How to use LinkedIn to bring in business

Sonja Jefferson

 

LinkedIn has just hit the 1 million user mark here in the UK. With over 2000 business professionals signing up every day, it can no longer be discounted as a US phenomenon: LinkedIn is now a mainstream tool for business professionals here in the UK, and a highly useful one at that.

Most business people have heard of it, many have their profiles on it, but, as independent consultants or small professional businesses, how can we use LinkedIn to bring in work?

Often referred to as a ‘networking tool for grown ups’, LinkedIn is a social networking site developed solely for business interaction.

“LinkedIn takes your personal business network online and gives you access to people, jobs and opportunities like never before.”

Built around your résumé, the site lets you create and maintain a network of people you know and trust in business. You can invite anyone – whether a user or not – to become a ‘connection’. It’s a free service. As of May 2008, there are over 20 million registered users worldwide, making it the world’s largest business network.

Creating a LinkedIn profile is a good idea.

  • It’s a way of getting your profile online. Your profile looks professional and is very easy to update. Some commentators see the LinkedIn profile as a replacement for the traditional CV. It will ensure people find you on the web as Google loves it. For those who already have an online presence it can improve your ratings and increase the chances that you are found. My LinkedIn profile appears at the top of the list when you type in my name. Try it.
  • It gives more information than a traditional CV. It shows the extent of your network and recommendations from others, plus easy links to other online information that backs up your case.
  • It makes networking easy. As one independent consultant said: ‘it’s like they are making the networking aspect of freelancing too easy to fail.’ It’s a useful database of your contacts that is easy to grow. It builds a professional community and reminds you who you know.
  • It gives you permission to keep in contact. If someone accepts your invitation to join your network, they are giving you permission to keep in touch. Using LinkedIn to keep in contact is a more personal and less intrusive method than email. It is a form of permission marketing; you can remove connections too.

Getting started is easy. All you need to do is complete your profile, as fully as you can (remembering to include your web address or blog address if you have one). You can then start making connections to past colleagues, clients, friends and contacts. You can ask them to recommend or endorse you on the site. These recommendations are clearly visible on your profile and are a great way to lend credibility to your claims.

It’s time to get proactive. Here are 5 simple ways to use LinkedIn to grow your business:

  1. Develop your network: The process of connecting is a marketing opportunity in itself. The people you contact are likely to view your profile (so make sure it’s good!). You can use the ‘I want to add you to my LinkedIn network’ feature as an opportunity to briefly introduce what you do and ask for connections to people who might have an interest. Promote your LinkedIn URL on your website and emails.
  2. Ask for introductions: Ask to be introduced to other professionals, businesses or potential clients through people in your network. LinkedIn allows you to do some research. You can often see who your contacts are connected to (NB – this is not always the case. Users have the facility to protect their network so you cannot see it. At the moment, the majority of networks are open). You can find potential clients or partners and ask your contacts to make an introduction.
  3. Use the ‘what are you working on’ feature:  This is a valuable, non-intrusive way to tell people what you are up to and keep you in their minds. Jane Northcote promoted her new book in this way. Robert Middleton tells people when he’s speaking at an event. Other independents have used this feature to tell their network that they are available for work.
  4. Produce and market valuable content: if you create useful, educational content (such as white papers, articles or books), LinkedIn is a great place to promote it. Communicate this to your network and ask them to send it on to anyone that might be interested. LinkedIn is a great way to get this content out there.
  5. Use LinkedIn Answers: LinkedIn Answers allows you to give and receive business related advice. You can show your expertise on a subject by passing on knowledge and insight to the community. This helps to brand you as an expert in your field, helping you to generate new contacts and business opportunities.

I think LinkedIn is a fantastic tool for independent consultants and small professional businesses here in the UK. I’m working on websites for several small consultancies and I recommend that they promote their LinkedIn URL on their sites, and invite people to connect. LinkedIn is a great way to establish and formalise your network and promote your services.

If you’re not signed up already, have a look at www.linkedin.com. If you are, please join my network: www.linkedin.com/in/sonjajefferson.

I’d love to hear your views on LinkedIn. How do you use it and how does it benefit you?

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5 Comments

  1. One of the good things about LinkedIn is it is not trying to be something that it is not (and vice versa – if that makes).

    “LinkedIn takes your personal business network online and gives you access to people, jobs and opportunities like never before.”

    It does what it says on the tin.

    I was at BT at the time that it launched Executive Insight. This purported to be something similar, but in reality was a business development vehicle for BT. Another site that I have been following with interest is ecademy. I joined ecademy when I started my own business 5 years ago and at that time there was quite a bit of momentum and energy within my own business network (not least because we were all looking for work) so it was quite useful. However as time went on ecademy, fuelled by the founders, started to get serious delusions. The founder had his personal ambition of being the world’s most connected person, and the community became an extension of his ego. I would regularly get ‘personal’ emails from him inviting me to pay to meet him, or to upgrade my account. However, when I reported to him personally, the death of a very good friend of mine, Barrie Franklin, someone who worked with both Sonja and myself I believe (and incidently with the ecademy founder) suggesting that we should at least remove Barrie’s profile, to save any distress caused by people inadvertantly contacting his widow, I received nothing. I suggested some form of online memento or tribute to Barrie – nothing. To this day, some three years later, Barrie is still an ‘active member’ of ecademy – an unwitting contributor to the totally false number of members that e-cademy claims to have. And this is an online ‘family’. I would expect most members of my ‘family’ to at least stop sending me Christmas cards once I die. To paraphrase the immortal Ricky Tomlinson “Online Family? my a*se”.

    LinkedIn is simple to use. the user expereince is very intuitive and it is not as intrusive as other ‘sales motivated’ networking sites.

    It deserves to succeed in its own right, although it is likely to be competing for ‘share of voice’ with the likes of Facebook and bebo which are bound to develop ‘grown up’ versions before long.

    Being a bit of hardened social business networker there are a couple of extra tips I’d add to Sonja’s tips:

    1. Safeguard your intellectual property. Sonja is right that publishing material online is a good way of building credibility, but sadly, from my experience, there are many charlatans out there who will use your generous spirited contribution to position themselves as the expert. Once they have your words of wisdom, they don’t need you. (Or at least don’t believe that they do.) I remember my father commenting on an article I wrote saying “Hmm. Was this written to impress or inform?”. This is one medium where it should actually be to impress (or at least engage) just as much as it is to inform. Before you publish, think of what you are sacrificing in terms of potential revenue. Unless you are in academia, or educating a market, or in the public sector, then be careful about giving away the crown jewels.

    2. Choose your friends carefully.
    The second point relates more generally to social networking. Remember that much of this content is searchable. In the early days of ecademy I was appalled to find that some of missives – specifically in relation to the Barrie situation mentioned above, were accessible via Google. This presented content to the whole online world completely out of context and could have made a serious and personal matter seem petty-minded.

    Work-life balance in social networking is something that hasn’t yet been considered much. (There’s an article in that Sonja!). You need to think carefully about how you present yourself online. You may have one personal profile for Facebook and another professional one for LinkedIn. Just be sure that you are comfortable with the thought that people in either community cross-over. A closing example: I have access to staggeringly intimate details about people with whom I have a professional relationship through sites such as Facebook. Like Pandorra’s box, I can’t now ‘unknow’ that information and it fundamentally changes the dynamics of those relationships – whether I want it to or not.

    Think of your LinkedIn profile as an online extension of your office/home. You wouldn’t invite anyone in off the street in the real world, so don’t online!

    Reply
  2. I was first introduced to Linkedin by a colleague of mine in my early days at Sanderson, within the first few hours of creating my profile I had already connected with 5 people and this led onto a vast network of potential clients I could communicate & network with. My total network connection todate is 97,000 in 2 weeks. I have been in sales for 7 years and I have never found a site where I can network & make that many contacts in such a small amount of time. As with all large companies you can only get a certain amount of information with Linkedin I can get all the info & back ground info I need as well as finding the key people involved.
    Its facebook for professionals.

    Reply
  3. From a Business Development perspective, Linkedin provides access to a wealth of potential contacts and organisations. Key individuals within organisations seem to welcome discussions with other members on linkedin.

    Reply
  4. Our business is based around networking, from both a client and associate basis.
    Linked in makes networking quicker and easier than the traditonal methods. Immediately you have an abundance of contacts and information of relevance to the industry you are within. As many profiles are presented in CV format, you gain a huge amount of info in a very short space of time.
    We have secured numerous projects and opportunities, simply by being made aware of other contacts who would have relevance to our services.
    This fact alone makes it invaluable.

    Reply

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