Are you looking for new and affordable ways build your practice and your brand? One good place to start is LinkedIN, the world’s largest professional network on the Internet.
While many small businesses struggle to understand social media, one thing to consider is that social media isn’t small and it isn’t new. LinkedIn, founded in 2003, has now been around for more than a decade, is worth roughly $14 billion, and has more than 125 million US users. It is a free and target-rich environment that presents a great opportunity to build your practice and your brand.
What is LinkedIn? It’s a social media platform that focuses on professional connections, data, and interests. It can serve as an online resume and portfolio, while also serving up industry-specific news, job listings, and research opportunities. In short, it’s a handy resource that has multiple business-related applications.
So, just how can you leverage LinkedIn? Here are five steps:
- Set up your profile. At the very least, list your firm name, current position, and credentials. Include contact information, like an e-mail address, phone number, and website, so people can find and interact with you. Make sure to provide a professional head shot with your profile; people want to see who they are doing business with. Reconnecting with people from your past - schoolmates and teachers, employers and coworkers, civic group organizers and peers – can make it much easier to begin building your professional network.
- Start making connections with your fellow professionals. The larger your network, the larger your influence, so seeking out and connecting with others is imperative. The easiest way to start making connections is to search for people you already know by using their name. Simply enter the name of someone you know in the white search bar at the top of the page, find their name on the list, and click the blue Connect button beside their name. This is a request to connect so you will have to wait for confirmation. You can also use the search bar to search by city, state, ZIP code, school, and company.
Once you are connected to someone, you can see all of their connections and that’s a way to find more people you know and would like to connect with. One good place to start is with your local chamber of commerce. Their staff and board of directors will likely accept your invitation if you are a small business owner, and they are likely to be connected with many of the business people in your area.
LinkedIn will also help you grow your network by automatically making recommendations based on current members listed in your e-mail address book. It will also search your connections for patterns, recommending people that you may know or want to know. To access these LinkedIn tools from your home page, hover over ‘My Network’ in the navigation bar and select “Add Contacts” or “Find People You May Know.”
One more rule for connections: Don’t be shy. People are on LinkedIn because they want to be found and network with other professionals. Most people you legitimately know will be fine with your invitation and if they aren’t, they can simply decline. No harm, no foul.
- Share updates to demonstrate your expertise. Connecting with people you already know is only half of the equation - you also want people to find and connect with you. Sharing updates and publishing original content is a great way to demonstrate your credentials, expertise, and specialties. Taxation is part of every financial plan and there are tax breaks for all kinds of kinds of people so sharing timely and relevant tax news is one way to attract attention. In general terms, “publishing” means posting original content and “updating” is sharing content from somewhere else, like an article from another publication you found interesting that others might enjoy or benefit from reading. Everyone has a tax return to file and with the rules changing all the time, it’s not hard to find good info to share. Just remember to share – not sell – or you could damage your online reputation. The goal is to demonstrate your expertise and make yourself available for more info when the time is appropriate.
- Use the ‘Interests’ tab on your LinkedIn home page to find and join groups. Groups are where people of similar interests come together to have conversations and interact with each other. Many local civic and professional organizations have groups and joining them can increase your exposure. Groups can also be used as a resource for small practitioners who want to interact with other tax professionals to perform research and share ideas and experiences.
- Don’t forget your clients! As a tax professional, your client list is something you don’t talk about. However, connecting with clients is one way for other people to see who you know. Connections can publicly endorse and recommend each other, serving as a great, inexpensive way to gain some positive public recognition. Find a way to work LinkedIn into conversations with your clients and potential clients and solicit recommendations so people can see who you do business with and who has good things to say about you.
While the goal of all social media platforms is to be social and share, always consider safety and privacy when posting personal information online. As tax professionals we know ID theft is a huge problem and bad guys are harvesting personal information from many sources. Posting your birthday and the year you graduated from high school gives them important information about you. Likewise, using a school mascot as a password is a bad idea if you share the schools you attended. Posting about a conference you will be attending on a specific future date tells everyone you will be away from your home and office which could make it vulnerable. LinkedIn is a great way to build your business and brand, so share things that will help you in that regard, but please think twice before posting too much personal info.
Stay safe out there.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jerry Gaddis, EA is the Founder and CEO of Tropical Tax Solutions, a full-service tax firm located in the Florida Keys. He earned a BS Degree from the University of Florida and an MBA from the Crummer Graduate School of Business at Rollins College in Winter Park, FL. He currently serves on the Board of Directors for the National Association of Enrolled Agents and you can interact with him on LinkedIn and Twitter (@TropicalTax).