With over 100 million users, business networking site LinkedIn is now one of the easiest ways for career-minded professionals to connect. But it's far more powerful than just an online CV. Use LinkedIn effectively and you can reap the rewards for your career – from being head hunted to closing business deals and establishing yourself as an expert in your field. But how do you build the perfect LinkedIn profile, or make the most out of the one you have already? In the latest issue of Stylist, entrepreneur Bryony Thomas, who attributes more than £200,000 of her marketing business, Clear Thought Consulting, to LinkedIn, shared her five top tips for maximising your profile power. Read her advice plus more expert tips from Bindi Karia, Venture Capital/Emerging Business Lead at Microsoft, for making the website work for you below.
1. Tailor your Profile
“Your profile is an informal version of your CV," says Bryony. "Ensure it gets picked up in searches by including key phrases relevant to your field, for example ‘marketing’ and ‘HR expert’.” And she advises not to skimp on the detail: "People always get the ‘job title’ section (the little one liner under their name) wrong. That’s not meant to be your actual job title; you can use that space as a strap line about what you really do as part of your job. If you’ve posted a comment in a group or come up in a search, all they see is your name and that one liner so it’s important to get it right." Your photo also needs to be clear so that when you meet your contacts face-to-face at networking events you are instantly recognisable.
2. Use the Groups
Bryony regards groups as an essential part of making the most of LinkedIn. “LinkedIn groups are the best places to pick up advice and meet like-minded people," she says. "Join at least 10 (just search the fields you're interested in) to maximise your chances of getting paid work." But you need to interact to get maximum benefit - Bryony became sucessful by "giving intelligent answers to questions raised in group discussions."
3. Add a Company Page
A new feature on LinkedIn allows you to create a page for your business and link it to your personal profile so you can further promote what you’re doing professionally. Bryony says, "It’s the ultimate endorsement and makes what you do more real. Put anything on there which people need to know about your business." But don't go into too much detail. "It’s about starting conversations," says Bryony, adding, "with a business client, pricing and more detailed sales negations happen in a separate space."
4. Link to other Media
Although LinkedIn is a great place to build a profile, don't forget the other places that showcase your work. Bryony advises that you “direct users to ‘live’ media outside LinkedIn, such as YouTube videos of business presentations, your blog and your Twitter feed.”
5. Be Strict
Remember that LinkedIn isn’t Facebook. Bryony advise that you only connect with people you want to work with. "I’m really strict about my LinkedIn connections. I’ve seen a rush recently of people connecting with anyone and everyone - but don't take it lightly," she says. On LinkedIn, your professional network is a reflection of you and one of your most valuable assets - so make sure it says the right thing. "Everyone on my connection list I have to have an opinion on, so if someone called me up and asked me about them, I could say something solid and real about their business."
6. Organise your Contacts
Stay on top of who you know by attaching tags (a word or phrase) to your contacts. Bryony uses them to clarify which relationships you need to develop. "I use ‘inner circle’ for people I trust implicitly with all business advice, ‘client’ for people I do business with all the time, and ‘prospect’ for people who I want to do business with but haven’t yet" she reveals. "Tags are private so others can’t see them but they are great for reminding yourself who you need to contact for which task."
7. Endorse Wisely
The 'Recommend' feature on LinkedIn is like an online reference and incredibly valuable. But Bindi advises you use with caution. "Only recommend people you have worked with for a few years (and vice versa)," she says. "If they mess up you will look bad, so make sure it’s someone you know and trust to make sure they reflect well on you."
If you want someone to recommend you, Bryony says it's all about capitalising on the moment. At the end of each project or job, send whoever has hired you the link to your profile and ask them if they would mind leaving a comment, then use it. "I've copied that endorsement and put it on my company website and marekting materials - it's so much more powerful," she says.
8. Be Useful
If you're part of a group or have a company page, you need to be an active member to benefit the most. Bindi says, "If you have a group for your business, post relevant content that like-minded people in your field will be interested in - it will keep people coming back for more, and create a sense of community. I post articles, offers and inside information to my group members - and the discussions around it often take on a life of their own." Not only will this boost the profile of your business, you will also build you reputation as an expert in your field.
9. Go Job Hunting
LinkedIn is not just for job seekers (and it won't look like you're switching jobs if you join), but it is incredibly useful for kick starting your career. Bindi advises you search for a contact for the company you want to work for. If they are in your network (i.e. they know someone that you are contected to), you can ask for an introduction through your contact. Just explain who you'd like to meet, why and if they would mind putting you in touch. "If it's a relevant connection I am happy to help," Bindi says.
10. Use the Features
Simply creating a profile won't get the most out of LinkedIn. Bindi uses various features to maximise her network, including the Huddle application which allows you to collaborate with colleagues and share documents between contacts. LinkedIn has even become her new inbox: "I now check my LinkedIn messages as much as my email. It's a good way to submit business requests and get in touch if you don't have someone's work or personal email."
Connect with like-minded career women by joining the Stylist Magazine Business Network Group on LinkedIn.