Jonathan Winters, an American comedian, actor, author and artist offered some of the best career advice I’ve ever encountered: “If your ship doesn’t come in, swim out to it.”
Success is a funny thing. If we have it – whether in our personal or professional lives – we feel fortunate. If we don’t have it, we often find ourselves asking why not, and what we could do differently in our quest to achieve it.
Where most people go wrong in their pursuit of success is they fail to put in the necessary work. Simply consulting with other professionals to garner tips and advice that will set one on the right path is not enough. While other professionals can share helpful strategies, they aren’t going to put those strategies to work for you. It is up to you to figure out which tools will best launch you toward the kind of success you desire and then take action.
Achieving success is not a passive accomplishment. You can’t just sit back and wait for your ship to sail into port. As Winters suggests, sometimes you have to swim out to meet it.
One of the best ways to further your professional success is through networking. In my last post, I talked about the importance of networking and some of the best strategies to employ, including face-to-face networking and where to find those opportunities. In addition to personal networking, there also are online outlets that can be very useful.
LinkedIn is one of the best online networking tools available. As of the first quarter of 2015, LinkedIn had 364 million members. The Pew Research Center provides evidence that LinkedIn users are highly-educated and high wage earners. Pew also indicated that usage was highest among the 50-64 year old age demographic. These are exactly the kinds of professionals with whom you will want to network. Not only do they have more experience, they also are more likely to be in the kinds of positions responsible for new hiring.
One of the best ways to think about LinkedIn is as an online resume. In this digital day and age, it is almost a detriment if you don’t have a LinkedIn account. It is one of the first places other professionals look to find new talent. Professional recruiters also spend a great deal of time on LinkedIn.
But if you’re like many people, you have a LinkedIn account – but have absolutely no clue how to use it to your benefit.
The first step toward creating an all-star profile on LinkedIn is to include a professional headshot and headline. The headline will appear right under your name and should reflect either a career goal or philosophy. Take your time and make the headline memorable, because it is your initial sales pitch. If it’s not appealing, recruiters and other professionals are less likely to peruse the rest of your account.
Adding a summary to your profile also is a good idea. The summary is the section that tells a little about who you are and your professional skills. This is a great place to brag about your skills and prior accomplishments. LinkedIn also has sections for experience, education and volunteer work. Filling them in will boost the ranking of your profile and make it easier to find.
While printed resumes are nice, they are not interactive. LinkedIn offers the opportunity to showcase examples of your previous work. It is equipped with the ability to post YouTube videos, images, PDFs and links to examples of online work. If you’re a website designer, providing links to sites you’ve designed for other clients would be a great way to showcase your abilities. If you’re a writer, consider sharing PDFs of your previous work or links if it is available online.
Once you have your LinkedIn profile designed the way you want it, the next step is to put it to work for you. One of the most crucial next steps is to seek endorsements. Ask your contacts or other professionals with whom you’ve worked to endorse you. These endorsements will appear in your profile. The more of them you have, the more visible your profile will be to others.
Consider updating your status. Like other social media, LinkedIn has a status update feature. If you are actively seeking new opportunities in your field, this is a great place to express it. Many people who use LinkedIn aren’t even aware it has a status update feature. If you are among those who weren’t aware of it, you can find it by clicking on the Home tab. Underneath the Home tab, your LinkedIn profile and recent activity will appear. Directly below that is a box that says “Share an Update.” Click on that box and then add a status update.
Have some advice you want to share? Consider using the Publish a Post feature. It can be found under the Home page near the Share an Update feature. Publishing a post is a lot like blogging. It provides an opportunity to share knowledge on a topic related to your profession or a specific skill. Once you publish something, all of your connections will receive notification of your post. It is a great way to boost your profile.
Lastly, consider joining some groups relating to your profession or professional interests. LinkedIn Groups are a great way to meet and network with other professionals online, share advice and discuss relevant issues in your field. LinkedIn also allows anyone to start their own group. Doing so can boost your profile ranking.
Reid Hoffman, an American internet entrepreneur and author best known as the co-founder of LinkedIn, once said this about networking: “One of the challenges in networking is everybody thinks it’s making cold calls to strangers. Actually, it’s the people who already have strong trust relationships with you, who know you’re dedicated, smart, a team player, who can help you.”
As a freelancer for the last decade, I can absolutely speak to the truth and wisdom of Hoffman’s advice. While hard work, a strong skill set and persistence are the tools which propelled my initial success when I struck out on my own, there is no doubt that it was the relationships I already had fostered that have been the driving force in my continued success.
Freelancing is a tough gig. While job and security are two words that often do not go well together in this current economy, working for oneself can be a far scarier venture than working for someone else. When you work for yourself, any success or failure you experience is entirely attributable to you and you alone.
Even the most talented, hard-working person can fail to thrive when they strike out on their own, which is why it’s very important to incorporate another tool into your entrepreneurial toolbox – networking.
Before I go on, I want to make it clear that when I talk about networking, I am not talking about simply using Facebook and Twitter. While social media is, indeed, a valuable tool for business, it is not the same as networking. Anyone with an internet connection can tweet and post to Facebook. Networking involves the actual engagement of other people and professionals, most frequently those who can assist you in furthering your career. But you have to do more than simply connect with other professionals in your field. You have to know how to use those connections to your benefit.
A decade ago, when I first decided to quit my full-time reporting job to stay at home with my newborn son, I knew that I wanted to continue to work in some capacity. Freelancing seemed like the perfect fit; however, going from a full-time job where someone dictated the work I would be doing, to finding my own work, was quite an experience.
One of the first things I did was to reach out to a former colleague of mine, who had moved on to a job in public relations. In her current position, she had access to many people and publications and put me in touch with several professionals who were able to help me get started. This is called peer networking, and it is one of the most valuable networking options that many professionals overlook.
While we’ve all heard the expression “it’s a dog-eat-dog world,” what I have found in my industry is that many of my peers are happy to help those who are trying to get started in the industry. I look back 10 years later and know that if it hadn’t been for Kathleen Brenneman, Kathleen Ganster, Vanessa Orr and Rachael David, I probably would have fallen flat on my face when I first started out. They willingly shared their knowledge of the industry and offered me help in finding some freelancing work. I still network with these wonderful professionals today.
If you don’t know anyone personally in the industry you wish to pursue, consider taking advantage of other in-person networking opportunities such as conferences or networking events offered by professional organizations or local civic groups. There are many professional organizations out there designed to help freelancers succeed.
In addition to in-person networking, there also are great tools such as LinkedIn, which allow for online networking opportunities. Unlike with Facebook and Twitter, this site is strictly meant for business networking. You will not find status updates about what someone is eating for dinner or whether they’re in a recent relationship. With LinkedIn, it’s all business, and if you’re not currently using LinkedIn as the valuable business tool that it is, I urge you to head over there now and get started.
There are innumerable ways to use LinkedIn to further your career. In a future post, I’ll discuss some of the best ways to put LinkedIn to work for you.
Shari L. Berg is the owner/operator of The Write Reflection, and a writing professional for 25 years.