Chairman of the Tax Advice Network and BookMarkLee
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LinkedIn for start-ups: Part 2 - Just connect

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14th Jan 2013
Chairman of the Tax Advice Network and BookMarkLee
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In the second of his online networking series, Mark Lee explains how to use the networking element of Linkedin to connect with peers and potential prospects. Further articles will consider status updates, endorsements and recommendations, groups and lead generation.

Initiating connection requests

It’s all very well having your profile registered on Linkedin so that people can find you. But there’s a great deal more to the site than simply hoping your profile will be spotted or found.

It’s an online networking site so you might as well use it to help you network. As a starting point 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:

  1. If you have no (or very few connections) you will be less ‘attractive’ on the site. Most people like that are either brand new to the site, very odd and lonely or are spammers;
  2. 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 have worked with in the past. Ex-colleagues, ex-clients as well as friends, family, friends of friends, business associates and professional advisers.

Linkedin’s search facility is very useful here – as is the Advance search tool.

When you want to connect with someone you are asked to indicate how you know them. It’s best to be truthful when you are choosing the reason.

Later in this series I’ll be talking about LinkedIn groups. For the moment just note that you are allowed to use mutual membership of the same group to justify a connection request.

Personalising 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 are reaching out to people who don’t know you, you will generally get more positive responses to personalised connection requests. The same outcome follows if you send personalised emails 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 3 or 4 elements:

  1. Why you reached out and would like to connect (e.g., “I saw your update… or I read your comment on…. and believe we may have an overlap of interests”).
  2. 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.”
  3. What’s in if for them (without trying to get salesy!)
  4. 4A 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 do not 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 are 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 them, 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 have found one way to avoid them is to avoid joining those Groups that have tens of thousands of members – as many of them will be there solely for the facility to send spam connection requests.

Send a personal note

After you accept the connection there is 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 will get a reply and can start a conversation. Often you will be ignored as the other person is not (yet) using LinkedIn effectively.

Be choosy

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 the person is really interested in connecting, they will write back with more information. If you never hear from them again, they probably wouldn’t have been a valuable contact anyway.

I have already noted the importance of accepting that many people who are registered on LinkedIn do not understand much about how it works. This means that they sometimes make mistakes simply by doing what the site seems to encourage.

I have 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 unconnect from anyone using LinkedIn’s Remove Connections feature. The person will not be alerted.

Online networking

I would encourage you to reply to every connection request you receive. I still do it now and it’s even more important when you are 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 they will never be a potential client, do not write them 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 face to face. You can then pick and choose those with whom you follow up in real life.  And that follow up is crucial.

You will probably generate more clients from new connections you meet face to face than you will from those you simply engage with online.

Anyone and everyone

I am not a fan of the LION strategy – that is to be a Linked In 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 is also likely to lead to you 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.

Linkedn provides a facility to tag (categorise) 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 will 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 counter-productive. After all, how often do you respond positively when someone does it to you?

In part 3 of this series I will be looking at endorsements and recommendations, then groups, status updates and lead generation.

For now, if you have questions, ideas or views on anything above, please post your comments below. And do please ask to add me as a connection on LinkedIn.

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.

Further reading

Replies (2)

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By BrightPay
14th Jan 2013 16:10

Linkedingage

Thanks Mark. Some good advice in that. Looking forward to seeing your article on getting groups up and running. It's something we want to focus on as I think its a great way to broadcast our useful knowledge and also to engage rather than just connect!

 

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By Stephen Hudson
17th Jan 2013 21:19

Thanks for this, very helpful. I'm an accountant but not in practice and I found it informative and it gave me motivation to do more on LinkedIn.

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