LinkedIn: Best Practices Guide for Serious Lead Seekers
The first thing people do when they join LinkedIn is to create a profile. And since LinkedIn has slots for your previous job roles, qualifications, and more, there’s an almost overwhelming temptation to make your profile look like your CV.
Unfortunately, you want business connections, not just hourly or salary work. For the seriously aggressive businessman or woman, small biz or large company, we present this definitive guide to properly using LinkedIn to leverage useful, fruitful relationships:
1. K.I.S.S (keep it simple, solo)
When you first meet potential clients you don’t rattle off a huge list of companies you’ve worked for and the responsibilities you’ve had as that would bore the pants off them. Most effective introductions focus on who you help, and what problems you help them solve or results you help them achieve. Then if asked more, you say a bit more about what you do and give a little “once upon a time…” as to why you are uniquely qualified to help.
LinkedIn is for making connections, and for the majority of professionals that means clients and business partners, not recruiters. You need to design your profile to have the impact you want on those connections. Treat it like your introduction at a networking meeting.
Despite the ease of just uploading your CV details, most potential clients and business partners won’t get value from seeing the details of your previous roles. Job titles, main achievements and company names can help give you credibility (and make it easier for others to find you), but don’t include all the details you would on a job application.
Don’t take LinkedIn category names too seriously; use whatever space is provided to give the impression you want to give. I use the ‘Specialties’ section, for example, to include a list of my services (in client focused terms, of course).
2. Get Yourself Connected
LinkedIn works on connections. The most powerful use of LinkedIn is to find new clients and business partners through the search function or directly via your contacts connections. The more direct connections you have, the more opportunities you have to connect. I still see people who’ve made all the effort to set up their LinkedIn profile but who have so few connections that they don’t get any benefit. Even if your pushing promotional items or companies, you need to find viable, noteworthy connections.
The LinkedIn toolbar for Outlook provides an easy way of inviting your Outlook contacts and people you email regularly to connect with you.
However, there’s a catch:
3. Choose your connection strategy carefully
There are two very different strategies to connecting on LinkedIn: Open Networking and Trusted Partner Networking.
In business networking generally, the value you get from your network is a product of the size of your network, and your ability to convert connections into productive business (work, a referral, etc.). You can grow the value of your network by getting more connections, or deepening the strength of each connection (getting to know people better, helping them out, etc.)
On LinkedIn, one strategy for getting value is to be an Open Networker or LION (LinkedIn Open Networker). Open Networkers focus on growing the size of their network by initiating and accepting connection requests from as many people as possible. Open Networkers typically have many thousands of connections. This means that when they search for useful relationships (potential clients or business partners), for example looking for contacts in specific companies, or geographies or with specific interests or job titles they are much more likely to find them (exponentially more likely because of the way LinkedIn connections work).
The downside of this strategy is that with thousands of connections you don’t know each one very well, if at all. You’re essentially using LinkedIn as a giant Rolodex or telephone directory rather than as a way of making deeper connections. That’s neither good nor bad it just means that if you find someone you want to connect with through one of these shallow connections, you’re unlikely to get a strong referral to them.
The other strategy is to have fewer but deeper connections - or, like a Trusted Partner strategy. Here you only connect to people you already know and trust. Most likely from face-to-face interaction, but possibly from online interaction too.
With this strategy you have less chance of finding someone via a search because you have less connections. But if you do find someone, it will be through someone who knows and trusts you and they will be able to give a strong referral to you and put you in touch with the person you’re interested in connecting with.
The downside to the Trusted Partner strategy is that it’s a bit like going to a face to face networking event and only speaking to the people you already know. You deepen your relationship with them but you don’t build any new relationships.
Personally, I take a middle way.
I don’t actively go out and connect with huge numbers of people. But if someone wants to connect with me, and their profile looks interesting then I’m very happy to connect with them, even if I don’t know them. If they do turn out to be a spammer (I’ve only had this happen once with over 1,000 connections) then I can always disconnect.
This way, my network expands significantly. I meet new people who may turn out to be helpful to me, and I may be helpful to them.
I always try to take the time when people connect with me to send them a message to start a conversation rather than just accept the connection but never speak to them. That way we find out more about each other and it may lead to interesting and valuable discussions.
4. Use Search to find potential clients and business partners
Many people get going on LinkedIn but fail to use it to help their business. One of the most effective ways to gain business value from LinkedIn is to find potential clients and business partners. One of the things I do in my consulting practice is to help clients get more referrals for their business. And one of the key things I teach them is to be very specific in who they ask to be referred to.
LinkedIn allows the ultimate in specificity. You can search for exactly who you want to be referred to by company, by geography, by name, by job title, etc. And you can search across your entire network at once. Or you can look at the contact list of an individual to see if there’s anyone you’d like to be connected to.
Once you’ve identified people you’d like to be introduced or referred to, rather than try to connect them directly, give your mutual connection a call and ask them if they can connect you. That’s much more polite than going directly, and it’s much more likely to be successful.
5. Give testimonials to get them
Testimonials are very helpful to have on your profile. They’re a clear indication of the quality of your work and the relationships you form.
Sorry, begging for a testimonial isn’t a great strategy.
If you want to get testimonials, use LinkedIn to give them to people you’ve worked with and who have done a great job for you. LinkedIn will show them the testimonial to approve, then ask them if they want to reciprocate. They probably will.
6. Have a helpful headline
When people find you in searches on LinkedIn, or when you contribute to Group discussions or in the LinkedIn Answers Q&A section; the initial thing they see is a little box with your name, photo, and your headline. What most people have in their headline is their job title. Owner at XYZ Company or Principal consultant at ABC Ltd. By default, unless you change it manually, LinkedIn takes the headline from your last job title.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t give people a clue as to whether you might be able to help them, or might be interesting to connect to.
You should treat your headline like your introduction when networking. Focus on what you can do to help people.
My headline, for example is Helping Professional Services Firms Attract More Clients and Win More New Business. It’s much more useful in telling people what I actually do than using an official job title like Managing Director. That will get more people to click through to my profile and maybe begin to interact with me.
You can edit your Headline via the Edit My Profile option.
7. Join LinkedIn Groups to connect and interact
LinkedIn groups are essentially discussion forums for specific interest groups. They allow you to find out the latest news, and to join in debates on topics of interest. You should be joining groups both of interest to you professionally, and the groups where your potential clients hang out.
I’m a fairly active poster on the Law Marketing group for example. I try to answer questions and be helpful. It’s all part of building my personal brand as someone who’s knowledgeable and experienced in the field of professional services marketing & business development.
Described as the 'Holy Grail' of weight loss by Dr. Oz, many weight loss groups on LinkedIn are raving about Garcinia Cambogia extract and it's inherent benefits. Join these groups to better understand products like this!
8. Use Status Updates to subtly remind your contacts of what you do
LinkedIn status updates are a nice way of helping to stay top of mind with contacts. If you were to call or email all your contacts any time you did something small but interesting, it would quickly become seen as pushy or spammy. But updating your status is a non-intrusive way of getting a gentle reminder out.
Depending on their settings, your contacts will get a regular email with a summary of the status updates of their contacts. And they will see the updates on their LinkedIn homepage. Mostly it will just be so and so updated their profile type messages. So if your status update has something interesting in it (Ian has just run a seminar on consultative selling skills) it will remind them of the sort of thing you do and may even trigger them into action.
Recently, for example, I put up a status update saying I’d run a training course on Marketing for Consultants for the Institute of Business Consulting. That prompted one of my old colleagues to get back in touch and we came to an arrangement about sharing training material.
Using the ping.fm service allows you to update the status of other social networks like Facebook and Twitter simultaneously.
9. Watch others’ status updates to initiate contact
Keep an eye on status updates from others; it can be a good opportunity to get back in touch especially if they’ve changed jobs or have set out on a new venture. Even small status changes can help give you something to start a conversation the sort of small talk needed to keep dialogues and relationships going in between more meaty topics.
10. Proactively link others together who you think may benefit
Don’t wait for others to initiate a request to be linked up to your other contacts. Review your contact list regularly looking for ways to add value to them. One good way is to offer to link them up with potential clients or partners for them. It’s not super easy to do this using LinkedIn functionality I find it’s easier just to email both and suggest they make the connection themselves.
The tips I’ve outlined are for professionals who want to use LinkedIn to help them grow their businesses and their careers through what is essentially the online equivalent of normal business networking.
The aforementioned tips are not the only ways to use LinkedIn. For years, I used it mainly to reconnect with old colleagues I’d lost touch with.
But it’s certainly a good way to use LinkedIn that can deliver real business results.
Dave, navigating the cantankerous quagmire one calls life with startling persistence, offers his experience and love for general news to all interested people of our galaxy. Writing about the flows of life at The Daily Flows, watching the Cubs piss away another season and randomly dialing telemarketing companies is among his favorite things. Twitter stalk all of his travails and even drop ...
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