NSFR-small-biz-icons-networkingetworking is all about who you know, not what you know, and nothing proves this more than the success of social networking. Despite the love/hate relationship many professionals have with social media, it has become a valuable business asset that allows people to engage in broader ways than ever before.

LinkedIn is the platform of choice for making business connections, expanding referral networks, building strategic partnerships, and searching for everything from growth opportunities to talented employees.

Using this platform successfully means making sure your LinkedIn profile is strong and up-to-date, actively engaging on a regular basis, and being strategic about your outreach. Here are some tips for getting the most out of the unique networking benefits that LinkedIn provides.

Power Up Your Profile

Creating a strong profile requires more than just copying and pasting your resume. LinkedIn is a platform for marketing your personal brand, so it’s important to showcase not only your professional experience and education, but your areas of expertise, skill sets, and special interests. The more thorough you are in describing yourself, the easier it is for other professionals to determine the value of connecting with you.

Do you really need to include a headshot? Absolutely. Experts say you are seven times more likely to have your profile viewed if you have one. Since a picture actually is worth a thousand words, make the investment in getting a professional headshot.

Once you create your LinkedIn profile, it’s not one and done. To be viewed as a highly engaged user on the platform, regular maintenance is essential. Update your status with notable happenings in your industry, a link to an article about your work, or a summary of your latest blog post. Keep your accomplishments current, noting if you’ve been given a promotion, won an award, or received recognition for the quality of your work.

A word to the wise: If you have a lot of updates to make to your profile, make sure your privacy settings are on. You don’t want to ping your LinkedIn universe every time you make a change, and this will allow you to control when and how you direct traffic to your page.

Build Your Network Wisely

Sending invitations to join your network is a very straightforward process, but as with physical networking, it’s best to have a strategy before you dive in.

  • Consider how the platform can best work for you and why you want to expand your professional circle.
  • Make a list of people you already know and connect with them first. Once you’ve established a link, you’ll be able to see their connections and choose those you’d like to add to your own network.
  • Use the site’s “People You May Know” tool to reach out to professionals with similar backgrounds and connections. There is also a message feature on LinkedIn that allows you to contact individuals you may wish to talk with privately.
  • When you meet people at a physical networking meeting, ask if they are on LinkedIn and invite them to connect with you. The site is a useful tool for getting to know new contacts.
  • If you’re interested in a particular company, go to its business page, click “follow,” then look to connect with employees whose responsibilities align with your goals. Write them a short note that conveys the reasons why you would be a meaningful connection.

While it’s not a bad idea to accept all of the invitations you receive on LinkedIn, remember that networking is about quality, not quantity. The days of seeking 500+ connections are long gone. As you grow your network, identify a short list of key connections with whom you want to build solid relationships, and have a game plan for staying in touch with them on a regular basis.

Engage and Contribute

The LinkedIn platform has evolved to make it easier for professionals to engage with each other in meaningful ways. Contributing interesting or helpful information, especially on topics relating to your industry, will heighten your profile and boost your credibility. Be prepared to devote a half hour or so each week to writing to new connections and participating in group discussions.

There are some “rules of the road” when it comes to engagement on LinkedIn. Here are a few Dos and Don’ts:

  • DO make it a point to be genuine, thoughtful, and professional in all of your communications.
  • DON’T inundate your network with useless links, videos, and requests for favors. Spamming is arguably the biggest offense you can commit on LinkedIn, and it can result in being blocked or even removed from the site.
  • DO join LinkedIn groups to foster your interests, learn new skills, and network with others. Focus on groups that relate to your industry and can help advance your business goals. Once you join a group, make sure you use it.
  • DO participate in discussions to increase awareness of who you are and what you are all about. When engaging in a group discussion, imagine you’re having a conversation with someone. Listen, acknowledge, and then contribute to the dialogue without veering off topic or trying to impress everyone.
  • DO share your personal point of view as it relates to your area of expertise, but DON’T publish reactionary rants about annoyances or current events in your field.
  • DON’T engage in shameless self-promotion. There is a fine line between sharing accomplishments and showing off, and a little humility will go a long way towards building leads and alliances.
  • DO enhance your profile by asking for endorsements from individuals who you have worked with, and who can attest to your expertise and skills.

The power of LinkedIn as a networking tool lies in building the relationships and strategic partnerships that lead to long-term business success. For more information on managing and financing your small business, be sure to follow Summit Financial Resources on LinkedIn.

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