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 contacts with a profile update. And in your email attachment to the network, say “I’d love to catch up with you, would you like to make time for a phone call?” It’s that maintenance process that sparks opportunity conversations for both you and your contacts. It is in these conversations (which could be done via email, though probably not that much) that ideas for potential clients, partnerships, and other income-generating projects will come up.
2) Use LinkedIn to understand the relationships between the people you know and the people you want to meet. To me, this is the heart of LinkedIn’s value: the ability to see at a glance how people you don’t know, but would like to, are connecting with people closest to you. So when you find Mr. Lofty Dude on the LI network and realize he used to work with his 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 deals, needs, and hot spots.
3) Connect, by all means, with your former colleagues from all companies that have ever employed you. There’s something about ties to former co-workers (unless you, ahem, aren’t the type former teammates primarily think about) that can’t be duplicated in most shorter-term relationships. Look up these former co-workers, tell them what you’re doing and who you’re most interested in meeting with, and offer to help them too. A good lead would be worth the price of LI membership, oh wait, it’s free, or anyway it would be worth the price of your time searching and connecting to LI.
4) Let’s say you’d really like to work with General Motors, but you can’t find anyone at GM who seems like a particularly good fit to contact while searching the LinkedIn database. No problem. Find a current GM supplier or customer in the functional area you are 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 worth something in itself. But don’t trust that. Offer to extend an invitation of your own, or design their new database, or something like that.
5) Use the LI database to understand more about your prospects. This is the beauty of LI: what other source will tell you where many or all of the top executives in your potential 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. 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 to Stanford. Now you can use your FedEx and PayPal alumni contacts, your Notre Dame people, and your Stanford interns to help you ‘get over the wall.’
6) You wouldn’t email a complete stranger, even if you got their business card (for example, stealing the goldfish tank of business cards to win a free lunch at PF Chang’s) to say “Hey, why don’t you buy some things from me?” So don’t reach out to new LI contacts saying “Maybe you could help me make a new business contact.” I would not recommend that. Instead, read the profile of this intended contact. Let’s say he communicates with 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 you that a typical working person could offer me something that interests me. So when you do your LI outreach, mention what you could offer! Write “I’d love to connect over the 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 networking ones, have numerous connections doing nothing. [short-term, revenue-generating] good for them personally, but that could be invaluable to your new networking contacts. Think of these valuable contacts when reaching out to the people you hope can help you. For example, I know a lot of headhunters who have great media contacts, contacts I would love, journalists who call them regularly for job market insights. Unfortunately, apart from occasionally mentioning in her stories that Joe Recruiter says the job market is improving, 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 inadvertently 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 accomplishments 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 a kind of main vein of shared knowledge around a particular area, for example 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 reach out to one of them on LinkedIn and say, “You know, I’m trying to catch up on Handel 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 case of a query like this, you’ll be able to repay these experts’ valuable time with some kind of gift (perhaps opera tickets). But many of those people would reject any kind of compensation. It makes a big difference how you present your situation and how nicely you present your request. A lot depends on good manners, doesn’t it?
9) LinkedIn in combination with Google News Alerts is an excellent 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 who 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 type of intelligence will tell you what is currently on this person’s plate, the issues they are concerned about, etc. What’s more flattering than a disclosure message from LI that says “I’m so sorry to miss your speech at the Financial Muckety-Mucks Summit, but I was lucky enough to read your thoughts on petrodollars on Money.com and see your interview on NPR last night.” last week.” Dammit! Be diligent, but be careful not to sound like a business bully.
10) Vendors like to communicate with former customers, and that’s good, but it can be awkward when you haven’t kept up and have no idea what the former customer is up to now. But of course, if you have the contact information, thanks (say) Plaxo, you’re going to use it! LinkedIn solves the problem. Presto, you can keep track of what your former customer has been up to since you last 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 on the job a few months, so I should definitely talk. Say hello.” I happen to have become quite an expert on Fidelity lately…” Now, that’s power networks!