According to LinkedIn’s own figures, the professional networking site has in excess of 277 million members worldwide and growing, over 115 million of whom are located in English-speaking countries. Naturally, the first thing that comes to a business owner’s mind when seeing that number is the huge potential customer base it might offer.
But look a little deeper, and you’ll find that there are other benefits to participating in the professional network. In addition to contacts within your own business, you will also find members who operate in ancillary industries, and whose services, products, or expertise may help you in your operation.
Here are five ways LinkedIn can be used to boost your business:
1. Increase Your Presence In The Industry
In the normal course of your business operations, you deal with a limited number of other businesses and individuals. You have your customer database, of course, and you probably make an effort to keep them aware of your business. By participating in LinkedIn Groups that are relevant to your business, you expand that awareness well beyond your customer base, or even beyond the region that your business serves.
By expanding awareness about your business, you’ll not only increase the size of your potential customer pool, but will also make yourself more visible to fellow businesses in your industry, to vendors, to professional associations, and researchers who are busily developing the technologies that businesses like yours will incorporate in the future.
You may find that you receive an increasing number of queries, not only from prospective customers, but from vendors, startups, and industry leaders, each of which bolsters your visibility – even as they seek to benefit from an association with you.
2. Establish Yourself As A Genuine Resource
The most successful small businesses – in any field – are not those which employ the best salespeople. Rather, the most successful businesses are those that offer their customers the resources by which to solve their problems and meet their needs. If your business can meet those criteria, the sales will occur naturally. And participation in discussions in various Linkedin groups can go a long way toward letting others perceive you and your business as a genuine resource, capable of and prepared to meet those needs and wants.
Linkedin Members – both industry peers and prospective customers – expect to find the answers to the questions they have and solutions to the problems they encounter among the comments and postings offered by their fellow group members. What many members of the groups fail to realize is that a very small percentage of group members actually post to the groups.
The vast majority are “lurkers,” who might never participate in a discussion, but who actively seek out threads that they find relevant to their own activities. As a result, while your input might be directed to one or two participants in a dialog, you will be reaching – and establishing yourself as a knowledgeable resource to – many more. How many of those people would you like to add to your customer list?
3. Learn About New Technologies And Practices
Suppliers of new ideas and products are eager to inform prospective customers about their latest offerings. One of the best places to find out about those breakthroughs is from the people who actually have hands-on experience with the emerging technologies – both developers and end users. As a result, by keeping abreast of discussions on the Linkedin groups, you’re likely to hear about a product or practice long before you get a press release.
Imagine: by the time John Q. Public hears the “breaking news” about a new development, you could well have that state-of-the-art product or process available for your customers. And when a prospective customer calls your company to inquire whether or not you’re familiar with the latest industry products and practices, you can matter-of-factly state that it is already part of your professional portfolio.
By extension, your business assumes the reputation of being ahead of the curve.
4. Solve Your Business Challenges (without having to reinvent the wheel every time)
Businesses that are first to apply new technologies and practices serve to work out problems that occur, and are typically quite verbal in their descriptions of successes and challenges they faced during the implementation of a new product or process. In the computer business, they are the early implementers, also known as unpaid Beta testers. Just as software and hardware companies rely on early implementers to help them debug their products, your business can use the feedback from others who have worked with new products and found ways to improve their function.
We all know that businesses figure out workarounds for problems they face, and discover ways to improve how products work. These workarounds and process revisions often become the topics of discussions among peers on a Linkedin group, thereby providing all members the solutions that their peers have come up with. Depending on which side of the query you are on, you benefit by learning a new strategy for your business or establishing yourself as a go-to source of business expertise.
5. Find New Sources Of Business Capital
By participating in group discussions on LinkedIn, you build relationships with people in your field. Some of those relationships are likely to be with owners and executives employed by businesses larger than yours – even venture capitalists or investment groups, which are always on the lookout for viable investments. Those relationships can evolve into mentorships or even sources of additional capital.
Once you’ve established your business as a viable, growing concern, you’ll find that investors are increasingly open to the idea of providing working capital to help your business grow. You might also discover that establishing a relationship with an industry leader – either as an affiliate, a partner, or a franchisee – can provide you with both capital and access to additional products or services.
By appropriately presenting yourself and your business on a professional network as broad and at the same time, as focused as LinkedIn, you gain access to what is arguably the largest professional network in the world. LinkedIn is populated by people like yourself; owners of businesses, prospective customers and suppliers. As such, the time and energy required to establish a professional presence on the network pays dividends in a number of ways.
[Image: Flickr, Terry Ratcliff, Creative Commons Licence]