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Networking and growing business contacts is vital to small business success, but traditional networking can be time-consuming and costly, making LinkedIn an ideal alternative for small business owners.

LinkedIn’s professional network consists of over two million Australians, and is an ideal place for SMB owners to build their professional brand, increase online visibility, grow their network, engage with like-minded individuals and recruit new employees from a pool of highly skilled candidates.

Here are some tips from LinkedIn for making its professional network work for you:

1. Raise your profile
Using your own profile the right way can be the gateway for potential clients, employees and industry partners to contact you. The more complete your profile, the easier it will be for people to find you through search engines. Make sure your summary is complete, and add a photo of yourself to increase your credibility.

You can remind people who you are by keeping your profile active with regular status updates.

2. Create a company profile
Increase the visibility of your business by creating a company profile. Company profiles give members an opportunity to view information about each company, such as its description, number of employees and the industry it operates in. Develop your company profile with a logo, locations and feed from your company blog.

3. Grow and monitor your network
Import your existing contact lists from your mail client to find out which of your contacts are already on LinkedIn. LinkedIn automatically recommends people you might know based on your details and existing contacts, and you should regularly scour through your existing contacts for people you might want to connect with. Offering to connect with everyone from customers to clients and vendors is a great idea because it shows your customers you are online, and gives you an edge on the competition who is probably not engaging customers in the same way.

4. Get recommendations
Recommendations are one the best ways to secure new clients, because this is the feature looked for most when viewing a new profile. They enhance your professional credibility and create a great impression on people reading your profile. Ensure you request LinkedIn recommendations from happy customers willing to provide testimonials. Satisfied customers are the best source of new customers.

5.  Engage with your connections through LinkedIn Groups and Answers
Join a Small Business Group to engage with like-minded people who can provide you support and answer your business-specific questions. Joining groups which are related to your industry or other small business matters is also a great way to make new connections. Whether these connections are local or international, having a wide and diverse group will serve you well. Potential clients can find you through groups, as the group members have the ability to directly message each other, even if they aren’t directly connected.

Answer questions from connections in the Answers section of LinkedIn without self promotion, and ask contacts questions to get a feel for what customers and prospects want or think. People can vote for the answers they think are the best, and the week’s top experts are shown on the Answers homepage, giving you the chance to be an expert in your field.

6. Recruit the right people
Use LinkedIn’s search tools to find people from a pool of passive candidates who might be best suited to your business’ key roles. Change your status to “hiring” and post the job listing to your LinkedIn groups to attract relevant talent. Upgrading to a LinkedIn premium account will enable you to send direct messages to prospects with whom you are not connected.

LinkedIn Recruiter, a specialised product for companies, allows you to regularly hire from and engage with a network of passive candidates.

7.  Improve productivity through LinkedIn mobile
Access LinkedIn on the move through iPhone and BlackBerry apps enabling you to update your profile and search for others on LinkedIn to help recall and connect with business acquaintances at events and conferences. You can use the LinkedIn mobile application to pull up background details of the person you are meeting on-the-go, putting you in good stead for a great introduction and conversation points.

8. Leverage applications
Use LinkedIn’s applications to boost your profile, by syncing your Twitter account, blog or company website. Look through LinkedIn’s Application Directory to find the right applications for you. Leverage LinkedIn applications such as SlideShare to share your presentations with your contacts and TripIt to let your connections know the places you will be travelling to, so if of your connections are free, they can catch up with you. Link your Twitter account or blog to your profile to give potential employees and connections further insight into your capabilities and expertise.

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Lorna Brett

Lorna Brett

Lorna was Dynamic Business’ Social Web Editor in 2011/12. She’s a social media obsessed journalist, who has a passion for small business. Outside the 9 to 5, you’re likely to find her trawling the web for online bargains, perfecting her amateur photography skills or enjoying one too many cappucinos. You can follow her on <a href="https://twitter.com/#!/dynamicbusiness">Twitter @DynamicBusiness</a>

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