When many of us think of networking, we envision awkward meet-and-greet functions withlinkedin for freelancers stacks of business cards exchanging hands among complete strangers. But thanks to LinkedIn, the massive platform for professionals that boasts 562 million users worldwide, networking has gone digital.

If you’re like many busy freelancers, a LinkedIn profile is something you set up a while ago and haven’t spent much time worrying about since. But unlike many investments you’ll make throughout your career, a LinkedIn profile — with little effort or cost — is a tool you can put to work for you 24/7.

At Freelance Austin’s Dec. 12 program, HERdacity President and CEO Mary Flanagan offered up expert tips on optimizing your LinkedIn profile, as well as leveraging the platform for effective networking and job searching. Flanagan touts the platform as an especially valuable medium for women, who make up 44 percent of LinkedIn’s users.

“HERdacity feels LinkedIn serves a mission of economic empowerment for women because it provides access to influential networks, allows women to establish relationships with business leaders, enables a passive job hunt, and serves as a marketing tool. Plus, LinkedIn is gender agnostic, meaning it emphasizes your talents above all else,” she says.

How to Get the Most Out of LinkedIn

Use LinkedIn to craft a story.

Try to embed your passion and value in the 2,000 characters allowed in the summary, which should be written in first person for the sake of authenticity. “We use these stories to reach out and persuade people to hire us,” Flanagan says, adding that potential clients and hiring managers actually read your summary. “It should be well written, compelling, and communicate your value proposition.” For a glowing summary example, visit Melinda Gates’ profile.

linkedin example

Pay attention to your headline.

The headline on your LinkedIn profile is your opportunity to shine. It’s a key field for every profile search. Flanagan says your headline shouldn’t be your job title. “You want to sell with your headline, which should quickly convey what you do and what your impact is for your clients,” she says. If you’re looking for a good headline example, check out Oprah Winfrey’s LinkedIn profile.

linkedin example

Showcase your skills.

LinkedIn allows you to list 50 skills, but only three show on your home page. (To view all of them, click on the dropdown icon.) You can arrange them in order of priority, so be sure your most marketable skills are at the top of the list.

Ask for endorsements.

Satisfied clients, former managers, previous direct reports, and organizations you volunteer with — hit them all up for a recommendation. Don’t be shy. “It’s important to request recommendations, especially if you’re in freelancing. These are satisfied clients who have used your services and are willing to share their experience with the world,” Flanagan says.

Connect like crazy.

“It’s important to have as many quality connections as you can. The more connections you have, the more serious a player you are,” she stresses. The key is quality over quantity on LinkedIn. Connect with potential customers, others in your industry who can refer you for jobs, and people you meet at business functions or conferences. And Flanagan has a tip for connection requests: “Always personalize your invitation to connect. It’s more professional.” And don’t forget to follow company pages that fall within the industries you’re targeting for work.

Make time for it.

Flanagan says it’s a good practice to reserve 10 to 20 minutes per week to update your profile, post and share content, and send connection invitations. After all, “your LinkedIn profile is always out there working for you.”

Crystal Zuzek