Don’t be scared… get involved!

Debbie Frith, our Passionate PA in Poole and North Dorset, talks about the opportunities she sees in using LinkedIn as a valued part of her networking strategy.

I’ve been involved with networking groups, both running them and attending them, for over 3 years. I admit it was a little daunting to start with, but I soon got the hang of it and networking quickly became an important part of my business development strategy.

How to keep those connections engaged between networking events?

The simplest tool, literally at your fingertips, is LinkedIn.

I’m always amazed by how many people I meet face to face, swap details with and have great conversations with who then don’t carry on this great behaviour on LinkedIn.

LinkedIn is a free tool that can help you expand and engage your network. As a business owner, manager or executive it’s a way to gain referrals, to learn, to share, to understand and to show off… just a little bit!

So, why aren’t some business people using LinkedIn? What are they scared of? Or is it something else that’s holding them back?

“I’m scared of using LinkedIn”

Stuck on what to say, worried you’ll say something stupid? Will what you’ve got to say be of any interest to anyone else?

Well, you won’t know until you try! On the whole, and certainly within your local networking community, LinkedIn is a safe and supportive place to be, or at least that’s my experience. Your fellow business network will not be waiting for you to trip up, they should be interested in what you have to say and it’s up to you to make sure what you say is of some value and interest to them – as you would face to face.

“The competition is all over it already, so what’s the point?”

There’s no need to go head to head. Do something different and if you can’t think of something yourself, ask for help. An hour long 1:1 with a business advisor, a LinkedIn strategist or even a Passionate PA can help point you in the right direction and get you started with a strategy all of your own.

The old adage of you have to be known, liked and trusted is what you need to remember – LinkedIn is a powerful tool for ensuring your network remember who you are, like what you stand for and trust you as a business associate. So, competition or not, you have a voice, it needs to be heard.

I don’t have the time for all that, I’m too busy working!”

Ok, firstly, effective networking (on and off line) to develop your business relationships IS working. Secondly, everyone has time for the things they prioritise – blunt, but true. So, even if there is only an hour a week you can spare, using something like Hootsuite is a great way to plan a LinkedIn campaign and map out your posts over a period of time. Scheduling tools like Hootsuite don’t alleviate the need to be spontaneous and jump in on hot conversations, but they can really help you to focus on the quality and flow of your posts over a given amount of time.

“I’ve asked someone else in the office to do it and they do it when they have 5 mins.”

In order to gain an engaged following and to build further connections, you need to have a strategy for what it is you’re trying to achieve. Random posts, witty or not, that are not authentic and written in your tone of voice, with your experience behind them, are not the way to build successful business relationships. More on what does work later on…

“It’s just like Facebook, but for business?!”

Well, there are some who use it like that, but to be honest, the LinkedIn community usually sorts them out with a comment or two that puts the person responsible back in their box! Remember too that your network is a reflection of you – or more precisely, the people you’ve allowed to be in your network. If you don’t like what a certain person posts, either disconnect or unfollow. It’s as simple as that. You are totally in control of the people that are allowed to appear in your news feed.

“It just boils down to this… I don’t know what to put!”

Ok fair enough, honesty is a good starting point. It can take a bit of time and a bit of trial and error to know what your network engages with. I would suggest that you take some time to read the posts from people that you are following for some inspiration. I’m not saying copy what they do, but look at the style of writing, the content, the photos or videos they use – what do you see working and what do you see not working.

Also think about the top 5 things you want your business network to know about you, or create some informative, people-focused posts around answering these questions below, and before you know it, that’s the start of a communication strategy:

  • What are you interested in (professionally speaking!)?
  • What service or product do you offer?
  • Who are your clients or ideal clients?
  • How do you deliver – what’s unique about you?
  • What are the benefits of working with you?

“I’m not sure who I’m talking to!”

Ah, the ‘who is my audience’ question. It’s very important to think about  who you are really trying to engage with and why? Everyone’s target audience is different, for example:

A professional coach would share coaching tips, poignant thoughts about leadership, thought provoking statements about different methods of coaching, testimonials, feedback videos, coaching blogs, coaching infographics and so on, all in an effort to engage with business leaders and showcase their expertise. Would they share a post about the latest trends in IT to engage their community? Unlikely.

At The Passionate PA, we like to share content that appeals to entrepreneurs and ambitious business owners as this is our target audience. So, our content is really quite varied, and we use LinkedIn to impress upon our networks the benefits of outsourcing and using our individual skills. We also use LinkedIn to talk about our work with our clients as a way of demonstrating each of our franchisee’s diverse abilities and skills and also the types of businesses we work with– as business owners, LinkedIn gives us a promotional platform. The trick is to NOT to use it as a blatant sales pitch, you have to be more subtle than that. Give something away (knowledge or information), to get something back.

Here are my top tips for building your network through LinkedIn:

  • Connect with the key people you meet on a daily basis through meetings or networking. Think clients, potential clients, suppliers, referrers, inspirational business people. Always send a personal message. You don’t have to connect with everyone though!
  • Carefully consider accepting people who want to connect with you, particularly if you’ve never met them and they’re not extensively connected to your existing network.
  • Building your LinkedIn connections is definitely easier on a local basis rather than a national basis. It can be done, but expect a slower result and to work harder at it.
  • Use great photos to accompany your posts. Free stock photos are available from Pixabay and Unsplash but try to scroll beyond the first 10 as they’ve all been used before!
  • Use hashtags (#) to enable your posts to be searchable. Think about the words you use in your post that are keywords or likely to be searchable and then hashtag them. LinkedIn advise a maximum of three which is a lot less than when using Twitter and Instagram for example.
  • Spend time each day working on your LinkedIn engagement. If that’s a struggle for you, consider using Hootsuite to schedule your posts, or look at outsourcing your activity to a professional. At The Passionate PA, we manage many of our client’s LinkedIn engagement activity, usually alongside the client’s personal input rather than exclusively. This combination of planned strategic posting working alongside more organic personal posting is a recipe for success.
  • Be a regular worthwhile contributor, even if you can only manage weekly, don’t just drop in when you feel like it or when you need to push your sales. It’s easy to see through that kind of behaviour and it won’t win you any favours.
  • Join some LinkedIn groups that you’re interested in – local area groups are ideal to find out what’s on in terms of exhibitions, courses, networking or workshops.
  • Pose a question in your post, it gets people thinking rather than just scrolling on by.
  • Recently LinkedIn has introduced a set of ‘reactions’, so make the most of these and like, love, celebrate or mark as insightful or curious. Use of these reactions shows you’ve really taken the time to read and appreciate a post rather than just clicking the like button on every post on the page.
  • Tag the post with people in your network or organisation if you think that the content will be something they would benefit from seeing.
  • If you receive challenge to a post you’ve made and you’re not comfortable with it, my advice is, don’t react. LinkedIn is not the place to start an argument. If someone has been downright rude, ignore or report if you feel strongly.
  • Don’t be afraid to unfollow someone whose content just doesn’t float your boat. LinkedIn should be a positive experience and if your feed is full of posts that make you cross or bored, unfollow.

You can find out more about Debbie by clicking here

Further blogs from The Passionate PA: