Originally published with permission by the MSCPA in SumNews Volume 24 Number 2 Spring 2013

If you participate in only one social media site professionally, make it LinkedIn. Why? By staying active on LinkedIn, and using it strategically, you can win new clients.

Here’s how:

  1. A connection may see an article you shared and remember to include you on an RFP list she is assembling now.
  2. A friend might refer you to his brother who mentioned a problem you could solve.
  3. A client could learn about other services your firm provides thanks to an article update and engage you for additional consulting work.
  4. More proactively, you can create a list of prospective clients that you’ll need only one introduction (from someone you already know) to meet.
  5. LinkedIn profiles often appear first in Google search results. The most complete profiles and most active users appear first. Firms are getting calls from companies in need of their services because a LinkedIn profile matched their search results.

 

It’s all possible and anyone can do it. You get out of LinkedIn what you put into it, so whatever level you’re at now, let’s move forward.

 

Be Active

Before discussing anything else, it is important to note that LinkedIn is only marginally useful if you are going to look but not touch. This is social media – you must be social. Share articles, ideas, or firm news and “like” or comment on what others are sharing.

 

Improve your Profile

LinkedIn is largely navigated by the search function (the box in the upper right of every page). As you complete your profile, consider what a prospective client or referral source may search for and use those terms as you write. Think of it as “What do you want to be found/known for?”

The Summary section is important because it sits near the top of your profile. This is your opportunity to describe yourself and your work in an overarching theme, unlike the chronological Experience section below it.

Your Summary should be written in the first person and answer the following questions for the reader:

  • “What is your service and/or industry focus?”
  • “What is your style of working with clients?”
  • “What needs do you want others to reach out to you for?”

 

Beginners: LinkedIn has a Q&A style tool to help you complete your profile. Put more emphasis on your more recent roles if you have had many jobs. The Skills section is important because people can endorse you for your areas of expertise.

Intermediates: You’re an interesting person, not just a job, so include one or two things that you enjoy outside the office as well. Be sure to include your non-profit involvement and other memberships. The Organizations section is the proper place for your board of director positions or golf club memberships.

Advanced: Add additional resources to your profile with the Projects, Publications, or Honors & Awards sections of your profile. Go beyond getting endorsed for Skills and focus on written Recommendations from people close to you. To make it easy and, therefore, more likely to happen, consider asking for their agreement and then drafting something for them to review and approve.

 

Make Connections

Connecting on LinkedIn is not like exchanging business cards. Only connect with people you actually know. Consider using the guideline “Would he be in a position to do me a favor?” and ”Would I potentially do him a favor?” The favor could be providing an introduction, recommending your work or connecting you with individuals and LinkedIn groups that could be valuable to you.

Some CPAs are hesitant to connect with clients for fear that others will then know that that person is a client. By connecting with your clients, LinkedIn can help you provide year-round intelligence and two-way communication, a far better plan than keeping your distance.

Beginners: Connect with everyone in your firm. Connect with clients, their bankers, attorneys, and insurance professionals. LinkedIn will allow you to import selected contacts from your work and personal email accounts. Most likely your firm has security measures in place that prevent LinkedIn from gaining direct access, so you’ll need to export your contacts to Excel and then upload them to LinkedIn. Your IT person, or probably a staff account, can help you with this. This will allow you to quickly invite the people you are already communicating with via email to connect with you on LinkedIn.

Intermediates: It’s often overlooked that your college friends, golf foursome or softball team, your next door neighbor, and your daughter’s hockey coach are all potential referral sources and should be connections on LinkedIn. Think about your life holistically when considering who to add to your contacts.

For those daily users of the site, People You May Know, and Who’s Viewed Your Profile are probably your best source of new potential connections. Also, remember that as you continue to network and meet new people, you should add them to your connections.

Advanced: Presumably you have a complete and updated contact list. Organize your connections in the Contacts section by tagging them. You can organize connections by Prospects, Referral Sources, Clients, etc., and by priority Hot, Medium, Mild, to remind yourself to focus or follow-up with someone if you only have five minutes to spend on the site and want to use it productively. You can also create lists of people who share a common interest like golf. When you have an extra spot in your foursome, you can quickly send a note to those people to invite them. The same can be done for an industry specific update from your firm.

 

Follow Thought Leaders

LinkedIn has put tremendous effort behind bringing members news and content from nationally recognized leaders in various industries – even accounting. Called LinkedIn Today, this is the section at the top of your home page. You can customize what you see here by clicking the blue LinkedIn Today link on the top left of your home page and following industries or specific thought leaders. This is low hanging fruit when it comes to making comments and sharing ideas with your network.

 

Join LinkedIn Groups

Groups allow you learn what people are discussing with regard to a particular topic. Your alma mater, your professional organizations (including the MSCPA!) and your target industry all have groups. Post articles and comment on others’ articles to get exposure to people beyond your direct connections. Quality over quantity is important here. Find Groups that are relevant to you by looking at what Groups your connections belong to or by using the search function.

LinkedIn defaults to sending a daily email on updates from each group. To avoid this deluge and prevent you from giving up all together, customize your email preferences in the Settings section.

 

Follow Companies

Company pages are being used by organizations to share their latest company news, newsletter articles, industry trends, or announce new hires. It’s important to monitor or be a part of that conversation when the company is your client, a prospect, a referral source, or vendor. You may be able to identify a consulting or cross-selling opportunity when you see their timely posts about company decisions or growth. You can also follow competitors or firms you admire to see how they use LinkedIn. When you “follow” a company their updates will appear in your home page news. To do this, go to the company’s page and click the Follow button in the upper right corner.

 

Your Firm’s Company Page

For all of the reasons you should “follow” other companies’ pages, your firm should have a company page. This is important for many reasons.

Beginners: When someone views the Experience section of your profile, your firm’s name is shown. If you have a company page, it will also show the firm logo, and when someone clicks the firm name, it will take them to the firm’s company page instead of “Find others who have worked at this company.”

Intermediates: Your firm’s page should be built to have a header image that matches the look and feel of your website. It should include descriptions of your services and link directly to the page of your firm’s website that is related to that service (not the home page!) for those people who want to read more.

Regularly post updates to stay in front of your connections in a thought-leader capacity. Posts should be articles, industry or regulatory updates, and firm news like new hires or open positions. These posts will be seen by your followers. To broaden the audience, encourage your employees to “like” or “comment” on your firm’s posts so that their connections will see the post as well.

Advanced: LinkedIn’s Insights for company pages is a fairly robust report. It will allow you to see which posts get the most attention so you can create future content that viewers will like as well. The Insights section also shows demographics of your visitors and displays other firms people have viewed.

 

Business Development Tool

LinkedIn is valuable as a research tool. Before you write a proposal, visit LinkedIn to read the profiles of your prospect’s leadership team. You’ll know more about them when you read about their non-profit involvement, see how active they are, and discover if anyone at your firm has a connection (a good reason to connect with everyone at your firm). Also, don’t forget to view the prospect’s company page – and follow them!

If you have a specialty in a particular industry and would like to identify more prospects, LinkedIn is a great resource. Use the Advanced Search function to identify companies of a certain size, industry, distance radius from your office, people with “finance” in their title, and 1st or 2nd connections only. This will create a list of companies and their finance department contacts for whom you need only one introduction (from someone you already know) to get started winning new business.

Take the site off-line. Before you meet with a referral source for coffee or lunch, look at their connections and come with a list of a 3-5 people you’d appreciate an introduction to, and offer to do the same in return. There is a new “search” tool inside of the connections area so you can focus on an industry or job title.

 

Final Thoughts

Use LinkedIn actively and daily and it will bring you great rewards. Get your whole firm on board and you magnify the results. Remember, you don’t have to be an expert on the first day, but take small steps to get noticed and the rewards will come.

 

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Alison has more than fifteen years of professional services marketing and business development experience. She is a Boston College Double Eagle, holding both a BS in Management with concentrations in Marketing & Information Systems, and an MBA. Alison is a member of the 2009 Boston Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 class of honorees.