Based on the popular “Six Degrees of Separation” concept, LinkedIn helps you connect with customers, prospects, and colleagues. The idea is that you’re only a few steps away from anyone in the world that you’d like to meet (you know, all those prospects that need business software) based on who you know, who THEY know, and so on. In fact, LinkedIn can be a great way to expand your influence and generate business referrals. But in order for LinkedIn to work for you, you’ll have to do more than simply list some work experience and upload a picture.
Here are 4 simple steps to using LinkedIn to generate referrals.
1 – Build a COMPLETE Profile
If you do get a referral through LinkedIn, the first thing they’ll check out is your profile. So rather than quickly slapping something together using an old resume, take some time think about how you’d like to be perceived and build a complete profile – it’s a great opportunity to share what you think is unique about YOU and/or your company.
More than just ticking off check boxes and providing basic profile info, put some thought into creating a compelling summary of your background, specialties, affiliations, and expertise (maybe even consider having it professionally written). Take advantage of the opportunity to create links to your company website, blog, twitter account and other important online resources (found in the “Websites” section of your profile).
LinkedIn also offers fantastic (and free) “applications” that allow you to expand your profile by embedding blog entries, promote events you’re attending or offering, find local “meet-ups”, share industry articles, and much more.
2 – Expand Your Network
Once you’re comfortable with your profile, it’s time to start building (or expanding) your network … which is an important part of using LinkedIn and vital to your objective. In fact, LinkedIn provides a tool that allows you to import existing contacts (from Outlook for instance) or type in email addresses of people you know and determine if they, too, are using LinkedIn. Then you can invite them to connect. A good starting point is to connect with folks you already communicate with regularly, then see who THEY know and determine whether THEIR contacts are in your industry, are potentially good prospects, etc. Based on your network, LinkedIn will also suggest others that you may potentially know.
3 – Recommendations
Recommendations on LinkedIn are basically testimonials from your colleagues, clients and others that have worked with you … and they’re out there for everyone to see. Recommendations can be very powerful in motivating prospective customers or referrals to want to do business with you. When they read about the fantastic job you’ve done for someone just like them, they’re one step closer to engaging your services. To initiate the process, you can request recommendations from your network. But be selective in who you approach because if you have a bunch of them, folks aren’t likely to read every recommendation. So the ones you choose to display in your profile should carry some weight (you know, something more than “Gee, Mark Badran is really neato and works hard.”)
4 – Participate
Lack of activity and a static profile that hasn’t been updated in months probably won’t do much for you … but when you actively participate in conversations on LinkedIn, the benefit of online networking will become very clear. So to make LinkedIn work for you, it’s a good idea to join several industry groups, participate in online conversations, post frequent updates, comment on other postings/opinions, continually expand your network, and share perspective that demonstrates expertise in your field.
5 – Ask for the Referral
This is the tough part for some. Not everyone likes asking for a referral. But if you’re confident in your ability and have done a fantastic job for someone, there’s no harm in asking them to share their wonderful experience with a colleague. In fact, you can ask for a referral/introduction directly through the LinkedIn website. hen you ask for the introduction, LinkedIn provides fields for 2 messages … one to your network connection and another to the person you’re asking to be connected with (the referral). That way, the person in your network (making the referral) isn’t expected to articulate your value. They simply pass the message along with their implied endorsement.
5 ½ – Give to Receive
Sometimes the best way to GET a referral is to GIVE a referral.
It’s That Easy
So there you have it … 5 ½ simple steps to using LinkedIn as a referral tool. Build a compelling profile, expand your network, solicit recommendations, participate in online conversations, and ask for referrals.
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