Building a sustainable, profitable business as a self-employed business creative isn’t an easy task, and I’m incredibly proud my writing business has made it to year 13.
When people ask me the key to my success, they’re surprised when I say LinkedIn.
Yep—the stuffy, boring site that most people don’t even think about is directly responsible for half my income year after year. Two of my largest clients found me through LinkedIn (not the other way around) and they alone accounted for $40,000 of income last year. And I recently signed another new client who found me through LinkedIn for a monthly retainer of nearly $2,000.
That’s what I love about LinkedIn. The companies there tend to have bigger budgets and are more open to repeat or retainer work—and those are important factors when you’re looking to create a stable business.
You’re probably thinking, “I’ve been on LinkedIn for years, and it’s never gotten me any business. LinkedIn doesn’t work.”
Before you write the site off completely, however, review this list of the five LinkedIn mistakes I see most small business owners make. Maybe LinkedIn isn’t working for you because you’re not using it to its full potential—yet.
1. Not Using It
With 500 million users on LinkedIn, chances are good you’ve set up a profile there. You probably set it up back when you left your 9-to-5 to pursue self-employment or maybe as you left college a few years ago. And you haven’t really looked at it since then.
Many people think LinkedIn is a static site with no real engagement. They believe it’s a site only used by employers and recruiters who are searching for candidates for full-time positions. With this in mind, they simply use LinkedIn as an online resume, and only visit it when they have something new to add to their credentials.
The truth is, if you sell a product or service to another business, then LinkedIn can become a valuable lead-generation tool if you learn the tricks of fully using it to your advantage. (LinkedIn may not help you find clients if you sell directly to consumers and have no interest in growing to include business clients.)
No matter your business, LinkedIn offers benefits beyond lead generation.
The site can help any business owner with networking. You can use it to find potential partners and collaborators, as well as service providers for everything from payroll to pest control.
It’s also an amazing educational tool. Between joining industry-related groups to reading articles posted by experts, you can use the site to stay on top of everything you need to know about running a business in general or advancing in your particular industry. Best of all, you won’t get sucked down the rabbit hole that is Facebook.
If you’re still treating LinkedIn like an digital resume, it’s time to make big changes. You need to optimize your bio so you can get found, create and share content to establish yourself as an expert, and use search and groups to create and sustain meaningful connections.
2. Failing at Strategy
You may think LinkedIn is a waste of time, but the facts argue otherwise. On the whole, LinkedIn redirects four times as many users to company home pages as Facebook and Twitter. It also generates the highest visitor-to-lead conversion rate (2.74 %), about three times that of Facebook and Twitter.
Going into any networking or marketing effort without a plan is a recipe for failure. When you approach LinkedIn haphazardly, with no intentionality behind your efforts, you’re unlikely to yield great results. It’s easy to blame the platform, but lack of planning may really be at fault.
To make the most of LinkedIn, devise a strategy. Think about the types of people using LinkedIn and which of those could be your ideal client. This may vary from the types of customers you’re courting on other social media or through your blog.
How would these people find you? What words would they search to find your services? What are their pain points? How would you speak to them to address their specific problems?
Write all of this information down and use it to craft a keyword strategy. This will inform how you write your profile as well as the type of content you share on LinkedIn.
3. Skipping Key Real Estate
There are two really key pieces of real estate on LinkedIn, and most people don’t give them much thought. That’s a big mistake.
The most important part of your LinkedIn profile is the headline. That’s the line under your name and photo, which comes before everything else in your profile. That headline is what appears when your name shows up in search results.
About 90% of people use owner and their company name or what they do (writer, photographer, graphic designer). That doesn’t really say much, and it certainly doesn’t set you apart from the thousands of other people who do what you do.
Instead of just listing what you do, take it a step further and explain how you help your ideal customer. That simple tweak will put you leaps and bounds ahead of your competition.
The other prime real estate in every profile is the summary. When someone comes to your profile, one of the first things they see is the summary (it’s the area below your photo and headline). If it doesn’t grab them, they leave without ever seeing all the information below about your experience and education.
If you’re counting on your credentials to win over prospects on LinkedIn, you better make sure they stick around long enough to see them. Unfortunately, a lot of people use maybe 20 to 50 words here. What a missed opportunity!
4. Overlooking Content
One of the best ways to make your LinkedIn presence dynamic and interactive is by sharing content via status updates and original articles. Most solopreneurs skip this step entirely, while others don’t properly target their messages. Both are mistakes.
Content on LinkedIn starts with having a strategy (see #2 above). If you don’t have a goal for LinkedIn and don’t know who you’re talking to on the site, then cutting and pasting status updates from other social sites or reusing your blog articles might seem logical.
People think of LinkedIn as a boring, buttoned-up site—and maybe it is. The upside, however, is it’s devoid of politics, dating, and silly cat videos. When people are on LinkedIn, they’re ready to conduct business. If your content isn’t what they want to hear when they’re in business mode, it won’t work.
Start sharing content on LinkedIn, and be sure to choose topics and use language that’s appropriate for the audience you’re addressing.
5. Missing Connections
There are a lot of mistakes people make when it comes to LinkedIn connections.
First, they don’t make connections. The most successful users of LinkedIn are those for whom adding connections on the site is a knee-jerk reaction. They meet someone professionally and immediately add that person as a connection on LinkedIn.
The size of your network on LinkedIn directly affects your visibility on the site. So, if you want to up your chances of being found by new prospects, you need to constantly add new connections.
Second, most people don’t personalize connection requests. It’s easy (aka lazy) to hit “connect” and let LinkedIn automatically send a generic request to the other person.
Failing to personalize a request tells the other person you didn’t care enough to write them a message. Not asking something about them and sharing a bit about you also misses out on an opportunity to start a conversation, which could potentially create a client.
Third, users don’t reach out to the people who connect with them. We assume that anyone who sends us a connection request already knows us, so we don’t need to reach out to them to ask what they do and how we can help their business.
Oh no! Those people are your warmest leads on LinkedIn. They have expressly said they want to get to know you. If they failed to personalize their request and strike up a conversation, it’s incumbent upon you to do it if you want to take the relationship to the next level and turn it into new business.
If you swore off LinkedIn because it didn’t work for your business, maybe it’s time to give it another try. Give your profile a new look with fresh eyes. Are you doing all you could be doing? Download my free guide to learn five key tactics that can turn the site into a lead-generation tool. These are the strategies that worked for me.
Or, if you’re really ready to up your LinkedIn game, sign up for my e-course. I go over everything a small business owner needs to know to go from feeing lost about LinkedIn to getting found on LinkedIn.