By Mark Lee
If you want people to find you on LinkedIn, you need to do more than simply register your profile. LinkedIn is an online networking site, so you might as well use it to help you network.
To get started, I suggest you look to connect with people you know and also with people you would like to know. There are two reasons for this:
- If you don't have any connections (or you have very few connections), you'll be less "attractive" on the site. Such people are generally brand new to the site, very odd and lonely, or they're spammers;
- The more connections you have, within reason, the easier it is to get in touch with prospects and to source new potential clients (leads).
As a start-up practice, you could start by looking to connect with people you've worked with in the past, such as ex-colleagues and ex-clients. You can also connect with friends, family, friends of friends, business associates, and professional advisors.
LinkedIn's search facility is very useful here – as is the advanced search tool.
When you want to connect with someone, you're asked to indicate how you know the person. It's best to be truthful when you're choosing the reason.
Later in this series, I'll be talking about LinkedIn groups. For the moment, just note that you're allowed to use mutual membership of the same group to justify a connection request.
Personalizing connection requests
LinkedIn prompts you to send a standard message: "I'd like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn." Delete it and write your own message. No one appreciates receiving that boring standard message.
If you're reaching out to people who don't know you, you'll generally get more positive responses to personalized connection requests. The same outcome follows if you send personalized e-mails or hard-copy letters rather than standard ones.
LinkedIn limits the length of your initial connection request so you need to be succinct. Try to incorporate three or four elements:
- Why you reached out and would like to connect (e.g., "I saw your update . . . I read your comment on . . . and believe we may have an overlap of interests").
- An indication that you understand that LinkedIn is about mutually beneficial networking. For instance, "I hope we can connect and please let me know how I can help."
- What's in it for them (without trying to get salesy!).
- A thank-you to the person for considering your request.
Basically, you want to demonstrate rapport and maybe a little flattery. You want to avoid coming across as just another boring accountant.
Bear in mind that many people who are new to LinkedIn or who don't really understand the system will ignore your connection requests. You can try to send a reminder, but don't worry if you get ignored. It happens sometimes and it's rarely personal.
People you may know
LinkedIn has a clever and spooky habit of highlighting on your home page "people you may know." Many of these suggestions will be correct, as the system spots connections and links derived from your profile and the people with whom you're already connected.
If you simply click on the "Connect" link offered by LinkedIn, the other person sometimes gets an impersonal standard message that says you claim to be a friend. If you're not a friend, this can be at best embarrassing, at worst annoying. The standard message tends to go out if you click the link when presented with a full page of people you may know.
I find it's better to click the person's name, if I know the person, and to then send a connection request in the normal way.
Connection requests you receive
At the top of the LinkedIn screen, you may see a figure in a red box on the small black envelope. This number is the aggregate of messages and invitations to connect that are awaiting your attention. You can click the red box or go to your LinkedIn inbox to manage these requests.
I very rarely receive spam requests to connect. I've found one way to avoid them is to avoid joining those groups that have tens of thousands of members – many of them are there solely for the purpose of sending spam connection requests.
Send a personal note
After you accept the connection there's a facility to send the other person a message. I do this whenever I agree to connect with someone. It helps make things more personal. Don't make your message salesy. That would be premature. Often you'll get a reply and can start a conversation. Often you'll be ignored as the other person isn't (yet) using LinkedIn effectively.
Some people think it's a worthwhile game to amass as many random connections as possible on LinkedIn. It isn't.
Be choosy. You need only connect with people you know or would like to know. It's just the same as face-to-face networking in this regard, except that online you don't even have to politely accept (the equivalent of) a business card from oddballs and strangers based in other countries – unless you have a business reason for wanting to do so.
If you receive connection requests from strangers, you can simply click "Ignore" to ignore the request.
Before deciding whether to ignore a request, you can easily check out the person's LinkedIn profile. I often do this and reply to the connection request with a short note. For instance, "Can you remind me how we know each other?" or "Can you let me know why you'd like to connect? I limit my network to people I know." If people are really interested in connecting, they'll write back with more information. If you never hear from them again, they probably wouldn't have been valuable contacts anyway.
I've already noted the importance of accepting that many people who are registered on LinkedIn don't understand much about how it works. This means they sometimes make mistakes simply by doing what the site seems to encourage.
I've learned NOT to judge those people who send me standard connection requests or who claim to be my friend.
If you accept a connection request and change your mind later, you can disconnect from anyone using LinkedIn's "Remove Connections" feature. The person won't be alerted.
I'd encourage you to reply to every connection request you receive. I still do it and it's even more important when you're starting in practice.
As with face-to-face networking, you never know who the other person might know. So even if your first impression is that the person will never be a potential client, don't write the person off. The advantage of online networking is that you can start the communication process with many more people than you would have time to meet in person. You can then pick and choose those with whom you follow up with in real life. And that follow-up is crucial.
You'll probably generate more clients from new connections you meet in person than you will from those you simply engage with online.
Anyone and everyone
I'm not a fan of the LION strategy – to be a LinkedIn "Open Networker." These people connect with anyone and everyone. It can make sense for certain types of business people, but I doubt it's worthwhile for start-up practices. It's also likely to lead to receiving more spam messages from some of those random connections – many of whom will be all around the world.
Tagging your connections
As a start-up practice, one of your primary objectives will be to build your credibility and to generate new clients.
LinkedIn provides a facility to tag (categorize) your connections. You can do this from the main list of your connections, which you reach from the contacts top line menu link. You might, for example, have one tag for prospects, another for clients, and a third for introducers. You don't have to tag everyone.
You'll want to review the tagged lists regularly and to think about how to keep in touch with the individuals in each group – without spamming them. That would be quite easy to do, but inevitably ends up being counterproductive. After all, how often do you respond positively when someone does it to you?
In Part 3 of this series, I'll be looking at endorsements and recommendations, then groups, status updates, and lead generation.
Also by Mark:
About the author:
Mark Lee is consultant practice editor of AccountingWEB UK and writes the BookMarkLee blog for accountants who want to overcome the stereotype of the boring accountant – in practice, online, and in life. He is also chairman of the Tax Advice Network of independent tax experts.