Last month on The Freelancer, Mike Peake wrote about trying to find freelance writing work on LinkedIn. Although he knew it was possible to do so based on the recommendation of a friend, his overall experience was negative:
It has been, in all truth, a rather deflating exercise… There are a million writers out there, and throwing darts at the LinkedIn dartboard just doesn’t feel like a constructive way of trying to outshine them.
However, he also had this to say:
But I’d like to make a distinction. If I had a LinkedIn Premium account, which uses the more exclusive InMail service, I expect the results would have been more promising.
And that’s what I want to discuss today—how freelancers can score a Premium account for free and use LinkedIn to build contacts and find work.
Free Premium Access
A large part of the prospecting strategy I’ll explain below involves having a Premium account, which ranges in price from $30.99 to $119.95 per month. Before you get discouraged, however, know this: Freelance writers can get Premium access for free.
One option is to accept the 30-day trial that LinkedIn offers all users—it’s visible in the top right-hand corner of your homepage after you log in. You’ll need to enter your credit card information, but you can always cancel the upgrade within 30 days to avoid being charged.
The second option is tailor-made for freelance writers. You can get a free account upgrade for a full year if you join the LinkedIn for Journalists group and attend one of their webinars. These webinars take place at least once a month, typically last between 30 and 45 minutes, and include tips about how to find journalistic sources through LinkedIn. The real gold happens at the end of the session, when the organizers tell you who to email to get the free upgrade.
Got all that? Good. Now, let’s look at how to use Premium account features to your advantage.
Finding and Contacting People
Once you have the account upgrade, it’s time to start contacting the people who may be interested in your writing services.
I follow the “warm email prospecting” strategy recommended by freelance writers like Ed Gandia and Steve Slaunwhite. This typically involves doing a little research to see if people in your industry have recently done something notable or newsworthy. If they have, you can use that “trigger event” as the basis for a short but compelling email that ties that recent trigger to why you’d be great for future projects. (If you can’t find any recent news for a prospect, don’t worry—I explain alternatives below.)
This strategy is pretty standard fare for freelancers. However, LinkedIn makes our lives easier—as long as you have a Premium account—by automating part of the process. Here’s how:
1. Set up customized searches
First, I set up a search for people who are in my target market: marketing, communications, and creative managers at small and mid-sized companies in Canada and the U.S. Then, I save the search so I can get weekly email updates about new people who meet the same criteria.
2. Save the search results as contacts and tag them:
This is a critical step. When you find someone you want to work with, go to that person’s profile and look for the star below the name.
Clicking on the star will save this person to your contact list, even if you’re not connected on LinkedIn. After you click on the star, new tabs titled “Note,” “Reminder,” “How you met,” and “Tag” will appear. Go to the “Tag” tab and select the categories most relevant for this person.
You can create new tags to organize people — the “People to warm email” classification is one I use specifically for prospects.
When you’re still getting comfortable on LinkedIn, I recommend tagging as many prospects as possible so you build up a good list to work through systematically.
3. Find a “trigger event” to warrant contacting the people you’ve tagged
Instead of just sending a message out of the blue asking for work, you’ll have better luck reaching out to people by bringing up a relevant event or topic. This trigger could include anything from seeing a new job posting to noticing someone you’ve tagged just spoke at a conference. If you can’t find anything in particular to email about, then skip to the next step.
4. Add companies to Google Alerts
Scan through the employers of any people you tag and make a Google Alert for each company. That way, you can track what these companies are doing, using this news as the basis for future points of contact.
5. Send InMails to your saved contacts
Now is when you make your big move. In addition to tags, InMail is why Premium accounts are so crucial for freelancers on LinkedIn.
InMail can trump traditional email because you don’t need to know the email address of the person you want to contact, which means you can save a lot of time you would have spent searching online.
Also, the thing I like most about InMail is how LinkedIn rewards you if you communicate in a thoughtful and engaged way. If the person you contact responds to your InMail, that message will get credited back to your account. However, if your InMail doesn’t elicit a response at all in 90 days or selects a “not interested” response, that message will not get credited back.
That means if your Premium account starts out with 15 InMails per month and you send out five and get three responses, you will still have 13 InMails to use. This setup is a big change from LinkedIn’s policy last year when they refunded all InMails that didn’t get a response after seven days.
Some industry professionals haven’t liked this update so far, but LinkedSelling offers a solid argument for why these adjustments are beneficial in the long run:
For one, the changes reward you for sending quality messages that promote action and engagement. It might force your to re-evaluate your current InMail strategy.
If you current tactics aren’t working and your response rate is low, then you will need to make changes to up your game…which will only benefit you in the long run, anyways.
Unused or refunded InMails are also allowed to accrue in your account for three months.
Finally, since I’m Canadian, sending InMails is a great way to contact people I don’t know while staying in compliance with Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL). If you’re a freelancer in Canada or have clients in Canada, LinkedSelling has a good explanation about why InMail is still considered CASL-compliant.
6. Review your “saved contacts” list
You can always see the full list of all the people you tag by clicking on the “Connections” link in your account and filtering by tag:
When you refer to this list, LinkedIn will tell you how long ago you last contacted each person—next to the name you’ll see a little indicator that reveals how long it’s been since your most recent message. People you haven’t contacted yet will have no time indicator beside their names. This quick-glance feature is much simpler than trying to manually record when you last contacted someone in a spreadsheet.
Caveats and Unexpected Benefits
Now that you know the process for reaching out to prospects, here are a few extra details to keep in mind.
The most important thing to remember is this strategy works best over a long period of time. And expect some people to just ignore your InMail entirely. The person you contact today may not get back to you until the following week, arrange a phone call the week after that, and then request you follow up a month later. In other words, it will probably take weeks or months for that first touch to result in paying work.
Despite this potential delay, it’s fairly common for me to get quick replies from connections. In fact, on the day I wrote this article, I scheduled a phone call with a digital strategy company after sending an InMail to their recruiter about a job posting. I send out three InMails per day and prefer to do so in the morning before starting other work. That way, even if the rest of my day is a wash, I can say I made an effort to keep my pipeline full.
There are also some additional benefits to sending InMails to prospects rather than emails. For example, after you send an InMail to a prospect, a pop-up appears on the “success” page recommending other people for you to contact, which is a great way to find and tag new people who weren’t initially on your radar. And whenever InMails get credited back to your account, you’ll receive a notification from LinkedIn, and this email will recommend even more people to contact. Theoretically, even if you send out InMails every day, you may never run out.
Lastly, prospecting on LinkedIn can be good for more than just paying gigs. A few months ago, I noticed the director of business development for an event management company reviewed my profile. When I sent him an InMail asking if I could help him promote an upcoming event, he responded by giving me a free ticket to the event instead—which ordinarily would have cost at least $300. This was a great networking opportunity I wouldn’t have had otherwise.
To many freelancers, LinkedIn is intimidating because the general tone is a lot less personable compared to other social networks. However, for those who know where and how to look, LinkedIn can be a gold mine of freelance possibilities.