leaders amplify innovation…
  • Creating highly functioning leadership teams that inspire…
  • Optimizing processes for maximum throughput resulting in…
  • Increasing sales conversion through…
  • Harnessing the power of workforce analytics to minimize turnover and increase engagement…

Increasing, Maximizing, Raising, Leveraging, Mobilizing, Utilizing, Channeling, Expanding, Growing, Augmenting, Boosting, Reducing—all lead to results of some sort, so try to work one or two into your headline.

Also include words that explain the result of your work, phrases like "so that…" or "enabling…' or "leading to…"

Take advantage of the space! Not using it is like having a corner retail store but putting merchandise in only one of the two windows. Create your headline in a Word document and then go to Review > Word Count to see how many characters you’ve used. If it’s fewer than 100 characters, you’re not done. Add more keywords or results. 

For more samples of excellent headlines, see "How to Turn Your LinkedIn Headline from Blah to Memorable" by Ana Hoffman.

For help creating your headline, see "Know Your Niche" and "Why Personal Branding is Vital and How to Do It."

Remember, when a potential client looks at your profile, they first want to know whether you can help them, and they next want to know if you’re someone they might want to work with. Your headline can help with the first item, the photo and the rest of your profile will help with the second.

Your Photo

Perhaps more important than a descriptive headline is a professional photo. YOU MUST HAVE ONE. If you don’t, viewers of your profile will likely assume that you’re either ugly or too stupid to upload one.

Like a house that’s for sale, if there’s no photo you can assume something is wrong. Even if you’re shy, you must have a high-quality photo that displays confidence. No one wants to hire a mousy, shy consultant!

Here are the "must haves" when it comes to your photo:

  • Show only your head. LinkedIn will use this image all over the platform in various sizes so you want an easy-to-see face next to your posts, comments, and messages.
  • Show only you—not your spouse, kid, or dog.
  • Have a plain background. If it’s an outdoor shot, an out-of-focus background is OK but not as good.
  • Look professional and personable. Smile, at least a little. Wear what you would wear to a client. Don’t wear distracting jewelry or have sunglasses propped atop your head. Remember, if you want potential clients to hire you for thousands of dollars you need to look the part.

It’s well worth the money to have a professional take your photo, especially if you’re camera-shy. This doesn’t cost a fortune; JC Penney Portraits  does them less than $100. (Note that the cost is a tax-deductible expense.)

Last, be sure your photo is visible to everyone, not just your connections. Potential clients want to get a sense of who you are; it’s human nature. If there is a profile with no photo, people will wonder what you’re hiding. To make sure your photo is visible to everyone, go to “Me” in the menu bar, then select “Settings & Privacy.” Then scroll down to “Showing Profile Photos” and select “Everyone.”

Your Profile Header Background

This is certainly less important than your summary and photo, but putting a photo behind your “top box” shows the viewer that you’re serious about your career and profession. It can be a time-consuming pain in the neck to create an image that scales properly, but it’s part of your branding. That said, it doesn’t need to be fancy, it may simply be your “signature color,” but do something besides the default blue. It’s simply another way to make your profile unique and to make you more memorable.

Note: Images need to be able to fit 1536 x 768 pixels. 

Your Contact Info

Your contact info is now easily visible in the upper right corner of your profile sidebar. Make sure this is as complete as possible. When you’re self-employed, you want to make it easy for people to find out more and to contact you.

We also recommend creating a custom URL for your LinkedIn profile, for example www.linkedin.com/in/lizsteblay (last name) or www.linkedin.com/in/strategyimplementation (area of expertise).

To do this go to your profile and look for the section just below the square advertisement in the sidebar.

Bottom Line, Invest the Time

Take the time to put your best self forward. A well-polished LinkedIn profile with a professional headshot shows you are serious, competent, and professional. 

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