LinkedIn is probably the best online place to brand yourself as an entrepreneur and your business at the same time. Let’s face it, as a small business, you are the brand! It is also a great place to network business—to find customers, partners, vendors, or suppliers, recruit new employees, and to research information. LinkedIn takes a little time to master, but is definitely a great way to get visibility. What’s more, it costs nothing to create an account and start making connections.
If you don’t already have one, you should definitely create a LinkedIn profile here. Take these steps:
- Build your profile—and make sure it is complete. Don’t skip any sections. Definitely, include a photo—it helps to make a “personal” connection.
- Customize your profile URL with your name. Edit the profile URL so that it takes this format: http://www.LinkedIn.com/in/yourname. To do this, click on “edit” next to your public profile URL and then “edit” again on your public profile settings page.
- Add your company website and up to two other links.
- Add the content for the Summary section and be sure it includes keywords to rank higher in search engines. For example, if your business does home building, include keywords in your description: ABC Company provides home construction services including, renovations and building custom homes. The italicized words are examples of relevant keywords.
- Complete the Skills and Specialties sections to help others find you via keyword searches.
- Now, start making connections! Start by reaching out to people you know to connect with on LinkedIn. This is actually really easy: do a search on companies where you’ve worked in the past, or current clients, or your alma mater. People you know directly (and who confirm that they know you) are identified as first-level connections. IMPORTANT: Do not pretend to know people you don’t, or reach out to strangers as first-level connections! This will backfire.
- Get some recommendations from your connections. Ask individuals you have worked with to provide a recommendation of your work on LinkedIn.
- Connect up your blog (via the WordPress or BlogLink applications) and any cool presentations you have given (via the SlideShare or Google Presentation applications) to your LinkedIn page. This is quite simple to do—just follow the online prompts—and it is a great way to drive traffic to your website and build your brand.
More Great Applications
Consider using these other applications:
- Company Buzz to learn what others are saying about your company
- Events to see what events your connections are attending and promote your own events
- Reading List by Amazon to promote specific books you are reading to generate conversations
- Polls to create simple polls either to gather data or generate conversations.
Be sure that your profile includes a link to your business website. And, since this is your own business, be sure to create a company page for your business. Under the Companies tab, you can “create a company” here.
Building Your Brand
LinkedIn helps you create conversations that help you share information and knowledge with prospective customers, and it also helps you demonstrate your expertise in your particular specialty. It is not, however, about pushing yourself on people. Through building strong relationships and letting enough people get to know you, be comfortable with you, and learn about your areas of expertise, you will be able to generate queries from prospective customers!
Network Update (to the right of your photo in the box labeled share an update) should be revised regularly to help connections to get to know you and become familiar with what you do. Use this feature to engage with your connections through sharing links to interesting articles, best practices information, links to your company “in the news,” and case studies that demonstrate your expertise. Notice nowhere here are we saying to blatantly promote your products and services. As people get to know you, they will find that information by going back to your website or asking you directly.
Answers Use this section to respond to questions from other LinkedIn users (not necessarily connected to you). This is a great way to help out others while showcasing your capabilities. You can search for Answers categories that make sense for you. Under the More link at the top of LinkedIn, select Answers. On the right, you can browse for categories that are relevant to your interests and your business. When responding to a question, you can provide the individual who asked the question (and others reading the responses) with links to relevant articles, blog posts, or other content on your website that helps in responding to their question. Relevancy is key!
Using Groups Effectively
It’s easy to use LinkedIn to participate in groups. From the main page, click on the Groups link at the top menu bar and search for groups that might interest you. Your goal here is to connect with “like people” to begin marketing your business.
It’s important to get actively involved in the groups. Do this through responding to discussions people post and posting your own discussion topics. Through actively monitoring and participating in group discussions, you begin to learn about new trends in the industry and challenges people are facing in their business. This helps you in a variety of ways:
- Position your products and services in response to helping people address their challenges. (Be careful here—make sure you don’t come across as trying to make a sale. If you have case studies, they work great!)
- Sharing information and best practices and thereby positioning yourself as a thought leaders.
- Get ideas for new products and services to meet the needs of your customers. Through “listening” to what’s going on in the groups, you begin to see how you can develop new products and services, or enhance the ones you have, to increase your revenue.
Using LinkedIn DirectAds to Generate Leads
Everything we’ve described up to this point is free. You may also want to consider using LinkedIn’s DirectAds to push out targeted ads to LinkedIn subscribers to market your products and services. (On your LinkedIn page, just look to the right at Ads by LinkedIn Members.) You can target who receives your ad based on geography, industry, job function, and company size. This is an outstanding way to market your business at a very reasonable rate!
For instance, if your business frequently does webinars, holds training classes or sponsors other events, promote those events via LinkedIn and ask participants at the event to connect with you on LinkedIn. This is another great way to build your network of potential customers!
You can also use LinkedIn’s Companies tab to search for contacts at companies that you would like to have as a customer. You can learn much about companies via the tab, including finding executives and other employees of that company and learn how you are connected to the company’s employees (e.g. first or second level connections). You can also find out the type of company, its size, the industry in which it belongs and when it was founded. Follow those companies that are of interest to you.
Set aside 10–15 minutes a day to be on LinkedIn—sharing information, interacting with others, learning about your connections and what they have going on. Through interactions with others, you will make more connections and build strong relationships—this will generate leads, which will eventually lead to new business for your company! Good luck!