LinkedIn for beginners

BusinessZone
Dan Martin
Former editor
BusinessZone.co.uk
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Thousands of entrepreneurs running small companies are using social networking website LinkedIn to make contacts. But can the service really benefit your business? Andy Headworth, founder of Sirona Consulting, investigates.

Most people have heard of LinkedIn, but do you know what it is and how it can help you with your business?

First, let me define what it is – LinkedIn is a professional networking group whose purpose is to provide its members a way to search for new contacts, jobs and business opportunities. Unlike sites such as Facebook, MySpace and Bebo, LinkedIn is primarily focused on the business community.

Your individual network consists of your immediate connections, and two further levels of people with links to any of your contacts. This means that your searchable network can expand very quickly. Just to highlight the power of this network, I currently have around 325 connections and my total network is over 6 million people!

When you start on LinkedIn, you need to build a profile of yourself, what you do, who you work for etc. This is like an online CV builder, and if you are serious about using the site, you need to spend some time getting this right and keeping it updated.

People can find you by searching so it is worth putting a smattering of keywords across your profile that reflect your key skills, products or services. It is worth spending some time filling your profile out fully, because you never know who can find you online – business contact, ex-colleagues, prospects and even potential employees. As an example of a completed profile, here is a snapshot of mine:


 

One of the biggest mistakes people make after joining LinkedIn is sitting back and wait for something to happen. Any form of networking whether offline or online, needs you to be pro-active to grow your network. The difference with LinkedIn is that it makes this very easy for you to do. My key phrase with regards to this and other social networking sites is a simple one – you only get out of it what you put into it!

How to build you network

Here are my top 10 ways to grow your LinkedIn network:

1. Take out your business card collection, or if you're organised use your Contacts in Outlook, or even on your PDA or Blackberry. Go through each one and do a quick search on LinkedIn, and if you find them there, send them an invite using the relevant page. Make sure you personalise the emails in the box shown below with the red cross. There is nothing worse than boring template emails!


2. Think of people you have worked with during your career, and if you can find them link to them. They may have gone to the same school, college or university, or you may have worked with them at current or previous organisations. You will be surprised at how many of these people are on LinkedIn.

3. Each time you get a request to join a network, either accept it or archive it. Do not choose the 'I don't know this person' as once a person gets five of these their account is frozen, and you could then be responsible for having them removed! My advice in the beginning would be to accept all requests to link up.

4. Get into the habit of being a 'name magpie'. Each time you think of people you haven't yet linked to write them down somewhere safe. Next time you are online, go searching on LinkedIn and as before, when you find them, link to them. It is also a great way of finding what people have been up to since you last met.

5. If you do find someone in your network who you would like to connect to but don't have an email address for, then you can still contact them. Request an introduction through someone in your network that is connected to the person you want to connect to (if there are multiple connections here, you can even choose which introducer to use!). Just make sure you explain succinctly why you want to be introduced, as the introducer does have the power of veto.

6. Don't be afraid to ask current colleagues, ex-colleagues, business partners etc for recommendations. They do help in building your profile further, but my advice is to only seek recommendations from people that you would recommend yourself!

7. Regularly go through the connections of all your first level contacts. They are also expanding their networks, and it is likely you will find mutual contacts that you will be able to link to.

8. Connect with power networkers or 'hubs' in your industry. These are the people who have thousands of contacts and are usually only too pleased to link with others. They are often referred to as 'open networkers' and most have their email address in their profile. Don't be shy with these people; they are motivated by expanding their networks. When you next do a search for someone, sort the search by connections (drop down box), and you will find them.

9. The Advanced Search is key to getting the most out of LinkedIn, get used to using it – you will reap the benefits.

10. Tell everyone about LinkedIn! LinkedIn offer a button (see below) that you can add to email footers, websites, blogs etc.


Make sure you use it (go to your profile, 'Promote your profile'), it is great advertising, and you will get people inviting you to join their network.

LinkedIn is a great business tool, and one that I firmly advocate using in business. From a recruitment perspective, I use it as a regular high quality source of prospective candidates, and from a business development perspective you get the chance to do some 'homework' on your business prospects. When you get used to using LinkedIn, it will become second nature to you, and you will find yourself 'checking out' every potential business contact you deal with before you meet them!

If you are just starting off on LinkedIn and want to further expand your network to tap into my millions of contacts, then please just send me an invitation and I will happily oblige.

www.sironaconsulting.com

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By Anonymous
12th May 2008 16:16
Ian, you say that your service maybe just offers the business rather than the networking side of things. I think that's the key point. Forums allow real business relationships to be built up over the long term while also developing a massive free resource of answers to common problems which can be tapped into by business owners.

Saying that, I think your service certainly offers value so I've joined! I look forward to seeing what activity it generates for BusinessZone.co.uk!

Dan Martin
Editor, BusinessZone.co.uk
Administrator, UK Business Forums

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By Anonymous
12th May 2008 20:32

Great to see you on board Dan! I have no doubt you'll start seeing benefits quickly. I'd be really interested in your views on how we rate for return on time invested, as I think time is always in short supply for business people, as are leads.

Ian Hendry
WeCanDo.BIZ
http://www.wecando.biz

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By wecandobiz
09th May 2008 11:14
Dan & Mark

Good points from both of you.

Let me try and better articulate my frustration with the sites we are talking about.

In an off-line world, the most effective sales people (and by this I mean anyone who needs to generate business, whatever their role) spend the bulk of their time talking to people who have been shown to have a need. The dialogue and relationship building that then occurs is focused around demonstrating a solution to the need and presenting reasons for that person to buy from them. All friendly stuff, but with a defined and clear motivation for both parties.

My problem with LinkedIn, Xing, Ecademy et al is that it seems you need to tolerate months of courteous nodding while suffering blatent self promotion until it becomes "polite" to start discussing whether there is grounds to do business. This can go on for months and then you discover that in fact that person is only talking to you because they want to sell to you, rather than buy from you. That is potentially 6 months lost whereas if the needs match had been done at the start you could be 6 months into a sales cycle.

To strip it down to business basics, what is the value of a network of 3.5 million contacts only a few degrees away from you if you can't establish they have a need?

If you see such sites as nothing other than offering benign networking then that is great. It's difficult to measure the return on the time invested though. Personally, and I speak as someone who can never find enough minutes in the day, I don't think it's too much to ask if you sign up for a business networking site that you can quickly engage with people with a need and spend your time developing a relationship that will lead to a sale. That feels closer to a qualified business meeting than the feeling most of these sites give me of bouncing round in a club hoping to get lucky.

With what I read here I am wonder whether WeCanDo.BIZ really is a business networking site at all. Perhaps we just offer the business part?

EDIT: I can fully understand author Andy's enthusiasm for LinkedIn as a recruiter - he now has a database of 6 million CVs to comb to help him fill roles. Is it any surprise LinkedIn earns so much from the HR industry? What I am not sure of is the benefit of 6 million CVs to a printer, a plumber, a tax account, a CRM salesman, a landscape gardener...

Ian Hendry
WeCanDo.BIZ
http://www.wecando.biz

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By Anonymous
08th May 2008 23:45
I agree with Mark. If business owners want to get the most out of networking websites they must build good relationships first rather than going straight in for the kill with a blatant sales message.

Ian, I think it's naive of you to imply that knowing something about the person behind the business isn't important. It's vital.

I see this relationship creation, advice giving and advocate building which in turn results in real business deals happening on a daily basis over on UK Business Forums, BusinessZone.co.uk's sister website. Ask any of the regular posters on the site, which has over 24,000 registered members who post thousands of comments every week creating the 'buzz' you mentioned, and I'm confident they will back me up.

Dan Martin
Editor, BusinessZone.co.uk
Administrator, UK Business Forums

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By Anonymous
08th May 2008 20:33
Ian
I fear there may be a flaw in your logic. The reason that Ecademy, for example, encourages members to talk about themselves as well as their business is quite simple. It's human nature to prefer doing business with someone whom you know, like and trust.

Those people who don't find Ecademy works for them are precisely the people who are focused on trying to sell their service or products within the network. Those who take time to build a network first get far more value and benefit and, in time, sales.

I don't think anyone joins a network to be on the receiving end of constant sales messages. The corollary to this is that they should not therefore expect to make sales by pushing their own sales messages. If they want to advertise then they should do that and/or add their listing to a directory type site.

Online networking and community sites are quite different in my view. I'll be very interested to see whether your new site achieves the holy grail of an effective community and work generation facility for its members. Your post below helps me to better understand the thinking behind it. I wish you well. It's got to be worth a try. Time will tell.

You drew an analogy with cold calling. Typical success rates are less than 1 in ten. In some industries it's nearer 1 in 100. Why? Because there is no relationship. The seller is not known. If the same effort were devoted to building relationships with prospects and advocates I suspect that the time involved would be far more rewarding. And that's why members of , for example, Ecademy are encouraged to build relationships before trying to make sales. It's not necessary in all business relationships of course but it's pretty commonplace. The better the relationships the more value can be derived from the network. Go in and try to extract value from day one and you will fail miserably.

I run the Find an Accountant club on Ecademy and I always tell the accountants who join that if they just sit there they will get no new clients. I doubt that anyone uses Ecademy as a directory to find a new accountant for example. They need to raise their profile and to become active in clubs and on forums. Once they get known within the community they will start to generate testimonials and advocates. And that will lead to 'sales'.

Bottom line: Online networking (and indeed, offline networking) is part of the marketing mix. In my experience trying to treat it as a sales opportunity is doomed to failure.

Mark Lee
Tax Advice Network

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By wecandobiz
08th May 2008 18:58

Andy

Great to see your considered response - thank you.

My beef with many of the supposed business biased social networking sites (LinkedIn, Xing, Ecademy and others) is these two things:

1) They are about personal promotion above all else. I don't think they are completely business based, moreover aimed at people who just happen to be in business. Read a personal profile and you see lots about how great that person is, little about what their company does and why you would buy from them. If I wanted a reliable printer, how could I find one on any of those sites? Sure, they have forums for posting questions, but getting responses from random strangers isn't offering me much, is it?

2) Ask any dedicated networker on such sites what they have to put in to get stuff out and the stats are alarming. I know many people on LinkedIn and Ecademy who are happy to report they spend 1 or 2 hours on the sites a day and after 2 years they built up a great network and done some deals. No would they spend an hour a day for 2 years cold calling before they closed a deal? Or attend a tradshow for 5 hours a week for 2 years before they got some business?

I believe we have too low an expectation of what such sites should be doing for us and they are lazy in terms of what they deliver. With such great contacts on them it should have the buzz annd results of a speed dating event! As it stands, most of the ones you detail feel closer to cribbage conventions.

I would love you to come and have a look at WeCanDo.BIZ Andy as any one of our members see it - sign up at http://www.wecando.biz. We are still in pilot, testing the core functions with 200 odd users, but will be launching formally later this month. With the right numbers I think we'll prove a big challenge for the complacent dominators in this space.

Ian Hendry
WeCanDo.BIZ
http://www.wecando.biz

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By Andy Headworth
08th May 2008 11:16
Thank you for all the comments, they are all very interesting. I just wanted to respond to some of the points raised.

Ian, Mark & Colin: LinkedIn has been very job centric, and I guess will continue to be so, but you can get more out of it if you want to. I for one use it research business and people, and for me it is the first thing I do before speaking to someone for the first time. I know (personally) other people who use it to identify business opportunities with other entrepreneurs.
I have also had business opportunities presented to me via LinkedIn as well.

With regards to staff leaving with all their contacts, when has this been any different to what has happened before this online networking phenomena anyway? But this time at least you can see them online because you should be linked to them anyway!

LinkedIn is about using the resource. The more you scratch the surface, the more you will find. If you actively search out targeted companies or individuals within LinkedIn, and expand your network with them, then you are developing your business vertical further. Like minded people in a like minded network - isnt that what networking is all about anyway?

There are many new networking tools now hitting the market such as WAYN, Blue-Chip, Pulse, eAcademy and Spock just to name a few.

But with some focus, planning and creativity, I certainly believe LinkedIn in worth the time investment.

If you want any further advice or help then please contact me.

Ian, if you would like me to compare the service, then I would be happy to do so.

Andy Headworth

Sirona Consulting

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By Anonymous
07th May 2008 18:36
A useful summary above. I also sympathise with those who have only seen job seekers' and headhunters' profiles on LinkedIn. That has NOT been my experience though.

I agree that many people use it to find new jobs and to make themselves more visible and attractive to recruiters and headhunters.

Yes, it's also a good way to get back in touch with colleagues from the past but there are also plenty of consultants, suppliers, buyers and professional advisers on LinkedIn. Many of them are in the US but there's an increasing number in the UK too.

My own LinkedIn network comprises:
170 direct connections - which, when taken together with 2nd and 3rd level connections gives me a theoretical audience of almost 4.5 million people.

I'm doubtful as to whether accountants in practice would gain much benefit from having their profiles on LinkedIn but here are a couple of possible scenarios as to when it might be worthwhile, over and above the points made above:

1 - To be found by or track down previous colleagues and clients (including those staff in companies where you did the audit some time back);

2 - To create or enhance an alumni group; You can quickly and easily find people from specific firms . It's easier to do this with smaller firms though due to the potential for confusion caused by mergers, name changes and international firms using the same name.

One other aspect of LinkedIn that I have found helpful has been the Q&A section. Whilst my own network frequently provide useful ideas, I am also able to benefit from the insights being shared by 3rd parties who are keen to evidence their expertise to a wider audience.

Users of AccountingWeb are welcome to connect with me on LinkedIn.

Mark Lee
Tax Advice Network

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By colin_bruce
06th May 2008 11:39
Great article.

One thing I always found about Linkedin was that it is a means of finding people and of presenting yourself i.e. it is a presence & reputation management tool for individuals but far less so for businesses.

I use it to research people but less so to actually find potential business contacts unless I know specifically which business they may already be in.

Colin Bruce
http://www.bview.co.uk

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By wecandobiz
27th Apr 2008 23:27

It is always great to see online business networking sites getting exposure Andy, but I question just how beneficial LinkedIn is to businesses.

First off, it doesn't pretend it is much more than a networking site to help people progress their careers. Look at an individuals profile and it reads like a CV rather than a marketing page for the company they work for - in fact, in most instances there is scant detail on what the company they work for does, and nothing on why anyone might want to buy from them.

LinkedIn networks are built typically with ex-colleagues or other former contacts - in other words, people you already know. Yes, it is possible to see who they know and get introduced to new people but LinkedIn itself suggests users do not accept invitations to connect from people they don't know. The site being used by Nigerian scammers recently has highlighted the sense that this is a bad idea.

So if you or your staff actually manage to build a useful network, what is likely to happen? Well I don't know any people who have done new deals on LinkedIn, but I do see plenty of jobs advertised. So perhaps your staff might get a new job on the site. And when they leave, what happens? They take their contacts with them...

While LinkedIn continued to focus on individuals and their personal career progression, it will never be a site that businesses benefit from unless they are hiring.

I would welcome a comparison with the benefits we bring businesses at WeCanDo.BIZ at any time Andy if you are interested in writing such a piece.

Ian Hendry
WeCanDo.BIZ
http://www.wecando.biz

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