Like many small business owners, I spend a lot of time promoting myself on social media. I participate in dozens of Facebook groups, send out several tweets a day, pin and repin like a madwoman and am trying to up my Instagram game. It’s a lot of work…and I don’t think it’s ever landed me a single client.
Want to know the only social media channel that’s been directly responsible for helping me get new business? LinkedIn. That’s right. Stuffy, boring, totally uncool LinkedIn.
With 467 million users, chances are good you have a profile on LinkedIn. It’s also pretty likely you almost never update it or even visit the site. Depending on your ideal client, however, ignoring LinkedIn could be a big missed opportunity. How big? Last year, half of my income came from clients who found me via LinkedIn.
As a content marketer, I work with fairly large, service-based business-to-business (B2B) clients. They are the types of professionals who live on LinkedIn. In fact, unless you work only with creative solopreneurs, it’s very likely your prospects use LinkedIn.
How do you turn LinkedIn into a lead-generation machine? Here are the five strategies that have helped me.
Optimize Your Bio and Summary
Far too many people treat LinkedIn like an online resume. They keep their work history and education updated, but don’t do much more. Yes, it’s important to make sure those sections are complete and thoughtfully written, but perhaps much more important (but often overlooked) are the header bio area and the Summary section.
The top area of your profile (the first section with your photo) is what appears in search. This may be the only chance you have to make an impression on a prospect, so it’s critical to get your message across here. Use the tagline area to clearly communicate what you do and the benefit it provides.
Getting someone to click on your name is the first step. The next is getting them to actually look through your entire profile. The Summary section, which shows up right below the header, may be the deciding factor in whether they read on or leave your page.
Use this area to clearly communicate, using solution-focused copy, exactly what you do and how it will help your prospect. Peppering in industry-specific keywords (or adding them as a list of specialties as I did) will also help you move up in search results.
Just by updating your profile as outlined above, you’ll be leaps and bounds ahead of many of your competitors. To get to the next level, however, you need to more than a static page.
To show up in people’s feeds and establish yourself as an expert in your field, you need to share content—both your own and others’. The first step is to regularly post updates, which can be done from the home page. (Better yet, you can schedule these updates in bulk via Hootsuite.)
Use these updates to promote your latest blog posts, to dole out tips and tricks your clients will find valuable, and to share industry-specific news and trends. When I’m on top of my LinkedIn game, I push out about a half-dozen updates a day.
Also important is publishing content on LinkedIn. You can do this in two ways:
- Slideshare is LinkedIn’s slide-hosting service where you can upload PowerPoint, PDF and Keynote presentations. The decks can be viewed from LinkedIn and can be tagged by industry or topic to help users (and web browsers) find them.
- Pulse is LinkedIn’s publishing platform. It allows you to share original articles of interest to your industry. You can copy and paste your blog posts into Pulse or create entirely original content. Again, you can tag these articles to help them get found.
The key with sharing your own content on LinkedIn is to offer up information that will be useful to your ideal client. The goal is to showcase your knowledge and help prospects view you as a trusted resource they would want to hire.
Create a regular posting schedule and remember to promote your posts as updates and in groups (see below). Over time, your views, likes and followers will increase, as will your connection requests and opportunities to reach new prospects. (My most-viewed post is what motivated a now-client to hire me. That one post, which I simply copied and pasted from my blog, netted me $8,000 last year.)
Get in Groups
There are more than 2 million groups in LinkedIn (you can find them under the “Interests” tab at the top of your LinkedIn page). You can join up to 100, so do a search for topics of interest and start joining the ones that sound interesting. It’s good to be in a mix of groups for both your peers and your ideal clients. (After spending some time in the groups, leave those that aren’t active or that aren’t a good fit for you.)
Ideally, you’ll want to be in only a handful of groups so you can actually keep up with the conversations. I’m in a dozen; half are for marketing professionals and half are for managers in the industries I target.
Set aside time each morning (or at least once a week) to quickly visit each group and browse through the new conversations. Participate in a meaningful way by adding insights, asking questions or sharing resources. After you’ve been an active member for a while, it’s okay to occasionally share your own content or discuss your services (check the group rules first, of course), but never just link dump and run.
The goal with LinkedIn groups is to learn from your peers, help your prospects and slowly establish yourself as a reliable expert. It’s a long-game, but it can pay dividends.
This is a lesson I only recently learned. I have more than 1,200 connections on LinkedIn (I accept almost anyone, even if I don’t know them, because I don’t share anything personal) and get new requests weekly.
In the past, I just accepted connection requests and took no further action. Then I noticed some of those people had pretty impressive job titles, and some of them were people I’d love as clients. A lightbulb went off. Why don’t I send them a message?
This year, I’ve started sending a short note to anyone who connects with me. I thank them for the request, try to find some common ground to mention (by reviewing their profile), briefly mention what I do and ask if they’d be interested in having a quick introductory chat over the phone (and include the link to my online calendaring system).
I don’t sell. I don’t push. I just start a conversation. In only a month I’ve already had a half dozen calls and some pretty promising leads. I’m excited about what this super-simple tactic will do for my business this year.
Finally, you can use LinkedIn to actively seek out leads by utilizing the search function. Don’t just type in a job title or industry in the search bar, however. Be smart and strategic using the “Advanced Search” feature.
You can target your searches by keyword, job title, company, location, even by shared interests like alma mater or charitable activity. Once you find a number of leads, you can connect with them on LinkedIn if you’re allowed, find shared connections and ask for a referral, or Google the person to find their phone number and try cold calling. There’s a lot of potential with this strategy, and is limited only by your imagination.
A word of warning: LinkedIn limits how many searches a regular member can make before it will block your search access and require you to upgrade to a paid membership. I know because I recently hit the wall. Considering my successes with LinkedIn, I’ve been considering investing in a Premium Business account anyway. It’s only $48/year and provides unlimited searching, allows you to see who’s viewed your profile, and gives you 15 messages to people with whom you’re not connected.
Still not convinced LinkedIn is worth your time? Frankly, that’s okay with me. Having so many service providers ignoring the site only helps my chances of continuing to be found and hired.
Becky Mollenkamp is a content marketer who helps large B2Bs educate, engage, and excite their customers and prospects. She also writes for many consumer and trade magazines. Prior to starting her own business in 2005, Becky was an editor at Better Homes & Gardens and a reporter for a small daily newspaper. She blogs on creative entrepreneurial topics at beckymollenkamp.com (where she also offers a free resources library to her subscribers). Becky lives in St. Louis, Mo. with her husband and their baby, Gus.