Interest in LinkedIn from lawyers, accountants and other professionals has taken off recently. And it makes a lot of sense. Despite the hype over Twitter and Facebook, LinkedIn offers the greatest opportunity for professionals to make connections that lead to winning new business.
Unfortunately, many professionals fail to use LinkedIn to it’s full potential. Their profile is either non-existent, or not attractive to potential clients. And they don’t use it’s great ability to form new, valuable connections.
1. Make your profile client focused
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, etc. there’s an almost overwhelming temptation to make your profile look like your CV.
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 – 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 “backstory” 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.
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.
The LinkedIn toolbar for Outlook provides an easy way of inviting the your Outlook contacts and people you email regularly to connect with you.
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 – 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.
In my experience, this Trusted Partner strategy works best for most professionals. It mirrors the way we develop trusted relationships in the real world. And it reduces the risk that your trusted connections will be spammed from other connections you barely know.
Both strategies can work, but you must be consistent. If you’re following a Trusted Partner strategy, you must only connect to people you really know & trust and turn down connections from people you don’t (Open Networkers for example).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
The same is also true of the LinkedIn Q&A section. Post sensible answers or pose sensible questions and over time you’ll develop a reputation for knowing what you’re talking about.
But please, don’t spam the groups with constant offers for your services – or questions that are really thinly disguised promotional pieces. Many groups have become unusable because sellers fill up every discussion slot with adverts and real discussions are difficult to find.
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 an 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.
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 capital malaysia. Even small status changes can help give you something to start a conversation – the sort of smalltalk needed to keep dialogs and relationships going in between more meaty topics.
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.
It’s not the only way to use LinkedIn. For years I used it mainly to reconnect with old colleagues I’d lost touch with.