To Connect or Not to Connect, That is the LinkedIn Question

linkedinLinkedIn is an extremely powerful tool to help you grow your network and your business. Unfortunately, it is also a network that many can abuse. There are social networking tactics that work perfectly on Twitter and Facebook that flop on LinkedIn, and vice versa.

One huge mistake is forgoing importing your email contacts into LinkedIn. The vast majority of your business contacts are likely on LinkedIn, and if you aren’t already connected to them, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity. By connecting with your email contacts, you can endorse their skills and perhaps be endorsed in return, automatically receive updates when they change something in their profile, and learn more about them professionally.

On endorsing skills, have you gone through your contacts an endorsed everyone for at least one skill? If you are connected with someone on LinkedIn and you don’t know enough about them to be able to endorse them for at least one skill, that is a red flag that you aren’t fully utilizing that contact. I recommend reaching out to them and asking if they have time to schedule a one-to-one. Your goal is to learn enough about them, and identify enough about their skillset to feel comfortable endorsing them. If you feel like you don’t know them well enough to endorse them, likely they feel the same about you.

Update your profile’s summary to one clear, concise sentence that defines your current career trajectory. Help your contacts help you by making it clear, both in the real world and the digital world, what a good referral for you is.

The occasional status update is good, too. Say you write a blog for your business, or read a particularly interesting trade piece. These are great things to share and to start conversations with your contacts. Be aware, though, on LinkedIn, it is very easy to cross the line between just enough and too many updates. You should strive for just a few updates a week, as people tend to log into LinkedIn a lot less than other networks.

Search through the connections that your contacts have, and see if there is anyone you may ask to be introduced to. Your network’s network is a tool that you have at your disposal, just know how to access it in the best way. Perhaps a contact you’ve known for 10 years is connected with someone that you had always wanted to meet. Reach out to your contact and see if they would be willing to make the introduction. It never hurts to ask.

How do you use LinkedIn? Are there any LinkedIn suggestions you think are vital that I’ve missed? Share them in the comments below!

The 5 Levels of Relationships to Understand for Networking Success

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to speak with my good friend Andy Hart, a networking expert from Ireland, at the BNI International Conference in Long Beach, CA.  Andy is a true master of networking and in this short video, he explains the Levels of a Relationship and how having a huge network of contacts doesn’t necessarily mean you have a huge pool of contacts from which you’ll actually gain business.

Andy discusses five main relationship levels in regard to business networking and the possibility of generating referrals from those in your network of contacts; more importantly,  he outlines a simple exercise which will enable you to pinpoint which relationship level you are  currently maintaining with each of your contacts.

After carrying out the exercise Andy suggests, please come back and share your findings–were they what you expected, or were  you surprised by what you discovered?

A Networking Trick for the 21st Century

Years ago I wrote about a great technique to get people to come to me for their referral needs.  However, I recently saw a modern twist to this great idea that I’d like to share with you today.

Here’s a little background information on the original concept:

Since the late ’80s I’ve been training people to use a little networking trick that will enable them to give referrals to more people (which of course leads to getting more referrals for themselves).  I talk about this trick in one of my early columns for Entrepreneur.com as well as a blog I wrote last year entitled: Use This Networking Trick to Increase Business.

In a nutshell, the technique is to compose a letter that you give to your clients and contacts which states that an important part of your business is to give referrals to people looking for services that you recommend (you can find a more detailed explanation, along with a sample letter, by clicking on the link given above).

Here’s the interesting, modern twist:

Terry Burkot has created a 21st century version of this same networking technique by adding video to the equation.  She still sends a personal message to all the people in her network; however, she doesn’t write a letter, she instead sends a video message which really utilizes the tools we have available to us in this world full of constantly-evolving technology.

Terry used my idea (which was so last century :)) and really improved on it.  Well done, Terry!

I’d love to hear your comments on what you think of this modern twist to networking.

Expanding Your Overall Sphere of Influence

The foundation of any word-of-mouth marketing effort is people.  Your sphere of influence represents the overall number of people with whom you network. These are people you know either very well or as casual acquaintances.  To evaluate your sphere of influence, take inventory of the people you already know.

Surprisingly, many people have never established effective networking relationships with others they’ve known for a long time.  Preparing your inventory is as simple as asking yourself, “Whom do I know?” or, “Who knows me?” This includes everyone with whom you interact or might interact with, personally or professionally:

  • Clients
  • Business associates
  • Vendors
  • Creditors
  • Employees
  • Friends
  • Family members
  • Others

Go through your software database, e-mail contacts, Rolodex, mobile phone contacts and business card collection. Discard the names of all people who have moved on or with whom you’ve lost touch. Analyze your relationships with the ones you feel are still current. Ask yourself, “How well do I know them?” Then determine whether each individual is a Strong Contact (a close associate with whom you will network actively) or a Casual Contact (an acquaintance with whom you will network passively).

Remember, the more people you network with actively, the greater your sphere of influence will be.

Think You Don’t Need a Network?–Think Again . . .

As a small-business professional or entrepreneur, how do you:

  • Get advice and help when problems arise
  • Gather the information you need for making important business decisions
  • Identify your markets and locate potential clients?

Unfortunately, most people get help in times of need from individuals or businesses they don’t know well. Instead of anticipating and planning for needs and emergencies, they are forced to react to every situation. They search the internet or ask friends and associates to help solve problems or recommend solutions, even though these people may not have the necessary expertise, and the sources they recommend may have little relevance to or experience with the business operation that is in need.

As a small-business owner, you don’t have the built-in resources to employ a management team to plan ahead, proactively problem solve, obtain and maintain ready access to vital resources–information, personnel, funding–and make informed decisions quickly in an emergency.  What you need is the functional equivalent of a management team and that is exactly what a network is for!

Your network is a systematically and strategically selected group of people on whom you can call as the need arises. It is a diverse, balanced and powerful system of sources–people from all facets of the business world–that will provide referrals, information and support in key areas of your business or profession, over both the short and the long term.

So, if you know someone who doesn’t want to put in the time and effort to establish a network because he thinks his business is just fine without one, do him a huge favor and explain why he needs to think again.

Become a Customer to Become a High Priority

One of the friendliest and most natural ways to make contact with a referral source is to buy her products or services, whether in large or small dollar amounts.  It’s important to note that the purchase doesn’t necessarily have to be from her primary line of business–perhaps a ticket to a fundraiser, a used car, a computer, even a box of Girl Scout cookies from her daughter.

By purchasing something from your network member/referral source, you become one of her customers. As a customer, you are high on her priority list; she will be more inclined to do business with you and give you information, support and referrals.  This approach also increases your source’s interest in getting to know you and staying in touch.

Tips for purchasing from your network:

  • Analyze how you are spending your money now.
  • Decide how much you want to spend.
  • Test your relationship with the people you buy from now. Do they know you? Do you benefit from doing business with them?
  • Identify the products and services your sources offer that you want or need–or the purchase of which might benefit your business in the long run.
  • Are you buying products and services from people and organizations that see you as an individual? Do the people you buy from know your name and think of you as their customer? There’s a big difference between being a customer of Sears and being a customer of Joe’s Shoe Store.
  • Use your purchasing power in a way that gives you more benefits and builds relationships.  Buy at least half of your products and services from people you know; however, don’t do it in a way that makes them feel obligated to buy things from you.

It’s Not WHAT You Know, But WHO You Know–True or False?

How many times have you heard the phrase “It’s not what you know, but who you know” when it comes to determining success??  I’m willing to bet that over the course of your life to this point, you’ve heard it a lot.  Do you think it’s true?  Well, it’s not–it’s false.  It’s not what you know, or who you know–it’s how well you know them that really counts.

Here’s the difference.  How many people do you know?  Open up your e-mail address book and count the names.  You know as many people as are listed n your e-mail address book and probably a lot more.  Now, reach into your pocket and pull out your car keys.  How many of the people you know would you hand your car keys to?

Surely, now you understand that the importance of how well you know a person.  A contact is a person you know but with whom you have not yet established a strong relationship.  A connection, on the other hand, is someone who know you and trusts you because you’ve taken the time to establish credibility with that person.

Your network must not only be broad but also deep.  When you rely on others to cross-market your business or promote your program to a client, you’re not asking a simple favor.  For true referral networking, you need relationships that are deeper than mere contacts; you need strong connections, established well in advance.

So, beginning this week, focus on taking the time and energy to cultivate deep relationships by giving your referral sources anything and everything you can to help them succeed.  These will be the relationships you can count on when you need powerful connections because it really isn’t what you know or who you know–it’s how well you know them, how well they know you, and how well they know the people you want to meet.

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