By Marc W. Halpert
All good tools require maintenance. To keep your toolbox in optimal condition, you have to arrange and polish the tools so they are accessible and easy to use. So it is with LinkedIn, a business connectivity tool in the social media toolbox.
The over 65 million people using LinkedIn comprise a huge professional business community that is, in essence, a personal learning network of people who help each other with little or no expectation of getting anything back in return, although, of course, business attributable to those contacts is always welcomed.
Over the past five years, LinkedIn's role in my online networking has become an ever more vital aspect of my marketing strategy. I "pay it forward," giving and later receiving.
New business prospects find their way to me because I work LinkedIn for referrals. I data mine from the extensive LinkedIn database to look for common threads that yield business results.
Like anyone else, I still need to get on the phone or visit merchants in person; it's part of what merchant level salespeople (MLSs) and ISOs do. But once I make the face-to-face contact, I follow up on LinkedIn and make the new connection a part of my community.
Following are 10 ways to work LinkedIn to make your presence there fruitful. These tips have helped my webinar listeners and the people I coach; they have told me over and over that these ideas really work. Start with one or two of them, layer more in and keep it going.
Setting forth a dull, static LinkedIn profile and expecting merchants to find their way to you is unreasonable in today's business world.
A profile that looks like a cut-and-paste job from your resume or an out-of-date, drab website will fail to spotlight you as a desirable "brand." An unattractive company profile page on LinkedIn is also taboo.
Look around, observe how competitors display their profiles on LinkedIn and then adapt rich keyword clauses to match your personality. Never stop. Keep massaging your profile, since we all change over time.
Every adaptation and enhancement to your LinkedIn profile is an investment in you as a brand that says to potential clients: This is exactly why you would want to rely on me to process your payments.
Free tools on LinkedIn await you, so use them. Post your marketing materials on LinkedIn for prospects to peruse.
The Box.net and SlideShare tools will instantly enhance your profile with more depth, showing "why you," in PDF, JPEG, MP3, PowerPoint and video formats. In my emails, I also embed links to files of specific material I want contacts to review.
Use a personal LinkedIn URL (mine is www.linkedin.com/in/marchalpert) in your email signature, as well as on marketing materials and business cards. That will make it easy for interested parties to find out more about you.
Show how well-rounded you are. For example, mention the books you are reading, events where you are presenting and business trips you are scheduling. Doing this will enhance your profile and visibility.
Add to the global learning conversation; give expert information or comment in an appropriately positive way that truly adds to the discussion. Since everyone gains from your expertise, you can stand out.
Your LinkedIn contacts are similarly busy showing themselves in the best light, so help them out: post encouraging, honest, complimentary comments on top of theirs. Don't grandstand; participate.
Success comes from being noticed and admired. Your network is predisposed to follow how well you are doing. Show clients why they should be proud to be associated with you, and let competitors gnash their teeth.
Offer an unsolicited recommendation to an associate, vendor or someone who has been instrumental in your success, and that person will remember you forever. Don't be bashful about asking a client for a recommendation either. LinkedIn is designed to make it easy to recommend others, or ask someone to recommend you, so go for it.
One caveat: Don't post your recommendation about Bob and have Bob recommend you on the same day. That looks like a "mutual admiration society" and cheapens the effect.
Wait a few days or a week between posting the two recommendations. Then you can effectively publicize what you have to offer twice. Give and receive, but not simultaneously.
Anyone can belong to up to 50 LinkedIn groups for free. However, it's better to be a vibrant, active member of a few groups than an observer in many. To get a huge return on your investment, find groups, participate often and leave when they no longer suit your needs.
I learned which netbook brands and models to consider purchasing by joining such a group and asking for expert opinions to guide my purchase. And then I left. (Thanks, netbook users' group.)
I was approached by a webinar listener who remembered my mentioning a post I made to a LinkedIn group to which we both belong. She referred me as an MLS to an agency she is working with hundreds of miles away, and I made a business proposal to help the agency. That's what I call a great referral.
While you are participating in groups, seek the wisdom their members possess. Ask questions about challenges you face, and you will reap the benefits. A potential client asked me to look into something outside my area of expertise.
Seeking the answer, I posted an open-ended question to a specific LinkedIn group, and weeks later the perfect answer came from someone in Europe whom I do not know.
I relayed the answer to the client, who was impressed that I had followed up and found the perfect response. I was later invited to quote on the client's merchant processing business.
I have seen timely, open-ended questions lead to over 100 answers within groups. Such questions must be about hot topics for so many people to become involved enough to comment. That further tells me the topics are useful for my own knowledge and for the personal learning network I am creating among colleagues and clients.
For asking to link to someone, LinkedIn provides the default message: I'd like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn. - (your name). This is dull and mundane. Why should the individual bother? What have you done to make yourself memorable?
Instead, differentiate yourself: remind the person how or where you met him or her, how you can mutually benefit each other, and what actions should be taken.
Send something like this: Bob, thank you for the great conversation after today's luncheon about ways we could work with each other. Later this week I will follow up on the areas we discussed. So please join my network as we increase each other's networking connections. Best regards and speak to you soon, (your name).
I am frequently asked what to do when asked to link to someone you do not know or recognize. If everyone followed the instructions I just provided, this would not be an issue.
But for the occasional people I do not know who try to link to me, first I look them up on LinkedIn to identify them further. If I am still uncertain about linking to them, I respond with: Sorry. It's my policy to link to people I have met and gotten to know or do business with. I am not sure this qualifies; accordingly, I will respectfully decline.
Your profile photo is essentially your brand's first impression. Consumers often decide with their eyes, so put up a great photo. Use one you already have, or get a professional headshot.
But let's see that face. Often people look at your LinkedIn profile while speaking to you on the phone for the first time.
I routinely meet new business contacts for the first time at a public place or coffee shop. I memorize my contact's LinkedIn photo. And I point them to my LinkedIn profile and photo to reduce the uneasiness of having to find someone they've never seen.
Set aside a certain amount of time each day to work LinkedIn. Be consistent. Manage the time you spend by tightening your profile, contributing to discussions and seeking help.
Keep looking for connections. Use commute time (if you're not driving), meeting breaks, dead time between appointments, etc. to keep on top of your increasingly active LinkedIn network.
I set a timer and decompress at the end of the day by working my LinkedIn connections. It helps me close the business day mentally and starts the process of responses I need for tomorrow.
We all rely on our smart phones; having more information at our fingertips makes them even more useful. Download the LinkedIn mobile app to your smart phone; it will make you an attractive, effective go-to person anywhere you are.
If a client wants a referral to a colleague, for example, your image as a responsive team player will be enhanced by immediate access to the referral's contact details.
That wraps up the top 10 nuggets on the care and feeding of LinkedIn. They resulted from my lectures, webinars and coaching, through which I've taught hundreds of professionals, answering their questions and responding to their war stories.
How you use LinkedIn depends on your dedication, personality and need for branding, but knowing the most effective tips and techniques may just land you another piece of credit card processing business down the road.
A sharp LinkedIn presence is a differentiator in a sea of MLS competitors. Learn from those you respect; give back to your peers; receive the reward of their admiration. Then you just might find LinkedIn indispensible.
Marc W. Halpert owns Your Best Interest LLC, which offers businesses specialized, paperless electronic payment services to optimize cash flow; e-giving, which helps professional organizations and not-for-profits optimize online payments and donations; and Connect2Collaborate, a division of Your Best Interest that offers businesspeople training and coaching in the best uses of LinkedIn. He serves as Lead Instructor at the local University of Phoenix campus and is a SCORE counselor. Contact him at 203-373-0875 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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