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LinkedIn can be a powerful tool for building a professional network that leads to referrals and sales. Every business owner can probably benefit from a free LinkedIn profile to keep connected with peers, your local business leaders, and your network of suppliers and consultants. However, for those businesses selling to other professionals, LinkedIn can do much more.

Using LinkedIn as your professional network

There are two kinds of LinkedIn profiles: A personal profile and a company page. By way of example, my personal profile is here, and the national SCORE Mentor company page is here. You can see that each has different features, because they have different purposes.

To effectively use LinkedIn to build a network that will build brand awareness among key audiences of other professionals or B2B buyers, and help fill a sales pipeline, you will need one of each type of profile. Both are free to set up. They work together to achieve your objective.

The symmetry is simple:

  1. Use your personal profile to network
  2. Use your company page to publish content

Use your personal profile to build a sales pipeline

There are several sections of a personal profile that I think are most important.

  1. Use a strong headline. This is often the first and only thing people see, so it must highlight your key value to others in the network and communicate both your role and your superpowers. Go beyond your title. Consider a series of descriptors like, "Founder | Life Coach | Mindfulness Workshop Leader.”
  2. Think of your About section as an introduction. Use the first person and make it conversational. In real life, if you meet someone new, you don’t read them your resume. You smile at them, and tell them a story about yourself! You emphasize your passions, your high level achievements and skills, and how you might be helpful to others. Write this to show your enthusiasm for what you do.
  3. Include a professional photo and background image. Be sure to link to your website and company page.
  4. Use the Employer section to link to your Company Page (see below) and tell the story of your business. Here, as opposed to the About section, talk about products, services, offerings and your skills.
  5. Include any professional associations and awards at the bottom Accomplishments section. List your alumni connections - both jobs and education. People often search for those, as well.

Now that you have your basics set up in the profile, here is how to use your profile to build a network. As with any relationship, it takes time and attention. You have to listen more than you speak, which is social media terms means you like and comment on other people’s content in order to attract them to your own.

  • Make a commitment to reach out to 10+ new contacts every week. Schedule an hour each week to do this so you don't lose sight of it. Include people you already know and people you would like to work with.
  • Use the Search functionality to identify people in your target audience. You can search by Geo, Title, Company and more. Think of organizations that you want to work with, and then search for the people there who have titles of those who might buy from you or hire you.
  • When you find someone you want to meet, click on their name to visit their profile. Click the Connect button. Introduce yourself by including a "note" on the Connect message. There is a limit of 250 characters, so stay focused. It’s a professional network, and it’s okay and expected that you want to do business with someone. Ask how you can help them, and suggest they follow your company page to start. Always say “thank you.”
  • Don't be worried that you don't hear back from most people - everyone is busy and LinkedIn is huge. This is why you must reach out on a continual basis. It’s a bit of a numbers game - you have to pour a lot of outreach into the top of the funnel to get responses out of the bottom.
  • Once you are connected to people you want to work with, then keep in touch with them by sending them links to posts or tagging them in the content you share. Follow up about once a month for 3-4 months.
  • Spend a few minutes every time you log in commenting and liking other people's content. Do this for people you follow and people you are trying to meet. It's a network. You have to give to get. Plus, it's only polite to show an interest in others' posts, as you want them to do the same for you.
  • Join Groups to network. Be selective, so you can be active and get something out of it. Alumni are good starting places - both university and former employers. Once you are accepted in the Group, participate - share content, comment and like other people's posts.

Using a company page for brand building and content marketing

Your company page is where you publish content, and attract followers. Let’s say you are a certified life coach. You want to reach psychologists who will refer you to new clients, as well as corporate HR leaders who might hire you to lead a workshop.

Create a company page to be the destination of your content marketing.

  • Your first post can be an introduction, e.g.: "We've joined LinkedIn to share ideas about how meditation helps people reach their goals." Always ask people to follow your page (I know it seems obvious, but the power of suggestion is very powerful.)
  • Develop a content strategy that is on brand to your unique business, and interesting to your followers.
    • Highlight your expertise. In this example, we might share mythbusters about meditation or quotes from inspirational leaders
    • Share photos from workshops (anonymous participants to protect privacy)
    • Interview thought leaders in your space and publish the interviews as a series of short quotes or takeaways. You can also publish the interviews as blog posts, then promote them on social media.
    • Share any appropriate blog posts. Note that blog posts can be turned into multiple posts - just highlight different elements of the same post (in separate posts, spaced a week or so apart) and link back to the same post on your website.
    • Aim for at least 1-2 posts per week, about four per month.
  • Posts should include high quality, meaningful images, but keep the copy crisp, around 50-100 words max.
  • Include 2-3 hashtags (e.g.: #mindfulness or #femaleleadership) LinkedIn uses hashtags for search, so be sure to include hashtags that have a following already. You can see if people are following a hashtag by searching the hashtag on LinkedIn (the search bar is in the top left). For example, when I type in “#femaleleadership” (include the # symbol), it tells me that as of this moment, 3,920 people follow that term. One more search and I learn that 9,400 people follow #womenentrepreneurs. Which term is better for your post? The one that is most relevant to the content, and reaches the most people.
  • Always include a call to action - which might be to encourage comments and likes ("Tell me what you think!" "Have you seen something like this work?") or links to your website or blog
  • Share and promote the posts via your personal page to get them some visibility.
  • Post on your personal page a request for your followers to follow the company page, too
  • Include the link on your email signature, your website and any email marketing you do to encourage followers.

Time commitment for making LinkedIn work for small business

Let me anticipate your next question: How in the world can I do all this and still run my business?! It does seem like a lot when it’s all written out like this. However, once you get both your profile and your page in prime condition, you should be able to spend 30 minutes a week networking and an hour a week creating content and sharing it. So in 90 minutes a week, you can generate real results. Use your mobile app to do some networking in small bits of time - like in the queue at the market or while you are waiting for your child’s game to begin.

LinkedIn is not the only way to build your network, but it is a strong tool to have on your side. More and more, people are used to connecting virtually, and some of the strongest professional connections I have are with people I’ve never met in person. With the right foundations in place, you will quickly be on your way to strengthening your network and sales pipeline.

Linkedin logo Follow Stephanie Miller on Linkedin

Step-by-step guide for using LinkedIn to grow your sales pipeline