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Using LinkedIn for Business Development

LinkedIn is not your typical social media site. You won't find it littered with memes and videos of cute animals doing adorable things. LinkedIn is for professionals, businesspeople and companies who are looking to network, to hire candidates, to build influence and to position themselves as industry experts worth knowing.

LinkedIn allows you to build your personal brand, make valuable business connections and bring visibility to your business. If you are in the B2B market, it can also offer you tremendous sales and business development opportunities.

Here are some tips for building and fostering a valuable network through LinkedIn:

  • Be selective. LinkedIn isn't Facebook. Remember that while you can connect with old high school and college buddies, it’s better if those friends are either in your field or in an industry that may eventually intersect or complement yours. Rather than simply adding all of your friends, spend some time cultivating a network of colleagues in your industry, connect with potential vendors, investors or partners, or just meet people who have similar jobs or can offer you some suggestions, insight or advice. Don’t forget to add the people you work with; it may seem pointless now, but they may prove to be valuable connections as your career paths evolve down the line (they also might write a personal recommendation).
  • Use the "People You May Know Function." If you have a complete profile—detailing your education, training and work experience—this function will list people who include the same schools and companies on their profiles. It will also list their connections. By browsing those names regularly, you can find people worth connecting with and then ask your LinkedIn contact to introduce you. A warm introduction is much more likely to succeed than adding somebody out of the blue.
  • Ask people if you can connect with them. When you meet people at industry events, trade shows and the like, rather than exchanging business cards, ask "Can I connect with you on LinkedIn?" If you have your phone, you can send the invite from the LinkedIn mobile app. People often prefer that over receiving and holding onto business cards, since people often lose business cards or forget to follow up. Plus, a thorough profile can impress new connections much more than a business card can.
  • Join relevant groups. Be careful with this; many LinkedIn groups are poorly managed or full of spam and self-promotional posts. To ensure that you are joining groups that are worthwhile, go to a group's homepage and click on the "i" in the upper-right corner. From there, you can click on the "Statistics" tab to see the group’s seniority levels, demographics, growth and activity. It's a great way to determine which groups best match your industry and include the types of people you want to connect with.
  • Build connections through groups. Groups make it easy to connect with people outside your network. If you are in the same group as a person you want to connect with, LinkedIn flags that person as part of your network so you can message him or her. If there’s a particular connection you really want to make, it’s as easy as finding out what groups that person is a member of and then joining the same groups. When you send your invitation to connect, you will be able to indicate the group you share. In addition to that, explain why you want to connect, noting how the connection is mutually beneficial or referring to any mutual connections you have.
  • Connect your connections. If two of your contacts will benefit from knowing one another, introduce them, explaining why you think they should connect. Not only could you truly help two people, but it will also motivate them to return the favor down the line.
  • Endorse other people freely. If you know people possess specific skills, endorse them, and they'll likely do the same for you. That allows you to foster your LinkedIn relationships, and it also shows others that you have a wide range of skills that people are willing to back up.
  • Ask for recommendations. Don't be afraid to reach out to previous supervisors, coworkers, partners, vendors, customers and so on to ask for recommendations regarding your skills, knowledge and business. These recommendations essentially serve as reference letters. Also, write recommendations for people that deserve them—if you have firsthand knowledge of their skills. You won't always receive a recommendation in return, but when you provide a recommendation, you add your name to the person's profile page, and that could lead to additional connections.

Considering an upgrade to LinkedIn Premium? If you are a small business owner who is looking to build your network or a professional working in business development, it's likely a good idea. The basic version can do you a lot of good, but you will build your network much faster with additional features the Premium version offers:

  • Better researching capabilities. You can dig deep, for example, by searching companies based on size or searching contacts by seniority level. This level of detailed searching is a valuable sales tool that lets you zero in on your target customer.
  • Detailed profile data. First, you can see who is viewing your profile. If any of those people are worth reaching out to, you can do so without feeling weird. You know they are already interested in you. You can also view expanded profiles of all LinkedIn members.
  • InMail capabilities. You can message people beyond your network. If you find people you want to connect with, it's acceptable to message them—assuming you have legitimate reasons to do so—without having to jump through hoops or stretch the truth about how you know the person.
Starting a Business?
Join Docstoc's 100% Free Quick-Launch Guide to Starting a Business! Curated Exclusively by the Editors of Docstoc