Why should professional consultants be actively networking on LinkedIn?
Self-promotion should be routine for anyone who operates as a consultant but, if like many people you are naturally introverted, the idea of putting yourself out there and networking for business might leave you in a cold sweat.
However, as referrals and recommendations are like gold-dust in business, networking is exactly the type of promotional activity consultants should be taking part in. With a few basic techniques networking doesn’t need to be the overt self-promotion. It’s a skill that can be learned like any other, so maybe it’s time to start actively networking on LinkedIn.
Moreover, consultants depend on gaining trust from prospective clients as they deliver value to business relationships via their experience, expertise and advice. For coaches, consultants and freelancers there is a need to build trust through familiarity and demonstration of their knowledge (the ‘know, like and trust’ relationship development process). Professional advisors within legal, financial and other professional service firms can equally benefit from the opportunities that LinkedIn presents for professional consultants.
Martini networking – Any time, any place, anywhere
Unlike face-to-face networking, social media presents professional consultants with opportunities to network at a time and place that suits you, and on your own terms. You can connect with as many or as few people as you like and have either brief or ongoing conversations – it’s entirely up to you.
If you’re a night owl or can only grab a few minutes to network between other responsibilities, then social media networking can fit right into your schedule. As other people will be on LinkedIn in between meetings or when they’re commuting there is an acceptance that messages won’t be always be responded to straight away.
In another country? No problem! The person you’re networking with won’t even know unless you tell them. LinkedIn is an international platform which spans land borders. Social networks really do break down those barriers.
Why use LinkedIn?
With over 303 million active monthly users worldwide LinkedIn is the world’s biggest business social network. Around 40% of active users visit it daily. That’s a huge number of professional people using the platform on a regular basis.
Not all industries are represented equally, but with more than a third of users being in upper management positions, it is likely that you’ll find useful contacts actively engaging with the platform on a regular basis. LinkedIn provides opportunities for professional consultants to identify and engage with prospective business clients when they are intererested in speaking to other professionals.
This means that for professional consultants LinkedIn is the best business networking event you will ever attend.
Perfect your LinkedIn profile
There’s loads of advice published on how to create a professional LinkedIn profile. The key points are:
1. Use a professional headshot of yourself. No filters, no nights out or holiday snaps.
2. Give an overview of your experience, not a full CV. The intention is to give people a flavour of what you are like, not the full back-story.
3. Your headline and about section are the key sections you need to spend time on.
LinkedIn operates as a search engine so it is important to include key SEO terms in your ‘headline’ and ‘about’ section. Use the terminology that your ideal client would search for and you’re likely to show up in more search results. Your ‘headline’ doesn’t have to be your job title. It will be seen by people when you make connection requests or comment, so make sure that it’s immediately obvious what you do. Try to avoid generic terms like ‘helping people with XYZ’ – be specific about what you do and who you help.
A little-known loophole on LinkedIn is that the iPhone app allows you to add extra characters to your bio, compared with the desktop or Android app versions. So if you’re running out of characters try editing via iPhone.
Growing your professional network on LinkedIn
When it comes to LinkedIn size matters. The size of your network is crucial to success. There will be little point in posting updates if no-one will see them.
Start by connecting with your past and existing clients, suppliers, contacts and fellow consultants. It’s always good to send a personalised message with each connection request so that you can remind them how you know them and indicate why you’d like to connect.
If networking is a business development activity, then it makes sense to search for and connect with people that we think would be useful or interesting to speak to. They may be your ideal client, or equally someone who may refer you to a client.
There are several ways to find new contacts:
1. You can search for a company, then follow the link for ‘people who work there’ and filter to find who you’d like to connect with. This is good if you are trying to build up connections in a particular sector or specific company.
2. You can search by job title or keyword, then filter by location, company etc. This is great if you’re wanting to ‘mine’ a specialism.
3. You can look at who has commented on, or liked someone’s post and send connection requests to them. This is a great way to connect with people who are active on LinkedIn and share your interests.
4. If any of your contacts have failed to set their network security settings to private you can go and take a look at their connection list. Which reminds me. Absolutely make sure that your connections are only visible to you – visit your profile, ‘settings and privacy’ and toggle to restrict what others can see.
Don’t be afraid to use the messaging feature to have an introductory chat with any new connections but avoid the temptation to sell – that’s a LinkedIn social faux-pas. Comment on posts that people in your network share so that they get to know, like and trust you. You’ll also stay front of mind whenever an opportunity arises.
The bigger your network, the more people will see each update you post. If your connections comment, then their connections will also see your post. Growing your network is the best way to amplify your reach on LinkedIn.
Demonstrate your expertise with content
Updates on LinkedIn range from the ‘humble-brag’, the ‘life-story’ to the sharing of news and company information. They all have their place, but the best posts provide your network with value and give you the opportunity to demonstrate your expertise.
Provide insight into your industry sector or your professional skill, and share your views in a way that will interest your network. It doesn’t have to be particularly detailed or controversial – just interesting and useful.
One graphic designer I know posts daily about interesting designs she has spotted from the industry press. Sometimes it’s packaging, other times it’s a brand refresh or advertising, but she always includes a comment on what she likes/dislikes about the design, which showcases her skill and understanding of graphic design.
There are two ways to create content on LinkedIn. The first is a ‘post’ – essentially an update. The second is an ‘article’ – longer form content, more like a blog post. Posting an article qualifies you for an author tick, but posts get much more reach than articles and will therefore be seen by many more people.
Give your network value without the expectation of anything in return and they will start to remember your name in association with that topic, and will repay you over time with insight, opportunities or introductions.
It’s also worth noting that you can search LinkedIn for key terms and phrases to find opportunities, such as ‘copywriting’. Just search for the term, then filter by ‘content’ and ‘recent’ (which you’ll find just above the list of posts) to find any recent posts containing the phrase.
Normal content sharing rules apply in that you should provide an attention grabbing opener and a question at the end. You can tag others in, and use a few hashtags. LinkedIn however prefers text posts to image ones, and if you need to add a link put it in the comments not in the main post as LinkedIn prefers posts that keep people in-platform.
Delivering value through content
Showing up regularly is the key to LinkedIn success. You will need to post regularly enough to remain visible and respond to any comments in response to your post. Even on days you aren’t posting you should contribute to discussions on other people’s post.
Make use of the notifications that LinkedIn provides to congratulate people on career moves or work anniversaries. Get in touch with people who have viewed your profile and ask to connect.
Develop your network and nurture relationships by contacting your network individually to share insights and add value without directly selling your services. By playing the long game you’ll develop a network of professional contacts that get to know, like and trust you.
LinkedIn training events
We run bespoke LinkedIn training sessions for professional services firms or consultants to enable you to get the most out of the platform. If you’d like to book a session please get in touch.