Using LinkedIn to build your business network

There’s strong debate among entrepreneurs about LinkedIn – the world’s largest social networking site for professionals.

There’s strong debate among entrepreneurs about LinkedIn – the world’s largest social networking site for professionals.

Advocates of LinkedIn believe in its powerful ability to connect people and create opportunities. Skeptics scoff at the value of a ‘digital relationship’ on LinkedIn or any other social media platform, considering it to be a waste of time.

The statistics speak for themselves

There’s certainly no arguing about the popularity of the free site. LinkedIn’s official website offers the following statistics:

  • LinkedIn operates the world’s largest professional network on the Internet with more than 380 million members in over 200 countries and territories.
  • LinkedIn counts executives from all 2013 Fortune 500 companies as members – its corporate hiring solutions are used by 94 of the Fortune 100 companies.
  • More than 3 million companies have LinkedIn Company Pages.

The statistics speak for themselves – so if you’re not linked in, you might be missing out. Here we outline how you and your business can get connected.

Complete your profile

Like an online resume, make sure your profile is full of information about what you do well. Share your:

  • Strengths.
  • Work experience.
  • Education.

Carefully word your ‘Current’ and ‘Past’ titles – like newspaper headlines, your title must grab the reader’s attention to pull them into your profile.

Be descriptive, but not shy – you can change your profile information anytime.

LinkedIn Groups

Groups can include any type of community or interest. From wine lovers to florists to business consultants – over 1.2 million groups on LinkedIn make it a popular place for people to interact online.

For a small business owner, groups represent a powerful strategy to build your business network by communicating regularly with colleagues, industry leaders, suppliers and prospects.

You can accept or decline an invitation to ‘connect’ with anyone who sends one. Once a person is a connection, you can access their full profile and view their professional connections (unless they have chosen to disable this feature).

It’s easy to build your network using a few minutes each day spent browsing the connections of your connections, and inviting a few of them to become your connection.

Using groups to find prospects

Given the above example, you can see how valuable LinkedIn can be to research prospective customers.

However, there are situations where it may seem inappropriate or too ‘pushy’ to ask a person to become a first-generation connection. You may not want to accept an invitation to connect with someone you don’t know.

Have you found someone who should be your customer? Ask someone in your network to connect you. If you want to monitor what a prospect is doing, follow their business or join their discussion group.

Starting your own group

In addition to joining groups to connect with possible customers, you can also create a new group of your own – focused on a particular topic or industry.

You can boost your business’s brand image by providing thought leadership, in the form of:

  • Valuable information.
  • Advice.
  • Resources.
  • Connections designed to help people with shared interests.

Content leadership can give people a reason to visit your website to learn more about what your business offers – and sales may follow.

Learn more about starting your own LinkedIn Group.

Scotiabank group

Launched in October 2012, the ‘Get Growing For Business Group’ was created specifically for Canadian business owners.

In the group, hundreds of members and industry professionals are contributing what they know across a wide range of business subject areas such as marketing, sales, financing, human resources, operations, cash flow, social media, technology, professional development, personal motivation, customer service and ownership transition.

The group is growing steadily and sprouting some interesting conversations amongst Canadian entrepreneurs. It’s open to join – so go ahead and find out what the Get Growing for Business Group is all about.

Get recommendations

Testimonials from colleagues or customers will add to your credibility because anyone reading your profile will know you’re someone worth doing business with. Similarly, write a few kind words recommending people you like.

Say something

Draw attention to your profile by saying something worthwhile every day. You could:

  • Share a news link.
  • Give some advice.
  • Comment on a post.

Like Twitter and Facebook, your posts elevate your visibility because you’ll appear in updates. However, unlike your personal Facebook page, remember that LinkedIn users prefer more business-oriented communications.

Be careful with sensitive information

As with any social networking site, it’s wise to limit your exposure to possible identity theft by omitting any sensitive, personal information from your online communications.

Like every worthwhile endeavour, you’ll get out of LinkedIn what you put in. Invest a few minutes daily to reap the rewards of connection, information and community.

Next steps