How to use LinkedIn to build your business

1) When you have important news in your business, like a big product launch or a joint venture, use LinkedIn to notify your connections with a profile update. And in your email message attached to the web, say “I’d love to catch up with you, do you want to make time for a phone call?” It’s that maintenance process that sparks opportunity conversations for both you and your contacts. It’s in these conversations (which could be done via email, but probably not as much) that ideas about potential clients, partnerships, and other revenue-generating projects will come up.

2) Use LinkedIn to understand the relationships between people you know and people you want to know. For me, this is the heart of the value of LinkedIn: the ability to see at a glance how people you don’t know, but would like, are connected to people closest to you. So when you find Mr. Lofty Dude on the LI network and realize you used to work with your old admin assistant, a data point you almost certainly wouldn’t have acquired on your own, you can contact the admin and get, not just an introduction, but some intel on Mr. Dude’s current dealings, needs, and hot spots.

3) Connect, by all means, with your former colleagues from every company that has ever employed you. There’s something about bonding with former coworkers (unless you’re, um, not the type former teammates primarily think about) that can’t be duplicated in most shorter-term relationships. Seek out these former co-workers, tell them what you’re up to and who you’re most interested in meeting up with, and offer to help them too. A good lead would be worth the price of LI membership, oh wait, it’s free, or it would be worth the price of your time searching and connecting to LI anyway.

4) Let’s say you’d really like to work with General Motors, but you can’t find anyone at GM who seems particularly suitable to contact while searching the LinkedIn database. No problem. Find a current GM supplier or customer in the functional area you’re interested in and contact him or her. Is there something of value you could offer in exchange for the presentation you want? In an ideal world, his excellent qualities and his dazzling personality should convince this new acquaintance that introducing him to his client is something valuable in and of itself. But don’t trust that. Offer to extend an invitation of your own, or design your new database, or something.

5) Use the LI database to understand more about your prospects. Here’s the beauty of LI: what other source will tell you where many or all of the top executives in your prospective organizations used to work (given that only half a dozen of them have profiles on the company website)? Let’s say you want to do a job for ABC Company. And lo and behold, half of ABC’s executives worked for PayPal in the past and the other half worked for FedEx. Great intelligence! You see that they have a strong relationship with the Notre Dame alumni, and also some connection with Stanford. Now you can use your FedEx and PayPal alumni contacts, your Notre Dame folks, and your Stanford scholars to help you ‘get over the wall.’

6) You wouldn’t email a complete stranger, even if you got their business card (eg, by stealing the gold bowl of business cards to win a free lunch at PF Chang’s) to say “Hey, why don’t you buy some things for me? So don’t reach out to new LI contacts saying “Maybe you could help me make a new business contact.” I wouldn’t recommend that. Instead, read the profile of this intended contact. Let’s say he contacts me, that I run an online community. Two seconds of reading my profile would give you some ideas of things that might interest me. I guarantee that a typical working person could offer me something that interests me. So when you do your LI disclosure, mention what you could offer! Type “I’d love to connect by phone, both because I’m interested in your relationship with [my most-desirable prospect company] and because I have great friends in the social media community who you should know.” Bingo.

7) Many people in the business community, especially the avid networkers, have numerous connections that do nothing. [short-term, revenue-generating] good for them personally, but that could be invaluable to your new networking contacts. Keep these valuable contacts in mind when you reach out to the people you hope can help you. For example, I know a lot of headhunters who have excellent media contacts, contacts that I would love, journalists who call them regularly for job market information. Unfortunately, aside from occasionally mentioning in her stories that Joe Recruiter says the job market is getting better, the journalist can’t do much for Joe; for example, she’s not going to write a profile on him anytime soon. But she could write a profile on someone Joe just met through LI. Of course, Joe wouldn’t carelessly mention his name, but he could say, “You know, I can’t guarantee anything, but for your kindness today, I’d be happy to introduce you to my friend, an editor at the San Jose Mercury News, who might be interested in talk to you”. Rock on.

8) When you see a group of people in LI who know each other and have achievements in the same field, that’s something really special. It means that a group of people who maybe worked together, or met online, or are part of a group, represent some kind of main lode of shared knowledge around a particular area, say SEO or CRM or opera German. That’s huge, because together, these people can understand most of the current thinking on the subject. You can get on LinkedIn with one of them and say, “You know, I’m trying to catch up on Handel’s operas. Could I email you some of my key questions and ask if you wouldn’t mind sharing?” your thoughts with me and also forward my message to your friend Jack Sprat, who could certainly add some valuable perspective?” Hopefully, in the event of a query like this, you’ll be able to repay these experts’ valuable time with some kind of gift (perhaps tickets to the opera). But many of those people would reject any kind of compensation. It makes a big difference how you present your situation and how politely you present your request. A lot depends on good manners, doesn’t it?

9) LinkedIn in combination with Google News Alerts is a great business tool. Let’s say you want to talk to people at Fidelity who work in a product area. Use LI to find a name (or two or three names) of people at Fidelity who seem relevant to your situation and whom you’d like to reach. Set up a Google News Alert on Fidelity and set one up with the target person’s name (or a few names) so you can know when they’ve been quoted, speak on a panel, etc. This kind of intelligence will tell you what is currently on this person’s plate, what issues are troubling him, etc. What’s more flattering than a disclosure message from LI that reads “I was so sorry to miss your speech at the Financial Muckety-Mucks Summit, but I was lucky enough to read your thoughts on petrodollars on and watch your interview on NPR the last week.” Dammit! Be diligent, but be careful not to sound like a business harasser.

10) Vendors like to communicate with old customers, and that’s good, but it can be awkward when you haven’t kept up and have no idea what the old customer is up to now. But of course, if you have the contact information, thanks to (say) Plaxo, you’re going to use it! LinkedIn solves the problem. Presto, you can keep track of what your old customer has been up to since the last time you saw them, without the hassle. On top of that, instead of an open “let’s catch up” message, you can say “Wow! You’re at Fidelity! You know, I see you’ve only been at the job a few months, so I should definitely talk. It just so happens that I’ve become an expert in Fidelity lately…” Now, that’s power networks!

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