In early 2015 as Portlight settled into its first office in Orlando, I was eager to get more involved in the local entrepreneur community. We had set up a strong business on the Amazon Marketplace and we were interested in taking it to the next level through the development of our own in-house software to further our competitive edge.
The software would help us reprice our expansive product selection, manage our inventory, and automate order fulfillment. As the CEO of the company, I made it a goal to connect with others in Orlando who were in the web development field to learn as much as I possibly could before making our first hire.
At the time, I knew close to nothing about web development outside of what I had learned in a few HTML and CSS courses on CodeAcademy.com and initial research that I had performed into key words in the industry. This is when I turned to LinkedIn.
Seven Simple Steps to Use LinkedIn for Strategic Networking
In this post, I lay out seven simple steps that you can take to use LinkedIn for strategic networking, cultivate an amazing group of mentors, and learn about a new professional subject.
Step 1: Spruce Up your Profile
If you don’t have one already, it’s time to get involved on the LinkedIn community. In the most recent published report of the number of professionals on the LinkedIn social network, it was stated that the company had 396 million users. The network only continues to get larger as the company improves the features within.
Once you have a profile set up, it’s important to take the time to tell others as much as possible about your professional life. When people visit your profile, you want them to be understand who you are as a professional.
Enter a short description, your previous work experience, your education, and the skills that you have acquired. I also encourage that you write your profile in story form to further engage readers as they check you out and to differentiate your LinkedIn profile from your professional resume. You can view my profile for a reference.
Step 2: Compare your Rolodex to your LinkedIn
When first beginning your foray into utilizing LinkedIn, it is encouraged to begin creating your community through people that you know.
Start by searching for phone contacts, Facebook friends, past colleagues, and family on LinkedIn and invite everyone that you are able to find to join your immediate network. As you add more and more immediate connections, your network will be opened up to other individuals who are connected to them, i.e. 2nd connections.
At this point, LinkedIn will also begin to provide you with “People you may know” where you can add more people to your community that you didn’t think of at first. Most of the suggestions that LinkedIn offers tend to be classmates, coworkers, and friends. By inviting these individuals to connect with you, you further expand your immediate network opening you up to more opportunities for creating new relationships.
Step 3: Search for Who You Want to Network With
You have a strong profile and an initial community of 1st connections, all of whom you have “worked” with in some fashion in the past. With this close-knit group of people, you can utilize LinkedIn to search for new people that you want to network with.
My second strategy to identify Orlando professionals with experience in web development was to search for common position titles that this type of person would possess. I searched for “programmer”, “web developer”, “Ruby developer.” The combination of these two approaches led me to a batch of people that I could attempt to connect with.
As I found people that I was interested in connecting with, I would open their profile in a new tab, read their professional story and then click “Connect” if I thought it was a relationship worthwhile.
For particular individuals who decide to protect their profile, you may not be able to send an invitation to connect without having prior work experience in common or an email address for them. In these situations, it is useful to see if any of your 1st connections are also connected to this individual. If they are, you can ask for an introduction and connect in that way.
If my invitation to connect was accepted, I always made an effort to reach out to the individual via message to say thanks, express why I had asked to connect, and see if there was an opportunity to share stories.
Step 4: Initiate Contact
The most important aspect about networking is that you are going into the process with a genuine purpose. LinkedIn has become a hotbed for spammers via LinkedIn messages so you don’t want to be thrown in the trash because your message seems like a sale.
Below is a template that I have had success with and that I encourage you to use while starting to use LinkedIn for strategic networking. It’s simple, honest, and personable.
Subject: A Pleasure to Connect
Hey! My name is (Connor Gillivan) and I am (the CEO) at (Portlight).
I am passionate about learning from others and I stumbled upon your profile in my search for (web development). I would love to meet to share stories and help each other continue to network in the (Orlando) area.
Please let me know if you are available for coffee or a 15 minute phone call.
I look forward to hearing back from you and greatly appreciate your time.
As you initiate contact, don’t be discouraged if someone does not respond or politely rejects your offer. Sometimes people don’t check their LinkedIn for weeks or they are simply too busy to take a meeting at the time. Politely respond that it was a pleasure to connect and that you look forward to potentially speaking in the future.
Step 5: Prepare for the Meeting and Make it Purposeful
Once you’ve landed a phone call or coffee conversation with someone on LinkedIn, make sure that you are prepared to have a value-adding conversation. I have had the most success with these types of networking meetings when I over-prepared and had too many questions to ask.
Your number one purpose going into the meeting should be to learn.
- Take notes before the meeting on the individual to show that you know who they are and what they have already accomplished.
- Be polite and pick up the bill if you are getting coffee or a bite to eat.
- Before launching into the questions that you have about the given topic you are researching, ask them to share their professional story. How have they gotten to where they are today? If they are interested, share your story as well, but keep it simple.
- Bring at least 10 questions or topics that you are interested in speaking with the individual about. This avoids lulls in the conversation and demonstrates how eager you are to learn from them.
- Be courteous of their time. A general rule of thumb is to limit your meetings to a 1 hour maximum. Remember that these people are taking time out of their day to meet with you so don’t take advantage of it.
If you follow these tips for meetings with new individuals, you will not only learn a lot about the person and your given topic of interest. You will also leave a positive impression on the individual making the opportunity to further connect in the future very plausible.
Step 6: Say Thank You and Keep in Touch
After meeting with someone you connected with through LinkedIn, it is important to show appreciation to them for the time that they took to meet with you and share their advice.
This step is as simple as sending a thank you email when you get home highlighting what you learned and how you plan to utilize the new information in your life. Closing the networking loop is an important step to demonstrate that your purpose was specifically genuine the whole time through and that you are an individual who appreciates what others are willing to do for your betterment.
Every three to six months, shoot them a message to check in, provide updates, and see how everything is going. If you and a particular connection hit it off, ask them to get another round of coffee or drinks to further develop your relationship. Remember that someone you randomly connect with today could end up being a lifelong professional connection.
Step 7: Network through New Connections
Once you’ve closed the networking loop, keep in mind that you now have another 1st connection that you can ask for new connections. There is a strong chance that their connections could also be useful in your continual quest for knowledge.
After some time has passed and you find yourself running out of new connections, reach back out to those that you met with to ask if they have anyone they know that you might benefit from meeting with. If you left a strong impression, there is a good chance that they will have one person that they can introduce you to. From there, it’s on you to impress again.
Have the Courage to Network
You’ll be surprised by how many amazing people you can meet through networking on LinkedIn. It takes courage to randomly reach out to someone you don’t know and ask them to get coffee with you, but the upsides strongly outweigh the initial awkwardness. Take my advice and try it out with a handful of individuals until you get one meeting. That one meeting may change your career!