I set a goal for this year to experiment with some different marketing methods and see how they work. I can’t promise that this will be a series, but I do have a pilot project of at least one other method–Google Display ads–in the works. So, first up is LinkedIn Premium…here we go!
Since forever, I’ve been wondering whether LinkedIn Premium is a worthwhile investment. I have a number of former students who’ve used it successfully, so I wanted to do my own experiment and test it for myself. I signed up on August 25 and decided to send around 100 contact requests and as many InMails as the system would allow me to send, and see what happened.
Not much. There you go! That’s my two-word summary of the month, but of course there are a number of caveats that I’ll go into in this post. In sum, I sent 10 InMails, of which two responded with the name of a different contact person at their organization, two responded with “Thanks!” and six didn’t respond at all, and I sent 75 connection requests with a personal note attached, of which 40 accepted the request but didn’t respond to the note, four accepted the request and did respond to the note, and 31 didn’t respond at all. I found this to be a pretty lackluster result as compared to warm e-mails, but I think it could be a good building block for a broader LinkedIn strategy.
What is LinkedIn Premium?
If you’re on LinkedIn, you’ve likely seen the ads for LinkedIn Premium, offering you a free month. On the positive side, I will say that the free trial is actually free and is easy to cancel. You do have to enter your credit card information, but it’s quick and obvious how to cancel. Of course you have to go through multiple layers of, “Before you go, LinkedIn Premium offers…” pop-up windows, but cancelling is really not that bad.
LinkedIn markets Premium in many different ways: by prompting you when you’re on the site, by reminding you that you could unlock all of your profile views if you had Premium, etc.
At present (September 2020) Premium costs between $29.99 and $99.95 a month, depending on what level you pick. For a freelancer’s purposes, I think the main advantage of Premium is the number of InMail credits (InMails are LinkedIn private messages that you can send to people you’re not connected to), so I should have chosen the highest level of Premium with the most InMail credits. Why not…it’s free! But instead, I signed up for “Premium Career,” which offers the fewest InMail credits (three, as compared to 30 for the Recruiter Lite tier).
Another appealing feature is LinkedIn Learning. A while back, LinkedIn bought Lynda.com and added all of their courses as a benefit of LinkedIn Premium. I didn’t take any of these courses, but this could be worth the basic membership alone, if the courses (there’s a massive library) interest you.
My preconceptions about LinkedIn
I’ll admit that I’ve never really “gotten” LinkedIn as a tool for freelancers. In certain ways, I get it:
- If you do a hard-to-find language or specialization
- If you don’t have your own website
- If you’re open to/looking for full-time or long-term contract work
- As a way to keep in touch with people you meet at conferences, etc. without having to keep track of their e-mail addresses
- As a “touch point” with current and potential clients
But in general, I’ve always felt that LinkedIn is more suited to people who have, want, or are looking for in-house jobs than it is to freelancers looking for new clients. Even the LinkedIn profile structure is relatively un-suited to freelancers; when you write someone a LinkedIn recommendation, all of the suggested “ways in which you know this person” are geared toward in-house roles, and so on.
I think everyone should be on LinkedIn; like not having a website, I think that not being on LinkedIn makes you look a bit invisible/unprofessional as a freelancer. But I wanted to dig in and see if Premium is useful as an outbound marketing tool.
Mostly, I wanted to see how LinkedIn Premium compares to my tried-and-true outbound marketing technique, which is e-mail. I work almost exclusively with direct clients, and I find them or they find me in a variety of ways:
- Through referrals from other translators or from existing clients
- By me reaching out to them by e-mail
- By me sending them a paper letter or postcard
- By them finding my website or an online directory profile
There will always be a soft spot in my heart for Ed Gandia’s warm e-mail prospecting methods (there’s a testimonial from me in his book but it’s not an affiliate deal). Years ago, I took Ed’s warm e-mail prospecting class, mostly to get better at teaching other translators how to do e-mail marketing. But then, I thought that I might as well try the technique for myself. Admittedly, luck and striking at the right time have a lot to do with it, but on the third warm e-mail I wrote, I landed upon a US-based publisher looking for a translator for a French non-fiction book that was basically my dream project. That went well, and they hired me to translate another book. That one warm e-mail yielded two book contracts and almost $20,000 of work. It’s definitely possible that I’m biased toward e-mailing for that reason. However, LinkedIn says that, “InMails have a 10-25% hit rate when it comes to soliciting a response from prospects, 300% higher than emails with the exact same content.”
Essentially, I wanted to see how LinkedIn InMails or connection requests (with a note attached) compare to locating those same people on LinkedIn, but then using a tool like Hunter.io to contact them via e-mail.
My admittedly haphazard approach
I should start by saying that I took a very non-strategic approach to this experiment. I contacted people in a variety of sectors
- People who work with Africa or Haiti programs at US-based NGOs
- People who belong to some of the same international development groups on LinkedIn that I belong to
- People who work at US-based credentials evaluation services (I do a lot of official document translations for people from French-speaking countries who are trying to get a US professional credential through a credentials evaluation service)
- Heads of in-house translation departments at US and European companies
- Heads of translation services at translation companies that work in the specializations I work in
I guess I’d call this “deliberately haphazard,” in that I wanted to see whether people in different sectors/industries are more or less likely to respond. The answer to that is yes: the NGO people were much more likely to respond with a note, and the translation company people were much more likely to accept the connection request. I’m still musing about the reasons behind those, but there you go!
What I did
Over the course of my free month, I devoted about half an hour a day to researching and contacting people. When I had InMail credits, I contacted them by InMail, because it allows you to write a lot more. You can send a note with any connection request, but you’re limited to 300 characters.
The InMail system is a little confusing in that you start out with a certain number of InMail credits, but you can recoup credits when people accept your InMail. So in my case, I was able to send 10 InMails even though I only started out with three credits.
My InMail text was the same as what I send over e-mail, and my connection request text was just an abbreviated version. Along the lines of, “Hello X, I’m a French to English translator specializing in the international development sector. I see we’re both members of several international development groups on LinkedIn, and I also noticed that (insert NGO name) does quite a bit of work in French-speaking countries in West Africa. I’d love to connect; would you be the correct person to speak with about offering my freelance translation services to (NGO name)?”
Several people who responded were very helpful and gave me the name of the correct contact person at their firm. No one was at all unfriendly. And this did give me some good ideas of how to expand my LinkedIn network in a more targeted way, rather than just accepting connection requests from other people, which is what I mostly do now.
How the results compare to warm e-mailing
Whenever I’ve done a warm e-mail campaign on this scale, I’ve always landed at least one new client right away. It seems like the, “As luck would have it, we have a French to English project in the pipeline that we could use some help with” response always comes in at some point, if I send out 70-100 warm e-mails.
In this campaign, that response never came, but I have a hunch that all of this activity made my profile more visible to people on LinkedIn, which resulted in two connection requests (sent by them to me) from people who work for translation agencies in Europe that look very good. I’m in the process of applying to them.
Takeaways and the broader strategy
As I mentioned above, I was a bit underwhelmed by this experiment as compared to the results I usually get from a similar number of warm e-mails. However, there are a few important caveats:
- Several people did respond with helpful, encouraging information. It was far from a total bust.
- I may need to change my mindset. For freelancers, LinkedIn may be more of a relationship-building/maintenance tool than a client acquisition tool.
- I’ve realized that I need to be way more proactive about making LinkedIn connections with people I don’t know. I mostly restrict my connection requests to people I’ve met at conferences and whatnot, and I need to branch out.
- I’d actually like to work for more agencies; LinkedIn strikes me as maybe a way around the industrial-scale “resource procurement” process that a lot of agencies use. One of the agency people I met on LinkedIn even told me, “just e-mail our translation services director your resume,” which is a lot better than going through their application process just to find out if we’re potentially a good fit for each other.
- I don’t subcontract work to other translators or sell translations as an agency. Perhaps Premium is more helpful for those kinds of things.
- Most importantly, I think that LinkedIn doesn’t really lend itself to a “hit and run” strategy which is basically what I was doing. For example, I probably should have focused on connection requests first, then perhaps written a LinkedIn article that would be of interest to those new connections and maybe sent them the link once we were already connected. In reality, I could still do that!
Bottom line, the response rate I got to InMails was about the same as to warm e-mails, and the roughly 50% response/lack of response to connection requests really surprised me. In terms of cost, I’d say that Premium falls into the category of “expensive or not expensive,” depending on how you look at it. The least expensive Premium membership costs about $360 a year. If you compare that to sending e-mails (free/already paying for it), that’s a decent chunk of money. But if you landed even one moderate-sized translation job from it, Premium would be well worth the money.
If I want to do more with LinkedIn on the client side–because I do post lots of stuff for other translators there–I think I need to sink a good deal more time and effort into it, and do things like write LinkedIn articles, send interesting pieces of content to my connections, etc. I can’t say I was dazzled by the results of this experiment, but I was also using it for a purpose (active prospecting rather than relationship-building) that may not have been realistic.
Readers, over to you: anyone love or hate LinkedIn Premium? Other suggestions on how to use it?