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Networking Used to Make Me Nervous

One of the early activities that I mastered in starting my own business was the art of networking. Seems easy and intuitive, right?

As I mentioned in my inaugural post, at about the time I went back to school to study Interior Decorating I started to do ad hoc project work.

The work I was doing was right up my alley. A mix of design, managing trades and logistics. I love making order out of chaos and this project was no exception. As the project wrapped up I started thinking about what my next move was. I had learned a ton, had a solid lessons learned list and was keen to keep going.

My instincts were telling me that there was a real need for small and medium sized business owners to have someone help them with their space needs leaving them to focus on running their company. The question was … how do I take my idea, figure out if it is viable, then turn it into reality?

I had a bunch of questions ranging from is the niche I am looking at too narrow? How much should I charge and how (hourly/fee)? How do I set up a business name, website, banking, tax info? How can I learn more about the industry?

I needed to ground my business idea by talking to people already in the interior design/decorating, construction, project management fields and other small business owners. That meant “networking”. Ick. Really? It sounded so pushy, so gauche. Don’t get me wrong, I can talk with the best of them but for whatever reason the idea of reaching out to people I didn’t know and ask for information gave me hives.

To get a better handle on this networking thing, I reached out to my fabulous neighbour Jill Donahue who, through her own consulting company, Excellerate, teaches people how to (ethically) influence. She is the networking queen and I sat down with her to pick her brain a little about this whole networking thing. She had three key suggestions:

1. Set up Informational Interviews

I wasn’t looking for a job, merely information but I was a little stuck on my approach with people I didn’t know. Jill suggested some helpful language to frame what I was looking for: “I’m trying to … “, “I have this idea and wanted to bounce some ideas off you … “or ” Tell me about your experience … “.

2. Ask for an Introduction

At the conclusion of your informational interview ask if you can be introduced to other people that might help you. Think of it as you complete one interview and walk away with information and three new people to talk to.

3. Leverage Linkedin for Networking

Jill suggested to adopt and leverage Linkedin as a way to network with like-minded professionals. Admittedly, I’ve been more successful with my Twitter networking but since attending a seminar on Linkedin have made progress on my profile.

Armed with the gameplan I developed with Jill, I set out to talk to people and ground my business idea. I found that once I started my information interview process it got easier and I was pleasantly surprised by how willing people were to talk to me. I’ve since expanded my business to include residential interior decorating and have applied the same approach to learn more in that space.

Now, networking isn’t such a big thing but rather just a conversation and act of information sharing. I’ve found by asking people about themselves and their business it often leads to asking me what I do – and a few referrals have come my way because of it!

Did networking ever make you nervous? What is your approach?

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Making Linkedin Work For Your Business

Social media tools are a fantastic way to network and market your business. I am, admittedly, still figuring out what the best way is to leverage the online world and turn it into real, live connections. Facebook and Twitter are another blog post entirely – today I am going to explore things I’ve learned about Linkedin.

A few months ago I attended a seminar hosted by the Professional Independent Communicators (PIC) – part of IABC-Toronto on “Getting the Most Out of Linkedin”. The keynote speaker was Jaime Almond, a Toronto-based social media strategist. Her presentation was packed with strategies and useful tools to implement a successful Linkedin marketing and networking strategy. She taught us how to leverage Linkedin as more than an online resume. Linkedin, she said, is a tool that leads our target market right to us.

So, how do you get your target market to come to you? Jaime broke it down into three key step: build Interest, build Trust & build Credibility.

Build Interest:

Your profile is the key component to building interest particularly in the keywords that you use. Jaime highlighted three key areas:

  • Your Headline – did you know that you can use up to 160 characters in your Linkedin headline? You know, the space next to your photo that defaults to your job title. Jaime suggests that you use this space to highlight, in addition to your title, to your target audience, what is their main problem and what you deliver. This is a tall order for 160 characters but very effective.
  • Your Photo: Forget cropped bar shots or stunned computer pics – spend some money and have a professional headshot photo taken.
  • Your Recommendations: Increasing the number of times you are recommended increases the chances you will appear in Linkedin searches? Jaime has developed a “Recommendation Strategy” where she has a friend interview her clients and then write recommendations for them to approve and post to Linkedin. This produces recommendations that are specific and results focused. A win for all as you get an effective recommendation & it saves your client time. Jaime’s blog has a list of suggested questions.

Build Trust:

Think about Linkedin as you would a networking event. Personalize every interaction. Delete the default invitation that says “I’d like to add you to my professional network …” and write a personal note. Ask new connections about themselves – don’t dive into a sales pitch about what you do. Invariably a new connection will finish their overview about themselves with something like “What is it that you do?”. This is a perfect opening for you to talk about yourself and your business.

Build Credibility:

You’ve connected with someone, you are building a two-way dialogue so how do you establish your credibility and turn that prospect into an actual client. Jaime had two suggestions to achieve this: A Video and A Free Gift. Sounds cheesy right? That’s what I thought. Until I listened further.

She introduced us to the idea of a video call to action using Slideshare. This appears just above your Summary area in Linkedin. A video gives you the opportunity to personally introduce yourself, give a brief overview of what you do, invite people to connect and share a free gift with them.

So what’s with the free gift? Admittedly I heard the words free gift and thought branded pen, notepad or ballcap. No so. Jaime suggested offering something you aren’t offering anywhere else to get people onto your prospect list and give them something relevant and useful. Examples include a white paper, a resource list, a webinar or a how-to tip sheet.

Building Interest, Trust and Credibility are cornerstones of any successful marketing strategy. Jaime taught us how to utilize Linkedin as an effective networking and marketing tool – going beyond an online resume and making it work for our businesses.

I left the seminar with three action items for my Linkedin profile: build a better headline, get recommendations and brainstorm a free gift. If you get a chance to hear Jaime speak go for it. You’ll walk away with learnings you can immediately put into action.

How are you going to make Linkedin work for your business?