Mark Lee cuts through the hype and explains how start-up practices can get best value from LinkedIn.
Regular readers will recall that I have long believed that LinkedIn is a serious online business networking tool. It’s very different to more “social” sites such as Facebook and Twitter. That said, LinkedIn is constantly evolving, and has taken a backward step with one recent change.
Before we get to thatn issue, this article will set the scene for a three-part series on how LinkedIn can help the solo practitioner.
Why register on LinkedIn if you are 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 advisers, 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 too and none of them are 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.
At this point I would reiterate six common misconceptions I have previously clarified here about LinkedIn.
Getting your profile right
As ever, 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 those of every accountant starting their own practice, the more you will struggle to stand out. The more distinct you profile is, the easier it will be to generate new clients.
Once you have 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 would suggest that you ensure that 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 that will could recognise you from if they met you in real life; they will feel they already know you from your photo and online interactions
- Makes clear you are 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 here 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 are 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 article in this series.
- Includes your business email 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 accountancy practice.
- It is up to you how much of your personal job history you include on your profile. But as a start-up practice you will 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 is an accountancy 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 facilities when users look for someone like you. Ensure you include your key words (eg 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 parts of 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. And feel free to post comments below if you have questions, ideas or views on any of the above.
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
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