A 27-year-old finance broker working for a Sydney-based firm made headlines recently after revealing he’d written $11.2 million worth of loans in the space of five months thanks to LinkedIn. That kind of return on investment is unusual but it’s not unachievable. Most people don’t move beyond seeing LinkedIn as a corporate version of Facebook but for those willing to put some thought and effort into it, the results can be phenomenal.
What is LinkedIn for?
LinkedIn used to be referred to as “Facebook for those that are about to be fired”. It remains an effective tool for finding a job but it’s also evolved into a platform for finding new business – allowing all types of business owners to connect with potential clients. Here’s how you can go about doing that.
Step one: push your personal brand
People who need, for example, a plumber can now go to LinkedIn and type ‘plumber’ into the search bar. Being on LinkedIn in the first place is essential if you want to appear in the search results. And if you’re a plumber keen to receive a phone call or email from a potential customer, you’ll need to make sure you stand out from the crowd. To put things in perspective, there are six million Australians on LinkedIn and a recent search showed that 7,133 of these people were in fact plumbers.
Given you’ll come across competition, you need to provide a compelling reason why your offer stands out from the competitors. Throughout your profile, and especially in the summary, highlight your unique selling point, whether that’s providing the cheapest price, the best customer service or the finest craftsmanship. You can further optimise your profile peppering it with the keywords such as ‘same-day plumber’ or ‘workmanship guaranteed’, that your potential customers might be searching for.
Step two: get connected
LinkedIn is to some extent a popularity contest. The broker who wrote all those loans has 2,500 connections and it’s impossible to imagine he would have enjoyed the success he did with only 25 or even 250. The more connections you have, the more people know about you and what you’re selling.
Aim to join the 500-plus connections club ASAP. Put your LinkedIn profile address at the bottom of your email and on your business cards. Don’t be shy about saying, “How about I send you a LinkedIn connection request” to those you meet in the non-digital world. And don’t hesitate to contact strangers, despite the official LinkedIn warnings about doing so. The worst that can happen is that your connection request will be ignored or denied.
You’re able to contact your first-degree connections for free (all the more reason to make as many as possible). If you take out a paid membership – the ‘Business Plus’ package costs $48.95 a month (October 2015) – and you’ll be able send emails (called ‘Inmails’) to people you aren’t yet connected with.
Always remember that many business opportunities are facilitated by what academics call ‘weak ties’, that is friends of friends – or connections of connections – rather than people we already have strong relationship with.
Linkedin advises that when sending Inmails, you get a far better response rate if you mention a connection that you have in common or something personal that you read within their profile. Consider picking out business that they may have worked for or hobbies they’ve mentioned.
Step three: become a thought leader
Identify the groups your target market is likely to be members of and join them. Firstly, this provides you with the opportunity to establish yourself as an expert in your field by taking part in discussions and starting your own. That means you’ll be top of mind when a member of the group – or someone they know – needs what you’re selling. Second, it provides an insight into what’s going on in your industry, and with the businesses that comprise it. That information can be invaluable when prospecting.
Regular brief contributions work better than occasional, long ones. Aim to share a post to your page or to a discussion group at least every other day. If you have very little time, then simply liking other people’s contributions or endorsing your connections keeps your profile active.
It’s also important to note that no one likes reading long essays online. So if you have time to publish your own longer posts where, for example, you share your thoughts about a topical industry issue, aim for around 200-500 words.
LinkedIn is also a social network, so building social capital is important. Unless there’s a compelling reason not to, accept connection requests, reciprocate when a connection endorses you, and assist others with advice and introductions rather than simply engaging in unrelenting self-promotion.
Finally, play the long game. As with real-world networking, you’re unlikely to see immediate results but if you keep plugging away, previously unimaginable business opportunities can materialise