The first step to success with LinkedIn is to set up a powerful individual account--listing your training, credentials, experience, and civic involvement and memberships along with your business website and mission statement.
Complete your profile by requesting recommendations from current and former colleagues and customers. These testimonials to the quality of your work and professionalism send a powerful message about your business.
LinkedIn allows a person to import their Outlook contact list and then use those contacts to populate LinkedIn. You always have the ability to edit your information and the privacy settings allow you to choose which information is publicly displayed.
There are multiple groups with LinkedIn that are formed around interests and trade and professional associations. These groups can be valuable sources of information for you, and when you and another individual are members of the same group, that is visible to you next to their name.
Inside groups, you have the ability both to post questions of others, and to share (and market) your professional expertise by answering questions. Keep in mind that this is not the place for a hard sell of your products or services. Instead, you are demonstrating your value to the group. It's a very subtle form of marketing.
If your business generally interacts with certain positions (i.e. facilities manager or vice president of I.T., etc.) you can use the search feature in LinkedIn to identify those titles within a specific geographic area. Be sure to think in terms of keywords for the position, since the titles may be different across organizations. A good source to generate those keywords is the Google Wonder wheel, which identifies common alternatives for your keyword. The next step is to see whether you have any connections to those individuals.
If there is a second degree connection, you have a colleague in common, and could ask for an introduction. If it is a third degree connection, it is a colleague of a colleague relationship. Even without shared connections, you have the ability to look at their profile and see whether you find any interests or experiences in common that could warm up a cold call, or acquaintances in common that are not in LinkedIn.
For small business, LinkedIn can also be valuable tool for researching competitors. It is possible to search for competitors to generate a list of employees of those firms. From their resumes, you can identify those who appear to be a competitive advantage to the firm.
The approach to using LinkedIn is to think of finding the contacts you need to know, in addition to the ones you already do. This social networking tool provides the potential to make connections with potential customers you almost know. The professional image you project may provide one more reason for vendors and customers to reach out to you.
Advice provided by Kathy Macomber, a business development specialist with the University of Missouri Extension