5. Use a LinkedIn Background Image

Background images are a relatively new addition to LinkedIn, but just like every new innovation they must be considered carefully…

I want to be completely honest here. I am not a designer.

With that said, I do know enough to say this: Your LinkedIn Profile needs a background image.

If you’d asked me whether I’d like to have the option of including a background image on my LinkedIn profile before the functionality was added, I would probably have answered reflexively.

No. That’s something else I’ll have to think about.

But LinkedIn don’t ask my opinion before they make changes to their product, and in this case that’s definitely a good thing. Including a background image gives you an extra opportunity to make your profile appear inviting, aesthetically pleasing, and professional.

In order to do that, you’ll need to find (or create) a background image which differentiates your profile from others, whilst also not distracting from the actual purpose of your profile.

Just like with CV writing, the formatting of your LinkedIn profile (including the background image) only exists to improve its impact. There is no value in grabbing the attention of a visitor if it is simply to distract them with a funny or irrelevant image. I’ve seen some very clever custom made background images, but I often find that I’m more interested in the image itself, rather than the profile beneath it.

When searching for or creating your LinkedIn background image, keep asking yourself this question: Will this image enhance the appearance and impact of my profile.

If not, keep going.

As I have already alluded, I am not a designer. There are a wide variety of sources for good information on choosing colours, layout, formatting, image size, and more. For obvious reasons, I am not one of them.

I highly recommend that you read through the free advice provided by Pamela Wilson on her blog. Pamela is an expert in brand design, and whilst her blog is not specific to LinkedIn there is still a lot to be learned from it on the subject of choosing colours and images to improve the impact of your writing.

If you’re a freelancer, or run your own business, I strongly recommend you enlist the help of a graphic designer to produce a high quality, high impact background image. You can use online marketplaces such as fiverr to find a skilled designer for a reasonable price (I mean really reasonable), and you’ll be amazed at how a quality background image, along with a professional photo and well-written headline, can really draw people into your profile.

6. You’re Building a Brand

When getting started with LinkedIn, most people don’t realise what they’re really doing: Building their personal brand. When viewed in this context, it becomes much easier to decide what you should (or shouldn’t) include in your profile.

One of the most pervasive mistakes I’ve found amongst friends, colleagues and clients who work in salaried positions is the assumption that being employed by someone else is inherently different to being self-employed.

It isn’t.

In fact, other than the way we’re paid, there is only one real difference between the two: Employed people sell their services to a single client. Self-employed people (usually) sell their services to multiple clients.

Either way, our clients’ willingness to continue paying us, and our ability to convince new clients to pay us, is dependent on how we’re perceived. There are usually a whole raft of people who are qualified to perform a task, and you need to prove to your client(s) you have more to offer than just your skills and experience. For this reason, I highly recommend you always consider yourself to be self-employed, and build your personal brand accordingly.

Feel free to name your brand if you like, for example: Services Inc.

A good way to start your personal brand is to consider which attributes would be desirable to the sorts of clients you want to work with.

Notice that I say attributes, not skills. If you’ve been working in your profession for any period of time you’ll no doubt already know what skills you need, and you are of course going to have to demonstrate those in order to effectively build your brand. But there are other attributes, many of which are general to most jobs, which you’ll benefit from showcasing.

For instance, any white-collar worker should appear professional, timely, smartly dressed, courteous, and so on. Making these attributes an integral part of your brand will help you to stand out from the competition.

And it should go without saying that your brand should not include any negative attributes.

As a younger man, before I realised I was more suited to self-employment, I was often irritated by my employers’ fixation on start times. As something of a night owl, mornings are not my favourite time of day… My work was consistently of a high standard, but I was often in the region of 5-10 minutes late for work. What I didn’t realise at the time was that I was building this tardiness into my personal brand, and as a result I was taken less seriously than my colleagues.

It took me an embarrassingly long time to realise I could dramatically improve my credibility simply by forcing myself out of bed a few minutes earlier. Oh, and perhaps by wearing a tie a bit more often.

Not good. Obviously we don’t want this to happen to you, so make sure that your habits – and in this case your LinkedIn profile and behaviours – don’t paint you in an unfavourable light.

Now, you probably don’t share my befuddlement at the insistence of employers that you start work at 09:00, but don’t stop reading just yet. Even if you’re the very soul of professionalism, there are some negative attributes which could be projected onto you through no fault of your own: stereotypes.

There is a long-held stereotype about accountants, for example, which I became aware of at a very young age, and which is extremely pervasive. They’re boring.

Now I can say with assurance, since I am closely related to several accountants, that this is not (always) true. But don’t forget, we’re talking about perceptions here, not facts. Just because you aren’t boring, doesn’t mean you won’t be branded as such.

Lawyers are inauthentic. Auditors are tedious and long-winded. Salesmen are sleazy. Managers know nothing about the real work their employees do. And my personal favourite: Writers are always late/unreliable.

Whatever these negative stereotypes are, use them to your advantage by directly disproving them. If you don’t want to be viewed as boring, don’t ramble on for thousands of words in your LinkedIn profile or posts. If you want to seem engaged as a manager, make it clear that you understand your industry/products. To demonstrate your reliability, be reliable, and then ask your clients/employers for short endorsement quotes, and include them right at the top of your professional summary.

Before we move on, I want to share with you a fantastic example of someone benefitting from negative stereotypes. Introducing Mike Diamond, ‘ The Smell Good Plumber’.

Later on we’re going to cover exactly how to create your brand by building a top-class profile and actively using LinkedIn to achieve your goals. For now, just put together a short list of positive attributes you want to convey, and negative attributes you want to refute.

Stick this list somewhere that you’ll see it every time you use LinkedIn. It takes times and commitments to build a good reputation, and one moment to permanently damage it, so be sensible and watch your credibility grow.

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