Last year, FranNet franchise owner Patricia Deering realized she and her four employees had been investing time in LinkedIn but seeing little return. "There were a lot of things we wanted to do on LinkedIn—grow our network, join groups, engage in discussions—but we weren't doing them efficiently or effectively," she says.
Approaching LinkedIn without a strategy for promoting yourself and your business is a mistake many entrepreneurs make, says Dan Sherman, author of Maximum Success with LinkedIn (LinkedSuccess Media, 2012). "Simply cutting and pasting from your resume or your company's website is very ineffective," he says. As is adding endless contacts and hoping for the best.
Instead, says Sherman, entrepreneurs have to position their profile to show potential customers the benefits of buying their products or services. Then business owners need to engage target communities to grow a customer base. While this requires time to put in place, it yields results quickly. "Within days of learning his techniques we noticed improvements in our in-house productivity and we doubled our network," says Deering, who now only spends about 10 minutes a day on the site and still gets up to seven invites to connect per week.
To make LinkedIn work for your business, Sherman suggests starting with these five tips:
- Make your personal profile enticing: When you meet a prospective customer in person, you don't ramble on about your accomplishments or hand them a photocopy of your diplomas, says Sherman, so don't do the Internet equivalent on LinkedIn. All of the profile elements—headline, summary, websites, etc.—should answer the question, "What's in it for me, your potential customer or partner?" For example, in the website editing section, click "other" and list a call to action for your products or services and put a link directly to that part of your website.
- Build a robust company page: Unlike on your personal page, write information about your company in the third person, Sherman advises, focusing on the benefits the company can provide to customers. And be sure to link your company's other social media accounts (like Twitter or a blog) to this page when prompted. Fill out other tabs too—such as careers or products and services—and tag the pages with keywords. Whenever possible, allow other users to make recommendations of your products and services. If you have the resources, create and upload videos to demonstrate products or share customer reviews.
- Join a mix of groups: Sherman says you can make your profile easier to find and more credible by joining industry, alumni and local groups. Find customers by joining groups they would be in. For example, if you're a healthcare software firm, get involved in related healthcare industry groups and associations. Also consider joining nonprofit and hobby groups to access even more like-minded potential customers. And be sure to participate in the group by engaging in conversations and posting information for others.
- Answer questions: Further show how you can benefit others by answering questions. Under the "more" section, click on "answers" to see a list of questions asked by people in your network. By answering questions, says Sherman, you demonstrate your knowledge while increasing your visibility on the site. When you provide an answer, you also have the opportunity to direct message the person that asked the question. This allows you to offer support or services to someone who is in need.
- Prospect for new business: Sherman recommends following companies you want to do business with to keep up with news and changes. A personnel change, promotion or new product launch might signal an opportunity to reach out, he says. When you want to connect with a specific company to do business, use the "search companies" feature to locate it. Once you do, you'll see how many employees from that company are in your network. If you have any first- or second-level level contacts in that network, you can direct mail them for free to ask whom the right person to connect with is and, perhaps, get an introduction.