LinkedIn for the small business owner: the world’s your oyster
I’ve run some interesting one-on-one coaching sessions for independent consultants and small business owners recently, with a particular focus on Linkedin. Here are some of my top tips for small business owners who have decided to leverage this social network to increase their notoriety and position themselves as specialists in their field.
1. Be strategic when building your profile
Think SEO (search engine optimisation) when describing yourself. Rather than « President, Michelle Sullivan Communications », for example, I’ve put myself in the shoes of LinkedIn users who will use the platform’s search tool to find a PR consultant with a social media background. For this reason, my profile reads « PR consultant, social media specialist, speaker, trainer. » This is how I’ve positioned myself in the market and these keywords speak to the kind of mandates I’m hoping to attract. This will evolve as my business priorities change and, luckily, LinkedIn provides the level of flexibility needed to ensure my profile is always up to date.
2. Don’t limit yourself: LinkedIn is much more than a place to post your resumé
I’d wager a good 80% of LinkedIn members miss the boat on the platform’s social networking potential. They limit themselves to building their profile, as if it were an online resumé. They fail to explore LinkedIn’s ability to connect them with people they already know, not to mention people they’d like to get to know: potential clients, mentors and professionals who could help open doors. Take the time to explore the network to see how it can help you make the kinds of connections that will grow your business. Become part of the community, so it can start to work for you.
3. Become an active member of a LinkedIn group
One of the best ways to increase your notoriety and broaden your reputation through LinkedIn is by actively contributing to group discussions. As always, resist the tempation to join too many groups at first in order to avoid feeling overwhelmed. Your goal is quality, not quantity.
I recommend joining 3 types of groups at first:
- a group of your immediate peers
- a broader group of peers
- a group consisting of your target market
By joining the group of first-degree peers, that is to say of professionals who practice in the same field, you enter into an exchange of ideas that will be beneficial to your professional development while increasing your notoriety within that group. As you contribute intelligently to discussions and begin to be perceived as a valuable resource, you’ll attract the attention of peers who, while they may more often than not be competitors, could also potentially be collaborators or refer you to clients when their workload doesn’t permit them to take on new mandates. Most importantly, you’ll engage in interesting conversations that will feed your professional soul.
Joining a broader group of peers, who practice in the same general field but who don’t offer exactly the same services as you puts you in an even better position to develop ties with people who could refer potential clients to you. As you make valuable contributions to group discussions and become known within this circle for your expertise and the niche service you provide, you increase the possibility that group members will allow you to tap into their network. They’ll be able to point potential clients in your direction when a mandate doesn’t interest them or doesn’t quite fit their specific service offering.
Finally, joining a group that includes members of your target market, and building a reputation for yourself as the go-to person in your niche area of expertise is a great way to drum up new business. You’ll be able to stand out from the crowd and grow your reputation as a specialist in your field, able to provide a valuable service to group members. A warning however: tread carefully, as you certainly don’t want to build a reputation as a spammer. Contribute only relevant content that will be valuable to the group. Shameless self-promotion is not the way to win respect or clients.
4. Write recommendations for others … and don’t be shy about soliciting some for yourself
Social networks like LinkedIn work best when the principle of giving back is applied. Take the time to go further than the simple one-click endorsements LinkedIn promotes and leverage their recommendation tool to recognize the quality work of professionals you’re happy to refer to others. These short letters of recommendation will not only be appreciated by your contacts, they will increase the chances that they may return the favour. But your role shouldn’t be a passive one. Reach out to past clients and colleagues and ask them to take 5 minutes to recommend your services through LinkedIn. If you’re a speaker or trainer, grab the list of participants before you leave the venue and reach out to them on LinkedIn, following up with a new connection to ask for feedback on the workshop they attended. The platform does a nice job of making all of this easy, so take advantage of the opportunity to solidify connections and make them work for you.
5. Leverage your network
You have your eye on a potential customer? Someone who doesn’t yet know how valuable you could be to their business or organisation? Use LinkedIn to see if and how you’re connected. LinkedIn will reveal the identify of people who can serve as intermediaries. Building connections through LinkedIn is very easy for you and every intermediary able to introduce you to your future clients, so don’t be shy.
Understanding the power of LinkedIn’s ability to connect you with the people who matter is an important step towards building your credibility online. Do this, and the world’s your oyster.
How have you been using LinkedIn to grow your business?