I was scanning through my online calendar the other day and couldn’t help but notice how almost every single conversation I had had in the past 30 days was with someone who had I “met” using LinkedIn.
A Skype call with one of my best friends who is an Executive Director of a small Oregon nonprofit?
-Met him on LinkedIn.
A phone call with a colleague from Boston who I check in with regularly to share career growth notes?
-Met him on LinkedIn.
A conference call with the women in my virtual marketing mastermind group?
-Met all of them there too.
As I thought about how I grateful I am to have connected with all these incredible nonprofit professionals, I noticed that the development of each relationship had followed a consistent pattern. If you’re new to social media or are just unsure about how to effectively use LinkedIn, I’d like to share with you my step-by-step plan for turning strangers into colleagues using the biggest business directory in the world.
Step 1. Know WHO you want to meet. Approaching LinkedIn without a game-plan is incredibly overwhelming. There is so much going on, so many groups and so many profiles; it’s so easy to feel lost in the mix. Strategically identify 2-3 types of connections you’re looking to make and write up a demographic profile of each before you begin any kind of networking. Example:
- Potential clients: Executive Director of human services nonprofits in Oregon.
- Potential joint-venture partners: Other nonprofit consultants who have a different but complimentary offer for the same target market that you could network with.
- Top influencers you’d welcome the opportunity to learn from: Another nonprofit thought-leader in your niche that you’ve always looked up to and whose books you love.
Step 2. Figure out WHAT the benefit of connecting with you is. Once you know the WHO (the “types” you identified in Step 1), you can then begin to plan out your WHAT. Take the time to identify the specific needs and pain-points of each prospects and write down some ice breakers that you could use to initiate a conversation. Example:
- Potential client connection request: “Hi Joe, it’s great to connect with another Oregon based nonprofit professional. I’d love to hear more about your organization’s vision for the community of Albany and if there is anything I can do to help spread the word about your work.”
- Potential joint-venture partner connection request: “Hi Jane, I’m a big fan of your blog and love the work that you’re doing to help Oregon based nonprofits develop successful capital campaigns. I’d love to hear more about your work and discuss potential networking opportunities that would help us both grow our businesses.”
- When connecting with a top influencers: It is usually better to wait until you have a strong LinkedIn foundation and you can show them that you’re profile is totally up to date, you’ve got lots of connections (and recommendations) before you initiate contact. Hold off on this one for now.
Step 3. Invite them to a phone conversation. Once someone from your target market accepts your connection request, the next step is to move the relationship OFFLINE asap. Imagine that you have a 48 hour window between the time that you get a new connection and the time that they forget about you completely. Setting up a phone call is a great way to build rapport quickly. For example:
- For any new connection: “Thanks for accepting my connection request Jake. How’s your schedule looking over the next week or so? I’d love to set up a time to chat and learn more about you and the work that you do and if there is anything I can do to help spread the word.”
Step 4. Do your homework!!! This is the networking secret that NO ONE, ABSOLUTELY NO ONE does that will totally blow your prospect away. Before your call, spend at least 20 minutes getting to know everything you can about this person. Read through their LinkedIn profile, check out the “about me” tab on their website, Google them. Jot down 5-8 interesting little known facts about them that you can bring up in conversation. For example:
- “Jill, it’s so great to get a chance to connect with you on the phone. I gotta say, it’s not often that I get a chance to talk to a licensed scuba diver. I don’t want to take up a bunch of your time today but I can’t wait to hear how you went from living on a boat in Thailand to becoming the ED of a West Coast nonprofit. That’s got to be a great story!”
Step 5. Don’t sell on the first call. No matter how tempted you are, use the first phone call as a time to chat and get to know each other. Block 20-30 minutes just to have a regular conversation and identify the needs of your prospect. Professionals take their time. Use this call to add tremendous value to your contact (maybe some free advice, maybe make an introduction you know they could benefit from, etc). Don’t try to close. Relax and have fun.
Step 6. Add them to a follow-up schedule. As you start having phone calls with new connections, you’ll find that there are certain people that you really liked and want to stay in touch with. With these people, set up a keep-in-touch schedule you feel would be appropriate for the situation. Make it your objective to get to know them and to be a friend – don’t be one of those people who are always trying to sell them. When the time is right and they’re looking for a partner to help them solve their problem, you’re the person they think of.
Check out this handy infographic via PowerFormula for Linkedin Success:
I know that for many people who have spent their entire careers networking in a live – face-to-face format – social media networking can be a bit daunting. If you have a question about any of the specific steps I outlined above, please leave a comment and I’d be happy to do my best to answer them. See you on LinkedIn!