Each week as @Smallbizlady, I conduct interviews with small business experts on my weekly Twitter talk show #SmallBizChat. This is excerpted from my #SmallBizChat interview with @PatriceRutledge. Patrice is a bestselling author of 30 books on business technology who has been interviewed by CNN, Inc., Fox News, MSN, AOL, and other media outlets around the world. Her latest book is Using LinkedIn, a complete training program for LinkedIn users that includes a print book, audio podcasts, and video tutorials. Patrice also offers business technology coaching for busy entrepreneurs who want to tap the power of technology to increase profits, promote their business, and save time and money. You can reach Patrice at her website: http://www.patricerutledge.com.
Smallbizlady: How can small business owners use LinkedIn to promote their businesses?
Patrice Rutledge: One common misconception about LinkedIn is that it’s primarily for jobseekers. LinkedIn is also a great tool for small business owners. You can use LinkedIn to create an online profile easily found by search engines such as Google or Bing, promote your products and services, find clients and customers, network with your peers, establish credibility as an expert in your field, do market research, find partners and sponsors, and much more.
Smallbizlady: What’s the first thing a new LinkedIn user should do?
Patrice Rutledge: The very first thing you should do is to create a quality profile. That’s the basic foundation for success on LinkedIn. When creating your profile, you need to really think about who you want to reach and what profile content will attract your audience and encourage them to do business with you. That said, you should never write your profile like an advertisement. LinkedIn is for networking, not direct selling, even if your goal is to increase sales and find clients.
Smallbizlady: What is the best way to approach LinkedIn as a business development tool?
Patrice Rutledge: With LinkedIn, as with other social sites, it’s important to engage with your target audience rather than broadcast to them. In other words, don’t just post sales messages to group discussion boards, engage your audience in conversation. Using features such as LinkedIn Answers and LinkedIn Groups can help you showcase your expertise, which encourages people to do business with you.
Smallbizlady: This is your second book on LinkedIn, and your third on social networking. Why do you think LinkedIn is such a great tool?
Patrice Rutledge: I’ve used LinkedIn since its early days, both as a recruitment tool when I was in the corporate world and as a business development tool now that I have my own business. I’ve found social networking–especially LinkedIn–to be one of the best ways to connect with a worldwide audience of potential customers and clients. Hopefully my LinkedIn books help people learn how to generate positive results with minimal impact on their time.
Smallbizlady: What’s your take on the ongoing debate about quantity vs. quality when it comes to the number of connections a LinkedIn member has?
Patrice Rutledge: This is definitely a hot topic right now with many varied opinions on the matter. There are basically three trains of thought when it comes to a connection strategy. There’s the more the merrier crowd who connects with anyone and everyone. This group tends to go out of their way to amass as many connections, followers, friends, as they possibly can and tout these numbers on their profiles. They’re the people who are upset with sites like LinkedIn and Facebook for imposing connection limits. At the other extreme are people who connect only with people they know and no one else. In a sense, they’re kind of missing the point of networking. I prefer a middle ground approach. Obviously, connect with all the people you know and then selectively connect with new people who share common interests to grow your network. The difference here is quality vs. quantity. I think you can generate much better results from a targeted network than you can from amassing tens of thousands of connections who don’t really care about who you are and what you have to offer.
Smallbizlady: How can a company profile help you promote your business?
Patrice Rutledge: If you have a small business–even a solo business–you should create a LinkedIn company profile. They’re definitely not just for large companies. It’s important to understand that a company profile isn’t the same as a personal profile, though. On a company profile, you can enter a company description, describe your specialties, and list job openings, company news, and blog posts. When LinkedIn members view your personal profile, they can access your company profile as well–which provides you another opportunity to showcase what you have to offer.
Smallbizlady: Can you explain how to become a LinkedIn service provider and the benefits of doing so?
Patrice Rutledge: If you provide any kind ofprofessional service, you’ll want your profile information available in the LinkedIn service provider directory. To gain visibility here, one of your clients needs to create a LinkedIn recommendation for you as a service provider. You can’t enter yourself in the LinkedIn service providers directory, but you can send a request to your clients asking them to recommend you. They need to select “service provider” when filling out their recommendation.
Smallbizlady: What are the biggest mistake small business owners make when trying to promote their business on LinkedIn?
Patrice Rutledge: I see three common mistakes. The first is having a weak or incomplete profile. Another common mistake is using LinkedIn as a direct sales tool rather than a business connection tool. And finally, a third mistake is that many people never really move beyond the basic profile, even if they do complete it. There’s so much more to LinkedIn than just creating a profile and adding connections. Check out LinkedIn’s other features–answers, groups, polls, events, and applications. Post your status regularly. Become an active participant, not a quiet bystander.
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