It’s a fact! If it were not for LinkedIn you would not be reading this article. Why not, you ask? I probably would not be a SCORE mentor if not for a discussion I read on a LinkedIn discussion group earlier this year. Phil Hartung, a fellow SCORE Chicago volunteer, posted it and suggested I investigate volunteering for SCORE. I would never have had the opportunity to share my knowledge and experience with small businesses or to write this series if I wasn’t active on LinkedIn.
Through this series of blogposts I hope to explain to each of you how you can brand your professional image, establish your credibility and then select a target market to attract better customers by effectively using LinkedIn. Using LinkedIn well may even allow qualified prospects to find you with little or no effort on your part.
Finding new opportunities or having them knock on your door, is just one of a list of more than a dozen personal benefits I attribute to networking and marketing on LinkedIn. And I firmly believe you can gain these and other benefits regardless of your business, whether it is B2B or B2C, by learning some of the basic tools for being found on LinkedIn.
I realize there are many, many business networking platforms available on the Internet today. I have tried perhaps over a dozen myself, before and during the time I have been engaged on LinkedIn. I did, however, settle there eventually for all of its tools and benefits. The main reason is obvious, at least to me as a former professional consultative salesperson. (Note: I always considered myself to be more of a teacher rather than a hard closer.) LinkedIn, in terms of sheer numbers alone, is simply the world’s largest database and social business platform dedicated to business networking.
The concept of LinkedIn as a business networking tool took root in the mind of Reid Hoffman in 2002. The website was launched on May 5, 2003. In less than a decade, (as of August 2, 2012) LinkedIn “operates the world’s largest professional network on the Internet with more than 175 million members in over 200 countries and territories.” Forty-eight percent of LinkedIn members are located inside the United States. That’s 84 million business people and that number grows at an estimated two per second. The site is filled with decision makers, top fortune company CEOs and executives and some claim it boasts the highest per capita household income of any social media site.
To all of this I frankly continue to say wow and THANK YOU, Reid! If I had this tool when I first started in direct sales back in the late 1970′s, I would not have had to throw away those hundreds of business cards from people I had met over the years who moved on from the job location I knew them from as well as any possible way to connect with them. Perhaps we could have stayed connected if there was a tool where they could have automatically updated their business information. Enter LinkedIn.
The size of this data base is amazing, it is truly a salesman’s nirvana. All those prospects qualifying themselves and just waiting for me to show them what has been missing from their lives and why I am unique and different from my competitors. It’s mind boggling. I often quote Tom Gimbel Founder and CEO of LaSalle Network in this regard. This is taken from a Chicago Tribune (print) article on December 25, 2011:
Question: What would you say to someone who said LinkedIn is useless?
Gimbel: “A free database of professionals that is updated by the individuals in it is useless? Someone who would say that is afraid of change and information.”
And I agree!
As of my last check (October 25, 2012), there were 2,654,872 companies I could target on LinkedIn as well as 1,464,493 special interest groups. Not only could I check out the companies, I could find individual management personnel within those companies, see what they were doing and whether they are staying put or moving. I could target industry groups, professional groups, alumni groups, job hunter groups, suppliers, industry experts, etc. These groups are filled with people who want to do business with me or to help me. All I must do is join the group and participate in the conversations.
But alas, that is the crux of the problem most face. To benefit one must participate. Terror strikes, for too many just ‘sign up,’ put up a skeletal profile and wait for someone to find them. That reminds me of a Jules Feifer cartoon from the 60′s I discovered when I was recovering from an operation for a low grade sarcoma. The sole character is shown living in a shell, within a wall, inside a fort, inside a tunnel, under the sea where he remains ‘safe’. In the final panel he declares: “If you really loved me, you would find me.” That described me to a “T” while I was recuperating, both physically and psychologically. It was only after I decided to take charge of my life, that is re-join the living world, did I meet my future wife, and love of my life, Judy.
Participation, and may I add positive participation, is the ultimate key to realizing the benefits to be gained from LinkedIn. It does take a time commitment. Another analogy I use (I am a salesman, after all I thrive on storytelling and anecdotes) is describing people participating in the fun and benefits at a swimming pool.
There are the sun bathers who never get wet as well as the dabblers who sit on the edge of the pool dangling their feet in the water. Of course there are the waders who will not even dampen their bathing suits. There are even passersby who stroll along not even aware the pool is available; for it just lies beyond the bushes and the fence available to relieve them of their heat exhaustion. A minority of people are actually swimming. Then are those of us who head for the high diving board to plunge head first into the deep waters in hopes of exploring new possibilities.
Come, jump into the pool with me. I invite you to embark upon the adventure, journey and challenge that is LinkedIn. Over the course of the next three articles perhaps I can open your eyes to the many possibilities that await your exploration. A life jacket and swimming goggles are optional.