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Building a LinkedIn profile that builds your career


Just a few short years ago, you could safely ignore your digital footprint and it wouldn't affect your real-world interactions. Today, that's no longer the case. Your digital presence has an effect—either positive or negative—on your career and business. Whether you are looking to attract new clients, advance in your firm, or find a new opportunity, your online presence shapes how others view you.


One of the easiest and most powerful ways you can take control of your online presence is to harness the reach and influence of your LinkedIn profile. Many online-savvy people who also are active on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and other social media outlets use their LinkedIn profile as the cornerstone for their online professional brand. LinkedIn can lead the way in influencing how others engage with you in your online and offline interactions. This article shows how to use LinkedIn to move your career forward.

3 STRATEGIC QUESTIONS MAKE ALL THE DIFFERENCE


The omnipresence of digital information has flipped the traditional process of how we establish business relationships. In the past, we would extend provisional trust to someone and then build a working relationship to bolster that trust. Now, we can research and investigate someone before we ever engage. In fact, we can decide whether we even want to start a professional conversation based on what we find.


That's why it's important to control the brand messages that you are sending online. A great place to start is with LinkedIn, which has a huge footprint with more than 400 million members. If you do a Google search on yourself, there's a good chance that your LinkedIn profile will be one of the top results. If you have an unfinished or sloppy LinkedIn profile, that's not the first impression you want to make with someone who could be a client, a colleague, or an employer. Luckily, a little time and attention can take your LinkedIn profile from lackluster to outstanding (see the sidebar "Examples of Good and Bad LinkedIn Profiles").


At the root of every ineffective LinkedIn profile and wasted status update is a lack of planning. It's important to know what you are trying to say before you look at the ways that you can say it. Asking and answering a few simple strategic questions can greatly improve how effective, efficient, and easy-to-use your LinkedIn profile is.


What are your most important business goals?


Though your career or business goals may seem obvious to you, it's important to articulate them with specificity. This process can be as simple as saying, "I want to develop stronger relationships with the leaders in my firm to get on a partner track in the next 12 months." If you are trying to get new clients, you could say, "I want to increase my pipeline of business owners so that I can close five additional deals this quarter.

Who is the most important audience for you to communicate with?


Many different people will view your profile. If you try to speak to all of them at the same time, your message will become muddled. Identify the most useful group to engage with, and focus your profile and content on these people. For example, if you want to bring in new clients, speak directly to the target market that you serve: business owners, families, etc. Or if your business goals require you to be seen as an expert, engage with centers of influence or decision-makers at other firms.


What message does that audience need to hear?


Once you know exactly who is in your target audience, consider what they need to hear from you. The best communicators don't focus on what they want to say but on the information their audience needs or wants to receive. This is the core of your personal brand. Understanding how you want to be perceived is a critical step toward sharing effectively on LinkedIn. Imagine that you are talking to your profile visitor offline. What would you highlight? Would you focus on your experience, your passion for your work, or your unique ability to solve their problems? That's what your profile should focus on.


HOW TO CRAFT AN OPTIMIZED LINKEDIN PROFILE


Once you've decided what message you want to share, and whom you want to share it with, the next step is to dive into crafting your profile. It can be overwhelming to look at the different sections and fields on the profile. Fortunately, you can focus on a few sections that do a lot of the heavy lifting to communicate your brand.


The LinkedIn headline


Found right underneath your name, the LinkedIn headline is up to 120 characters long and fulfills some incredibly important functions. Eye-tracking studies show that people spend more time on average reading the headline than on any other part of the profile. The headline, like those in a newspaper, is the key to grabbing readers' attention and then convincing them to read more on the page.


Instead of leaving your headline as the default (your job title), you can use keywords to draw in readers. Refer to whom you help and how you help them. What's more powerful: CPA at Firm X, Y, and Z or Public Accountant Helping Businesses Manage Complex Tax Issues? A simple template is filling in the blanks: "Helping (insert whom you help) with (what you help them with)."


Profile photo


If a picture is worth a thousand words, what are the thousand words of your profile photo saying about you? More and more of our online interaction is becoming visually based, and how you present yourself is a key component of your online presence. People like to see whom they are interacting with.


LinkedIn has reported that a profile with a photo gets up to 14 times more views than a profile without a photo. It's hard to define the "perfect" photo because it can be subjective and depend on a lot of variables. But here are three easy elements to keep in mind:

Keep your profile photo consistent with the rest of the information you are sharing. Ask yourself, "Is the person in the photo the same person that the visitor is reading about?" If you talk about how hard you work for your customers, but your photo is of you lounging on a beach, there's a mismatch.Make sure it's a polished photo. Both you and the photo itself need to have a certain degree of professional polish. You don't need an uptight headshot, but you have to convey that others can trust your competence. Low-gradeor inappropriate photos don't do that.Balance that polish with approachability. Humanize yourself. Does the person in your photo look like someone with whom others would feel comfortable interacting? (See "Examples of Bad and Good LinkedIn Headers" below)


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