By Mark Lee
I've long held the belief that LinkedIn is a serious online business networking tool, and it can be an effective tool for start-up practices. This is the first article in a three-part series where I'll explain how LinkedIn can help the solo practitioner.
Why register on LinkedIn if you're a start-up?
There are three key reasons:
- Having your profile on LinkedIn makes you easier to find when people are looking for you or for an accountant like you.
- Once registered on LinkedIn, you can make potentially useful connections with other accountants, professional advisors, business people, prospects, and suppliers.
- You can also use LinkedIn to identify prospective clients and to find out more about people before you meet with them.
There are other potential benefits, and none of them is unique to accountants starting up in practice. The only difference is that all start-up practices need to grow. Using LinkedIn effectively can help. More established practitioners may be less concerned about growing and see less need to do whatever they can to boost their marketing and networking efforts.
Getting your profile right
As always, you need to keep in mind your target audience. There are some key elements of your LinkedIn profile regardless, but the greater clarity you have as to who you want to impress, the more useful your profile will be.
Be clear about your chosen niche or specific area of expertise. The more your profile looks like other accountants starting their own practice, the more you'll struggle to stand out. The more distinct you profile is, the easier it will be to generate new clients.
Once you've registered on LinkedIn.com, you can edit your profile at any stage.
Go the Profile tab, close to the top left of every LinkedIn screen. The first drop-down option lets you edit each section of your profile as often as you feel the need.
Simply click the links marked Add or Edit to make the desired changes. To ensure maximum professional impact, I suggest you ensure your profile:
- Includes a headline title after your name that describes your role and approach rather than simply saying something boring, such as "Accountant." You can try different headlines, but something distinct will invariably be more useful than something generic.
- Displays your full name.
- Includes a professional quality photo – one people could recognize you from if they met you in real life; they'll feel they already know you from your photo and online interactions.
- Makes clear you're an approachable, experienced, and fully rounded person in the Summary area. This should be written in the first person and also refer to your new practice and your key focus or niche.
- Includes all of your skills and expertise. You want people to find you easily when they search LinkedIn for an accountant with your specialist experience. Include the words and phrases that people might use when they search.
- Includes in the Experience section the same name of each of your previous firms as your colleagues used so that you're all linked to the same firm in each case. (Mergers and incorporation as LLPs or limited companies can cause problems here. This is all especially important for recommendations, as I will explain in the next week's article.)
- Includes your business e-mail address rather than a personal, Gmail, or Hotmail address. The latter are more common for job hunters than for someone who has started a real accounting practice.
- It's up to you how much of your personal job history you include on your profile. But as a start-up practice, you'll want to demonstrate your prior experience and provide evidence of your expertise in your chosen niche. Quite simply, the more credibility you can establish, the better.
Your new practice
LinkedIn requires you to indicate when your practice started.
It's important to make clear how much relevant experience you amassed before you started your own firm. And be clear that it's an accounting practice. This should also be apparent from your headline to avoid potentially confusing anyone.
Make it easy for people to find you
This is a key tip if you want to benefit from LinkedIn's search features when users look for someone like you. Ensure you include your key words (e.g., accountant, tax, and any specific niche or focus) in these five key elements of your profile:
- Current work experience
- Past work experience
Think about what terms and words people might use to search for an accountant like you. The more often you include these in those five elements of your profile, the easier it will be for you to be found, which is the main idea (especially if you're not planning on using LinkedIn actively).
The second and third articles in this series will address the topics of connection requests, endorsements, recommendations, groups, and lead generation on LinkedIn. In the meantime, by all means connect with me there.
Also by Mark: LinkedIn: Six Common Misconceptions
About the author:
Mark Lee is consultant practice editor of AccountingWEB 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.
Feb 15th 2013