12 April 2014

LinkedIn for small businesses – why bother?!

LinkedIn is a phenomenon – started from a bedroom it now boasts over 250 million users worldwide and 15 million in the UK. But is it just a big waste of time for small businesses, or can it be effective as a networking and business development tool and how can it be used efficiently without it being a time drain?

Make a choice and do the basics well

The first thing to say that if you’re not going to use LinkedIn regularly and maintain a high quality profile, then you’re
better off not using it at all. LinkedIn effectively creates an online CV for your clients or prospective customers and partners to view. You wouldn’t send out a second rate CV, so why would you have a poor online profile.
So, in order to ensure your LinkedIn profile is up to scratch, then do the basics well.
Your LinkedIn headline: This should not be your job title – this should be a one line description of what you do thinking about the keywords which others may find you for.
Your LinkedIn summary: This needs to capture in an easy to read way exactly what it is that you do to help your clients or your customers. Focus not on what you do on a day to day basis, but the results that clients want from you.

A complete profile: The more high quality information you can include on your profile the better, this doesn’t have to be small essays on your career, but make sure you capture your key roles and achievements, and if you have been with one company for a long time, document the different roles and key projects you have worked on. Why? Because LinkedIn is a large search engine, and if you want people to find you for your specialisms, then you need to use keywords in your description and then back those up.
Expanding your network

If you’re on LinkedIn, then network. What’s networking? Keeping contact with interesting contacts, sharing information with your contacts, expanding your connections based upon introductions, following up from face to face meetings or connecting with people you haven’t spoken to for some time.
If you are reaching out to new connections, there is one golden rule you need to follow: Make it personal.
LinkedIn includes standard copy which you can use to invite others to connect, because this is so heavily used, it is highly unlikely to generate meaningful contact. It’s the equivalent of walking around a room giving out your business card without talking to anyone!

Instead, replace the content with a personal note, reminding the person of how you met, or the reason why you want to connect. This is likely to generate a follow up and therefore make the connection meaningful and useful.
The second rule, is to connect with people you know. That might sound obvious, but we probably all have connections who we either don’t know or can’t remember why we connected with them.
If someone you don’t know or can’t remember tries to connect with you, reply to them and ask why they’d like to connect and how you might do business together. This will sort meaningful LinkedIn connections from time wasters.

Using LinkedIn regularly

With the last two sections, we’ve ensured that our information is high quality and made an effort to ensure that our network is valuable and up to date.

How do we then actually leverage this network and make use of LinkedIn. There are 3 key areas:

1. Post regular content/information – in order to stay front of mind with our network, and to remind them of what we do, we can use the status updates to post blogs from our company, comment on news or ask questions. Don’t bombard, but a regular flow of information will keep you front of mind on the subjects you want to be known for.

2. Reach out to contacts – Make a habit of looking to set up a meeting with a member of your network once a week. As long as this is a meaningful contact, then these meetings will turn your virtual networking into real meetings and therefore more likely to create business

3. Respond to ‘people who’ve viewed your profile’ - LinkedIn shows us people who’ve been viewing our profile over the last week. Why not take 5 minutes to review this once a week and if someone you haven’t spoken to, or don’t know very well has viewed your profile, drop them a line via LinkedIn to see if you can help.
So, is LinkedIn a waste of time? Not if you use it effectively. Take 5 minutes a day to look after your LinkedIn account, and the benefits could be significant.