Most of the buzz about social media is about Facebook and Twitter, and very little is said about LinkedIn. LinkedIn is often not even mentioned when people talk about social media, but it is a social media platform (and one of the oldest).
That’s both bad and good news. It’s bad because it means fewer people know how powerful it is. But that’s good for you because if you take advantage of it, you can stand out. It’s especially good for professional service firms – like accounting practices – where so much of the business is based on the expertise of the people in it.
LinkedIn started life as a recruitment network, to help employers and job seekers find each other. It still works that way, but for your accounting practice, it’s better to use it as a place for demonstrating your professional authority.
Keep in mind that most of your LinkedIn connections are not your prospects. They are peers and colleagues who are connected to you for mutual gain. Think professional association, not marketplace.
That doesn’t mean you won’t get any business from LinkedIn. On the contrary, LinkedIn can be one of your best sources of businesses. But think of it as getting business through your connections, not from them. In other words, they are more likely to refer you than to buy from you. But that referral to a key person in their network might be worth much more to you than selling directly to the referrer.
You already know the power of referrals in your practice. Here are seven things you can do to get more of them from LinkedIn.
1. Update your profile
Ensure your LinkedIn profile is professional, current and accurate. Some of this is straightforward, but take note of these important bits:
- Name: Include your name and only your name. Some people add keywords in their name to appear more prominently on LinkedIn, but LinkedIn doesn’t allow this, and can block your account for it.
- Photo: Use a good professional photo, not a silly selfie or a cartoon (unless that’s really part of your brand).
- Summary: This is where you write your “blurb”. If you don’t know what to write, use my Four E’s formula: Experience (number of clients, years in business, number of offices, etc.), Expertise (tax, corporations, small business, etc.), Education (qualifications), and Endorsements (awards, testimonials, etc.).
- Contact Info: Fill in as much as possible, because you want to make it easy for people to get in touch.
2. Add a Professional Portfolio
You can enhance the “Summary”, “Experience” and “Education” sections of your profile with documents, pictures, videos, and slide shows. LinkedIn calls this your Professional Portfolio. Use it to enhance your reputation and give you more credibility than just your text description.
Ideally, the material you add here will be relevant to your clients – for example, a slide show about tax changes, a video about the current property market, or a PDF report about how to improve business cash flow. However, if you haven’t created this material yet, include material that promotes yourself – for example, a photograph of you speaking at a networking event.
3. Connect with people you know
Start by connecting only with people you know. This applies both to incoming invitations and outgoing invitations. If you don’t know them, don’t connect with them.
There are some exceptions to this rule, where you choose to connect with other people in your network:
- People who seem like a good match: For example, this might be somebody in your industry or your niche market.
- People you meet on LinkedIn: For example, people who comment on your posts, participate in your groups, or engage with you in other ways.
- People who are introduced by somebody else: We’ll talk about introductions soon.
When you connect with somebody, LinkedIn’s default message is “I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn”. If you get the opportunity to change this, do so and explain exactly why you’re connecting with them (For example, how you know them). Unfortunately, LinkedIn sometimes doesn’t allow you to customise this message.
4. Search for interesting people
Use LinkedIn’s Search feature (at the top of the page) to find people you might want to connect with. The Advanced Search allows you to be specific about your search criteria – e.g. people with “retail” in their title in Sydney.
As another example, if you’re attending a conference or other event, look up the speakers, panellists and other participants on LinkedIn. You might find some that are worth connecting with before the event.
Once you find people of interest, you can start connecting to them. You do this by asking for an introduction – which we’ll cover next.
5. Ask for introductions
One of LinkedIn’s best features is the ability to ask somebody you know to introduce you to somebody else in their network (just as you would do elsewhere in your life). Because that person in the middle is trusted by you and the other person, the initial connection is far warmer than just a cold contact.
When asking for an introduction, explain why you want to connect, so the “middle man” knows whether to pass on the request.
6. Write testimonials
You can write testimonials for people in your network by writing a “Recommendation” for them. Apart from helping to boost that person’s reputation, LinkedIn also invites that person to return the favour, so this is a good way for getting recommendations for yourself as well!
LinkedIn also has a feature called “Endorsements”, where you can endorse people for certain skills and expertise. But it just takes a click to do this, so it’s not highly regarded. Ignore Endorsements, but use Recommendations.
7. Participate in groups
As with any community, the more you participate the more value you get. On LinkedIn, the best place to participate is in groups (look under the Interests tab on the menu).
Search for groups you like, join them, and participate. You can start by just “lurking” (just watching silently to see how the group operates), and then join in and contribute. The easiest way to start is just by answering other people’s questions. You don’t have to be a world expert; just share your experience.
Most LinkedIn members don’t like people who promote themselves, so don’t promote yourself! Just give solid answers that genuinely help people, and they will look up your profile anyway.
8. Share interesting articles on your news feed
You already read a lot as part of your ongoing professional development and interest. If this material is public and online, post links to it on your news feed. Go broader than your own areas of expertise, and think of things that might interest your clients – for example, articles about marketing, sales, goal setting, productivity, innovation, and social media.
Which of these ideas could YOU use?
All of these ideas are easy to do, and don’t take much time. There’s a lot more you could do with LinkedIn, but just doing a few of these eight ideas will put you ahead of most LinkedIn users. Most importantly, get your momentum going with just one of these ideas today!