Part I: Person to Person…

Small business owner, you know the routine.  Dressed professionally with business cards in hand, you enter a room full of people to network.  You only have one hour before it’s time to get home and take care of your family. How do you maximize this limited person to person networking opportunity?

Connect with a Few People

There might be 200 people in the room but the reality is, you only have one hour to get to know people.  Introduce yourself and join in a few conversations.  Before you know it, you’ll find a few people you feel comfortable with.  Take some time to get to know them. Find some common ground to discuss (it could have nothing to do with business) and, before you move on, ask for a business card.

Follow-Up

So, you connected with a few nice people and now your next step is to send each one a follow up email. In your email subject, be sure to write the name of the event where you met. Within your email, let your new connection know you were pleased to meet him/ her and would like to invite him/her to join you on LinkedIn.  If this new connection is a potential customer, now is the time to share your website URL and note you are always available to help them if needed.  After you send your “nice to meet you email”, wait a couple hours and then invite your new connections to LinkedIn.

Part II: LinkedIn

Your Profile

A robust LinkedIn profile gives you “business street cred.”  When it comes to person to person networking, most times it’s best to find common ground with people rather than tout your business. Yet, once your new connections accept your LinkedIn invitation, the first thing they’ll do is visit your profile.  Now is your time to shine.  An impressive LinkedIn profile allows your new connection to clearly see your business expertise.

The Basics

There are many features on LinkedIn you can use to create an interesting, even exciting, profile. Remember, a little creativity goes a long way on your profile.

1.  Your professional headline is a great place to start. I’ll use my own profile as an example which reads, “Design and Marketing Visionary.”  That sounds a lot more interesting than C.E.O. of oz 2 designs LLC.  Create an attention-getting professional profile.

2. Your picture. Don’t take a mugshot of yourself with your cell phone and load it  to your  profile. Instead, think about how you want others to see you. Dress professionally and make sure the shot is close and clear.  LinkedIn photos are very small which is why you want the shot to be a close one.

3.  Your summary is another great place to write a little more about who you are as well as what you do.   My summary is written in a way which shares a little bit of my personality as well as what I love most about my work, “I consider myself so very fortunate to operate my business in East Berlin – a farmland rich and visually gorgeous place. My professional experiences as CEO of oz 2 designs are vibrant and rewarding because I work with such interesting people! Each business owner has something special and unique to offer the world and my business gets to reflect that. All of my clients have seen an increase – some a very substantial increase – in business thanks to oz 2 designs llc. Who could ask for a better job than mine! “ When you write your summary, don’t just write about your business, write about why you’re passionate about your business.

4.  Recommendations:  Your LinkedIn recommendations list is extremely important. I repeat, your recommendations are extremely important.  After viewing your basic information this is what people who know LinkedIn scroll to next. Make sure you have a healthy list of at list of at least five glowing recommendations.

5.  Connections:  Grow your connection list and invite all of your professional connections to join you.  A nice list of connections – 50 or more – gives you that  “business street cred” I’ve been talking about.

6.  Twitter:  If you have a Twitter account you can add it to LinkedIn so everyone can see your Twitter posts. Obviously, if your Twitter posts are not professional or are political in nature, you should not add it to your LinkedIn profile.

6.  What Are You Doing Section (under your name and professional headline):  This is a great place to let people know about your current projects. For example, last week I wrote, “Catherine is working on a 24 page brochure to support a national marketing campaign.” This information is automatically sent to all of your connections, so use it wisely grasshopper and keep your business on the top of their minds.

Beyond the Basics: Enhancing Your Profile for a Wow Effect!

1.  Applications: Use at least one if you can.

There are a variety of LinkedIn applications to choose from. If you’re a blogger then the WordPress Application is a must. ( I love seeing my blog posts show up on my LinkedIn profile.)  Other useful LinkedIn applications include Box.net, SlideShare Presentations, and BlogLink (I use this one too).  It doesn’t hurt to try one out and see if you like it. You can always delete it from your profile if it doesn’t work out.

2.  Questions and Answers: You Can Be An Expert!

Get to know LinkedIn Questions and Answers. Why? Because when your answer is rated as the best answer, then you become the resident expert.  What’s great is your expert ratings show up on your profile for all to see.  Currently my profile says I have expertise in Internet Marketing (5 best answers), Web Development (2 best answers), Graphic Design (1 best answer), Public Relations (1 best answer).  So go ahead and answer those questions you feel most comfortable answering.  When you do this you enrich your profile and help someone else in the process.

3.  Join and Participate in Groups

Groups are great resources. They hold training workshops, offer free advice, encourage discussions, and keep you up to date professionally.   Apply to join groups which match your business and personal interests.  If you’re a blogger, you can submit your blog to groups as news or for discussion. Every time you comment in a group your profile is viewed by anyone who likes or dislikes what you have to say.   As you join groups, add connections, answer questions and more, each of your interactions is listed and regularly sent out to your connections.

LinkedIn alone will not bring you lots of new business. Yet, combined with person to person networking, LinkedIn is an extraordinarily effective way to build your business credibility, stay on the top of everyone’s mind, grow your business reputation and, in turn, grow your business.