What Facebook is to personal connections, LinkedIn is to business. It can be a crucial part of your approach for obtaining new clients. In this article, I’ll detail how the site works and how you can use it to get in the door of businesses, both in the U.S. and elsewhere.
As of January 2013, LinkedIn.com has more than 200 million members, 64 percent of which are located outside the U.S. That means there are still 72 million members in the U.S. As of the end of December 2012, professionals were adding their profiles to the site at a rate of two per second, according to LinkedIn. Companies participate too, with more than 2.7 million organizations having LinkedIn company pages.
That’s a lot of opportunity for you. The key to harnessing it is in making connections.
How To Make Connections
In the world of LinkedIn, users are cautioned to only make connections with people they know, have worked with, and trust. The process of making those connections is easy.
1. Once you have created a LinkedIn account, hover over the “Contacts” drop-down menu item and select “Add Connections”.
2. From the “Add Connections” page, select your email client of choice, add your email address, and click the “Continue” button.
At this stage, it’s up to the other person to acknowledge your invitation. Part of the reason LinkedIn cautions against inviting people with whom you have no professional relationship is because the other party has the option to acknowledge that they don’t know you, and too many of those responses could get your account closed.
Those who accept your invitation are considered first-degree connections. One of the beautiful things about LinkedIn is that once you’ve made that connection, you then have access to his or her connections. These people are considered second-degree connections. While you don’t want to send invitations to large groups of people you don’t know, you can ask for an introduction to those people through LinkedIn. That’s the protocolfor developing LinkedIn relationships with business people you don’t yet know.
If you’d like to get your foot in the door of a particular company, take advantage of LinkedIn’s company search functionality and follow those organizations in which you’re interested. Select “Search Companies” from the “Companies” drop-down menu.
Perhaps you will stumble upon some first-degree connections for the purpose of refiningyour LinkedIn relationship or even some second and third-degree connections for the purpose of making them first-degree connections.
How to Develop Those Connections
Speaking of cultivating your LinkedIn relationships, as your LinkedIn network grows, you will want to use the site to do just that — cultivate relationships. In some ways, it’s much like Facebook in that it behooves you to post regularly to the LinkedIn feed. Here’s how that interface appears, using my photo and account.
This is a primary way of communicating with your LinkedIn connections. However, other ways of developing these relationships include messaging your connections from time to time with business-related questions and following them on other social media, including Facebook and Twitter. As your business relationships on LinkedIn get warmer, invite them to lunch or for a cup of coffee.
Now that you have made some connections and developed them — a continuous process, by the way — consider joining some groups.
Quick Guide to Groups
The focus is on helping you find prospects. Once you have maximized your network through connections, your next chore should be to join groups relevant to your market and interests. Visit LinkedIn’s Group Directory page for a wide-ranging list of LinkedIn groups sorted by name or select “Groups You May Like” from the “Groups” drop-down menu.
Not only will you meet people within your industry for the purpose of would-bepartnerships in these groups, you are likely to meet prospects that are in need of your services. The strategy in joining groups, however, isn’t merely to join them. It’s to participate and develop yourself as a subject matter expert by participating in discussions and answering questions on a given topic within the discussions feed. As you develop camaraderie with people in your group, you should consider making them part of your connections, keeping in mind that making the connection is just the first step to developing a LinkedIn relationship.
A key approach, however, isn’t merely to join groups that interest you. Join groups that interest potential prospects. Likely your area of expertise and their needs will interlink. But this is a key maxim to remember.
As you get comfortable with LinkedIn and its groups, you may want to think aboutcreating a group for your specific niche. For example, perhaps you’re an expert in legal marketing. Join some groups related to that field, and then create one of your own. As it grows, so will your opportunities for making connections.
And that’s what LinkedIn is all about: making connections for the purpose of advancing yourself personally and professionally. For a service professional, those connections are prospects. Taking the time to develop warm connections is how LinkedIn can be used to turn prospects into sales.