Understand that LinkedIn is the best free advertising you can get. It's really important for people to find you easily online. If you do a Google search of your name, your LinkedIn profile will appear near the top of the search results—often, above even your own firm's website. Plus, LinkedIn is No. 1 when it comes to business-related social media, especially for CPAs.
Add a photo. People are more apt to connect with somebody if they can put a face with a name. A photo gives you a little more context and also shows that your profile is a legitimate account. Make sure the picture is clear and shows only you in a professional setting with professional attire, not a pouty-lipped selfie or a picture that shows you wearing your favorite team's jersey.
Ask potential references to write you a recommendation for the site. Remember to send a gracious thank-you note afterward. You can also reciprocate by writing a recommendation for the other party.
Avoid replicating your résumé. A LinkedIn profile is a good place to offer information that supplements your résumé. You can upload a project you led or a video of a speech you gave, or you can describe your volunteer work, especially if it complements your professional skills.
Set up a custom URL on your profile page. When connecting with people at networking events, it's easier to give out a URL related to your name versus a list of random numbers. Here's how to do it: Click on the gear icon next to the URL listed under your profile picture. On the next page, there is a section titled "your public profile URL." Click the pencil next to the link to customize it.
Keep your cash. The upgraded version, which allows users expanded search capabilities and the ability to email more connections, may be useful to recruiters or salespeople. But for most CPAs, the free version is adequate.
Express your opinion. Interact with your LinkedIn networks or discussion groups. When participating in group discussions, don't overtly pitch your services. Focus on contributing to the conversations and establishing yourself as an expert. This will help build your credibility and trust, which is more likely to garner future business.
Remember your manners. Interact with people on LinkedIn as you would in real life. You wouldn't just walk up to someone at a party and start trying to sell him or her something. If you hope to be introduced to a prospective client, consider phoning a mutual connection to ask for an introduction. The personal measure may go further than an email from a stranger.
Editor's note: This checklist is adapted from the article "Your LinkedIn Profile Misses You," The Edge, May 19, 2015, available at aicpa.org.
—By Samiha Khanna (firstname.lastname@example.org), a freelance writer based in Durham, N.C.