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One marketing expert says the best way to approach prospective clients on LinkedIn is to start with those with whom you share connections.hocus-focus/iStockPhoto / Getty Images

Crystal Thies of Covington, Ky., first taught herself to use LinkedIn’s search function to find prospective clients in 2009.

She was working as a financial planner at the time, looking for people who were undergoing career transitions and would need help moving their retirement funds following the global financial crisis and ensuing stock market crash. It occurred to her that the prospects for which she was searching would have one thing in common: the wording of their LinkedIn biographies.

So, Ms. Thies experimented with search terms to identify and find people going through a job transition, trying phrases like “looking for work” and “transitioning careers.” She soon uncovered an array of untapped prospects that she wouldn’t have found via the typical referral process – all using an online tool that was still relatively new.

“The problem with referral marketing is that you’re dependent on the person giving you the referral to think through, identify and remember the right type of [client] you ideally want to have,” she says. “With LinkedIn, you have 100 per cent perfect control over selecting the people to whom you would like to get referred.”

It wasn’t long before she discovered her natural talent with LinkedIn and switched career paths, becoming an independent LinkedIn consultant and eventually co-authoring a book on social media for financial advisors.

LinkedIn has since skyrocketed in popularity as a tool for professionals across all industries. And as a growing number of advisors turn to LinkedIn to market themselves through their posts and profiles, Ms. Thies and other digital-marketing experts say there are a range of tools the social media platform contains that remain untapped for finding new clients.

Among them is the search function, which can be used to find clients in specific industries, geographic regions and, in Ms. Thies’s case, stages of life. Using LinkedIn’s filter functions and boolean symbols like quotation marks and ampersands, advisors can hunt for people who fit very specific criteria.

Tahnya Parachuk, certified financial planner, former financial advisor and marketing communications manager at Capital Group in Montreal, works with advisors to help them find new clients online as part of her role. She says the best way to approach prospects on LinkedIn is to start with mutual connections.

“Look at second-degree connections when you’re prospecting,” she says. “Because you have someone in common, you’re not a total stranger when you reach out to them.”

Ms. Parachuk also suggests playing the long game to connect with prospects through LinkedIn’s messaging platform. Most prospects can sniff out a sales pitch right away, and many users’ first instinct is to ignore or block messages they perceive to be spam. She suggests starting by sending prospects a request to connect and shooting them a message only once it’s accepted.

“I always suggest the first outreach is a soft sell,” Ms. Parachuk says. As such, she suggests sending a message like: “Hi, thank you for connecting. This is what I do, I see we have this person, or this school ... in common. If you ever [need] help with your retirement portfolio, please reach out to me anytime ... I’m here if you need me.”

Ms. Parachuk says advisors also should optimize their profiles to make themselves discoverable on search engines like Google. By placing key terms throughout their profiles – in their bios, profile names, job history and timeline posts – advisors can optimize how high they appear on Google’s search results when someone types in a certain string of words.

“What do you want to be known for and who do you want to talk to? Build your content around that,” she says. “When you’re dealing with [baby] boomers, [ask yourself] what would a boomer type into Google for which you would want to be found? [Then, repeat those keywords] as you build out your LinkedIn profile.”

Paul Teitelman, a search engine optimization (SEO) consultant in Toronto, suggests adding location and job title to your name on LinkedIn as part of this process. That makes it easier for searchers to spot your profile on Google when they hunt for a specific financial services professional in a specific location.

He points to his own LinkedIn profile as an example: His name on LinkedIn is “Toronto SEO Expert Paul Teitelman,” so that searchers immediately know where to find him and what he specializes in before they even click on his profile. “Why would you call anybody else?” Mr. Teitelman says.

Aseel El-Baba, a financial planner with Royal Bank of Canada in Toronto, has taken a similar approach with her own LinkedIn profile. The subhead to her profile lists a range of her personal and professional credits. In addition to working as a financial planner, her profile also cites her work as an “empowerment speaker” and “therapy student.”

Ms. El-Baba’s LinkedIn bio also cites several of her passions and values outside of work – including living “abundantly” and empowering others. She also posts statuses and photos from her personal life that reflect these interests, which she says has been essential to attracting new clients.

“The millennial generation and this generation yet to come ... we care more about knowing who we’re working with beyond just knowing their professional designations,” Ms. El-Baba says. “There’s more questions about ‘Who are you? What are your values? How are you going to help me? Why do you care about helping me?’ So it’s a bit deeper. The way to set yourself apart is by leading with your story.”

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