Consider three scenarios:

• So you’re at a networking meeting, and you meet a potential client named Farooz. He’s got so much potential for you (professionally, of course) that you’re just dying to work with him. You’re the solution to a lot of problems Farooz is facing. And Farooz is equally smitten by you (professionally, of course). So next morning, he plugs your name into LinkedIn to find out if you really have the credibility you presented last night. Now ask yourself: Would Farooz be impressed with what he finds on your profile? 

• Or, let’s say that Farooz was talking with one of his colleagues, and mentions some of his business issues. His colleague says that you were able to help her out on some of her issues, and that he really should give you a call. Farooz plugs your name into LinkedIn to find out about you…

• Or, this time Farooz reads an article you’ve written, hears you give a speech, or hears you interviewed on his favorite business podcast. He wants to know more, and wants to be informed about you before he picks up the phone. So once again…

That’s why your LinkedIn profile matters. It’s not about “getting found” online. It’s about looking good to someone who’s found you. It’s all about the growing trend for people to do their research online before making any purchase, particularly a business purchase.

So let me ask you again — is your LinkedIn profile helping you move ahead, or holding you back? Here, in response to a question from one of this publication’s readers, are ten essential features for a LinkedIn profile that helps an independent professional show thought leadership and expertise.

1. First off, you need the basics
Like, first off, actually have a LinkedIn profile. Some people, particularly bBoomers and older, don’t think it’s necessary. “I get all my business by referral,” they harrumph. Well, maybe they do. But clients retire, quit, get fired, or in some way move out of your life. You need to keep filling the top of your funnel.

What are the basics? Well, an effective description, title, picture (and make it professionally-produced), current and at least two or three previous jobs, your post-secondary education and some referrals. It’s what LinkedIn calls a “complete” profile.

2. A benefit-oriented description
You need a description (the 150 characters or so under your name) that says how you help, not just your function. Your description is the first thing people look at after your name and picture, so it needs to show the viewer why they’ll benefit from reading further in your profile.

3. A summary that inspires and attracts, not just informs
Many people have a summary that’s informational in tone. It says what they do, and their qualifications for so doing. Sometimes, it’s copied directly from their resume, and is in that dead, dry resume tone. About as active (and attractive) as roadkill. Work on the idea that people do business with you if they like you. If they don’t, they probably won’t. So your summary has to include your “why” — the reasons you have for doing what you do, as in the problems you solve. Point #10 below talks more about this. Having an “explainer video” that shows what you do and why you do it, helps. Here’s mine, BTW.

4. Some Posts, to display your ideas
Remember that the people viewing your profile are trying to decide whether they want to work with you. So give them reason to answer “yes,” by demonstrating thought leadership through your Posts. Since its introduction (through a rolling rollout) in 2014, LinkedIn’s Posts function has evolved into a great way to provide informative content. Some people publish their blog this way. The great thing about Posts is that they are available to people who aren’t among your Connections, so that your wisdom gets spread to a wider audience.

5. Some work samples or published content
LinkedIn has increased its flexibility regarding the kinds of media you can add as work samples — PDFs of articles and papers you’ve published, white papers you’ve authored, slide shows, and videos (Here’s a video I produced, that takes these ideas further). It’s easy to upload evidence of your expertise and thought leadership — giving a potential client more ability to justify selecting you instead of someone else.

6. Connections that impress
Be strategic about your connections. This includes pursuing connections with potential clients and referral sources. Why does this matter? As you generate content such as Posts, update your profile, comment in your groups and otherwise show up on LinkedIn, the people you’re connected to will see your name in their news feed frequently. They’ll see you as someone who gives back, who contributes, who shares ideas and is in other ways a good person to work with. A second reason why you need plenty of Connections among potential clients is that you’ll see news about them too — such as one of your Connections gets a job at a company you’d love to have as a client — giving you a potential “in.”

7. Recommendations that provide reassurance
Potential clients are likely to remain that — potential, not current — unless you give them a reason to trust you. For people who haven’t worked with you extensively, the only way they can tell what you’re about is having recommendations from people whose opinion they trust. That’s what LinkedIn is able to do — users know that you can’t write your own recommendations on LinkedIn, and the name of the person recommending you is right there. So, it’s easy for them to verify.

8. Technical and professional qualifications: more reassurance
Some business professionals think that professional qualifications and academic degrees get them the work. And sure, for some work you need specific designations — in most jurisdictions, you’re not legally allowed to sign off on architectural drawings without being a qualified architect. But most clients will check on the “features” you offer, only if they’re convinced that they want to work with you. But be sure to indicate the qualifications you have, necessary to do the work. This includes academic qualifications (MSc, MBA, MSW and other such), professional qualifications (Professional Engineer, Registered Architect etc.), and experience (e.g., ten years’ experience in management).

9. Experience in solving my kind of issue
Don’t think of your “experience” section as a grocery list. It must be informative about the work you’ve done. And write it in a way that answers the question of your ideal client: “Do you have experience solving the issue I’m facing?” So, imagine your ideal client asking that question. Then, answer it in your “experience” section — and indeed throughout your entire profile, including the content you’ve added to your profile.

10. Will I enjoy working with you?
In a word: Video. It’s not like internet dating sites, a “swipe left, swipe right” shallowness based on your appearance. But potential clients need to know whether you come across well in person. Video does that. Not that it’s easy. I remember that in doing my first few (well, maybe the first ten) videos I was so intimidated by the camera that I could barely get a complete sentence out, without stumbling. My early videos, even after multiple takes, were a choppy mess of cuts. But I knew it was important, so I persisted. Now, I can do a three to five minute video with barely a stumble. You may be the same, and must get past that “difficult” stage.

There is much more to an effective LinkedIn presence. As LinkedIn grows, there will be more opportunities. So I expect that I’ll be revisiting this topic whenever there’s something new to say.

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