If you’ve read Part 1 and Part 2 of this series (thank you for your perseverance BTW!) you should already know what it takes to have a great looking profile, display your portfolio and the benefits of specialised Linkedin apps on your phone.

So now what? How can you start forming relationships and generating engagement and activity that adds real value to your solo business?

How can I use LinkedIn groups?

If you’re trying to grow your professional network quickly and in a targeted way, LinkedIn Groups is a fantastic resource. As soon as you become a member of a LinkedIn Group you’ll automatically become connected to all other members in that group. You’ll be able to see their profiles and communicate directly.

Groups are great for networking, business development, professional research and finding job opportunities. You will find that some groups work better than others and there will be some trial and error as you look for those with the right type of members and level of engagement.

Here are my 5 top tips for getting the most out of LinkedIn Groups:

  1. Take note of the purpose of the group – You’ll find groups suitable for a wide range of purposes e.g. networking, sales conversations, jobs to name a few. Understanding what a group is designed for is key to being able to build productive relationships. e.g.  If you join a networking group, fellow members may not respond well to sales pitches.
  2. Give before you take – One of the quickest ways to build relationships in a group is to share your opinion and expertise. Try commenting on existing posts, offering your opinion and assistance to other members. You’ll find this will make it much more likely other members will reciprocate when you ask for an opinion or assistance.
  3. Spend a little time adjusting your notification settings – LinkedIn email notifications can get a bit overwhelming if you aren’t careful. Group email notifications are configurable at an individual group level though and getting this right will make a huge difference to your experience.
  4. Refresh your groups and leave the ones you get no value from – Each time you do a group search you are likely to come across new ones which may not have existed last time you looked. It’s worth spending some time every few months on discovering new groups and also leaving those which haven’t provided any value to you.
  5. Want more? Start your own group – Remember LinkedIn Groups is a free feature so if you can’t see a group which fits your purpose there’s nothing to stop you creating your own.

How do I become more visible without blowing my own trumpet?

You may feel it’s hard to know where to start when it comes to interacting with other LinkedIn members, news feed updates and the endless stream of content that appears on your feed every day.

It doesn’t have to be. There are a couple of simple tactics you can use to build valuable relationships and position yourself as an expert in your field without it looking like you are overtly selling yourself.

These are my 5 top tips:

  1. Post an article that interests you – Chances are if it interests you it will also interest some of the contacts in your network. You will find your news feed is a good source of content. LinkedIn will suggest articles of interest, but if you find something worth sharing on an external website you can just copy the URL and post that.
  2. Start a conversation – As in the offline world, a good way to start a debate is to offer a point of view. Try sharing an opinion or asking a question either in isolation or as part of posting an article. In most cases you’ll get comments and opinions coming back to you and it’s a great opportunity to share your professional expertise.
  3. Comment on someone else’s post – The other side of the coin. Try commenting or sharing your opinion on a post in your feed. It’s a great opportunity to help someone out or position yourself as a subject matter expert.
  4. Write a blog postThe LinkedIn blog feature is really easy to use. If you have never written a blog post before then give it a go. Stick to a subject you know and are invested in and you can’t go far wrong. Writing is challenging and a little bit frightening if you are new to it but the feedback and engagement you can get is well worth the effort and time out of your comfort zone!
  5. Keep things professional – Remember your audience. LinkedIn is a professional network (if you ignore the memes and mathematical challenges) so the same rules that govern your face to face conversations in the workplace should apply to your interactions on LinkedIn. Use your own judgement and common sense with a liberal sprinkling of courtesy and respect and you won’t go far wrong.

What’s in a paid/premium option?

If you are already getting lots of value from being a LinkedIn member then you may want to consider their Premium subscription options. I’d recommend the following as the best place to start:

  1. A paid LinkedIn subscriptionThe main benefits of this are being able to see more profiles, specifically those outside of your own extended network, more detailed info about who’s viewed your profile, better stats and insights about who interacts with your posts and content plus InMails so you can contact anyone on LinkedIn and not just those you are connected to.
  1. Lynda.com/LinkedIn Learning subscription – Online learning is increasingly an area of focus for LinkedIn, highlighted by the fact that they paid $US1.5bn for Lynda.com in 2015. Lynda.com is still available as a standalone service but it’s also been integrated into LinkedIn as LinkedIn Learning. The content is the same on both platforms and focused on professional skills development.

If you’re looking for an easy way to learn new skills or improve upon some you already have, LinkedIn Learning is an easy to use, accessible (content can be downloaded and watched offline – perfect for commuting) and low cost option. There is a huge array of educational content ranging from soft skills, e.g. negotiating, having feedback conversations, to things like using Excel or learning to code.

A Final Word

It’s clear that LinkedIn is here to stay. It has become an important part of the business tool kit for millions of self employed professionals all over the world. It’s evolved from its early function as a digital rolodex into a tool for branding, marketing, selling, advertising, connecting, hiring, debating, publishing and learning.

That said, it must be acknowledged it’s not for everyone. Whether or not it’s for you is something you’ll have to decide for yourself. I hope this blog series has made that decision easier.