Get started with LinkedIn

LinkedInWhat is LinkedIn?

LinkedIn is a free business-focused networking platform that seeks to replicate the real-life process of word-of-mouth introductions between trusted contacts

LinkedIn has a global reach, with in excess of 225 million members, and straddles a great many industries and sectors. Because of its emphasis on trust and the depth of professional and personal detail it enables, LinkedIn is also widely used as a recruitment tool by businesses. It is a good introduction to social networking for small business owners and managers who don’t have a lot of time to commit.

Unlike many online networking platforms, making a connection with another LinkedIn member requires either an existing relationship or an introduction by a  mutual contact. This barrier reinforces trust by ensuring that referrals and profile endorsements come largely as a result of who you know and not what you know.

Business-owners and managers use LinkedIn to:

  • make connections with people who can help them further their business goals
  • obtain advice and information
  • recruit new employees
  • build and promote their knowledge and expertise
  • help other business people achieve their goals

Because of its emphasis on business contacts and expertise, LinkedIn is not necessarily a place to sell; rather, it is somewhere to establish and develop your own expertise, to draw on others’ knowledge and to further the connections that may open the door to sales and business development.

Setting up your LinkedIn account

Setting up a LinkedIn account can require a half-day commitment to get your profile up to a useable standard and to make your initial connections. 

Step 1: Go to www.linkedin.com and fill out the information fields in the ‘Join LinkedIn today’ form - name, email address and password. Click ‘Join now’.

Step 2: Compile your profile:

  • Write a ‘professional headline’ that clearly tells people who you are and what you do. This is how you will be commonly viewed on the network, so it is important that it provides an accurate reflection of your skills, expertise, role or aspirations - depending on what you want from LinkedIn.
  • Include a suitable, decent quality photograph of yourself. Be professional and recognisable.Provide concise information in the summary section. Be credible and aspirational - tell people something you have achieved in business and what your key goal is. Concentrate on your professional identity.
  • Get as much detail into your ‘Experience’ profile as possible and, as with a CV, be honest about your career.
  • Add feeds from your blog, if you have one, and link out to three websites, including your business website. Others might include websites you use for information or inspiration.
  • LinkedIn will provide you with an automated URL for your profile, but you can change to one that includes your name, if available. This will make you more discoverable to other users and makes it easier to share your LinkedIn contact details as part of an email signature, for example.

Step 3: Start networking:

  • Search for people you know by name and make quick connections with existing colleagues and current business contacts.
  • Use the email account tools to search for LinkedIn users within your email lists.
  • To make a connection, select from the options asking you how you know this person, then send a short, personal message inviting them to connect.
  • You can increase the reach of your personal network by browsing your contacts’ connections. LinkedIn will calculate your ‘degrees of separation’ and you can use common connections as a starting point for making new contacts. Don’t be afraid to ask your 1st degree contacts to introduce you to a 2nd degree contact, for example.

Using LinkedIn in your business

1. Before you start

Remember that LinkedIn is very rigid in terms of its use for professional purposes, and is not a personal networking platform. Be professional.

Before filling out your profile and starting to network, work out what you want from your LinkedIn membership. A purposeful approach will help you make relevant connections and achieve your goals more quickly.

2. Make the right connections

The very wide range of members means that you could find yourself connecting with CEOs and sole traders, potential suppliers, potential customers and potential employees. The more connections you have, the more likely you are to be found by people who need you or can help you.

But how do you make those first connections, and subsequent relevant ones? It is vital to have a presence on the site that emphasises what you have to share or what you need from others.

Keep your network as relevant as possible and don’t accept or add a contact unless you can see a mutual benefit. If you are in regular contact with a connection or you have produced outstanding work, results or products for them, don’t be afraid to ask them for a written testimonial on your profile. Recommendations are a vital currency on LinkedIn and establish credibility and trust. 

3. Get involved

Being an active member will bring long-term benefits. Set aside a short amount of time once a week to update your profile, to expand your network and to engage with your contacts.

  • Target specific discussion groups and participate in them. This will help you establish groups of contacts with common interests and create opportunities to make new connections with newcomers, as well as to share your business experience.
  • Make use of the Q&A section to give and receive advice: answering questions from other members of the network can be a great way to gain recommendations and useful new connections. This is a lively area where specific niche business questions are posted.

If you are in the right places, you will be seen by people who share your goals.

4. Join LinkedIn groups

LinkedIn allows you to join groups in the sectors in which you operate. Crucially, these groups are for people that actively want to network. Being in a group gives you several advantages. You can search for people you want to contact, you can get in touch for free via LinkedIn messages and because you belong to the same group, the chances are you’ll get a reply.

Joining a LinkedIn group can also help you to raise your profile. You can post links to news articles and start new discussions.

There are several ways to search for people, including by name, title, location or company. If you are looking for funding, for example, you could search for angel investor, equity, venture capital or investment manager for example. 

5. Monitor the competition

Are your competitors on LinkedIn? How are they using it? See which circles they are moving in by looking at their feed and the groups in which they participate.

6. Advertise your business on LinkedIn

The benefit of advertising on LinkedIn is that you can target your message at specific people — by job title and function; by industry and company size; by seniority and age; and by LinkedIn groups. Like pay-per-click advertising, LinkedIn allows you to work within your own set budget. You can pay by clicks or impressions and you can stop your ads at any time.

If you only do one thing…

Maintain a relevant, good quality network of contacts by sticking with people who share common goals and interests.

For more information relating to social networks, see the Resources box on the right.