Make the most of your LinkedIn account
You can use it as your online CV to show off your skills, to find new customers and clients, or just to keep in touch with old colleagues. But whatever you use it for, there are some golden rules you should follow to ensure networking success.
Remember it's a professional profile
If you want to share photos of your kids or sarcastic musings about something you've just read in the news, LinkedIn is not the place for you. So think carefully about status updates you make - try to keep them relevant to your occupation, business or industry. But that doesn't mean you can't inject a bit of personality into them at the same time.
Keep your CV up to date
Having your CV on your profile page is not just useful if you're open to new job offers but it enables prospective clients and customers to check out your background and might give them the confidence to engage in a new professional relationship with you. So regularly review the information included on it. But remember, no one likes a show-off, so avoid bigging yourself up too much.
Joining a couple of LinkedIn groups that are relevant to your business will show interest and involvement in your industry. "This is also an opportunity to enter discussions and exert some influence - and could potentially lead to business," says Kieran Kent, managing director of Propeller PR and networking expert.
"You could also consider creating your own group to discuss themes, issues and trends within your industry and promote some of your own company's views," he adds.
Ask for recommendations
If clients, colleagues and business partners have taken the time to recommend you, this adds further credibility to your profile. Someone scanning through your LinkedIn account is very likely to stop and read what other people have said about you, so you should be actively seeking out recommendations. Endorsing the skills of your contacts may encourage them to endorse you.
Choose a good photo
Make sure you have a professional-looking photo on your profile that best represents the business image you wish to convey to prospective customers. Not having one at all questions what the reason might be and can be deemed lazy or unprofessional. I was surprised recently to see that a photographer friend of mine, who has a very successful business and great reputation, hasn't uploaded a headshot to her own profile.
Stick to your job title
This needs to match what you say on your email signature, business card and other public online profiles. Consistency is important to reassure new contacts you are who you say you are.
Link to your online presence
Make sure your company web address and Twitter handle is included on your profile. You want to encourage LinkedIn visitors to visit your website wherever possible and continue the conversation with you through other social media channels.
Why I use LinkedIn...
Matt Gunn, co-founder and chief operating officer of Sporcata.com, a question and answer website for the sports community, says: "When we launched Sporcata, it was essential to leverage the founders' professional networks and although Facebook was great for putting our product in front of our social contacts, we received genuine commercial interest from our combined 20-plus years of professional relationships captured via LinkedIn.
"For start-ups building their online presence, a Google search result for the LinkedIn company page is also great for your search engine optimisation. And, best of all, it's free and easy to do - we already had company descriptions and logos, so it was just a case of uploading them."