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.
[Tweet “The companies that get the best results on LinkedIn are ones that have a plan for using it.”]
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’re ready to really up your LinkedIn game, sign up for my online LinkedIn for Small Business course. I go over everything a small business owner needs to know to go from feeling lost about LinkedIn to getting found on LinkedIn.
Word-of-mouth advertising is the most effective and affordable way to get new business (92% of consumers believe a recommendation from a friend or family over any other type of advertising).
Here are a few ways to get people talking about your business and sending new clients your way.
- Make your customer service so memorable that people are compelled to tell others (for example, send handwritten thank-you notes or give small gifts on clients’ birthdays).
- Add a line at the end of your e-newsletters encouraging readers to forward to their friends.
- Create a referral program to motivate customers to send new business your way.
- Create a company page on LinkedIn and share valuable content your target audience will want to read and share.
- Send press releases about your company’s newest products or latest achievements to trade magazines.
- If you’re quoted or featured in a news story, share it on your website, push it out on social media, and include it in your e-newsletter.
- Attend industry events to build your network of referral partners. Make sure you spend time talking to people and learning about their businesses; networking is a two-way street.
- Speak at conferences, networking events, or even the local library. Hand out business cards and encourage attendees to share your contact information with anyone who may need your services.
- Ask current customers for testimonials you can add to your website.
- Refer business you can’t handle (whether you’re too busy or it falls outside of your scope) to other businesses, and they’ll be more likely to return the favor.
- Run a highly targeted Facebook ad focused on influencers in your niche.
- Join LinkedIn, Facebook, and Google+ groups where your customers spend time. Contribute to the conversations and provide helpful information (not promotional content).
You’ve likely heard about content marketing, and you may even believe it’s important. What you may not like to admit to anyone, however, is that you really have only a vague understanding of what it is or how it can help your business-to-business (B2B) company.
Don’t worry. No one ever has to know you read this post to get the inside scoop.
What is content marketing?
Traditional advertising (think billboards and TV ads) sends your message out into the world. That’s why it’s also called outbound marketing. It can create an immediate big splash, but also costs a lot of money and may fall on deaf ears.
Content marketing, on the other hand, is the process of creating information that will attract prospects and customers to your website. That’s why it’s also called inbound marketing. Content marketing includes things like blogs, videos, slideshows, infographics, ebooks, whitepapers, case studies, and webinars or other presentations. It’s a long-term strategy that costs less than traditional ads and is more targeted, but it can take months to deliver sizable financial results.
B2Bs that invest in content marketing can establish themselves as trusted authorities in their industry and, ultimately, significantly increase leads and sales. Just consider these stats:
- More than 200 million people worldwide have installed ad-blocking software. That makes traditional marketing pretty ineffective.
- While content marketing costs 62% less than outbound marketing, it generates 3 times more leads.
- 94% of B2B buyers conduct online research before buying.
- Companies with an active blog get 97% more leads.
- B2B companies that blogged 11+ times per month had almost 3 times more traffic than those blogging 0-1 times per month.
How do I get started?
Most service-based niche B2Bs follow a four-step model for content marketing:
- Attract online visitors using social media, blog posts, and search engine optimization.
- Capture leads with calls to action (capturing emails by offering free opt-in content).
- Create sales by emailing leads additional content and promotional materials.
- Turn customers into advocates with rewards programs.
A successful content marketing program, at minimum, should include:
- A blog that is consistently updated with new posts, and photos or graphics.
- Search-engine optimization (SEO) techniques to increase the visibility of blog posts and other online content.
- Social media participation in the channels used most frequently by your customer base (for people in creative fields, for example, Pinterest and Instagram may be most powerful; more technical businesses may find LinkedIn and Twitter most influential).
- Bonus materials for visitors who opt-in to your email list.
- An email list. Seriously, it’s impossible to understate the importance of having an email list.
- Regular email campaigns that offer great value.
Starting and running a successful content marketing program requires a range of creative and technical skills include writing, graphic design, SEO, social media automation, email campaign management, and web analytics.
Acknowledge where you (or your staff) are lacking skills and hire professionals to fill those gaps. Look for people with experience in your industry and be prepared to make an investment without immediate payback. Remember, content marketing is a long game with ROI increasing steadily over time.
Tips for content creation
Whether you take a DIY approach to content marketing or hire it out entirely, you should always be at least somewhat involved in your own content creation. After all, no one knows your business better than you.
- Figure out the why. Write down your reasons for launching a content marketing program and your goals for the coming year and what metrics you’ll use to measure success.
- Define your target market. Before writing anything, create a customer persona and make sure any content you produce addresses that person’s needs.
- Create a strategy that outlines your audience, topics, and channels for distribution. Download a content planner
- Audit your content. What brochures, newsletters, blogs, presentations, etc., do you already have? Update and repurpose this content to jumpstart your efforts. Get tips for repurposing content
- Fight the urge to promote yourself. With every piece of content, ask whether customers will care. The goal is to consistently produce content that’s useful, clickable, and shareable. 5 common content marketing mistakes
Worried about running out of ideas for blog posts or other content? Keep your ideal file full with these simple techniques.
- Follow other blogs in your industry. Don’t steal their ideas, but think about how you can give the same topics a new twist.
- Read trade magazines or attend a tradeshow and write about industry trends.
- Keep track of the questions your customers ask most often. Your answers can become a series of posts.
- Set up Google Alerts related to your industry and create a roundup post of the best stories you’ve read on a particular topic.
- Join industry-related LinkedIn or Facebook groups and ask for topic suggestions for your blog.
- Start typing an industry word or phrase into the Google search bar and see what it suggests as popular topics.
There’s always plenty of hype around the latest and greatest social media channel, but is Snapchat really the smartest marketing tactic for your B2B? Probably not. The truth is, email—nearly a dinosaur by modern tech standards—offers a far greater return on investment than any social media outlet.
5 Steps for a Winning Email Marketing Strategy
1. Define Your Audience
Who do you want to read your emails? Who needs your service? Who’s your ideal customer? Knowing as much as possible about your target market will help you craft messaging for their specific goals and challenges.
Once you’ve identified your customer, create a persona (also called an avatar) to personify him. This typically includes hypothetical demographic and psychographic information, such as age, job title, income, hobbies, etc. It should also address the client’s needs and how your service solves his problems. (Learn more about customer personas.)
2. Segment Your List
Group your customer list by job title or industry. This allows you to target customers based on their specific needs rather than sending a blanket email. After all, the CEO of a Fortune 500 company has very different concerns than a solopreneur, and your messaging should be tailored to each. Customizing your campaigns keeps them from being dismissed as bland or irrelevant.
3. Set a Goal
Before sending your first email, think about your goals. Are you hoping to get referrals? Turn prospects into customers? Keep existing clients happy? Knowing the reason behind your campaign will guide everything from the all-important subject line to the meat of the message.
4. Create Compelling Content
Whatever your mission, keep in mind that no one is as interested in your company or service as you are. Instead of selling, serve as an expert voice who helps readers as they move through the buying process. The most profitable email campaigns include different emails at each stage of this process.
- Step 1: Awareness
- Share content shows off your understanding of their problem (ie, trend stories).
- Step 2: Consideration
- Once you have their attention, offer facts and figures to support your solution (ie, infographics or checklists).
- Step 3: Evaluation
- Now that they realize they need help, build their trust in your brand (ie, how-to guides or e-books).
- Step 4: Intent
- They’re ready to invest, but need convincing that you’re the best choice (ie, case studies and testimonials).
- Step 5: Retention
- They’ve signed on the dotted line, but need ongoing support to remain loyal (ie, fresh and relevant content).
5. Don’t Forget the Landing Page
The goal of email marketing is to entice readers to take action. Typically, you’ll ask them to click a link that takes them to a targeted page on your website. This is called a landing page, and it’s designed to prompt the visitor to take a specific action tied to an objective within the sales funnel.
It’s important to spend as much time on your landing page as you do on your email message. The page should be easy to read with highly targeted messaging, and simple to navigate with a clear call to action. When someone takes the desired action, they should be directed to a thank-you page that offers additional resources and encourages them to share your content with others.
If you want to learn more about email marketing, here’s a great guide to help.
NEXT STEPS: Ready to get serious about email marketing? Get some helpful hints for how to grow your list by downloading my free checklist.