Networking online can help your small business establish a trusted identity, get new clients, research competitors, uncover stellar employees and find quick answers to tough questions. LinkedIn’s VP of International Operations shares his top tips with Dynamic Business.
In today’s tough economy, small business owners need to take advantage of all the tools at their disposal to get ahead. Since sites like LinkedIn are free to use, small business owners who cut their budgets as a result of the economic climate should get connected. LinkedIn currently has more than 51 million members across the globe and over 935,000 Aussies are already members of the site. A new member joins LinkedIn every second. Here are some tips and tricks for getting the most out of LinkedIn for your small business.
Own search results for your name
LinkedIn Profiles appear at the top of Google search results for your name; use that to your advantage. Since potential clients and partners may Google you before meetings, make sure your profile is filled out and updated. If you’ve left out a position or neglected to note in your summary that you specialise in advising individuals versus corporations, you’re at a disadvantage. Include your specialties, types of clients you work with, etc., in the “Summary” and “Experience” portions of your profile and you’re more likely to come up in search results for those keywords. Also think of terms that a potential customer might search for. For instance, if you’re in finance, you’d want to make sure words or phrases like “Wealth Management” or “Private Banking” are included in your profile.
Let customers speak for you
Clients’ recommendations on your profile show prospects and potential partners how current customers value your work. Recommendations also spread virally, making them a great word-of-mouth marketing tool for your company. Suggest key themes or topics for the person writing the recommendation to avoid generic recommendations of the “Joe is terrific, I’d work with him again” nature. Instead of sending a generic request for a recommendation, send a personalised note stating exactly what you’re looking for. (For example: “Jane I’d love to post a recommendation from you on my LinkedIn Profile since you’ve been a valued customer of ours for three years. If you could touch upon our quick turnaround time for the project we did for you last month, I’d really appreciate it. Any metrics that you can mention in regards to the cost savings you saw as a result of our work together would also be helpful for you to mention.”).
Make sure you’re connected
Find at least 25 people you know and trust and connect with them. LinkedIn syncs with webmail providers like Gmail and Yahoo! so you can easily see which contacts of yours are already on LinkedIn. By connecting to professional colleagues (employees, vendors, clients, other small business owners, etc.), you exponentially increase the size of your network, making it easier to find mutual connections/get introductions to people you want to meet.
LinkedIn Answers is a great way to get quick answers on trends or subjects you’re not an expert on, like purchasing commercial office space for the first time or getting the best rates on small business loans. It can also be useful if you have a client question you don’t know the answer to. You can also try browsing questions other LinkedIn members have already asked to see if you can uncover new clients. If someone is asking a question related to tax advice or looking for great gifts to send to clients, they may be in the market for an expert or services that someone like you can provide.
Ask an expert
Entrepreneurs are constantly making important decisions and doing critical tasks for the first time. Whether it’s a question about the best payroll solution, structuring stock options or putting together your first investor deck, LinkedIn can help you find experts who know the answer. LinkedIn’s Advanced Search feature enables you to find members by title, company, keywords, location, etc.
Doing your homework
Browse LinkedIn Company Profiles to view real-time information about your competitors. Search for the Company Profiles of larger companies that you’d like to partner with or have as clients. These profiles will show you how you’re connected to that company so you can get a personalised introduction to them.
Get great employees
Updating your status to notify your network that you’re looking to fill a position can be an easy way to get employee referrals from friends, colleagues and other professionals you trust. Sometimes the best employees currently have a job or aren’t actively looking for a position. Doing an advanced search by title and narrowing those results down by your postcode can help you uncover qualified passive candidates. You can also reference check candidates and contractors by asking others in your network who worked with the candidates at their current and past employers for an unbiased, honest opinion. You also have the ability to post job openings on LinkedIn.
Staying on top of trends
Try joining groups where you can meet other small business owners just like you. Even if they come from different industries or are located in a different country, they may have faced similar challenges and might help you avoid common potholes and obstacles. LinkedIn Groups like “On Startups – The Community For Entrepreneurs” and “Guerrilla Marketing Tips for Small Businesses” could help you uncover the latest trends and resources. Also join groups where potential customers might congregate. While it might be tempting to post a discussion in the Events Group saying: “Hotel ABC has the best space for hosting holiday parties, contact me for more info,” chances are you’ll only end up getting yourself kicked out of the group. Instead, try being a fly on the wall. Look at the discussions and pain points members of the group are discussing. Those comments might help you refine your product or create messaging that resonates more with customers.
Offer advice and insights that are organic to the group conversation, instead of giving the hard sell on your company or product. (for eg. “You mentioned you’re looking for a space to host a corporate holiday party, but since it’s quite a few months away you aren’t sure how many attendees will come. You might want to consider venues that allow you to put a refundable deposit on the space in case your needs change at the last minute and you need a larger space.”) Chances are you’ll uncover more leads that way while also being looked at as a solid expert by other members of the group.
Check your homepage on LinkedIn often
You’ll be able to see what projects your employees are working on, answer questions clients may be asking and comment when you see former colleagues get promoted. It’s a light touch way to keep informed about your industry and the people you care about professionally so your network is ready to go when you need it.
—Arvind Rajan is LinkedIn’s Vice President of International Operations.