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How to make the most of LinkedInBy: Alistair Powell

LinkedIn is one of the most powerful business networking tools ever createdLinkedIn is one of the most powerful business tools ever created and yet so many people fail to understand how they can benefit from it.

Consider the data. In the UK there are over 14 million users of LinkedIn, 2 million of whom are at director level or above. One person joins LinkedIn every second. Typically, the average person on LinkedIn has 250 first level connections, which gives them access to 62,500 second level connections (250 x 250 = 62,500). The advanced LinkedIn person often has 500 connections or more, giving access to up to 125,000 people who they could be referred to.

Referrals and introductions are one of the best ways of generating new business and LinkedIn has taken this to a whole new level, providing us with a fantastic referral and networking capability.

However, as with all other areas of business, there is a right way, and a wrong way of doing it. Planning, having a strategy and using LinkedIn regularly are all essential if you are going to be successful. The good news though is that it needn't be time consuming and can be carried out at a time to suit you.

Compare using LinkedIn to going networking. You may spend half an hour driving to an event, then up to two hours at the event, plus another half an hour driving back. Three hours work, for maybe one or two good contacts if you are lucky? In three hours with LinkedIn, you will generate a return of maybe ten times this or more. 

How to Prepare and Present Yourself

It is essential to get your profile right and in line with your strategy. Here are some tips:

  • Use a good quality, business-like head shot. 
  • Use a branded headline, which informs such as: “Generating more enquiries through your website”, rather than one that just says you are “Operations Director, XYZ Web Company”. This description appears in Google searches.
  • Choose your location relevant to your customer base, which may be different to your home town.
  • Make use of the weblinks facility, so that they go straight to the relevant page on your website – for example you could use “Our Services” to link to the services page on your website, rather than the home page.
  • Use the media links – LinkedIn now offers the capability to link to your videos on YouTube, your blog, and other add-ons. It's often a good idea to include useful downloads, such as white papers you may have written.
  • You can move sections around – so put the most important stuff first, and leave education and other less compelling sections to later. People will rarely scroll through your whole profile. Remember, the purpose of your profile is to get someone interested enough to want to contact you.

Building Your Network
Treat your first level LinkedIn connections as people you know and valueThink of your first level connections as your extended network and treat them accordingly, as people you know and value. They are your path to future contacts. If you respect and like your first level contacts, there is a good chance you will also get on well with their contacts – your second level network.

LinkedIn has a habit of suggesting contacts who you might like to connect with. Choose carefully. If you do decide to LinkIn, replace the standard message with a personalised one, which explains why you would like to make contact.

What happens if someone asks me to LinkIn and I do not know them very well? Do I accept? I suggest you message them back and ask why they think it would be useful. This soon filters out the contact collectors who only want to make their networks look impressive.

Tip: Go through your contacts every couple of months and clean out any who you think are no longer valid.
Tip: LinkedIn gives you information on who has looked at your profile - keep an eye on this. If you think someone could be of interest to you or your business, find a way to make contact.

Engaging With Your Network
Expect to give before you receive. As with any network, building respect is key if you want people want to work with you.
Choose carefully which groups you join and add valid comments to conversations. Select groups that are relevant to both your geographic region and your product.

Building a list of potential contacts
One of the most powerful features of LinkedIn is the ability to connect with potential customers. Here is one way you can achieve this.

Use LinkedIn's Advanced Search Capability. On the top of the LinkedIn page, there is a search bar, and next to this a label “Advanced”. Using the Advanced section and “People” select your search criteria. I typically use location – 25 miles from my office. You can use “Title”, to select position, and “Keywords” to select industry type. If for example I was looking for Sales Directors within a 25 mile radius of my office, I would deselect first level connections as I already know these people. This search will typically yield over 300 people.

Congratulations – this is the start of your new lead list. You can then check each person to see who is a potential business you could work with. Then, as they are a second level connection, see who knows them in your first level contacts. At this point, LinkedIn has an automated way to ask to be connected. In my experience, it is more effective to contact your first level contact either by telephone or by email outside LinkedIn, to say why you would like to be introduced.

Personally, I draw up a short list of around 12 connections and make a point of getting a referral - often the 50% rule applies. So six of my first level contacts agree to help me, three second level contacts agree to talk further and connect with me, and finally one or two end up as clients.

About the author

Alistair Powell, helping people get more business by using LinkedInAlistair Powell has 22 years experience in professional training and coaching. He is currently Director of Sandler Training, Wessex.

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